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Being sent to Coventry! – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 15 November 2017

November 15, 2017

Being sent to Coventry!

The idiom above must be one of the strangest of English expressions. ‘Mr Google’ explains it has obscure origins – perhaps from the English Civil War where Royalist prisoners were taken to Parliamentarian Coventry or even an expression relating to being hanged from a tree in Henry III’s reign! Whatever its origin, the meaning is usually clear: to send someone to Coventry is to shun them and to refuse to acknowledge their presence.

On being sent to Coventry

I was ‘sent to Coventry’ recently but, I hasten to add, to the city and not to where I was ostracised. I attended the Independent Schools Association (ISA) Autumn conference and went to a fascinating seminar by the charity ‘Winston’s Wish’ which also tackled head on some of our more unhelpful English idioms.

This charity seeks to help young people who have been bereaved. This might be the loss of a loved one (there’s a strange expression – loss to mean death), the effect of someone passing away (here we go again) in their school or locality or even the news of some celebrity who has committed suicide (and once again we use an idiom – ‘committed’ – to soften the blow).

Using euphemisms – updated advice

I had always thought that using euphemisms or idioms when talking with young people – anyone actually – about death was helpful and sensitive. Whilst this might be an approach with an adult, it is not what we should do with children. A young child who has been told that ‘Daddy has gone to heaven’ might reasonably confuse this word and be upset when mummy drives through the county to Cornwall without stopping to see Daddy in Devon.

Whilst this example may seem trite – but does happen – the following expressions are more common and equally misleading, possibly unhelpful.

  • ‘Grandad has died in his sleep’ can raise a fear of going to bed at night.
  • ‘Your Aunt has had a stroke’ can be very confusing: the child may have just stroked a pet…
  • To tell a child that a relative has been ‘lost’ naturally gives rise to the request, ‘Can we go and find him?’

Talking sensitively but directly

So, how should we talk about something as distressing as the death of a loved one without being too blunt? ‘Winston’s Wish’ encourages a sensitive but direct approach:

‘Grandad has died…do you understand what this means? The doctor says he had a heart attack…this doesn’t mean anyone has hit him but, sadly, his heart has stopped working…’

(and so on – slowly, carefully, honestly and with a listening ear).

Idioms and their origins can be interesting but I for one, as I return from being ‘sent’ to Coventry, will endeavour to be more careful if, very sadly, I find myself talking with a young person about someone ‘falling off his perch ‘ (and here I go again!).

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.


Stress busting? – Headmaster’s Blog – Tuesday 7 November 2017

November 7, 2017
Ballard Stress busting blog

Stress busting?

Teaching and stress in the news

This past week the educational Press has been full of the recent research into Teaching and the stress that many in the profession face. The Times Educational Supplement reports:

Teaching is among the most stressful jobs you can do in Britain, according to new health and safety statistics. The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that in the teaching profession there were 2,460 cases of work-related stress per 100,000 workers.

This was twice the average rate across all industries of 1,230 cases per 100,000 workers in the three-year period averaged over 2014-15 to 2016-17.

“Stress is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education, human health and social care work activities and public administration and defence,” the report states.

It added that previous surveys had found the predominant cause of stress was workload – in particular, tight deadlines. Other causes were too much pressure or responsibility, a lack of managerial support, organisational changes, violence and role uncertainty.

“Work-related stress, depression or anxiety continues to represent a significant ill health condition in the workforce of Great Britain,” the report concludes. A recent DfE report on teachers’ decisions to leave teaching found workload was the single most common reason – cited by 75 per cent of ex-teachers as the reason they quit the profession. Changes in policy were the second biggest cause.

Our headmaster reflects on the reports

I have to say that in my 38 years of teaching, I have indeed come across several colleagues who have had time off for stress or who have ‘battled on’ despite being under tremendous pressure. I believe that these instances are increasing and thus they align with this research. A few years ago I went through a particularly stressful period as a Head – brought on, I feel, by a combination of ‘issues’ to do with school parents and their high expectations (unrealistic in some cases) together with a number of tricky staffing concerns. This experience led me to consider, along with some medical intervention, stress-busting / minimising approaches.

Techniques to beat stress

I hasten to add that a degree of stress is, of course, healthy and like most things in life we are looking to reach a balance. My approach of late is not revolutionary but, I believe, has helped me manage the inevitable pressures that come with my job and also with teaching in general.

