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Expanding horizons beyond the core curriculum: a right not an expensive luxury

By Education
by Antonia Beary
Headmistress, Mayfield School

Education funding cuts are a hot topic at the moment. It seems every time we look at the news, there are bleak headlines about the possibility of Grammar Schools introducing means-tested fees, and tough decisions are being made about which subjects state schools can afford to offer, and which they are being forced to drop.





Heads are having to focus on the core compulsory subjects with resources being directed towards boosting league table results. Of course, literacy, numeracy and the sciences are vital, but with access to the creative and performing arts, languages and humanities becoming a lottery for many students across the country, we are on a dangerous path.

Variety and choice within the curriculum is fundamental to providing a thorough and balanced education that expands a child’s horizons and produces young people with the resilience, confidence and integrity to navigate the challenges they face in the modern world. At our school we strongly believe in the benefits of studying a broad range of subjects. The term ‘humanities’ provides a clue as to the many rewards that studying history, geography, philosophy, psychology, religious studies, classics and politics bring. These subjects our children to learn how to be human, instilling an understanding of ethics, values and culture that is an essential element of education.

The humanities afford an opportunity for students to develop their own considered opinions on some of the most important areas of life, helping them to clarify their beliefs and values. We live in societies made up of real people, who have been shaped by past events and individuals: communities follow traditions that have been passed down through the generations, and every day we depend on technologies, ideas and innovations that have been developed, by other people, for us. Studying the humanities also teaches research and problem solving skills, the capacity to summarise and critique texts, and the ability to clearly and creatively debate and present information – skills that are extremely attractive to universities and employers, but should not be the sole reason for learning them.

Ever-increasing globalisation amplifies the importance of studying languages. Proficiency in French, Spanish and the other modern languages opens the door to living and working abroad, and to a plethora of careers across all sectors in multinational companies where language skills are required. However, it is through the literature and art that one really begins to comprehend another culture: insight into experiences and perspectives fosters understanding and tolerance. Even if students choose to drop languages after their GCSEs, they will have learnt the discipline, dedication and confidence required to communicate with other people (no matter how tentatively) and so to begin to build links and relationships that may be useful both professionally and personally throughout their lives.

At our school we believe the creative and performing arts have an extremely positive impact on physical and mental well-being, inspiring pupils and allowing them to use their imaginations while they take a break from their academic pursuits. Whether a student intends to pursue music, drama, textiles, ceramics or art as a career, or whether it is just for fun and relaxation, it is vital these subjects are available to students at secondary level, and that they are encouraged to take part. Who knows where it may lead them? The more a curriculum is restricted, the more stifled creativity becomes and we risk depriving children of essential life skills, and of narrowing their
The benefits of singing, playing music or performing on stage (no matter how nerve-wracking it may seem initially) are vast: from boosting self-confidence, to teaching the discipline that is required to learn lines or music. Commitment, attention to detail, critical analysis and patience are required to succeed. These skills are eminently transferrable and cross-curricular links between the arts and those subjects considered more traditionally academic are hugely valuable, not least in providing contextual detail and background information to enrich learning: the bigger picture!

A future in which these subjects are not available to pupils is an alarming one, and one that many parents in the state sector are increasingly facing. We want our girls to leave school with an excellent understanding of the past, not least in how that informs the skills they need to thrive in the future as a proactive member of a modern society. Abstract and creative intellectual curiosity is important, but must be tempered by understanding of and compassion for themselves and others: that is exactly what we are giving them. In our increasingly global existence, this combination of skills couldn’t be more important, but cannot be measured by a written examination, or passively learnt!

League tables, funding cuts and ever-changing attainment goals have created an educational landscape in which the state sector is being directed to focus on the traditional ‘core’ subjects, to the disadvantage of those children and parents who are looking for a broader educational experience. Everyone should be able to benefit from an education that inspires creativity and critical thinking; that encourages commitment and self-confidence; that helps children learn about and prepare for the world around them.

Antonia Beary is Headmistress at Mayfield School, a leading Catholic independent boarding and day school for girls aged 11 to 18.
She is also currently Chair of CISC and Hon Sec of GSA.

