Category Archives: Head’s blog

A warm welcome to St. Paul’s School new Headmaster, Mr Titus Edge

We are delighted to announce that Mr Titus Edge has now taken over as Headmaster of St. Paul’s School. Mr Edge was Headmaster of Gordonstoun, one of the leading independent schools in the UK and a global leader in character education. In that sense both schools have a lot in common, as at St. Paul’s we believe in the power of a holistic education, preparing our pupils with strength of character and broad skills to face the challenges of the modern world. 

Mr Edge’s appointment also marks the first step in an exciting programme that will lead to the St. Paul’s centenary in 2026 and beyond. 

Mr Edge is a History graduate of Newcastle University and undertook his PGCE in Secondary Education at the University of Oxford. He has taught at several independent schools, including City of London School and Dulwich College, both as a teacher and in management positions. He also remains a governor at a leading prep school in Scotland. He is married to Marina, an Old Paulean, and knows São Paulo well. They have one daughter and twin sons. Everyone who has met him has been impressed with his energy, vision and collaborative approach. 

 In his own words, following his appointment, Mr Edge commented:

“I am hugely honoured to take over the headship of St. Paul’s. As one of the great British international schools, St. Paul’s stands out as a beacon of educational excellence in Latin America. I look forward to working with everyone at the school – pupils, staff, governors and parents – to build on the work Louise Simpson has done and ensure that this thriving and successful school approaches its centenary with confidence.” 

Once a Lion, always a Lion

As I write my final blog post of the academic year, it is hard to imagine life beyond St. Paul’s, but that is certainly what awaits me, and a ‘new normal’ that none of us could have imagined just a few months ago. 

I hope that you will agree that we have undergone quite an educational revolution in the last three months. Moving to 100% virtual learning almost overnight, and seeing just how important our ICT investment has been to support pupils and staff as they have worked from their homes. It has saddened me to hear plans of ‘back to work’ in the press – as they have not given credit to the incredible staff teams who have supported children to maintain their continuity of education throughout this quarantine period. We have certainly all been working (harder than normal!) and so whilst it might be ‘back to school’ it is certainly not a resumption of work, since we never stopped! 

At the start of ‘lockdown’ the concerns from all sides were primarily about the educational offer for pupils. With time, we have come to realise that it is connectivity, community and wellbeing, which are the prime concerns in our online lives, rather than content. Those of us who have faced a period living alone during quarantine, especially those who are not used to a solitary life, have perhaps found it harder than others. I certainly realised the importance of Betsy, the beagle, when living alone in São Paulo to keep me exercised and feel connected. Our daily walks were crucial for my wellbeing, and as we walked around the Jardins area, often encountering members of the school community on their own perambulations, the lion community spirit really showed through. We felt more connected than usual. 

My new normal will be post-Lion, in a provincial cathedral city school in the south west of England. Exeter is a relatively small city, certainly after São Paulo, and Exeter School has a long and proud tradition and a fabulous community, which I am keen to get to know and integrate with, as I have done in Brazil. Arriving as a new head offers many exciting challenges – and certainly arriving to a school which is getting back on its feet after a pandemic is not something most heads will have had the chance to do before. But, I have learnt much in Brazil, I have developed my skills as a leader and an educator, been able to face new challenges head on, and, hopefully have enough strategies in my toolbox to face whatever challenges Exeter will bring. 

My time as a part of the in-situ Lion community comes to an end, but as we all know, Lions are for life, and I will now (and always) be an Old Paulean. As I look forward, what a wonderful experience I have had, and what amazing Lion-memories I am taking with me. Thank you all! 

#lionsforlife 

St. Paul’s well represented in the Wharton Investment Competition World finals

We are delighted to share that a group of St. Paul’s Lower 6th pupils (Lorenzo, Julia, Annie, Raphaella and Victoria), who formed the investment club Lions of Wall Street – has just participated in the Knowledge at Wharton High School (KWHS) Investment Competition world finals. 