  • I have stopped checking work emails after 9.00 pm, for example, and, indeed, avoid the computer for any reason after this time at night. (My wife is a very good partner in reminding me about this should I be otherwise tempted!)
  • I try to get to bed before 10.00pm rather than waiting to watch the News first before retiring for the night.
  • In my workplace I am now more inclined to look for opportunities to delegate work and, yes, to trust others to do things better than me! Even if in my view they don’t manage this, it is their learning experience that’s important.
  • In addition to this, I have very consciously tried not to dwell on imaginary conversations ahead of ‘difficult meetings’: it’s fine to plan for these and consider scenarios but as I walk home of an evening (and this woodland walk is a privilege to savour), I very consciously try to leave them behind recognising that there’s nothing further I can do until the next day – or after the weekend.

Look for the ‘little extras’

We will all have things which suit us personally and fit with our lifestyles to reduce stress further (and for me this includes prayer and Christian fellowship – as well as time with my wife and family). It’s tremendously important, however, to look for those ‘little extras’ which we can do when the going gets too tough. This may mean a conversation with your GP but will also involve wise advice from those who know us best along with, perhaps, the tips above over online habits and self-control with our endless ‘what if’ thoughts. As someone has pointed out, 90+% of the things we worry about never happen – and so why worry in the first place?

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

A teaching colleague, Alex Bellars, and I are doing the Movember moustache challenge for men’s mental health charities. If you’d like to donate at all then do visit my Movember Foundation page, Many thanks

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

Healthy treats? – Headmaster’s Blog – 1 November 2017

November 1, 2017
Ballard Healthy treats at school

A treat or a health hazard?

Unhealthy treats in schools

Several newspapers last week carried the following report on ‘unhealthy treats at schools’:

Children are being offered unhealthy treats such as pizza and doughnuts as incentives in school, a study warns. The Jamie Oliver Food Foundation found 53% of secondary teachers polled, along with 26% of those working in primaries, said their school rewards include foods that are high in salt, fat and sugar. It says there is a culture of “fundraising, reward and celebration” that frequently involves such foods, which “is creating social and physical environments that contradict children’s food education.” The report also found unhealthy foods are still on sale in many schools – and youngsters are still choosing these options because they are often cheaper, and readily available.


There are clearly some obvious differences between these schools and Ballard including the fact that we provide all lunches and break time refreshments as part of the normal school provision (within the fees) and we don’t have a school tuck shop. Setting this aside, however, I would say we have a very healthy debate at present on this issue.

Ballard catering reports to school council

Recently a whole-school assembly challenged us to consider what we eat and drink at break times. This has led to the School Head Caterer giving a report to the School Council (our elected body of pupil Form representatives from Years 3 to 11). This was followed by the same presentation at the weekly Prefects’ meeting and then a whole-school survey to see what support there is to have more fruit at breaks and to eliminate biscuits. Even the teachers have been considering abandoning ‘coffee and cakes’, their fortnightly gathering of staff across all parts of the school, in favour of ‘coffee and carrots’!

Ballard Charity hurricane Irma flood

Putting charity at the heart of Ballard – cake sales include one of our fundraising opportunities

It is always good to have the norm challenged and even for uncomfortable truths to be uncovered (such as the potential harm we are doing to ourselves through excessive quantities of sugar). I am all in favour of a more fruit and vegetable fare in the morning and afternoon snack times but I do hope we won’t abandon treats entirely! Our charity cake sale in September, for example, raised over £1,000 for the Red Cross’s work in the Caribbean in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Several pupils have also managed to raise funds for the bi-annual Kenyan trip – and improve their baking skills – by selling homemade cakes and fudge after school. And then, of course, there is the sweet which goes with the prized Headmaster’s Token for outstanding work!

I have marked the passage of time already, however. This year’s Head boy/girl/deputies meet me weekly for a break-time discussion. No longer are chocolate biscuits the order of the day (eat your heart out former Prefects): we now have dried fruit as a choice!

And so while we shall continue to debate – and take action – on unhealthy choices at Ballard, I would also emphasise that there is a further ‘battle’ to be fought: encouraging more water drinking. To this end the PE department gave every child a free water bottle last year in an attempt to overcome a problem also highlighted in last week’s Press:

Children drink just a quarter of the amount of water they should during the school day, according to new research. Guidelines suggest five to eight year olds should have five glasses a day, but the average child is consuming less than two. The survey by Chilean Easy Peel Oranges found many parents blame schools, saying ‘water-only’ policies deter them drinking enough, while only four in 10 say their children are allowed to have water during class time. Eighteen per cent said they had sneaked juice and squash into their school water bottles.

