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Posted: 17th April 2023
It’s a typical Tuesday at Eaton House The Manor and, as usual, the Pre-Prep is fun and fizzing with life. Not a second is wasted in class. Boards are covered in exciting projects. Music drifts faintly through the corridor from a practice room, but the boys are hard at work.
ASSEMBLIES MEAN AWARDS
Before school, class assemblies are held in the theatre, shared with the Prep School, Girls’ School and Nursery. Today, it’s 3C’s turn. It’s a friendly occasion with parents hugging, chatting and catching up, and enjoying coffee and flapjacks. Children bounce around excitedly until it is time for the Headmaster, Mr David Wingfield, a Mathematics specialist, to begin speaking. The boys immediately scramble into their seats and sit still beautifully.
Some of the best work is awarded by House Points, and certificates are handed out to proud-looking boys during the assembly. ‘Values Awards’ mark some of the most admirable community-minded acts that have taken place, such as helping teachers, or being imaginative. At any time during the week, a bell is rung when boys receive a ‘Good Show’ in recognition of outstanding achievement – as well as Mr Wingfield declaiming ‘Good Show!’ from the door of his office – everyone gets excited each time.
When the Assembly is over, pop music blasts out as the boys bounce back to their classrooms. It’s an upbeat way to start the day.
GETTING THE FOUNDATIONS RIGHT
In lesson time, Mr Wingfield makes sure that every boy receives the perfect blend of stretch and support through what can be a busy and challenging week. The timetable today is well balanced, with reasoning, English, humanities, Art/DT, games and science among the subjects on offer.
Mr Wingfield says that it is vital to get the core learning of English, mathematics and reasoning correct for boys aged 4-8, as these skills will prove the basis of a successful Prep career, and support them when taking the Common Entrance at 13. Starting later than Reception is not optimal, as the pace is fast from the outset, albeit with plenty of support where needed.
MATHS THAT MAKES SENSE
Class 2C is gathered around a whiteboard learning methods of multiplication. On the tables are rows of miniature matchbox-sized silver cups. ‘They get those for good effort,’ whispers the teacher as the boys try to multiply 87 x 2, working independently. The teacher patiently breaks the sum into components. Some boys finish quickly, some take a moment or two more. One boy who needs a little extra help is gently taken aside by the teaching assistant and shown how to understand the concept. She is warmly encouraging when he gets it right.
ENGLISH THAT INSPIRES
Class 3B’s classroom is a very friendly place. The classroom walls are covered in inspirational messages such as ‘Hang on in there – this may take some time’ and ‘Do it! I will learn how to do this.’ Special cuddly toys sit on the desk of a few boys; they are awarded them for the week to recognize that they have demonstrated certain qualities, such as ‘Ricky the Penguin’ for resilience, ‘Trumpet the elephant’ for collaboration, ‘Hooty the owl’ for good judgment, ‘Popcorn the unicorn’ for curiosity and ‘Percy the fish’ for perseverance.
There are descriptions of figurative language on the wall, including ‘idiom’, ‘allusion’, ‘proverb’, ‘personification’, ‘hyperbole’ and ‘simile’ which seem quite advanced for such young boys. There is also a ‘Hot Reads Board’ which, on this day, included ‘Gormy Ruckles Monster Mischief’ by Guy Bass, ‘The Great Fire of London’ by Emma Adams and James Weston Lewis, ‘Nano: The Spectacular Science of the (Very) Small,’ by Dr Jess Wade and ‘The Iron Man’ by Ted Hughes. Today’s challenge is inspired by a passage from the Iron Man book:
‘The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff.
Where had he come from? Nobody knows.
How was he made? Nobody knows.’
In the book, mankind must put a stop to the dreadful destruction caused by the Iron Man and set a trap for him, but he cannot be kept down. Then, when a terrible monster from outer space threatens to lay waste to the planet, it is the Iron Man who finds a way to save the world. Class 3B is asked to write a persuasive letter to the world as ‘The Iron Man’, asking for peace on Earth.
The teacher assures the class that the first draft doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect, and asks the boys what is most important thing to consider when you are thinking about this draft.
‘Editing’ says one boy, after raising his hand.
‘Persuading,’ says another.
On the desk is a chart that gives the boys hints about how to structure each part of the letter. For introductions, the boys are advised to use ‘for this reason’, or ‘in this situation.’ For details, they might try ‘for example’, or ‘in fact’.
‘Is anyone feeling stressed about this?’ asks the teacher.
‘No,’ the boys chorus, and begin writing, some flopped on beanbags, some scribbling at their desks.
‘Dear World…’ they all begin.
SPORTS AND FUN FOR ALL
The boys work hard but they get plenty of breaks in sports sessions on leafy Clapham Common, and playing on their new ‘all bells and whistles’ Adventure Playground. Even after school, boys enjoy a range of fun clubs, from sports like Dodgeball and Cricket, to Mandarin, Cooking Club, Computer Club, Animation, Drama Club, and more. There are also many theatre productions, art exhibitions and musical events, so that the boys can try lots of different and exciting activities each term.
The wellbeing of the boys is front and centre across the school. In one classroom a fuzzy board is divided into different ‘feelings’, from the most positive and ready to go, via apathetic, to not feeling up to the work.
The boys helped to choose the words that describe each mood and they are encouraged to stick their faces on to the part of the board that represents how they feel that day. This allows their teacher to gently check on worries or bad days as they arise. For example, green is described as ‘Excited’, ‘Joyful’, ‘Happy’, ‘Good to Go’, ‘Ready to Go’ and ‘Amazing’; yellow is ‘worried’, ‘silly’, ‘confused’ and ‘feeling funny’, and blue is ‘Sad’, ‘Upset’, ‘Miserable’, ‘Emotional’, ‘Disappointed’, ‘Exhausted’ and ‘Unhappy.’
In addition to the close relationships visible between the boys and their form teachers, the House system, with its pastoral focus, and a dedicated Head of Wellbeing, together provide a very caring structure. Parents are welcomed by Mr Wingfield at drop off every morning and they may enter the building at pick up in case they need to mention something to the teacher. In this way, the School aims for a partnership of wellbeing between staff, pupils and parents.
As well as House Points and ‘Good Shows’, each teacher has their own method of motivation. One of the best is a ‘marble jar’. If any boy is awarded 10 marbles, shown on a chart on the wall, he can pick from a box filled with fancy plastic balls, plastic eyes and hairy plastic spiders. It’s a fun selection and the boys are all clearly pushing to reach 10!
Outside of one of the youngest classes, a teacher is crouched at the level of one of the smallest boys, aged just four. He has been struggling to sit still during a lesson. She hands him a personal fidget spinner. ‘Keep this for yourself’ she says, ‘and if you feel like running about, try playing with it.’ The boy beams and trots back in.
A perfect example of show, not tell, in this magical school.