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Headteachers Advise on The Best Ways to Prepare for the New School Year

Headteachers Advise on The Best Ways to Prepare for the New School Year Newcastle School for Boys
September 2023
Reading time 3 Minutes

This is what local students can expect when the new school year begins

Living North met heads from across the county for an insight into their schools.

Seeing a student progress, from where they began when they joined the school, to where they end up at their end of their time there and beyond, is the most rewarding aspect of Dan Machin’s role as principal of Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate (QE). ‘Working with students to understand and support their learning journey as they strive towards their aspirations and goals, and being there on results day when those dreams are realised, brings a great deal of joy to the whole QE community,’ he says. ‘This is because, at QE, we take immense pride in our school ethos “to be the best that I can with the gifts that I have”, and we are dedicated to providing an excellent educational experience that develops our students into independent, resilient and well-rounded individuals. We provide a wealth of opportunities to help them discover their own passions whilst learning vital life skills. As principal I am so fortunate to be able to witness a breadth of student success, from our early years provision right through to sixth form, in such a variety of areas, and to appreciate that each individual success story contributes to the overall happy and diverse QE community that we are privileged to be a part of.’

At QE, staff are always looking to improve, enhance and modernise their educational provision. ‘This year, we are excited to be offering new BTEC courses in Marketing and Esports, and have added to our large co-curricular and super-curricular programmes,’ says Dan. ‘The last academic year saw a large amount of success across national competitions including 11 Gold Awards at the University of Warwick National Scientific Challenge, 11 Elite Awards at the Oxford University Computing Challenge, and 14 Gold Awards at the British Physics Olympiads. In addition to national success for our netball, football, and basketball teams, QE students won three ISA art awards. We produced a song with world-wide superstars Billen Ted and international media company Global, as well as becoming the first school in the UK to build our own racing car and compete in the City Car Cup and Student Motorsports Challenge. The main aim for this school year is to continue to provide students with such experiences and opportunities to develop and achieve, wherever their passions lie.’

The best advice Dan can give any student, irrespective of age, is to be prepared, as this builds confidence. ‘This involves ensuring they have the correct equipment for school, can settle into a good routine, and have read any recommended books or texts over the summer,’ he says. ‘It is also important to research their options and activities to help gain an idea of all the things they want to do in and around the school timetable. All this said, they should be flexible and be prepared for change, as the best plans can alter as they gain new experiences and find out about new opportunities. Lastly, they should make sure they are pro-active in making new friends, developing good relationships with new teachers, learning new routines, and finding out all about their new school or new subjects and classes. Finally, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask as many questions as they need to, to help get the new academic year off to the best start possible.’

Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate
Newcastle School for Boys

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David Tickner has been head at Newcastle School for Boys since 2012, having originally joined the school back in 2006, just a year after its formation out of the merger of Ascham House and Newlands prep schools. Newcastle School for Boys is well established in the region as a three through to 18 school, providing an ‘excellent’ all-round education for boys. But David knows that despite the school’s growth and success, there can be no room for complacency. ‘We can’t stand still,’ he says. ‘In 2022, the school launched a five-year strategic plan. Its key focus is to continue to develop and deliver excellence in teaching and learning and character development whilst preserving the value and ethos we have established. The plan’s key themes include the application of technology, the development of our staff and curriculum, as well as maintaining the strength of the school’s financial position, its assets and resources, particularly in the current climate.’  

So many activities and events that are an important part of young people’s personal and social development were curtailed during the pandemic, and David has been encouraging his students to make the most of them again. 'The pace, routine and hours of term time can obviously be very different to those of the holidays, with the latter seemingly more in tune with the teenage body clock,’ he says. ‘But it’s worth readjusting before term starts by starting to bring forward the timing for going to bed and waking up. That way, the first weeks back will be less of a shock to the system. Less fatigue in those first few weeks of term will mean being better placed to take advantage of those early lessons and introductions to new courses and topics. Be ready to hit the ground running at the start of term. It will generate early progress and success to sustain you through the long autumn term and the rest of the academic year.’

Carole Cameron, head of Queen Mary’s, is proud to lead a school where pupils mature from the inside out. ‘As an alumnae of another Woodard School, I have valued the Christian ethos throughout my life and have a modern approach to inclusive education,’ she says. ‘I have experience of leadership across the state, independent and international sectors in both primary and secondary education. After deputy headship at Garforth Academy, I led schools in the Caribbean before returning to Yorkshire with two previous headships.’ Carole meets and greets each child every morning, which she says gets her day off to a great start. ‘I love to see the amazing achievements of all our pupils and lead a growing school which is going from strength to strength.’

The prep school will look very different in September with a new indoor orchard creating a large, multi-use learning space at the heart of the pre-prep and prep school. They are also offering free, monthly Stay and Explore sessions for pre-school children. ‘As part of our vision to deliver award-winning, forward-thinking education in an inspiring and nurturing environment, a new Personal Development programme will be launched within the curriculum for Years 7–9 focusing on areas from personal finance and philosophy to enterprise, careers and community service,’ Carole adds. ‘We are also looking forward to repeating an American Exchange where Year 10 pupils will experience life at an American high school. 