After months of hard work, the team won second place in regional finals and were then awarded a place in the world finals, which took place this week in an online event. The pupils encountered a board of judges online who asked questions about their presentation previously sent.Unfortunately, the team did not classify into the top 3 teams at this final stage, but they are truly grateful for the experience and pleased with what they have learned.

This competition is all about creating an investment strategy for a given client, giving pupils the opportunity to gain an insight into stock market investment and understand investment concepts. The competition is divided into phases: a final report, regional finals, and finally, the world finals. Each of these phases were eliminatory, so the competition starts with 572 teams and only 12 get to go to the world finals.

“The KWHS Wharton Investment competition has provided us, the Lions of Wall Street, with a remarkable opportunity to grasp investment concepts and understand more about how the investment world works”, the team emphasised.

KWHS has a mission to provide pupils and educators around the world with a deeper understanding of business and finance and to equip them with the skills needed to excel in the global marketplace. It is a part of the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. The Latin America and Caribbean region competition is organised and run by the Wharton Alumni Association of Brazil

St. Paul’s Foundation preparation programme online

This year, pupils and teachers all over the world have developed new skills and met new challenges as never before, as the Covid-19 outbreak required schools and educational programmes to move to an 100% online environment. The same situation goes for the St. Paul’s Foundation: candidates in the preparation course for the 2020 entry selection process also have all their lessons and exams remotely, with the support of volunteer teachers from St. Paul’s.

Remote learning started in late March and it was a brand new experience for many of our candidates, who had never had all their subjects taught online before. “It made me a bit anxious about how everything would progress. Such a new and ambiguous reality for everyone”, says Antonio. But with hard work and resilience, it took only a few lessons for them to adjust and classes now run smoothly. “In the beginning it was different, like every conversion process, but I think that we adapted incredibly well”, Gregorio adds.

And if “bringing school home” initially sounded like a good opportunity to work in familiar, individual spaces, it can also be a bit distracting. Elisa says that “at home you can get more comfortable, but it is not the best environment for having classes as there are more noise and objects surrounding you.”

But some tricks can make the adaptation easier. Ana Claudia shares her tips. “I need to find a quiet place. In my case, I chose the kitchen because my parents work in the living room. I also keep the notebook, pencil case, water, etc. by my side, so then I do not need to leave my seat during my study time. With all that ready and organised, I can focus on the classes and on the tasks”, she explains.

In the end, remote learning – both as part of St. Paul’s Foundation preparation course and at the candidates’ respective schools – has brought them a new perspective regarding the academic routine. “After the quarantine started, I realised that the struggles I had to face in my busy daily routine were worth it, and now that I don’t have that routine anymore, I have begun to appreciate it.”, says João.

The St. Paul’s preparation course continues until late May and is the final stage of the selection process, with the final scholars being chosen in June. It is hoped that the chosen scholars will join St. Paul’s for the 2020-21 academic year.

Adding value through character development

Welcome back to everyone after the half term break. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed the holiday and have returned feeling refreshed and full of energy for the rest of the term. As we start the second half of the term, I would like to reflect on the annual HMC conference that I attended in the UK just before half term and what impressions I came away with this year.

At the Autumn Conference 2019 – ‘HMC 150’, I had a chance to meet with friends old and new, hear some inspiring speakers and consider a little about the leadership journey I am on, and how best I can serve my school. A theme that ran through the conference is the political challenge that UK independent schools currently face; inevitably we considered the ways that we could tell our story more clearly, and engage with a British public that might, at times, be sceptical about the value of schools which are attended by such a small sector of children (about 7%) and are seen as elite and privileged.

Alongside this, also at the same time, I have started a new learning journey myself, as I embark a upon a master’s course from the University of Birmingham, in character education. Character is something that is perhaps an intangible thing, hard to describe and put one’s finger on, but at the same time, very clear and evident in those who have it. Over recent years the development of character and the importance of particular character traits – such as integrity, honesty, resilience and determination – have come to the forefront of the minds of educators. Indeed, our own Lion Learning programme encapsulates some of these habits in the classroom and, I hope, will help our children to develop their character alongside their academic skills in everything that they do at school – academic and otherwise. 

