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Taking a sounding – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 7 February 2018

February 7, 2018
Taking a sounding blog Ballard

Taking a sounding

Giving opinions – on everything!

We live in a world of opinion polls and questionnaires. No sooner had I got back from Poole A&E (a finger injury from hockey, of course) than an email popped up asking me for feedback on the service received (excellent indeed). Within ten minutes of leaving the school I was inspecting last week, I received a message from the Independent Schools’ Inspectorate asking me to go to their website and compete my assessment on the inspection team and the support I’d received. It can all be rather too bewildering at times!

Ballard ISI and OFSTED image

Ballard – Excellent and Outstanding in inspections in 2017

Pupil feedback

From time to time we survey sections of the pupil body to ask them how they are doing within a particular year group. We have just done this for Year 6 and have then fed back some of the outcomes to their parents during a ‘transition meeting’. We are aware, for example, that in the maintained sector pupils make a big move from primary to secondary school after Year 6. Ballard parents who have experience of some of their children undergoing such moves in the State sector, have described the experience of their children as being like falling off a high cliff into a scary unknown!

Here at Ballard we try and make this ‘jump’ as smooth as we can by introducing some of the changes earlier but gradually. So, for example, Year 6 will have their lunch before the rest of the Upper Prep and the Seniors. They will begin some of the senior curriculum in Year 6 – and thus be accelerated a little – whilst at the same time continuing to have some lessons in their Form base and with teachers with whom they are familiar. They are included in the Upper Prep assemblies but won’t be expected to lead these as a Form whilst in Year 6. Their homework assignments are also adapted to make for a smoother and more manageable transition by emphasising core subjects initially before gradually including other subjects. ‘Softly, softly’ is the approach and we are continuing to adjust and adapt this key transition point – and hence the recent meeting with Y6 parents and the pupil questionnaire.

So, is it working?

What did the Y6 survey show?

In answer to the question,

‘What has been the best part about Y6 so far?’

we had answers like:

  • Design Technology,
  • more freedom and responsibility,
  • first to lunch,
  • role play,
  • cake sales
  • and mixed games.

‘What have you found hardest to date?’

Here the answers included

  • organisation,
  • homework,
  • making friends
  • and our break time balls are sometimes ‘taken’.

‘If you could choose one thing to change, what would it be?

  • More break time,
  • a 25 metre pool,
  • allowed on the Astro in morning break,
  • wellies!

And, finally,

‘Did you find the transition difficult – and what could be done to improve it?’

  • Help with organisation,
  • Fine – just getting to know my way around the senior block,
  • using the log book.

Giving Ballard the ‘thumbs up’

Parents also mirrored much of the above but, in the main, gave the ‘thumbs up’ to the relatively smooth transition process. Change, of course, is one of the things which we all find hard. It can be exhilarating and exciting at times but also nervy and daunting.

Surveys and the ‘pupil voice’ help but most of all we try to listen and respond with sensitivity and realism.

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.

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Email etiquette? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 31st January 2018

January 31, 2018
email-tiles-wooden

Email etiquette?

Letter writing memories

When I was at school I can remember receiving very precise instructions about how to write a letter: the form of addressing someone: ‘Dear Sir / Madam’ meant you signed off ‘yours faithfully’ and if you called them ‘Mr or Mrs’ then you could conclude with ‘yours sincerely’. (I wrote rather a lot of the ‘Dear Sir’ type whilst at Prep School as I was always writing to Airfix and Revell hoping for free ‘transfers’ – that is, stickers – in return.) A letter to a relative gave more leeway and might be ‘lots of love’ or simply ‘love’ at the end. I was also to include the full date (words and not simply numbers) and my address at the top (but this could be abbreviated). As I was at boarding school and expected to write home weekly (usually a Sunday afternoon ‘rest’ activity), I got a lot of practice! With my parents living in Africa the majority of my missives were by airmail (not so long ago sadly axed by the Post Office) and as these only had limited space it did shape the content and length of your letter rather well!

