Page 21 - Independent Schools Magazine
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Ian Thorpe has been head of Downsend School, Surrey, since 2013. The school serves over 700 boys and girls between age 2 and 13 across sites in Leatherhead, Ashtead and Epsom. He was previously Head of Chinthurst School, Surrey.
Howard House - the original part of Downsend School
Comprehension, History or ICT? In truth, such skills span the curriculum, so the more we can encourage pupils to recognise this, the more engaged they will become and they will stop seeing individual subjects as something they are ‘good’ or ‘not good’ at. This art of ‘thinking about thinking’ is called metacognition and is one of the key components of outstanding pupil outcomes. At Downsend, it is our approach to ‘creative learning’ that brings this concept to life. Teachers recognise that the  rst 5 minutes of any lesson de ne its success. If we can ‘light the touch paper’ when we introduce a new concept, and have children appreciate the transferable nature of the skills learned, we
are more likely to see their learning develop exponentially. Whether this is introducing simultaneous equations through magic, creative writing in our Woodland School, problem-solving through STEAM activities, re-enacting the Battle of Hastings on the 1st XI Football pitch or introducing fractions through chocolate, we are always trying to make learning memorable as we set about our aim of ‘QInspiring Young Minds’.
You were head of the IT teaching departments at Witham Hall School and at Broadwater Manor School.
Some schools now admit to having wasted money on the latest gizmos without really thinking through how they would make use of them. How do you evaluate the educational bene ts of technology in the classroom,
and ensure it successfully dovetails with Atraditional methods?
As a model, education tends to operate either cyclically or like a pendulum, swinging from side
to side until it  nds its true value. The use of technology certainly  ts this latter theme and there has been signi cant investment in this key area over the past 15 years. The question
is, has it really affected pupil outcomes? Interactive whiteboards are now being replaced by touch screens and there is huge debate about whether all work should be carried out on iPads. Although schools invest heavily in hardware, they rarely spend enough time or energy on quality training, so the technology
is all too often not used effectively enough. I believe that technology should be used as part of a teacher’s toolkit, not as the golden cure. Downsend pupils can still research using our tablets and thinkpads, but tend to record their
homework using a pen and paper. They learn to programme in our ICT Suite, but then build their robots and toys in Design Technology. They can also use our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to access information and homework at home, but will always have an exercise book to track their work and progress throughout the year. Technology should be used when it can help, not because it is there; this is a trap that has bQefallen too many schools!
One of the dif culties faced by parents and schools is how to allow young people access to the
bene ts of the internet whilst still ensuring the appropriateness of what is written or seen. Many parents have blocks and monitors on the PCs at home, but these tools are less available - and often more complicated to supervise - on mobile devices. What advice can you impart about keeping children safe, and about what to say or do if one discovers Athat boundaries have been crossed?
This is unquestionably one of the biggest challenges for modern parents. Smartphones are affordable
and peer pressure can feel intense to encourage children to own one, not necessarily for the right reasons. That said, the potential for exposure to harm, whether through access or unsuitable information, is immense and parents should always consider this when deciding
how to introduce mobile technology in their homes. When we introduced a Mobile Phone ban in school 2 years ago, it was to widespread gratitude from the parent body. We also run termly information sessions for parents, as this is such a fast-moving area that they are often unaware of the perils facing their children. This was brought home to me when one of my son’s former Year group colleagues at Caterham School, Breck Bednar, was killed by someone
he had met online; he was just 14. Schools and parents have to work together to safeguard children against such dangers. My advice to parents would be to resist peer pressure and be strong enough to avoid giving primary aged children smartphones, and to avoid buying age- inappropriate games for them.
Q
regular school provides activity 50 weeks a year. How is this administered and managed?
Is it open only to your own pupils? Do you consider it an integral and successful part of your marketing offering to parents?
A Downsend+ is a fantastic facility that offers 50 weeks a
year wraparound provision for Downsend parents and children in the local
community. There are courses based here, using our Swimming Pool, Astro-Turf, Sports Hall, Food Technology, Art and ICT Rooms where children can do everything from SCUBA to Cookery, Tennis to Golf. In addition, we
run trips as far a eld as Chessington World
of Adventures and Sandown ski centre as
well as water sports offsite. It’s a brilliant scheme, hugely valued by working parents of Downsend and other local schools, and all run and organised by our own team here, including a specialist Downsend Nursery+ based at our Leatherhead Pre-Prep. It’s important for us
to provide a service our parents need and if Downsend+ supports other parents in our local cQommunity too, we are here to help.
Parents are sometimes tempted to pay for tutoring in their enthusiasm to get their children into their
 rst choice selective senior schools, whether independent or state grammar. What would Ayou say to parents considering such a step?
This is not a modern phenomenon, but has become more prevalent with the onset of 11+ pre-testing in the
local area. It has generated a momentum of its own, with parents feeling forced into having tutoring as so many others are doing it. My worry is that parents are not taking a step back to consider the impact. As a father who has spent no money at all on tutoring, I would certainly recommend that parents invest in music lessons, sports coaching, cubs, guides and Duke of Edinburgh long before they invest in tutoring.
I have concerns that the tutoring industry is unregulated – whilst I have to conduct 12 checks on every individual who I choose to appoint
to my staff, there is nowhere near the same rigour in most cases involving tutors. I would encourage parents to ask: are they quali ed? Experienced? Safeguarded? Whilst schools have never been happier, and safer places, more and more children now need counselling to cope with stress, invariably imposed from home. Parents should consider the impact of this pressure on their children. Continued Overleaf >
Downsend offers a programme for half-terms and holidays, known
as Downsend+ which along with
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