Developing character

It struck me, as I started to work through some of my research materials on the train travelling home, that the development of character, habits and attributes that we see so clearly in our children is one of the things that marks out the true value of an independent school education. Perhaps this should be the unique selling point (USP) that we should be most proud of in this sector. On my course I am starting to consider whether (and perhaps how) character can be taught… I must say that I am quite sceptical that it can be taught, but I absolutely agree that it can be acquired and further developed through the right curriculum and enrichment activities, and that these are things that must remain key in our educational provision. 

Sadly many state-funded UK schools are under such intense pressure to deliver good academic results in the national public exams that the development of softer skills and the enrichment of the curriculum (for example through sport and music) have sometimes had to take a back seat. This reduces the opportunities that some children have to participate in those activities and events which will help them to develop their character, and sadly they may end up less confident in those soft skills and good habits which we know make them so attractive to universities and employers when they leave school.

We are so lucky at St. Paul’s to have such a rich and varied programme of enrichment activities, great trips and facilities to support every pupil in developing their character and a committed and talented staff team to support them. These traits and habits bring enormous benefits in the classroom and we should embrace and celebrate them and help our children to take every opportunity they are offered. 

We care, don’t we?

There was a time when the role of a teacher was simply to educate the academic aspects of the brain, to worry only about public examination outcomes and to consider how we could make sure that every child learned their sums, practised the skills taught in art class or was able to write a well-structured history essay. How outdated this approach now seems. Life for youngsters today is far more complicated than ever before. They live a life which straddles the real world, of family relationships, day to day routine and the normalcy of school and a life online of Instagram, celebrities, perfectionism and ‘relationships’ with people they are never going to meet. And of course, on top of this, we still expect them to fulfil their potential academically. 

 

The pressure that comes with being a young person growing up in this ever more pressured world has led all of us who work with young people to recognise that positive relationships and good mental health should be at the heart of a school. If our pupils are happy, balanced and secure in their lives, then they are much more likely to work hard, enjoy the myriad enrichment activities that we offer and, crucially, able to meet their potential academically.

 

It is this which lies at the heart of We Care. This is our initiative to ensure that positive mental health and wellbeing is at the forefront of all of our minds, and to help our pupils construct and maintain excellent relationships with other pupils and the adults they encounter in school, and with it responsible and positive behaviour for learning. We Care is a school wide initiative, starting with the very youngest children in the Pre-Prep and going right through to the oldest pupils in the Sixth Form. It is a restatement and a joining up of what we have been doing for many years as a school that believes in the best quality pastoral care; however, we hope that, by being a bit more explicit about relationships and mental health and wellbeing, we can make the outcomes even better.

 

We care also extends to our staff body (and not just the teaching staff!), and the HR department is working hard on wellbeing initiatives such as yoga and gym membership, to help all of us to feel more positive about what happens in school each day. We hope that it will be an approach that parents will understand and take home to their own relationships there too, and we look forward to hearing feedback from families in due course. 

 

When Claire Harvey, a British Paralympian, visited our school last year she talked about the impact that anxiety and poor wellbeing have on pupils in schools around the world. She urged us to be inclusive and equitable in our relationships, and to consider how we can make the structure around us positive and supportive for all. This is what We Care is all about – showing that you worry about others, and being ready to extend the hand of friendship and to help a colleague or pupil feel included. Because this makes us feel happier, and when we are happier, everything seems better, even our history essays!  

Main takeaways from COBIS 2019

This year’s COBIS conference in London was a fascinating one – with the theme of a vision for international education in 2030, we tried to look forward and consider the future for your pupils. It is impossible to imagine the technology that will be available in just one year, such is the rate of change in this field, let alone more than a decade, but we had a good stab at it! 

