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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

447px-San_francisco_in_fog_with_rays

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7908286

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

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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)

Ballard’s response to Hurricane Irma – September 2017

September 13, 2017
Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma and Ballard School

Ed: The Ballard community raised over £1000 from their recent charity fundraiser

We have been flying flags of Caribbean islands on our flagpole this week so as to remind us of the devastation in that part of the world owing to Hurricane Irma. Yesterday two significant things happened: during the day we had a visit from a parent and her daughter who had just been evacuated off the British Virgin Islands (BVI) – helicopter to Puerto Rico and then flights to Madrid and on to London. This 12 year old girl had had to take refuge in her bathroom with her father, a dog, four cats and two tortoises – and then escaped the island with just a ‘grab bag’ of personal effects, everything else having been destroyed or (literally) scattered to the four winds. The second related incident yesterday was that the BVI flag was blown free from our flagpole overnight in the much more tame winds here (c. 70 mph compared to 180 mph in the Caribbean)!

Ballard’s charity day for the Caribbean and South Asia

We shall be holding a special charity day on Friday this week to raise funds for the hurricane hit region – and also for flood victims in South Asia. This will be a home clothes’ day and a cake sale (and even I am being drafted in to bake!). Most poignantly I have just received a detailed email from a Ballard parent who lives in the BVI and is assisting with the rescue and the clear up. (I am also aware of an additional Ballard, military, family also taken up with the British government’s rescue response.)

Ballard parent’s email update from BVI

Some excerpts from this parent’s email helps us to understand a little of what’s happening:

Logistically getting help to the island is difficult when the only airport (Beef Island) only takes small turbo prop planes normally. Hence no direct flights from U.K. to BVI…Logistically it’s a difficult island to help. It’s small but very hilly with switchback, single track roads over most of the island. They are rough roads at the best of times which are now covered in debris, full of trees, and other projectiles, landslides, mud, rocks – you name it. So basically impassable. Most live up in the hills which means access to us is up tricky roads.

Priority will be for manpower with equipment to get order in Road Town and clear roads, get water and supplies to people etc. So basically people are stuck in their wrecked homes. The hospital thankfully is in one piece.

Friends and islanders were stocked up and prepared for a hurricane. But… that was some hurricane and it didn’t divert off course. So, 185 mph winds blow out windows, doors, rip off shutters and roofs.

No power means no water pumps work and people have cisterns which require pumps. Drinking water needs boiling. Town water is yet to be restored in parts. People stocked up with food but if the winds got in the house their supplies may have been scattered to the winds. Kitchen cupboard doors don’t generally encounter 185 mph winds. So thousands will be desperate for food and clean water/sanitation etc. Looting is being mentioned but as there are no windows or doors it’s not surprising those who have nothing left will take clothes and food and things!

Rich and poor alike are suffering. Very few people knew whether their supposedly “hurricane proof” home would in fact stand up to the test! Someone told me these things are tested by reference to Category 3 hurricane standards. Category 5 mega storms like no one has seen before are something else! Obviously concrete houses stood up better but even many of these have collapsed it seems, or the upper floor will have been ripped off. Not many people live in actual “shacks” in the BVI but there are pre-fab houses and wooden ones. This storm did not discriminate. Some people fared far better than others but no-one’s house is fit for habitation without doors, windows, and without an assessment by a structural engineer after this.

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

Not such smart ‘phones after all? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 13 September 2017

September 13, 2017
Ballard blog smartphones

Not such smart ‘phones after all?

We recently had an excellent INSET session with Adrian Sladdin, the education representative of the charity YGAM (Young Gamblers Education Trust). In amongst looking at the ease with which online websites, television adverts and football ground hoardings are promoting gambling, we also had a slightly wider discussion about smart ‘phones and their use for good or ill. Clearly this was no new debate – much of our modern technology (and not so modern) can be used wisely and productively whilst also having a possible negative side effect – but what did strike many of us was what some mobile ‘phone use was doing for communication within families and how one addiction (gambling) was mutually impacting on another potential addiction – the overuse of mobile ‘phones.