‘It is key to come back to school feeling refreshed and ready to go. We hope that young children wish to read, draw and learn through play, whereas older pupils should complete revision and holiday work as well as spending time outside with family and friends.’

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Dame Allan’s Schools

Will Scott is principal at Dame Allan’s Schools, a group of independent schools based in Fenham, which are unique in the region for following the Diamond Structure of education [where boys and girls are educated together in the Junior School, separately between the ages of 11 and 16 and together again in Sixth Form]. Will has been in this role for three years. He served as a Royal Navy officer and a currency trader in the City of London, before entering the world of education 18 years ago as an economics teacher in Newcastle. Joining Dame Allan’s midway through the Covid pandemic, he was instrumental in overseeing the return of in-person teaching. He has seen the expansion of the schools, with the addition of the Jubilee Building and a refurbishment of the Sixth Form centre currently underway. Seeing the impact of the schools on the lives of young people is one of the most rewarding parts of Will’s role, whether helping them through difficult times or reaching high to realise their potential. ‘Our sense of community is fundamental to everything we do at Dame Allan’s – this is a place where everyone is known and has someone to support, inspire or encourage them when they need it,’ he says. ‘Anything I can do to support the strength of our community and the work of staff and children feels valuable and rewarding.’

Gemma Strong, head at Newcastle Preparatory School (NPS), has worked in education for 12 years as a classroom teacher, mathematics subject lead, deputy head and now head teacher. ‘Personally, I find the primary ages the most exciting and inspiring to teach; it is true that there is never a dull moment and certainly no two days the same,’ she says. ‘Our children, aged three to 11, are full of awe and wonder, they are bursting with questions and eager to give anything a go. Spending every day in this environment, being able to make a positive impact on the lives and education of young people is so vastly rewarding. With generous staffing and small class sizes, children at NPS are all known on an individual level, meaning that we witness and celebrate each and every step on a child’s journey. This is always the most rewarding part of my role. All children and adults alike can experience wobbles or uncertainty at some point. But seeing children flourish, realise their own success and develop into confident young learners is what makes me, and the staff at NPS, know we have got something right.’

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NPS are looking forward to welcoming children back and getting them settled into new classes and routines. ‘A new year always brings a level of excitement to everyone in school, especially as there is always something new to explore,’ says Gemma.’This year, children can look forward to renovated Reception classrooms, a bright and stimulating STEM hub, plus a new adventure climbing frame. Throughout the next academic year, our families can eagerly anticipate a range of social events for parents and whole families, as community is so important to our school. Outside the usual lessons, our children can also expect an exciting array of themed weeks and extra-curricular clubs and excursions. Following the success of our international skiing residential last year, in 2024 we will be heading to France for a cultural venture, of course, not without a quick stop at Disneyland! The learning and opportunities never stand still when the children are at the centre of all we do.’

Getting ready for a new school year should be an exciting time for children and Gemma says being prepared is always key. ‘But really, all we ask as a school is that children come along and we will do the rest,’ she says. ‘If your child is a little unsure about the return to school after a long holiday, talking through the routine and changes, showing them pictures of school and reassuring them that they will be cared for can be really helpful in allaying the nerves. Everyone involved wants returning to or starting school to be an enjoyable, stress-free and rewarding experience.’

Wakefield Girls’

Heidi-Jayne Boyes joined Wakefield Girls’ as head in 2018, hot on the heels of several years at The Girls’ Day School Trust. ‘Having experience of working in both the state and independent sectors, I am passionate about championing girls, wanting to help them to develop skills which empower them to be bold and authentic,’ she says. ‘My move to Wakefield Girls’ gave me an irresistible opportunity to run a wonderful historic school, steeped with a long service of empowering girls and a unique chance to deliver an education that is relevant for the 21st century. Over the past five years we have adapted our teaching and learning framework to help all the girls we teach make even greater gains, with each developing the cognitive skills, values, attitudes and attributes needed to succeed in her learning and life beyond school. During this time we’ve become accredited as a world-class school for our teaching framework and ranked as one of the North’s top 10 independent schools by The Sunday Times.’

Heidi-Jayne says each day is different and she enjoys getting to spend her days with inspirational young people and brilliant colleagues. Now she’s looking forward to welcoming pupils with a warm welcome, whether it’s for the first time or a welcome back. ‘Then, to provide the innovative academic, extra-curricular, personal and professional support programmes that develop each student so each is intellectually and socially confident, work-place and life-ready with a global outlook and concern for others,’ she adds. ‘It’s also about ensuring our school – and the schools within the Wakefield Grammar School Foundation – continue to be future-proof, so I always look forward to collaborating with the head of QEGS and head of pre-prep.’

