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April 2019 Blog

During the Easter break, I took the opportunity to visit Singapore with my two sons and reacquaint myself with a country that I left 30 years ago to come and live in England. My brother happens to be living and working out in Singapore again now and so this was the perfect excuse for me to go back. He had warned me many times that it has all changed so much, that it is difficult to recognise the places of our childhood, and he was absolutely right. Singapore is a dynamic thriving city that never stands still. The growth of the economy has led to affluence that I believe we would find enviable in this country. The city itself is one of the most beautiful I believe anywhere in the world and all the development has been focused on maintaining and promoting this. Buildings are designed with the future very much in mind, and as space is such a premium in Singapore, clever lateral thinking on the behalf of architects and engineers ensures that all buildings have the opportunity to enjoy the greenery. It was, therefore, a privilege and a pleasure to be back in such an environment and it was a wonderful eye opener for my two boys.

My brother had also arranged for me to visit the two schools I had attended whilst I lived in Singapore. As with the rest of the city, they have been developed and have grown so much that they truly were unrecognisable, but my secondary school, in particular, United World College of South East Asia, still very much maintains its international ethos and celebration of all nations from around the world. It was the experience of education that I had at this school that made me so determined one day to be a teacher and to open young minds to the possibilities and wonders of the world around us as I had experienced during my time there.

I believe that the dynamic nature of the nation of Singapore is very much due to the quality of its education. Everywhere you go on the island, you can see how all the schools are invested in, whether they are international schools like the ones I attended or state schools run by the government. Education is clearly one of the most important aspects of Singapore society and this is then paid back, in the way how the next generations are finding the solutions and having the dreams for how to build and protect their country further. Everywhere the message is strong; progress is important but the cleaner it is the better. Progress without the protection of the environment and without investment in future generations is no progress at all.

I know that Michael Gove went to visit Singapore when he was Secretary of State for Education and I believe that Nick Gibb has been as well, as Schools Minister, to see what this country does to make its education so successful. It was on the back of exploratory international visits such as this that our new curriculum and examination system, with all its increased academic rigour, was introduced. This, as I have said many times is a good thing and certainly having witnessed the strength of education in places like Singapore first hand again now, this focus on challenge is essential. However, I have done some further research around why education in Singapore is so successful and two points stand out very clearly:

  1. Parental engagement with the child’s education is high and study outside of School hours is highly prioritised.
  2. In class, the focus is on teaching the students specific problem-solving skills and subjects. The curriculum is focused on teaching students practical skills that will help them solve problems in the real world. 

If I am to bring anything back then from my Easter adventures, then it is connected with these two things. Firstly, I want the curriculum that we deliver at Crookhorn to reflect the skills and requirements of the local community as well as being academic. In the spirit of this, I am delighted that our numbers for engineering have increased significantly again with the Year 8 options, and now to facilitate all the groups we are offering it as an early entry subject as well. I am also really pleased that we are offering two new courses in construction and art textiles and we are able to facilitate these with the staffing and the facilities that we have on site currently. Secondly, I want to continue to promote the importance of study outside of the classroom and outside of College hours. To do this, we need to keep our focus on and our commitment to the virtual learning environment of ‘its learning’. As a College we need to drive through the plans we have for blended and flipped learning so that students and parents genuinely understand that study and learning is all about the personal investment in it. By taking the time to explore subjects in greater depth, there can be the recognition that many areas in the world are moving much faster than others, and a dynamic approach to the future is genuinely exciting and should be embraced.

The concepts of Independent learning and finding learning exciting, as referenced above, are two of the key attributes of the ‘Crookhorn Learner’ summed up in our OPEN MIND ethos. Another attribute of OPEN MIND is perseverance and a group of eight Year 9 students showed this in abundance during their involvement in the Step Up to the Podium project with Portsmouth University. They started by going to a launch at the University which involved masterclasses in sport psychology, sport science and the impact of culture on sport.  They then had 6 one hour workshops in College which involved creating a mini research project about the science behind sport and then creating a presentation on their findings. Over the six weeks, all eight students (Adam P; Tia H; Stella T; Rebecca H; Lola N; Levi E; Ethan M and Mitchell C) showed great enthusiasm and commitment to the project.  The final presentation was held at Portsmouth Football Club on Wednesday 3rd April.  It was a tough audience with approximately 100 people, but the students stood up proudly and explained their findings in clear and confident voices.  As they were about to finish there was a technical problem as the video they had created wouldn't load therefore leaving the presentation half done. They showed great resilience by going to the judges and explaining what was on their video and about the research that they had done, rather than just leaving it. Mrs Wilson who had worked with the students throughout the six weeks said that she was so immensely proud of how they conducted themselves even under the stress of the video not working and how well they represented the values and ethos of the College. They were undoubtedly the smartest and most committed group there and this was reflected by the fact that the judging panel created a 2nd place for their presentation as they had been so impressed with the team despite the difficulties and Levi E won the most committed award.

We also have continued to create opportunities (another key attribute of OPEN MIND) for our learners in all year groups to make the most of. Over ten weeks a group of Year 10 students have been working with two ambassadors from the University of Portsmouth with regards to preparing for life after school. The sessions have included goal planning, building resilience, and the reality of university life.  The students now have the opportunity to go on a three-day residential at the University so they can experience it all for themselves. All the students have found this mentoring project really enjoyable and have found it inspiring to work with university students and hear from them all about the reality of university life.

Just before the Easter holidays started 30 Year 7 students went to visit the University of Southampton which they found fascinating. They did a scavenger hunt around the campus to find out interesting facts about the University and then competed against each other to see how much of the knowledge they had retained. This was followed with an interactive task about different subjects and how they link together and then there was time to question the five ambassadors from the University about the courses they were on.  The students were engaged the whole time and found the morning very informative, useful and inspiring.

For Year 10 students there was the opportunity to enhance their creative writing skills with some workshops run by Winchester University and then a campus visit at the start of the Summer term. The workshops were a huge success with the students fully engaged and enjoying every minute. Some of the tasks involved writing with picture prompts, writing with music prompts and writing different parts of a story collaboratively, which was very entertaining and taught them to think more deeply about structure.

The students also thoroughly enjoyed their university campus tour and quizzing the ambassadors about life and academic study after GCSE. Hopefully, some aspirations for studying English at higher education level were definitely formed through this experience. My thanks to Mrs Nailor and Miss King for organising this event.

Miss Masson has been very busy again, this time with a focus on the Holocaust for the Year 9 and 10 early entry historians. 63 students listened to and asked questions of Uri Winterstein who is a Holocaust survivor. The students showed great respect and empathy during the presentation and in the questions, they posed to our visitor. Uri really helped the students to understand that the Holocaust was a slow progression, not an inevitable outcome.  They were also encouraged to challenge persecution and discrimination where ever they see it and especially if it comes from their political leaders.

Just before the Easter break, there was the opportunity for intellectual challenge with the fabulously attended PTA quiz night with the quiz host, Mr O Sullivan, truly exceeding all expectations with the breadth and depth of questions posed. The money raised from this and from a non-uniform day will now be invested into College equipment as bid for by different subject areas.

Finally, for Year 11 there was the opportunity for many to attend Easter School to help with revision in maths, PE, history, drama, MFL, art, graphics and business studies. These sessions were very well attended. We also had the opportunity for students to be able to come and study on site in two study rooms over two days. This was not so well attended, but hopefully, many more will take advantage of the opportunity for quiet study time over the May half term. As we go into May all our thoughts and support are with the Year 11 and the Year 10 early entry students as they face probably the toughest challenges of their lives so far.