What is the email etiquette?

And so what is the etiquette for writing emails? They follow a somewhat ‘middle path’ between the formality of the seemingly old-fashioned and rather rare letter of old, and the likely brief, possibly curt, and certainly idiom-ridden social media messages of today. I have to say that I err towards the formal letter in my email: I usually have a (hopefully) cheery greeting following, in true British style, a reference to the prevailing weather (such as ‘warm greetings from a wet Hampshire’). I hope this serves to ‘set the scene’ and the tone for what follows. I always try and end with a respectful and friendly conclusion such as, ‘with my best wishes’. No doubt I am viewed as a dinosaur in some of this etiquette but I have to say that, in my humble view, it is better than the over familiar, especially from someone I don’t know well, if at all.

How many of us squirm inwardly when the greeting (assuming it’s there at all) is simply ‘Hi’? And then there’s ‘Dear Alastair’ (or Alistair, Alister…) from someone who has never met me. What about the one I received from a potential parent last year:

‘Hya, Alastair, how’s yer doing?’

(Admittedly this was from someone ‘over the Pond’…) So, what is the correct etiquette? I suppose I’d like emails to be friendly and professional if to do with school business without being overly familiar. I’d also prefer that the angry parent at least attempted a pleasantry at the beginning rather than launching straight into the complaint (‘My son can’t find his trainers…’) and end with the rather demanding, ‘I look forward to your very early response’! Mind you, it took some getting used to the very old –fashioned handwritten notes sent to me by the Master at my College at Cambridge. They all began ‘Dear Reid’ and simply signed off ‘Plumb’ (actually Sir Jack Plumb, a notable historian).

I have been interviewing scholarship candidates this week and each has written a formal letter to me explaining why they have applied and what their interests and achievements are. I particularly enjoy the hand written ones (more personal and less chance of the direct parental hand). Most have started with ‘Dear Mr Reid’ (occasionally ‘Mr Read’ – and why not as I’m a schoolteacher?).

So, what am I suggesting?

I suppose I am expecting letters / emails to be briefer in our pressure-ridden world but I do hope they will retain sufficient formality to be polite and enough care to show thought and consideration for the person to whom they are written. I can receive up to 100 emails a day (many destined straight for ‘delete’ as they are unsolicited) and it is a bright spot on my horizon when I come across a clear, friendly and well-structured missive – and all the better if they contain a ‘thank you’ for something I can pass on to a colleague!

Happy composing!

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.

Image used: Alpha Stock Images – http://alphastockimages.com/

Drops of grace in life – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 24 January 2018

January 24, 2018
Drops of Grace in Life

Drops of grace in life

I read a heart-warming article in the Press this week about author Chris Young, who was trying to get in touch with his English teacher, a Miss Ward, from the late 1970s. Mr Young, who commended his teacher for supporting him after his mother died and his alcoholic father could not cope, tweeted:

‘I’d dropped into the bottom quarter for English at school. My #English Teacher Miss Ward pulled me out of that ditch’. At the age of 13 years, Miss Ward ‘treated me like a rock star, loved what I wrote and got me to talk in front of the class’.

He is now about to launch his first book!

Memories of teachers who encouraged us

I imagine (and I hope) that we all have memories of someone who has stood by us, encouraged us and ‘been there for us’ when the going got tough. Whilst my early life was very different from that of the gentleman above, I can also remember a teacher who impacted me positively and immeasurably – and who also gave me confidence to speak in front of others. Her name was Miss Margaret Maclaurin and she was my elocution teacher at Prep School in Scotland in the 1960s.