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The start of a new school year is exciting, but it can also feel a little daunting after a long summer break. Heidi-Jayne recommends the following: ‘Reflect on last year and set some goals for the year ahead. These should be a combination of academic and personal targets; write them down and keep revisiting them. Alongside this, let go of anything that may have held you back previously or reach out to get some advice on how to move forward. Recharge. Feel rested and ready to hit the ground running by getting back into familiar routines and habits. This includes bedtime routines for good sleep, building in exercise and time for yourself. It is so important to remember to take the time to look after our physical and emotional self. Embrace the new academic year as an opportunity to try new things, strengthen old friendships and build new ones. I hope everyone feels excited about returning to school; a safe environment where everyone is known, cared for and supported to be their best.’

After studying Classics at Oxford, Geoffrey Stanford served in the Army for three years and worked in finance before moving into teaching. Previously headmaster at Fettes College in Edinburgh, now head at the Royal Grammar School Newcastle (RGS), he’s also currently a trustee of the Laidlaw Schools Trust. ‘It is a real privilege to work with highly motivated individuals, both students and staff,’ he says. ‘I enjoy helping young people grow into well-rounded adults as well as supporting staff in the development of their careers. I particularly appreciate how the RGS has a real sense of purpose in supporting over 80 deserving individuals through its bursary programme, and it has also been very rewarding to leverage the success of the RGS more widely across the North East with the aim of raising aspirations and attainment throughout the region. Last year we ran projects in over 100 schools, engaging regularly with over 10,000 pupils and supporting more than 600 teachers.’

The RGS is the oldest learning institution in Newcastle but, despite approaching its 500th anniversary, it’s still a forward-looking school. ‘We are continually developing our learning and teaching, improving our use of technology, and extending the very best facilities and opportunities for our students,’ Geoffrey says. ‘It is very rewarding to lead a school built on such rich heritage that does not rely on tradition but completely focuses on providing the education that will best support the future of our young people. Clearly, a priority in the coming months will be engaging with Artificial Intelligence in a way that best supports both staff and students, while understanding how to address the inherent challenges that it brings.’ The start of the new academic year can be daunting and Geoffrey suggests trying to find opportunities to engage with contemporaries in advance of the start of term, whether that be through organised activities such as pre-season sports training or just inviting them round to your house. ‘The sense of connection that this brings means that you can feel confident about coping with whatever you may face in the year ahead,’ he says. 

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Chris James-Roll is headmaster at Cundall Manor School. Previously, he was the acting head at a successful school in Hampshire. He moved to North Yorkshire last summer with his family to take on his current role. ‘By far the most rewarding aspect of my role is in getting to know the children at Cundall and understanding their individual needs and aspirations,’ he says. ‘I am lucky enough to have taken on a school with dedicated staff who all share and promote our school’s vision to inspire and challenge every one of our pupils so that they can be the very best they can be. We continue to focus on ensuring children have broad, engaging opportunities both in and outside of the classroom, developing a deeper understanding of their learning, exploring their creativity and building their resilience. At Cundall we know each child’s needs really well and we provide for each child very effectively. We will continue to build this provision over the years ahead. Cundall Manor pupils emerge as confident, caring, intelligent and independent young adults; we know this is the case because we see it and hear about it as they make their way in the world.’

Chris says his pupils can best prepare for the start of the new year by taking ownership of what is coming. ‘Everything in life is easier when you plan and prepare,’ he says. ‘As with any situation, there are always bumps in the road but preparation makes these events easier to navigate, so, get your bags and pencil cases packed, start getting back into a routine of good sleep, good eating and regular exercise. If you’ve had a few late nights over the holiday, start getting to bed at a sensible time so that those first few early starts aren’t such a shock! If you haven’t done so already, start reading little and often and get your brain warmed up with some regular maths work. Just like learning a musical instrument, all learning requires practice and whether that is on the sports field or in the class room, practice little and often will make your life much easier.’

Frank Thompson qualified as a teacher in London in 1993 and spent a number of years teaching Economics and Business in sixth form colleges in both London and Manchester, before taking on assistant and deputy head roles elsewhere. ‘In a way my teaching career started earlier than this,’ he says. ‘Between school and going up to Cambridge, I spent six months in Chile as a teaching assistant at a leading, all-through, independent school. I think this is where I caught the teaching bug.’

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On moving to Windermere School, Frank will be taking up his fourth headship, having just spent three and a half ‘very happy’ years at S. Anselm’s School in Derbyshire. ‘I am really excited by the challenge,’ he says. ‘Windermere is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school which means students get the opportunity to study a broader range of subjects at sixth form than elsewhere, giving them a more balanced education and preparing them better for futures where they are likely to pursue more than one career in their working lives. The IB is widely recognised all over the world as well as being very highly regarded by UK universities, and Windermere has, for many years, achieved outstanding results in the qualification.’

It is also a Round Square school, which means the ethos of the school is built upon a set of core principles – ideals – which underpin the character development of every pupil. ‘The unique setting of the school means that developing a sense of adventure, an appreciation of the outdoors and the capacities of leadership are all more readily achievable,’ he adds. When Frank takes the reins later in the autumn term, he will be looking to sharpen the focus on the school’s ethos and academic strengths. ‘The staff are a very strong and capable team, and I think working together to ensure every young person’s journey through the school is the best it can possibly be will be the most important and most rewarding challenge for us all.’

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