One key feature was the possible use and importance of artificial intelligence (AI) in education. AI is something that I was aware of, but not exactly familiar with and I now feel better educated about it. We know that when we use technology algorithms are constantly recording our choices and that data banks are filling up to make a clear image of us as users. Several of the conference presenters shared with us their innovative uses of AI, specifically in pupil assessment (adaptive online tests for example) and programmes that can target pupils’ individual needs and support on a very personalised level. Such applications could be extremely powerful in supporting every learner to have a truly personalised learning experience, and, perhaps more importantly, to create data and outputs for teachers so that they can intervene and assist pupils in a much more targeted way. I found myself considering how this might shape our reporting and communication process with parents, creating a real-time picture with incredible clarity that might allow us to support every child to reach their potential even more effectively.

Alongside these uses of technology, of course we have to consider the role of the teacher – and whether robots could replace us in the future. A fascinating presentation by Andreas Schleicher from the OECD had us considering skills for the future, and the likely shift in employment trends as more mechanisation and technology replace the human work force in this digital revolution. A frightening thought perhaps, but we found ourselves reassured that this is unlikely in all employment sectors. Robots and AI, it seems, might be artificially intelligent and able to learn, but they cannot adopt the complexities of human emotions and relationships, and hence when looking at jobs that are likely to be replaced by robots in the future, teaching comes way down at the bottom of the list. We all heaved a sigh of relief. 

Of course, with the increase in use of technology, the importance of human relationships and personal (face-to-face) interaction could not be more important and one of our keynote speakers, Prof Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist reminded us of the huge importance of mental health and wellbeing in schools. This was the second time I had heard Prof Byron speak and she was just as fresh and clear as before. Her message to help us develop resilience in our children was clear – ‘let them climb trees’ she said – and, crucially, let them fall out of a tree every now and again. This will help them to be strong adolescents and young adults, and much less likely to suffer poor mental health. As we develop and launch our own mental health and wellbeing initiative, We Care, here in school, this message could not be more important. 

The closing speaker was the executive chairman of the Eden Project, a phenomenal ecological project in Cornwall, south west England. If you do not know the Eden Project, I recommend it as a wonderful vision for the future and well worth the long train journey from London next time you are in the UK. The project was born form the restoration of a former clay china pit and is a huge visitor attraction, research hub and leader of environmental thinking globally. Sit Tim Smit, the CEO, is not a scientist in fact, but an anthropologist and a very British polymath and thinker.  He encouraged us to consider the world in 2030, not just form an environmental standpoint, but also in terms of the political and social situation that we find ourselves in. With so much change on so many agendas globally, and with such uncertainty around some key issues for the future, looking for big ideas and joined up thinking from multi-disciplines has perhaps never been more important. 

I came away from the conference feeling refreshed and optimistic about the future for our children – and reassured that much of what we are doing at St. Paul’s is heading us in the right direction. 

You can read more about the conference programme and speakers here: https://www.cobis.org.uk/cpd/annualconference

Images: www.cobis.org.uk

 

University entrance season

The Christmas break in the UK is one that is often rich with stories in the press about university entrance – typically this is when UK teenagers get offers from the universities of their choice and it is a time when schools are keen to share the fabulous offers their pupils have achieved, and inevitably there follows the press comment and opinion….

It is widely accepted that two of the oldest universities in the world, Oxford and Cambridge (termed together, Oxbridge) are some of the most competitive universities to secure an offer from globally. They attract the best qualified candidates in the country (typically with 4 A/A* at A level predicted) from some of the best schools. Every year there is a discussion about why independent schools far outnumber state (publicly funded) educated pupils at these universities as a proportion of the population as a whole. In addition, two institutions are under some pressure from government and the public (not to mention schools) to widen access to pupils from the state sector and from non-selective schools.  This piece from the BBC shows just how clear these inequalities are.

The report shows the imbalance in admissions:

  • 7% of all UK pupils attend private schools
  • 18% of those taking A-levels are at private school
  • 34% of Oxbridge applications are from private schools
  • 42% of Oxbridge places go to private school pupils
  • Of the top eight schools admitting pupils to Oxbridge, only two are state funded. 