School, stammers and elocution

My parents lived and worked in West Africa and were in a remote area of Ghana when the time came for me to go to school aged five. There was nowhere suitable for me locally and so I came to board, aged five, at Drumley House Prep School near Ayr. Whilst I have only fond memories of my eight years at Drumley, at some point in my early years there I developed a stammer. This was possibly a result of the separation from my parents (although I usually spent my holidays with them in Ghana or, when home on leave, in Paisley). Miss Maclaurin came to my rescue! She saw me once a week for elocution lessons and during this time not only did I learn a few ‘tricks’ (such as how to avoid using words beginning in ‘p’ when feeling tired and stressed), I also learnt about speaking in public. Where this was once the most disarming place for me as a stutterer, it came to be a challenge which I relished. Miss M taught me to learn poetry off by heart so that when I declaimed I could concentrate on expression, modulation and emphasis and not have to worry about the words themselves.

Public speaking

As a Head I have to speak in public almost daily and owe a huge debt of gratitude towards Miss Maclaurin. It was a delight to visit her in her home when recently married and to introduce her to my wife, Rosalyn. So engrossed were we in conversation that we quite forgot that Rosalyn had gone off to the bathroom (and somehow locked herself in) – but that’s another story!

So, a challenge for us all: think of someone who has had a positive impact on our lives in years gone by and why not surprise them with a letter, a card, a call or even a visit – just to show appreciation. It might prove to be a ‘drop of grace’ in their life at this very moment. You’ll never know if you don’t try it – and who knows, someone may do it for you, too!

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.

All in a motto? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 17 January 2018

January 17, 2018

All in a motto?

Most major companies have mottos, key statements or ‘strap lines’ as part of marketing and these will sometimes evolve over time. Coca Cola, for example, have gone from ‘Good til the last drop’ (1908), to ‘Enjoy Life’ (1923) to ‘Coke knows no season’ (1947) and, of course, ‘It’s the Real Thing’ (1969). Coca Cola (or Coke) has had 57 different tag lines since being launched in 1886 and today uses the slogan ‘Taste the feeling’ (2016). (It’s interesting, as an aside that Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ tag line has survived virtually unscathed since 1988.)

Ballard strap lines over the years

2016.3.1 minibus

At Ballard we used to use the informative ‘strap line’ of ‘one journey from Nursery to GCSE’ and this still appears on most of our buses.

More recently we have started to use ‘bespoke education’ – an image from tailoring where we endeavour to ‘clothe’ the child appropriately depending on their needs, interests and aspirations (and within practical reason)! Throughout all of this change, however, our school motto In Novitate Sensus has remained unchanged.

Mottoes uncovered

The word ‘motto’ is derived from the Latin ‘muttum’ – or ‘mutter’ – and is a maxim or a phrase designed to summarise the general intention / motivation of an organisation, individual or family. An article in the Independent recently summarised some research into the use of mottoes in history and then in schools:

When landed families built their castles, stately homes or manors, they asked the king’s permission to take up, or retain, arms. But their serfs or yeomen could not necessarily read. What better than to devise a shield of four or five colourful symbols embellished with simple text or a strapline? Then to carry that same shield into battle? A bit like hoisting a flag or blowing a trumpet. Impress friend and enemy alike. Show off your wealth and lineage. Whole centuries later, an unassuming inner-city comprehensive discovers that the 4-by-5in breast pockets stitched onto its newly ordered maroon blazers are exactly the right size to take a shield and an end-of-year target. Very soon, after commencement of autumn term, everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet. Literally. Obviously, the governors’ mission statement of 222 very solemn words is a little difficult to print on each purple football strip. Therefore brevity has to take pride of place.

Ballard vision

We have several documents at Ballard outlining what we stand for and these include our Vision Statement, a paper on Aims and Objectives (7 of these), key values – the Ballard Bs (also 7) – and, finally, a list of expected pupil outcomes (from a pupil and also a teacher perspective) and these number 7, too. It was thus some relief when I read the article above, and to note the research into school mottoes, that our three-word motto, seems to hit the right ‘note’. Godfrey Homes, the author of the article, writes:

In rhetoric, the number “three” is of great importance. It is often said we hear nine pieces of information, pay attention to three, remember one! Also three possibilities don’t sound as narrow, as abrupt, as two.

