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Hanford - a prep school which values childhood

During my conversation with a Brandon parent about prep schools, I was asked which I would choose for myself. Without hesitation, I replied: "Hanford"!

Imagine a slightly crumbling manor house set amongst idyllic countryside, where groups of girls dressed in Cath Kitson florals, woolly jumpers and gum boots wander around chasing each other, playing games or just chatting, and ponies are part of the family. The dormitories are floral, friendly and very communal with lost of shared clothing and tuck kept in Daddy's old briefcase (I never worked out why!)

Lessons are encouraging for the girls who need support and enriching for those who need stretching. Break times are spent roller skating or swarming up a large and very inviting tree. Harvest festival in the apple-decorated chapel is a genuine service of thanksgiving. Birthdays are celebrated with the birthday girl inviting her family to join her on a special birthday table but the whole school joins in the sugar-fest!

In …
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Documenting your summer - the art of the journal

If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, you will see a collection of mini-magazines and  journals created by the Bronte sisters and their brother. The isolated house is a treasure trove of creativity. Like the Bronte sisters, your child may well go on to be an inspirational writer but even if they only dip into writing as a distraction from their day job, the writing bug is worthwhile catching!

One way of inspiring your child to write is to start a holiday journal which can be gifted to an older relative when the family returns from a trip. The journal itself doesn't have to be expensive, an exercise book will do. Decorate the cover - be creative! One of my students used a cheap copy book to describe her recent trip visiting schools (as far North as Fettes College in Edinburgh, and West as Canford!) and decorated the cover with train tickets from the various journeys she took.

The journal itself should be a collection of observations, pictures, i…

To improve exam grades... Get some sleep!

We have just had boys sitting Common Entrance for Marlborough College and Radley and ISEB Pre-tests for a whole host of schools. The students sometimes drag themselves in, bleary eyed, desperately trying to cram facts into their tired brains before the exams start.

Every year, I give parents the same advice; the night before the exam, the best thing your child can do is to get an early night and try to relax. This year, I have been passing out a research report which backs up the suggestion!

Researchers at the University of Ghent and of KU Leuven  have found that students who get between six to seven hours' sleep the night before an exam increase their scores by an average of 1.7 points on a scale of 20. That might not sound like much but as a percentage, it could make the difference between an A and B grade.

Sitting down to an exam when your brain is exhausted leads to half-processed ideas and panic. A good night's sleep will allow your child to walk into the exam room bright…

What is the ISEB Pretest? The format explained

Entry to schools used to be relative easy: register, interview, get an offer, sit Common Entrance and start in September. All has changed.


Simple: the sheer numbers of students applying to UK schools has increased dramatically and schools have elected to use pre-tests in order to identify applicants who will be able to thrive in their classrooms.

So what does the pre-test consist of?

The test is taken online and there are four sections:

Maths (50 mins)
English (25 mins)
Non-Verbal reasoning (32 mins)
Verbal reasoning (36 mins)

Students may take breaks between sections but, once started, the test cannot be paused. A timer at the top of the screen shows the student how much time remains and there is an indicator at the bottom of the screen showing which question number the student is on and how many he/she has left to answer.

Results go straight to the school(s). One of the joys of this system is that you beleagured son/daughter will not have to sit numerous tests: one test can be …

Time running away? Practising for the ISEB Pre-test

One of the challenges a number of our children appear to be encountering when they are taking the ISEB and other pretests is runnning out of time.

The maths section in particular can present problems as students try to extract the problem from the test.

Try this:

Give you child a sheet of word-based maths problems (e.g. three boys bought a six litre bottle of orange squash which they divided equally amongst them, how much did each boy receive?) and ask your child to write out the resultant sum.

As your child becomes faster, increase the complexity of the arithmatic.

Include: fractions, percentages, measurements.

Allocate time to completing the sheet.

Use a large kitchen timer which rings when "time is up" so your child gets used to working to time constraints. Talk to them about how they are going to be dividing his time.

You can use the timer technique are you practice verbal/non-verbal reasoning.

A children's guide to the orchestra...

The HK Philharmonic performance of Siegfried this weekend was marvellous; we are seriously fortunate to have a world-class orchestra on our doorstep and to be able to attend their concerts without having to sell an organ to pay for the tickets!

Enhancing the performance was my pleasure at seeing a number of extremely well behaved children in attendance. Watching their delight as the story developed added to my joy. One little boy, sitting up in the gods, had a wonderful time nodding his head in time with the crashes of Mime's anvil at the end of the first act. At no point did any of the children distract those around them. Wagner can be complex for adults and sitting reasonably still in order to listen to four hours' worth of music is a task many of us in the audience found a challenge. The parents who had decided to bring their offspring had clearly thought carefully about their decision.

I was extremely fortunate to be able to attend concerts as a child and the habit has rem…

HKSMSA Speech festival? Don't worry: Help is at Hand!

The best advice I ever received about competitions was from a racing driver! "Don't focus on winning, focus on developing your talent; treat every race like another practice session. If you win, great! If you don't, you learn from your mistakes."

Brilliant advice and something that parents can keep in mind when helping their student prepare for the speech festivals. Remember: there is only one winner but every participant can learn from the experience.

When you first get the poem, read it through together and work out what the story of your piece is. Have your child retell the story to you, using their own words, so you can help them to really understand what tone the poem needs.

The most important step in your preparation is helping your child to memorise their poem. Once they know it upside down and back to front, now you can start to add colour. Think of adding variation in volume, pitch, pace and don't forget facial expressions. If the latter are elusive, try…