Just recently the Mail on Sunday has carried an article which makes reference to concerns raised by Childline in this area:

Childline has warned that children are feeling increasingly lonely and growing numbers are self-harming because their parents are “glued to their smartphones”. John Cameron, who runs the helpline, says it is receiving an average of 11 calls a day from lonely youngsters, and he claims the problem is being fuelled by the overuse of modern technology. Mr Cameron said: “Children say that when they are at home they are on a laptop or ‘phone and their parents are on laptops or ‘phones. Everyone’s in the same room together but glued to screens. That’s quite a common experience now. Even when we are at home with our families, there is a growing sense of isolation. Children are not speaking to their parents as much as in the past. It means children don’t know who to turn to when they have problems.”

The use of mobile ‘phones

Ballard School Headmaster's Blog batteries

I have blogged before about mobile ‘phone usage and shared some advice from a conversation had amongst our staff: one family of four children insists that no ‘phone goes upstairs to bedrooms and uses the ‘basket of purgatory’ at the foot of the stairs to store them nightly; another shared how that for at least one meal a week they will all sit down as a family together and leave the ‘phones well away from the table (and that includes those owned by the adults in the family!).

YGAM session for INSET

Ballard GCSE results - a 5 year high!

Our YGAM session, and the article referred to above, spent some time considering how despite the apparent ease of communication enabled by mobile ‘phones, the result is all too often loneliness and isolation which can lead some people into online addictions of various kinds. No one is suggesting we ban mobile devices from society, of course, but I do think there are some good habits out there (such as the two just shared above) which will help harness this amazing tool rather than let it dominate us. A further suggestion came from a Ballard parent who described to me what happened after her young person received his GCSE results in August.

GCSE Ballard celebration

Happy with their GCSE results from Ballard

Her son was onto his mobile ‘phone immediately on receipt of the results at school – primarily contacting family members to give them the largely good news of the results. Once they got into the car home, however, this young man put his ‘phone to one side and had a super conversation with his mother about his hopes and fears for the future now that he knew his exam results. Such a conversation had not happened before – and, yes, the importance of the GCSEs was a catalyst. However, the parent said that she felt she had also discovered something very simple but effective:

It’s easier to have a serious conversation with your teenager in a car when you are driving

It’s easier to have a serious conversation with your teenager in a car when you are driving as they can sit at the back or alongside you and, without having to make eye contact or be worried about body language, they can then engage with their parent one-to-one in an environment whilst ‘captive’ is also liberating owing to the journey and the posture of the driver.

Why not try it?

Just a thought!

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

Read our blogs from March 2016 –‘Like father, Like mother’ and ‘Hold the phone’ from 2015 both touching on the subject of mobile phone usage.

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

The not so ‘soft skills’ – Headmaster’s Blog – Monday 4th September 2017

September 4, 2017
Ballard 16 year old testimony

The not so ‘soft skills’

GCSE results’ week

This past week has been rightly taken up with analysing the latest GCSE results – and commending pupils and staff on their fine achievements:

· A five year high with 89% of our pupils achieving five or more A* to C grades (including English and Maths)

· 97% gaining maths and 94% gaining English (44% gained A or A* in English)

· 100% success in seven departments (two others only having one pupil under a C)

It is obvious that a huge amount of time and effort has gone into these superb results at Ballard- I include parents in this commendation, too – and so it’s only natural to spend time focusing on them.

Feedback from delighted Ballard parents

We have recently received a number of letters and emails from parents of Year 11 leavers thanking us for what we have done in partnership with them over the years. Amongst much else I was struck by the following comment:

‘As I mentioned in my email to (the Headmaster) at the end of term it is the soft skills Ballard teaches their pupils which makes it stand out from the other local schools. These skills might not always be appreciated by the teenager but will be by the time they are an adult!’

Promoting soft skills

Just yesterday there was a radio news feature on the Prince’s Trust in which these soft skills were being promoted. The feature mentioned how vital it was for the future success of young people and include communication skills (handshakes, eye contact, ‘hellos’), teamwork and confidence. The programmer quoted some statistics: 91% of teachers feel school should do more to promote ‘soft skills’ and 50% of young people feel unprepared for society because they lack them.

