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St Leonards Junior School headmaster's start of term letter | april 2018

Friday, 20 April 2018

"The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky." - Margaret McMillan, Educationalist

Dear Parents and Guardians,

My warmest welcome back to you all following what I hope has been a super Easter holiday.

Recent research has concluded that, on average, prisoners spend more time outside than young people. Not the heartiest welcome to the new term, but a sobering thought for us all. I am delighted to say that this clearly isn’t the case for St Leonards’ pupils who have all come bounding back to school with tales of adventures outdoors during the holidays. Every class has been seen out and about over the last three days, taking their learning outside the classroom on our stunning playing fields, camps and of course the greatest classroom we have: the beach. The children have all started back in excellent form and they and the staff are raring to go, and of course we have been most fortunate to have such lovely weather to get us in to the spirit of summer.

You are all aware of the significance I place on outdoor learning, and I am delighted that we will be pursuing our ambitions to launch Beach School and providing opportunities to take the learning outside the four walls of the classroom this term. In addition to ongoing Middle Years Curriculum planning, Mental Health training and a curriculum mapping exercise, the staff spent Tuesday afternoon engaged in an introductory Beach School session on East Sands beach. With the lure of Smores on the open fire to motivate us, a starter activity of a scavenger hunt gave us inspiration to start developing a story as a group. Under Mr Barrable’s lead (who will also be implementing our Outdoor Learning strategy), we could see first-hand the advantages of taking the learning outside.

Years 1-3 will have formal Beach School sessions this term (dates in the calendar) taking part in activities and project work started in the classroom. To celebrate ‘Outdoor Classroom Day’, a national awareness event, all year groups will be engaged in ‘Beach School’ during week commencing Monday, 21 May. In addition to this, we are in the process of developing our ‘Fire-side Storytelling Den’ in the woods, which complete with logs for seats, a giant fire pit and ‘tarp’ (not that it ever rains in St Andrews), will act as a perfect outdoor classroom for us. It is going up directly opposite my study, not for any other reason that I do not want to miss out on any session there.

Regular trips to the cathedral, castle and wider school grounds as a basis for exploration are also a superb opportunity for us to make the very most of our inspirational surroundings. Our focus on outdoor learning is not a bolt on: from August 2018, every ‘Unit of Inquiry’ will have an explicit outdoor learning focus to it. Nor is outdoor learning simply taking what we are doing in the classroom outside for a change of scenery, it is much deeper than this and leads to real-life and memorable learning opportunities, something that research has unanimously found leads to greater academic achievement, wellbeing and a deeper love of learning.

On the topic of outdoor learning, we have also given our children much more freedom during lunch break. They now have free range over our camps, adventure playground and both playing fields. Rather than supervising 160 children in one area, I have observed a transformation in playtime this week: groups have enjoyed sitting chatting, reading and even practising the chanter; glorious camp building is in operation; bug hotels and insect gathering; games of '40-40', ‘manhunt’ and much greater inter-year group interaction. The children have a much greater sense of freedom and I am delighted seeing them make full use of our stunning campus.

Looking ahead to this term, there are several events I would like to draw your attention to:

• Open Morning: Monday, 7 May 9.00am: You will find an invitation to our Open Morning attached to our weekly mailing. There continues to be great interest in St Leonards and we are in a very healthy position in August 2018, especially across Years 3-7. Our Open Morning will provide an opportunity for prospective families to tour the school, watch ‘Beach School’ in operation and meet our staff and children. If you have friends who you feel would be interested in attending, please do pass on details to them.

• NSPCC Internet Safety Day: Tuesday, 8 May: Mrs Pennycook will be in touch next week with further details of this day, however do note this in your diaries as we will be running a Parent-Teacher workshop on elements of Internet Safety during the afternoon.

• Grandparents and Relatives Afternoon Tea Party: Tuesday, 17 May 2.00-4.00pm: In your mailing today you will find further information about this event, along with a reply slip. In its second year, we will be delighted to welcome grandparents or relatives to St Leonards for an afternoon that will consist of tours of school, a concert and afternoon tea. Last year’s event was a very happy occasion with 75 visitors, and we look forward to another opportunity for our children to proudly show off their school.

• Sports Day: Tuesday, 19 June (with a wet weather alternative on Tuesday, 26 June): Split into the Years 4-7 in the morning, and Years 1-3 in the afternoon. Sports day is a wonderful occasion for the entire community, and we look forward to you joining us for picnics and the events.

• Junior School Art Exhibition: ‘Identity’: Friday, 22 June 5.00-7.00pm: The standard of art across the School is extraordinary, with every child being rightly proud of their work. Now in its second year, Miss Adele Neave warmly invites you to our annual exhibition showcasing every pupil’s artwork.

• End of Year Concert: Monday, 25 June 7.00pm: As the standard of music at St Leonards continues to impress us all, I warmly invite you to our annual formal concert.

• Speech Day: Friday, 29 June 10.30am: I am delighted to welcome Mr James Shone, an ex-housemaster and prep school head and, drawing on his own experiences, an inspirational figure in promoting self-esteem amongst young people, to speak at our annual Prizegiving and present the awards. This will be followed by refreshments in St Katharines Hall.

Alongside the above events, our calendar is absolutely packed with fixtures, concerts, trips, parent talks (please see my attached letter about the ‘Raising Confident Children’ course I am running), assemblies and other events to which our St Leonards families are warmly invited. May I also highlight our three ‘Headmaster’s Clinics’ this term, with a different focus on the following days:

Thursday, 3 May 9.00am and 4.30pm: Music, Performing and Visual Arts (attended our Arts teachers)

Monday, 21 May 9.00am and 4.30pm: Academic PYP and MYP (attended by Mrs Julianne Pennycook, Mrs Kate McGregor and Mrs Dawn Pemberton)

Friday, 8 June 9.00am: Sports (attended by our Sports and PE department)

Our Year 7s and 6s are off on their trips to Normandy and Belmont respectively, and I wish them well on these enrichment excursions. During our May Half Term, I shall be taking 18 Year 7s to the Ridgeway Activity Centre in Sutherland, ahead of these planned excursions during next academic year. I shall be writing with further details of these planned trips, and our slightly tweaked Activities Week, in the next few days.

Wow, what a term we can look forward to! Catherine, my colleagues and I really do look forward to seeing you many of our events, and to celebrating the hard work, enthusiasm and spirit of adventure our pupils possess. I have on my desk an article about the future of classrooms, which will no doubt involve Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality. For now, I am at my happiest looking out of my window and seeing children – from Year 7 right down to our youngest Year 1s – playing in the camps opposite my office. This should be the reality of growing up, and allowing children to be children develops, amongst other key facets, their emotional intelligence.

During Assembly on Monday, I challenged the children to ask themselves three questions at the end of each day:

  1. What did you learn today?
  2. What mistakes did you make that taught you something?
  3. What did you try hard at today?

If we develop this growth mindset in our children, they will continue to embrace challenge, setbacks and effort. I wish them all well this term as we encourage them to make the most of every opportunity that lies ahead.

With very best wishes,

William Goldsmith

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