Cycling on the road with children

By Education, family, Safety, Sport

How can you prepare a child for the demands of cycling on a road? Some parents will balk at letting their children near roads with traffic, let alone on them. It would be foolish to pretend there are no risks involved. However, at some point your child will use roads alone – if not on a bike, then as a pedestrian or behind the wheel of a car as a young adult. Those who are used to independence and who can make risk assessments will be safer, better road users than those who have been isolated from the outside world. It doesn’t require leaping in at the deep end. Exposure to traffic is something best done by degrees.

Co-riders and passengers
To begin with your child will travel on the road under your direct control, either as a passenger in a seat or trailer or as a co-rider on a tandem or trailer-cycle. As steering and braking are under your sole control, the only impact will be on how you cycle.

You will inevitably ride in a less swashbuckling style. Mostly it’s because you are always more careful when kids are around; it’s human nature. Partly it’s because a heavier bicycle takes longer to get up to speed and to slow down, so your riding benefits from being smoother and less stop-start. Try to anticipate junctions by arriving slowly and in the right gear for setting off. Allow the extra second or two you’ll need to pull away when judging gaps in traffic.

A child on a tandem or trailer-cycle or in a cargo bike may pick up some traffic skills from you whilst you are riding. You can reinforce this by asking an older child to see if there’s anything behind and to signal left or right when needed. (You will still have to do both these things yourself if it is safe enough.)

Tandems remain useful up to the age of 11 and possibly beyond. By that age, though, most children will want to ride solo. One reason is image. The desire to conform becomes very strong and children don’t want to be seen as ‘different’ by their friends. The tandem that was once so popular may now be seen as geeky.

Chaperoned cycling
Traffic awareness develops around the age of eight to 10 years old, which is usually when school-based cycle training tends to start. Up until that time, at least, you will need to supervise your child on roads. He or she might be a proficient cyclist and yet make misjudgements about traffic.

Before you set off
Before setting out together there are some things you need to be sure of. One is that your child can stop, start, steer and otherwise be competent at cycling – on a bike that’s roadworthy. Another is that your child will respond to your instructions, doing what you say, when you say it. Do explain the reasons for this in advance: that you’re not being bossy or cross, just careful. The final requirement is that your child knows the difference between left and right. When you say ‘go left’ it’s important your charge doesn’t cycle into the centre of the road instead.

On the road
When you’re riding, it’s best if your child leads and you cycle a bike length or half a bike length behind. That way you can watch your child at all times and call out instructions. Your child should ride towards the left side of the road, but at least 50cm out from gutter, while you ride further out, possibly taking the lane. This means traffic has to come around you and can’t cut in too close to your child, who might veer or wobble or simply be freaked out by cars passing too close.

If you need to do so, it is perfectly legal to cycle side-by-side with your child. (Many drivers are unaware that cyclists can ride two abreast, so be prepared for the odd pipped horn.) It’s worth moving forward to ride alongside as you come up to a side road. Two cyclists are more visible than one, and with both of you to pass, any side-road driver is less likely to engage in the brinkmanship of edging or accelerating out in front of you.

Give encouragement as you ride along and make your instructions calm and clear.
Information should flow both ways. In particular, your child should be taught to say ‘Stopping!’ rather than halting right in front of you without warning. Ideally, your child should also signal left before pulling in to the side. (No one uses the one-armed up-down flap that signifies slowing down nowadays, and it may only confuse drivers.)

Start on easier, less trafficked roads and work up. There will be situations in which it is easier or necessary to get off the bikes. Perhaps a hill is too steep. Perhaps a junction is too complex. In time your child will be able to ride these. For now, take it one step at a time. And remember: communication, communication, communication.

Independent cycling
Independent cycling means riding on the road. Children cycling on the pavement is illegal, but there is no criminal liability for children under the age of 10, and it is tacitly accepted by everyone that the pavement is where younger children will ride. By the age of 11, however, and perhaps two or three years earlier, (if you feel they are capable of it) most children can learn to ride safely on the road without supervision – not on all roads but certainly on roads that aren’t busy and don’t have complex junctions.