Ballard Alumni on soft skills

There is never a place for complacency and we shall continue to promote these ‘old-fashioned’ disciplines and virtues at Ballard, but it was also heartening to receive the following email comment from someone who left Ballard four years ago:

‘I am now in my second year of a four year course of study at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and regularly see the impact that my time at Ballard has had. I have been commended on ‘soft skills’ such as a firm handshake and knocking properly on an interview door, which I recall have their roots in a rigorous session with Mr. Marshall in PSHE in the dance studio where we learnt the value of doing those very things! The presentation skills, learnt via a combination of Mrs. Blake’s English lessons and speaking in assembly, have proved to be so useful at a conservatoire, being on stage. And even just taking pride in your personal appearance for work, a value instilled at Ballard, has been invaluable. They do seem like the simplest of skills, the small ones learnt peripherally to academic lessons, but I now realise that they are the most important of all, and I don’t feel I would have learnt that at just any other school.’

Skills such as these won’t appear in any ‘league table’, of course, and cannot be measured – but they are timeless and clearly so important. I will leave off with a comment from one of this year’s Y11 leavers to show that ‘soft skills’ have indeed been noted by this 16 year old at least:

‘Ballard has given me everything I need so that I can go forward and achieve anything I want in the future.’

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.

Ballard School GCSE results – Summer 2017

August 29, 2017
Ballard GCSE results group shot

Ballard GCSEs – Summer 2017

A stunning year with Ballard remaining at the forefront of non-selective schools and our best for 5 years

There has been much Press comment, as ever, about the GCSE results and the ‘league tables’. This year, 2017, the talk has been about the overall fall in ‘pass grades’ (A*-C and 9-1 in English and Maths). For the first time reformed GCSEs have been sat across all subjects although only English and Maths have been given the new, numbered, grading system. I am delighted to say that Ballard has ‘bucked the trend’ and this year we have seen a significant improvement in our results by 4% putting us at 89% for the so-called ‘gold standard’ of at least five passes at A*-C / grades 9-4 (including English and Maths).

Ballard is a relatively small school with around 60-65 pupils in our leaving class of Y11 each year (and there were 62 pupils in the 2017 cohort). This means that it takes only a very few pupils not to achieve the ‘gold standard’ of 5 A* to C grades (9-4 in the new system) and the overall percentage falls. Larger schools, such as the maintained ones, will have several hundred in their exam years and so even with quite a few pupils falling short the percentage overall may still hold up well. This is one of the reasons I dislike league tables! Another is that, sad to say, it is notoriously difficult to trust tables published by the Press in August each year. They depend on schools honestly telling them their results (it’s only in about January that the final and official tables are published), they take no account of re-marks and appeals (in 2015 we submitted 75 EARs – enquiries about results – with 6% resulting in grade changes) and they may also not reflect the actual type of GCSE offered by the school. In recent years some schools have been ‘experimenting’ with IGCSEs (which suffer from less government interference but can be harder) and all of these exams do not appear in official tables. (We do IGCSE English and IGCSE Business Studies.) Most of all I don’t like the tables because they cannot show how well individuals have done. Many of our success stories lie not with those who have excelled in terms of As and A* grades (and many have) but with those who when they arrived here may have had a learning difficulty (or an emotional one) and have overcome the odds to secure several ‘passes’ and some close to a ‘pass’ (reckoned as a C grade or a grade 4 in Maths) – all above the odds. They also don’t show that this year seven of our departments have 100% pass rates and two had only one pupil with a single grade below a ‘C’.

And so what about this year’s results for Ballard?

Ballard GCSE Results 2017

Fantastic results for Ballard GCSEs this year with a five year high.

We have achieved our best results for 5 years (since the GCSE reforms began) and whilst there were the inevitable disappointments there were also stunning and delightfully unexpected triumphs! We have improved our percentages year on year where the ‘gold standard’ (inc. English and Maths are concerned) from 69% in 2013 to 85% in 2016 and now 89% in 2017. In the main we prefer to use a 4 year average for GCSE results as this takes a better account of the relative strengths of year groups which, as I have said, with a relatively small roll such as ours can vary considerably year on year. This will be published as soon as our results are all confirmed.