In Novitate Sensus

Ballard-School-LOGO-BW-Latin

So In Novitate Sensus, what does this mean in English? In long hand it is:

‘By the renewing of your mind’

(and is a quotation from Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament). In shorthand we would say, ‘Renewing your mind’, and hopefully encapsulate our values of honesty, curiosity, being respectful, responsible, kind, safe and positive, by suggesting that it’s only when we allow our minds to be changed and trained that these qualities can truly take root and grow. One word only? ‘Renewing’.

What’s your motto?

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.

How do I look? – Headmaster’s Blog – Tuesday 9th January 2018

January 9, 2018
Looking at your phone

How do I look?

There was a piece on the News recently from the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, urging social media companies, parents and teachers to do more to help young people who grow up ‘chasing likes’. Anne Longfield said that social media is exposing children to ‘significant risks emotionally’, with a particular ‘cliff edge’ as they transition from junior to secondary school. She had commissioned a report, (published January 2018) called Life in Likes, which states that children become increasingly anxious about their online image as they head into their teens.

Whilst this report is not necessarily revealing something new, it does keep a critical area of young people’s development to the fore. It resonated for me with a book I have been reading (somewhat later than intended in the year) for Advent: Tim Chester’s The One True Gift. He writes:

We live in an age in which we constantly worry about how other people perceive us. “How do I look?” is one of our culture’s catchphrases. And no wonder. A couple of generations ago your identity was pretty much handed to you at birth. The chances were you would do the job your parents did and live in the area in which they lived. Today, social mobility means most of us have the freedom to invent and reinvent ourselves.

It can be a great blessing to have this freedom and to be able to explore and then seize new opportunities. However, it can also bring an increased level of anxiety: if my identity is down to me, then I can end up evaluating my performance time and time again. With social media it is magnified from ‘how do I look to the people in this room…in my work place…at school?’ to ‘how do I look to the online world?’ I desperately want them to give me the ‘thumbs up’ and to ‘like’ my posting, my picture and my persona.

I hesitate to ‘preach’ but I can’t help but quote from the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians (chapter 2). His advice, it seems to me, applies to us all whatever our faith position:

Philippians 2: 3-4

True humility is not found by pretending we are worse than we really are – something we self-deprecating British seem to ‘enjoy’ – but in how we think about others. As Chester writes: When you meet a humble person, you don’t come away thinking, “What a humble person”. You come away thinking, “That person was really interested in me”.

So, perhaps the next time we ask ourselves the question, “How do I look?” perhaps we shall find an answer in looking away from ourselves and in valuing others more highly.

Here’s hoping I can do this next time I look in the mirror – or on social media!

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.

Less is more? – Headmaster’s Blog – 3 January 2018

January 3, 2018
less is more image

Less is more?

A Happy New Year to the readers (reader?) of this blog! I trust you have had a festive break with some refreshments with family and friends.

Festive sort-out?

I returned home yesterday after a week away and decided to look for something ‘in a box somewhere’ in my garage. After a good hour and a half I found what I was seeking (an old teaching file) but in the process waded through an incredible amount of ‘stuff’. Why on earth have I kept all those history books from university days, those teaching notes from the early 1980s and all those video cassettes from yesteryear? I accept that I am a bit of a hoarder (I prefer to say that as an historian I’m interested in sifting through the past and everything has a value) but there has to come a limit.

Post-Christmas analysis

These thoughts of excess and surplus are, I suppose, natural at Christmas time when most of us will no doubt receive many more presents than we really need or want. (As a teacher I am extremely grateful to all those pupils who have kindly given me cards but, I suspect, I won’t have the stomach – literally – for the many boxes of Belgian chocolates which were generously given to me and so I hope my colleagues in the staff room will enjoy sharing them over the next few months / year!) On a different scale, but similarly thought-provoking, I read recently that 200,000 books are published annually in the UK. The Times literary editor, Robbie Millen, has written an exasperated piece asking people to kindly stop sending books to him as he was overwhelmed. Apparently, with so many books clamouring for our attention, it’s much easier to award them ‘nervous little pats on the head rather than to separate wheat from chaff’ (as DJ Taylor has written in the I newspaper). Moreover, there were 821 films on release in the UK in 2016 (equating to 16 per week) and so surely way beyond the capacity of mere mortals, let along film critics, to assimilate, evaluate (or even enjoy)!