The job of widening access and redressing the balance in inequality is not easy – but this year there were two fantastic stories about state funded schools which can (and have) started to tip the balance and show that it is possible for schools of all types to generate an atmosphere where aspiration to the top universities (whether in the UK or elsewhere) can prevail.

Reading about these two state funded academies, where many of the pupils are from poor backgrounds, with high immigrant populations and economic and social issues that may accompany these families, it is wonderful to see that they are achieving so much. Robust and rigorous curricula to inspire pupils, and a questioning approach where the pupils are encouraged to argue (politely of course!), debate, be intellectually curious and question the status quo, seem to be a recipe for success, with almost 80 pupils being offered places in these two schools alone for September 2019. These are the articles:

London state school says 41 students offered Oxbridge place

School for poorest pupils gets 37 Oxbridge offers

I remember once hearing a speaker at a conference telling me that he was looking for students who could ‘flounder intelligently’ with an idea…. rising to the challenge of not being sure about something, grappling with new and difficult ideas.  This is what the very best universities want in their students and this is what our IB programme offers to our sixth formers. 

Here at St. Paul’s our pupils are lucky to already have such a ‘leg up’ in life – with great teachers, supportive and aspirational people at home and at school to help them to achieve their dreams, whether that is at home or overseas, at university or at work. They are innately aspirational and many of our pupils succeed in securing amazing offers from universities globally.  We are very proud of them and as we start to see this year’s U6th coming into school this week with their offers secured, we congratulate them and hope that when they go to university next year they are able to learn alongside inspiring young people, from whom they can learn even more, from all walks of life. 

Developing staff to develop the pupils

Of course the pupils in a school are the most important members of the school community -there is no doubt about this; don’t let anyone tell me otherwise! But when we think about the pupils’ learning, the progress that they make and the benefits that they get from school, we have to think about another key resources – and one into which we have to invest just as much educational resource: their teachers.

Coming to this school I found one of the most generous and well managed continuous professional learning (CPL) budgets that I had ever seen – with every member of staff involved in all kinds of professional development on an ongoing basis. The CPL opportunities that they have range from small scale, skills sharing sessions run by the teachers for their colleagues after school on a Thursday evening, to complex, international conferences – with complex, international budgets to match! 

Every single one of our teaching and class assistant teams attends our international education conference every two years – in the last few years they have enjoyed hearing Sir John Johns talking about magic weavers and Claire Harvey talking about tackling equality and diversity issues in school. Both Sir John and Claire had us in tears for different reasons and both were inspiring. We have enjoyed learning about happiness in school from Sir Anthony Seldon and positive psychology from Dr Christian van Nieuwerburgh. This is just a flavour of the internationally recognised speakers who are keen to be involved in our conferences and who encourage our staff team to reflect on the big issues in education, and consider the practicalities of implementing these big issues in their practice in school.  With some fabulous results! 

With the new technology that we all have access to, we can now connect with leading organisations in education and research via webinars and online training courses. For those of us who teach the IB diploma this is a regular aspect of being up to speed with the curriculum and being able to teach the pupils confidently in class, but we also have a large number of Prep and Pre-Prep teachers who have completed Project Zero classroom courses at Harvard Graduate School of Education – a phenomenal resource for learning visible thinking and the project based approach. 

Of course, nothing beats face to face training and bringing trainers to the school from overseas (whether in a conference situation or not) is a great way to ensure that we share our resources as widely as possible.  Recent topics have included bilingualism, differentiation in the classroom, maths for primary teachers (and their children!), quality circle time, literacy, personal social and health education….. the list is endless! 

We believe that the best teachers are continuous learners – this means that they need to be given many opportunities to carry out their own research, reflect and collaborate at conferences and in training events and share their skills with their colleagues. Keeping our own minds active means that we can appreciate the best ways in which to develop the learning skills of our pupils – and also understand their frustrations and challenges when that learning is difficult…. Incredibly important for us to be effective teachers.

So, what is next on the list of staff development opportunities?  Well, I would like to help the team to learn more about how to learn…. And I have my eye on a brilliant speaker, who I reckon can help us to do just that!