Cycle training has traditionally taken place in the later years of primary school. Not only are children ready for training then, they will soon need it. The average distance from home to secondary school is 3.3 miles in England – too far to walk perhaps, but not difficult by bike. Training has moved on quite a way since the cones-in-the-school-playground days of the Cycling Proficiency Scheme. The National Standard for Cycle Training (called Bikeability) takes place largely on the road in real-world, supervised conditions. And the training itself is no longer administered by schoolteachers but by qualified, accredited cycle instructors.

Local authorities sometimes provide free or subsidised training. Your nearest cycle training provider can fill you
in about charging policy.

Taken from
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Slime time!

By Education, fun for children, Mental health, Uncategorized
by Sharon Me
Creator and Director of Artpod Ltd

Are your children obsessed with Slime? Have they taken over the kitchen with home-made recipes from YouTube, only for you to hear the cries of it didn’t work! Like all good recipes and experiments the devil is in the detail and with a few kitchen ingredients you can have some great fun with your children.

There are several different ways to make Slime, and you can, of course, experiment with using different ingredient sand different amounts to produce varying textures, colours and consistencies.

Here is my favourite Slime to make at home – corn flour Slime also known as Oobleck. This recipe is brilliant for all ages and abilities and is the easiest to make and play with.

• 1 cup of corn flour
• Up to a quarter cup of water
• Plastic sheet to keep your kitchen table free of mess!

Mix the ingredients together adding a small amount of water at a time in a bowl and you’re done! Yes, that’s it! The more water you add the more dribbles you will get and the more corn flour, the thicker the Slime.

This Slime is, in fact, a non newtonian fluid, which means it simply cannot make up its mind as to whether it is a liquid or a solid! A good way to explain this is by showing how different forces work.

Ask your children to try and pick up the Slime in a ball and they will find it is quite tricky to pick up and that it runs through their fingers.

Next, ask them to pick some Slime up and quickly roll it into a ball in their hands really, really fast. The motion and force of the movement will keep it in a ball until they stop rolling, at which point it will trickle through your fingers again. All very messy but great fun!

Experiment with making more Slime by increasing the quantities and your little scientists could even try walking on Oobleck! This time, make the Slime in a large washing up bowl so that it is ankle deep. Use at least two packets of 400g corn flour, add water and mix to the same consistency as before.

Then ask your little scientists to try the following experiment.

Take their shoes
and socks off, roll up trousers or skirts and then challenge them to jump up and down on the Oobleck and see what happens.

It is a good idea to hold their hands at this point as they can get very excited (also put some old towels down in advance to soak up the splashes!)

Your little scientist will find that the force of jumping up and down causes the Slime to become temporarily solid – however, the second they stop jumping they will start to slowly sink into the Oobleck, which usually creates giggles galore!

To escape from the Oobleck, lift one foot up at a time and let the Slime dribble into the bowl before stepping on to the towel and then repeat with the second foot. Again, hold their hands to help them keep their balance.

Glow-in-the-dark Oobleck
If you want to take the science a bit further you may want to try to make glow-in-the-dark Slime – all you need is cheap indian tonic water to replace the regular water in exactly the
same quantities.

Tonic water will fluoresce under ultraviolet light, owing to the presence of quinine. In fact, the sensitivity of quinine to ultraviolet light is such that it will appear visibly fluorescent
in direct sunlight. You can also try making a mini darkroom with a regular pop up tent and a small black light torch or UV torch. This will make your Slime really glow!

Cleaning up afterwards
Remove any large quantities of Slime and put it in the bin.
Any additional splashes on clothes or carpets are best left to dry as the corn flour dries back into a powder and can then be vacuumed up. Then wipe over the surface with cold soapy water.

Sharon Mee is Creator and Director of Artpod Ltd who design and deliver parties, workshops and events for all ages and abilities. Creativity and fun are at the heart of what we do!
We believe in the power of the imagination and experimentation and that through the process of creating something, magical things can happen!