Alastair Reid (the occasional sweet-taking Headmaster)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

Ballard – School of choice – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 18th October 2017

October 18, 2017
Ballard - School of Choice

Ballard – School of choice

The blog from Ballard in New Milton – Bespoke Education

There’s was an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph recently encouraging parents to visit schools ‘privately’ rather than depending on Open Days ahead of choosing a school for their child.

Mark Lehain, former principal of Bedford Free School and current head of campaign group Parents & Teachers for Excellence, offers advice on choosing schools, saying that Ofsted reports “only give a limited, or in some cases misleading, picture of a school.” He suggests parents arrange visits to schools and says a “good first indication” that the school is “strong and confident” is if staff are used to showing prospective parents around, adding that it’s even better if they are flexible about when a visit occurs as it shows “they know the school will look great at any time of day.” Writing in the Telegraph, he also carries insight from a number of heads who advise on questions parents should ask schools.


Fayres galore and answering ‘difficult questions’

Whilst this is advice for maintained schools, the same principles must apply in the independent sector. Last week some of my colleagues and I attended three ‘what next?’ school fairs – two at Prep Schools and one for the general public run by the Daily Echo. We had our ‘stall’ and displays and were very happy to talk with interested parents about Ballard. Visitors got to meet the Head (and in one setting we had some pupils with us, too), to talk with the Registrar and the Marketing Manager. We enjoyed these encounters and hope that our conversations will have whetted the appetite of those with whom we spoke so that they will now visit the school. It is vital, however, that prospective parents come and see the school first hand – and ask those ‘difficult questions’ about class sizes, exam results and, above all, how happy and safe the pupils feel.

Ballard - Bespoke Education - Schools Fair

Ballard at a recent schools’ fair with some of our parents and a governor.

Open Mornings at Ballard

Long gone, I expect, is the world of my parents. Although admittedly living overseas, they did not visit either my Prep School or my Public School before registering me, buying the uniform and then taking me along on the first day of term. (No ‘taster’ or induction days then!) Today, most schools offer Open Mornings – some more formal than others. We arrange two a term on Fridays, judging that this is the best timing for working parents, and another in the Summer Term on a Saturday morning. With the exception of the latter, these are normal school days. Many parents prefer such occasions when they can visit ‘en masse’ but still have a personal tour and meet up with relevant staff in the different sections of the school. Many more, however, quite reasonably choose to arrange for a ‘private’ visit where they meet with me for about twenty minutes, have a tour of the school (and lunch if they wish!) before coming back to see me for any final questions. I feel it’s essential that they are toured by pupils – and we don’t specially select these: ordinarily we work through a rota of Y8 pupils as part of their responsibilities at the top of the Prep School. The pupils invariably ‘sell’ the school best and there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to chat with staff members along the way – just naturally as part of a normal day.

Open morning french cafe Ballard

A snap from our Summer Open Morning – with the French Cafe

First impressions

First impressions, of course, are just that: first. We trust that in making such a significant investment of time, money and lifestyle into an independent school, parents will visit and ask the ‘awkward question’, talk to others who know us well, scrutinise the website, consider the ‘outcomes’ (alumni, exam results and other achievements), read the latest inspection report and have a taster day for their child. Just yesterday I had such a visiting parent whose main ‘awkward’ question was to do with what we mean by ‘bespoke education’ and individualised learning. Far from fearing such approaches I welcome them and trust that in being open, honest and transparent, visitors will see that what we offer is indeed ‘bespoke’ and appropriate for their youngster. I trust, too, that having asked all of these questions and made their visits, parents will then trust us as educational professionals to do what’s best for their children – and therein lies another tale for another time!

Ballard School Headmaster Summer 2016

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

Ballard has two Open Mornings coming up within the next term. 

Pre-Prep Open Morning:

Wednesday 8th November (8.45am to 10.15am)

Come along and see what we do followed by refreshments and an opportunity to meet the teachers.