Ballard GCSE results happy

One very happy pupil collecting her GCSE results in Ballard

Our ‘gold standard’ pass rate of 89% puts us at the forefront of non-selective schools locally with most schools in our part of Hampshire / Dorset showing around 65-75% and Nationally 66%. A summary of our statistics:

  • ‘gold standard’ of at least 5 passes at A*-C grades 89% (with a cohort of 61 pupils)
  • Maths: only two of the 62 scored a grade 3 97% passed with grades 9-4
  • English Lang/Lit: only 4 scored below a C 94% passed English
  • English Language: 44% gained A*/A grades
  • Subjects gaining 100% A*-B Art, Dance, Drama, Exp Arts, Music, Food Tech
  • Additional subjects achieving 100% A*-C Spanish
  • Subjects with only 1 pupil below C grade in French, PE, Geography, Statistics (taken by 54 Y10s)

League tables on the way out

There are no league tables for any Prep School. Some independent schools will use SATs (we don’t and they are on the way out in many schools) but we have changed our internal assessments from CATs (cognitive ability tests) to something called Midyis which is run by Durham University for schools. This, we believe, will give a much better individualised system of tests for pupils leading to GCSE indicators and evidence of ‘value added’. We have a ‘traffic light system’ whereby we can flag up pupils doing well and on or above performance (green) through some concern (amber) and great concern (red).

Ballard, as a family-friendly holistic school, continues to do exceptionally well by its pupils. We are committed to academic rigour, wide opportunities and good manners. This ‘roundedness’, we believe, stands the test of time and creates fine citizens for the future.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster, Ballard School) August 2017

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.

OMG – not another ‘OMG’! – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 9th August 2017

August 9, 2017
OMG Oh my God image

OMG – not another ‘OMG’!

I recently admonished one of our pupils for being liberal with her ‘Oh, my God’ (OMG) expletives whilst talking loudly to a friend in the corridor. She retorted (politely, I might add), ‘But, sir, I am not a Christian’. Equally politely I pointed out that no matter her faith position there were some of us who found such language offensive.

OMG Oh my God image

Let me say quickly that I am not a prude and I do understand that the blasphemy laws in the UK were largely repealed many years ago. I also accept that language evolves over time and that this is one reason why we still have the English language today whilst Latin is ‘dead’. Notwithstanding this, I do feel that the liberal use of ‘OMG’ (and other slang) is often a result of a limited grasp of vocabulary and imagination. It is also perhaps a result of the ‘me generation’ – I can do / say what I like so long as there’s no real harm to others. This is the ‘sticks and stones’ syndrome – a woefully misplaced saying if ever there was one.

The everyday conversation approach

There is, however, perhaps a more fundamental problem here. Ever since swearing became part of everyday conversation (with no hint of embarrassment but just a sense of entitlement) bad manners have taken root. Four-letter words are a normal part of the soundtrack on buses, in supermarkets, at the park and in most work places. Soap operas such as Emmerdale and EastEnders have argued that they need to reflect ‘normal’ life and so confrontational exchanges and abuse become the norm in our living rooms, too. ‘Reality television’, writes Janet Street-Porter in the I newspaper,

‘with unedited stuff running for hours on niche channels, normalises offensive language and sexual innuendo.’

When characters in series such as Love Island become cult figures, is it any wonder that young people (and older ones, too) emulate their choice of vocabulary? Street-Porter continues:

‘Our use of language and tone has become brutal and coarse, to the extent that many of those sending horrible texts, tweets and emails do not regard their behaviour as anything more than fair comment.’

It is easy, of course, to hold one’s hands up and say ‘woe is me’ and simply give in to the ‘norm’. I am an advocate, however, of the Mother Teresa approach: the ocean is made up of many droplets and so even if we feel what we are doing is inconsequential, it will ripple out, albeit slowly, and make an impact far beyond our presence. If we are individually known as someone who won’t tolerate loose, abusive and offensive language, then those around us will moderate their tone (so as not to infringe our liberty) and, in turn, this will also ripple out to others.

GIAG anyone?

So, why not GIAG? (AKA ‘give it a go’.)

Alastair Reid (Humbug 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.

 

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