Perhaps ‘less is more’?

‘Less is more’ for the environment as well it seems

I expect that most of us who have seen some of the harrowing images from Blue Planet 2 will agree that where plastic is concerned, less is indeed more – more sea creatures and, in time, more health for humans, too. A simple walk around our local woodlands or seashore, even a glance in the roadside ditch, reveals extensive amounts of waste and litter. (Can anyone understand the mentality behind those who apparently throw away tin cans and coffee cups with thoughtless abandon?) Less is more beauty and, again, greater health to the planet.

DJ Taylor, in the aforementioned newspaper, comments on a further concern:

…the more stuff becomes available the more the overall quality of things on offer starts to sink…the greater the volume of stuff brought before our eyes the less able we are to discriminate between good and bad, to work out what we really want to watch, read or listen to and establish whether it shapes up.

New Year’s resolution

Taylor’s advice for a New Year resolution is that we buy less of everything as we may then enjoy what’s left more. This seems to me to be a sound approach but I hope it’s not simply for what it might do for ourselves but also for others. One present I particularly appreciated this year was from a parent: a donation made (in place of a ‘thing’) in the school’s name to ‘Oxfam unwrapped’ to help pay for a child’s education in a developing part of the world.

Here ‘more’ will in fact be ‘more and not less’!”

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

 

What do you wish for?

December 19, 2017
Ballard Wishmas tree 2017

What do you wish for?

Term has just concluded for us with another magnificent and uplifting Carol Service at Christchurch Priory. Our concluding anthem, a firm favourite, was John Rutter’s ‘I wish you Christmas’. This song speaks of snow, music, friends, loved ones and blessings – a certain amount of nostalgia but also comforting, lyrical and, yes, a blessing to sing and to hear.

Now I am back at school and taking down our annual ‘Wishmas Tree’ and reading the comments written on the Christmas labels and placed on the tree’s branches. Pupils and staff are encouraged to place here wishes, prayers and comments as a means of reflecting on the present and the future. In previous years we have had our crop of requests for particular types of Christmas present, for a boyfriend or girlfriend and for a loved one just departed. This year the mood seems to have changed somewhat.

The most common theme amongst the ‘wishes’ was for peace in the world and the absence of war. This one is typical:

I wish all people were kind and that poor people have a safe place to live. And that there was no war.

Another one picked up on the concern for the poor with;

I wish for people to have love, food, drink, electricity and a home.

In our final assemblies this term we have spent time encouraging a practical response in this winter time to those in need near to home (such as through the New Forest Basics’ Bank) and also those on the continent suffering as refugees (such as ‘Clothes for Calais’ which a staff member and his wife are journeying to support). This seems to have inspired this ‘wish’ on our tree: I hope we can all develop an ‘attitude of gratitude’ this Christmas and always.

 

There were a couple of ‘one off’ wishes. The first was no doubt inspired by the latest BBC ‘Blue Planet’:

I wish there will be no plastic in the sea.

The other, much to my amusement (not quite knowing how to take this one in the year of my retirement):

I hope for a wonderful new Head Teacher.

(It’s probably best not to dwell on this comment as it might be a critique of the present incumbent!)

And so, as we go into the Christmas season, what do you wish for as 2018 starts to appear on the horizon? Here’s my wish from the final verse of Rutter’s song:

I wish you music, I wish you song;

I wish you harmony your whole life long

The warmth of memories that long remain

I wish you Christmas, a merry Christmas,

And may God bless you till we all meet 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.

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