Whole School Open Morning:

Friday 17th November (9.30am to 12 noon)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

A decline in the arts at GCSE? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 4 October 2017

October 4, 2017
A decline in the arts at GCSE

A decline in the arts at GCSE?

In a recent edition of ‘The Guardian’ we read:

The proportion of 15- and 16-year-olds in England studying arts subjects such as music and drama has fallen to the lowest level in a decade as a result of government policies and education cuts, figures show.

A report by the Education Policy Institute suggests schools have whittled down the number of pupils taking the likes of dance and fine art at key stage four, after reforms pushed pupils towards more traditional academic subjects such as geography and English.

The EPI report published on Thursday blamed the Department for Education (DfE) over its new Progress 8 performance measure – based on results from predominantly academic subjects at GCSE – and its promotion of the narrow English Baccalaureate (EBacc) suite of subjects as partly responsible for the shift.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said it was clear that the Ebacc and Progress 8 performance measures were squeezing arts subjects out of schools.

I have just listened to a BBC radio 4 programme on science today. (Not my usual choice of topic, I might add, as I view myself as a Humanities’ teacher – but how blinkered I realised I was as I listened.) A lady scientist was being interviewed and she explained that although she was initially interested in Physics at school, she then moved across to Arts’ subjects at sixth form because she found them so fulfilling. Later, at university, she returned to her love of science and studied Astro Physics – and, in particular the science of the Sun. She explained how the beauty of this life-enhancing star reignited her love of science. She is now involved in the science of space weather and its impact on our satellites (etc.) but still looks on Creation with awe and wonder.

Today I am at the Independent Schools’ Association (ISA) London West art exhibition and yet again am struck not only by the ingenuity of our young people but also by the way their creations owe a great deal to Maths (some ingenious 3D models heavily reliant on correct angles and weights), Nature (massive ceramic sculptures), History (sobering aspects of war, devastation and disease), Food Technology (lifelike plates of vegetables) and, of course, Science seen in globes, spheres, human bodies and an imaginative use of a wide variety of materials.


At Ballard 66% of our 2017 GCSE cohort did one or more of fine art, product design, dance, drama, music, expressive arts. This seems to demonstrate that we have a higher take up for ‘the Arts’ than most schools nationally as on average, state secondary schools entered 51.3 per cent of pupils for at least one arts subject at key stage 4 in 2017, while private schools entered 47.6 per cent.

We are fortunate at Ballard in not being tied to Progress 8 measures (and the like) and a straight jacket of ‘forcing’ pupils down a particular academic route based on Government dictates. We are not blind, of course, to the realities of employment today but if this snapshot from the ISA art exhibition – and the science professor on Radio 4 – are anything to go by, a choice in favour of the Arts (or even just one related subject) is a distinct positive and one to be commended.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

Ask interesting questions! – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 27th September 2017

September 27, 2017
Ballard Asking interesting questions!

Ask interesting questions!

One of the things I most enjoy about being a Schoolmaster is having a walk round school, interacting with staff and pupils and occasionally being asked the most extraordinary things!

Questions from the playground


By Brocken Inaglory

Take today (Tuesday), for example. I was on the main car park as usual ’first thing’ and was asked by a Lower Prep pupil (Years 3-5) as he arrived at school: ‘What causes fog?’ My brain had to whirr back to A Level Geography and I managed a few simplistic points (warm seas and cold air over land – or is it the other way round?) before suggesting the pupil speak with his Geography teacher. No sooner had I been challenged with that query then the next one came along – and this time from a teacher. When I remarked about him coming in carrying two coffee mugs, he wanted to know where all his others have gone. Apparently teachers borrow mugs from the staff rooms, don’t return them and they simply then ‘disappear’! Presumably, to continue the Geography theme, there is a whirlpool or vortex somewhere that sucks in mugs?

Questions through morning break

Ballard Break time table tennis

Break time at Ballard

My next interesting question came at morning break when I was ‘out and about’.

‘Sir, where have all the table-tennis balls gone?’

(Presumably yet another black hole somewhere!) It seems that these balls find themselves onto the canopy roofs following somewhat exaggerated shots across the tables. I wonder what I shall be asked at lunch break…

‘I think you need to be seen around school more, sir’


And so why am I sharing this with you? I suppose it’s because I was struck in particular by a conversation I had last evening with a fellow Headmaster who was visiting Ballard as part of our annual Sixth Form Exhibition. He told me that one of our former pupils who had gone to his school for Years 12 and 13, was being interviewed by him as Headmaster for a senior pupil position in school. The pupil was asked if he had any suggestions for the Head and responded, ‘I think you need to be seen around school more, sir’. That was a bold thing to say but my colleague took it on the chin and has increased his presence around school in consequence.

‘Not now, dear, can’t you see I’m busy’

It’s easy in all walks of life to be ‘too busy’ for those questions whether they be inane, serious or simply bizarre. They might come from our own children (’Not now, dear, can’t you see I’m busy’), the work colleague with a pastoral concern (‘Can you make an appointment with my secretary?’) or the neighbour who ‘yet again’ must talk to us for ‘just a few minutes’ (Oh, no, here we go once more – and I haven’t time at present). Clearly there is a balance in life and we do need personal space, quiet moments and opportunities simply to ‘stop and stare’. On the other hand, perhaps I just need to be more proactively available – and to be prepared for the unusual (‘Any ideas why there are so many acorns this year?) and the screamingly necessary: ‘My life is in a mess: please can I ask your advice?’

Alastair Reid (Headmaster and occasional ‘agony uncle’)

Photos: Fog – By Brocken Inaglory – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here

When talent is not enough – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 20th September 2017

September 20, 2017
Ballard what sets you apart victory


When talent is not enough

A year ago I celebrated a ‘special birthday’ and last weekend a very significant wedding anniversary. At times such as these, I find myself thinking back over the years and remembering significant friends and acquaintances. One such person came to mind from my school days – let’s call him Charlie. He was a superb sportsman and was in all the first teams and excelled at rugby (what we called ‘rugger’ in those days) in particular. My public school in Scotland has turned out many rugby international players over the years and it seemed that Charlie was destined to follow suit. Indeed he played for the Scottish Schools and went on to win a single senior ‘cap’ – and that was it as far as I knew. More recently I met up with an acquaintance from our era at school and asked him about Charlie. He told me that whilst he clearly excelled at school, once he reached the international stage he found himself as just one of many very talented players. Stiff competition and injuries came along and the opportunities then passed him by and he never competed at the highest level again.

Inspiring speeches

I recently attended a speech day evening at King Edward’s School, Southampton, and heard Dr Steve Bull speak. As a chartered psychologist, Dr Bull has worked as a ‘high performance coach’ with, amongst others, the British team at three Olympics and the England men’s cricket team for 17 years. He has seen some of the top athletes and most talented performers in sport of all time and yet, for him, it wasn’t an individual’s gifting which singled him or her out. Jimmy Anderson (the England cricketing fast bowler), for example, appeared relatively ‘ordinary’ when he was first capped in 2003. There were, seemingly, more talented bowlers around him at the time and no-one picked him out to become England’s leading Test wicket-taker of all time. Alistair Cook, also still in the England Test team and now amongst the batting ‘greats’, was similarly regarded as talented but not outstanding when he began his cricketing Test career in 2006. Dr Bull mentioned JK Rowling (rejected time and again by publishers with her first Harry Potter book) and Sir James Dyson (five years and 5,000 prototypes before setting up his own company to deliver his product).

What sets you apart?

Attitude, character and resilience

So, what sets people such as these apart if not their talent and creativity? Dr Bull emphasises three key characteristics that he has seen triumph time and again: attitude, character and resilience. He urged us to learn from failures and to dwell on our successes – honing those things which we do well and persevering in the process. To take Alistair Cook again: there are 15-20 recognised batting strokes in cricket. Cook has mastered only four of these but he has practised them to perfection in order to maximise his potential. Michael Jordan, the basketball legend, puts it like this:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Never give up

And so back to my own reminiscing: I was generally in first teams at school for sport (just) and I remember in my final term (what was called ‘third year sixth’ in those heady days) being coached 7s rugby by Ian Robertson, himself a Scottish international and now a BBC commentator. An opposition player passed me with the ball heading for the try line and, realising I couldn’t catch him, I slowed down. Ian Robertson gave me a real ‘roasting’ for giving up even though things appeared lost. His words still ring in my ears and whilst I haven’t gone on to sporting greatness, I hope his admonition to show a positive attitude, a steadfast character and to demonstrate resilience have stood me in good stead nevertheless. (Now there’s a good word – ‘nevertheless’ – and may be the subject of another blog!).

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

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