Headmaster's letter to Parents - November 5, 2018

Dear Parents, 

Autumn is now very much in the air and whilst the trees look beautiful, I sympathise with the estates team that in the next few weeks they will have to pick up millions of leaves. 

The first half of term flew by not least as we were as usual very busy; five tents blew away and the portaloos blew over during the September Prep School camps, however, generally the weather during the first seven weeks was good and the children enjoyed being outside. Memorable also was the Harvest Festival Assembly presented by the Pre-Prep. The Theatre was packed but our young children gave an enthusiastic performance that pleasingly reflected their healthy confidence and self-esteem, traits vital to their successful learning. 

The promotion of greater independence in the Prep School also gained momentum and whilst the new Learning Lab has only just been completed, the pupils have already responded well to the opportunities it provides. In this regard during the first half of term Year 8 forged the way with their excellent presentations of their summer holiday projects for the first Governors’ Cup - congratulations to all. Choir auditions took place early in the term and whilst I have not yet heard any Christmas Carol rehearsals, I have gleamed an interpretation of Bohemian Rhapsody to be made public I suspect at some Christmas celebration in the near future. Similarly after auditions, rehearsals for the (new) school play are well under way and we wait in anticipation the performances at the end of the month which will take place in Charlton Hall. 

I learn many new Rock Bands are formed and I hear the Soul Band’s improving, entertaining version of George Ezra’s ‘Shotgun’ each Wednesday morning. The Formual24 Greenpower Racing team performed admirably in the International Finals at Rockingham - we are now ranked in the world’s top 20! Finally the first half of term concluded with our inaugural Literature Week which was hugely successful and great fun; a busy school - as it should be - and I once again can relate a happy community of children. 

Independance

The second half of term now in full routine, all the children are entirely settled and keen to meet our expectations. It is important however, that they become increasingly independent and indeed certainly for the older pupils, that they take greater responsibility for their learning as will soon be the expectation at their senior schools. 

We appreciate that the parents of Years Reception and One wish to accompany their children to ensure the children reach, settle in and leave their classrooms safely. By Years Two and Three however, we wish for the children to experience greater independence. They should on most occasions be able to come into school and leave school under the watchful eye of discreet, supervisory staff by themselves. 

By this time of the academic year all the children in the Prep School should be able to organise themselves without regular accompaniment. Parents should be able to drop them off in the car park(s) and then collect them in the evening from the car parks - the children are supervised. 

It is understood that at the beginning and end of the week many children are laden with bags. Of course we understand that parents wish to help their children at these times. A gentle reminder here - all sports bags live in the Sports Hall. Indeed each Monday morning this should be the central mission for Years 3 to 8. During the week children should not need to carry great loads of bags into school; sports kit stay in schools and the ruck sacks / satchels used predominantly in the Prep School, should be used almost entirely to transport prep (homework) to and from school. This means several books and not a locker full of books. 

We are trying to make the children become more independent and in turn more responsible for their organisation, something that will undoubtedly be to the benefit of their learning. Your assistance in this ambition would be very much appreciated. 

Evening Collection

The site being so open it is difficult to supervise the children as they enter and leave school. In the morning colleagues generally supervise the areas to ensure the children’s safety and of course they are quickly registered. In the evening it is more difficult and so we will in the future be insisting the children leave from one of just three places - the Woodland gate, the Pre-Prep entrance gate or the Sports Hall gate. The children will only be allowed to leave when they are met by a parent. The Pre-Prep gate will be supervised between 3.55 and 4.10pm. Those children still waiting will go into Coachman’s Cottage where they can be collected at a later time. The Sports Hall and Woodland gates will be supervised by members of staff between 5.00 and 5.20pm. Those children not collected will return to prep in the house. Those children attending clubs should be collected from the Dining Room just after 6.00pm. 

It is at this time of year that Coachman’s Cottage often comes into its own. It is a facility that can be used by any parents at most times of the day. Many find it useful if they are collecting children at different times of the day, others might use it when teams return later than expected. It can also be used for meetings and indeed simply to socialise. Hot drinks are available at all times often alongside a cake or biscuit. Wifi is also available. If you are wishing to use it for a meeting please check availability with Mrs Thompson otherwise we would be pleased for you to make the best of the resource. 

Parking at School

In general the car parking areas around the Sports Hall serve the Pre-Prep and the Woodland Car Park serves the Prep school. There is disabled parking at the front of Charlton House and outside of the Pre-Prep. Please respect these areas. Do not park on the double yellow lines on the Pre-Prep drive as this limits the view of drivers looking round the corner - the lines are a safety precaution. Finally I would appreciate it if drivers park with respect of other drivers; recently there have been several occasions when cars have been double parked. Whilst life is often a rush this is unhelpful and unthoughtful of others.

Senior School Entry

As I have related in letters and at meetings, senior school entry is currently more complicated than ever before; it is to be hoped that things will settle down soon. In essence I sense that many schools are nervous of the economy and as such they are trying to ascertain clarity of projected pupil numbers as early as possible. This in turn means our pupils are having to take entry tests earlier and earlier in their school careers. I will later this week upload my guideline paper ‘Senior School Entry’ onto the parent portal for everyone’s consideration. 

I am also very happy to assist parents in the process of selection should you wish to contact my P.A. Mrs Thompson who will make an appointment much at your convenience. In the meantime I make the following points: 

• Please would parents of Year 7 and 8 pupils ensure that the Self Evaluation Forms are returned complete as the deadline of half term has passed. They are very useful in informing reference writing. To avoid confusion it is preferred that they are completed electronically as they can then be easily edited in the future. 

• It seems The Downs is a victim of its own success. Pupils from The Downs have been awarded a significant number of scholarships awards over the last decade and so there has evolved an expectation amongst parents in Years 7 and 8 that this will continue; it is the norm. Inevitably senior schools determine the culture of scholarships however, it remains our view that scholarships recognise excellence - outstanding performance. Given the different expectations of senior schools it can be very difficult for parents to determine what is ‘exceptional’. For this reason, if you have any uncertainty please come and talk to Mr Hughes-Games, Mr Mann or me. 

• I am aware that for the first time some application forms request parents to include references, a result I suspect of GDPR. Accordingly some parents have recently requested we provide ‘open’ references to accompany applications. Please be aware that for this year at least all school references will remain confidential and are consequently sent directly from The Downs to senior schools. Of course references from sports coaches and alike can be sent independently of the school although it would be useful for the school to have a copy. We do pride ourselves in the support we give our pupils in their applications; our references are very thorough and supportive, indeed senior schools often compliment us on our reference writing. 

• All the pupils in Years 7 and 8 are carefully prepared for interview. An external consultant has recently provided guidance and practice. His notes will be sent on to us in order that Mr Mann and Mr Hughes Games can later refine their performance. Close to the time of assessment I then interview each child. 

• The closing dates for entry assessments are different in each school. Parents are responsible for entry application and not the school and so it is important parents are very aware of the deadlines. They can all be found on school websites. If not parents should call admissions. 

• Interestingly schools have been reminded of the ISC School’s Code of Conduct. These are guidelines and not statutory legislation, but they do comment that parents should not be required to accept places before the first Monday in March. 

• I will write early next term about the communication of results. In essence we are keen to communicate closely with parents not least to protect the wellbeing of the pupils in tomes of disappointment.

End of Term Events

As is always the case, during the second half of term there are many productions and performances; please make sure you regularly refer to the calendar in order to avoid disappointment. 

Two events of note taking place in the very near future are the Remembrance Concert at Long Ashton (Friday 9 November) and the DSA Bonfire Night (Saturday 10 November). Both events are very popular and great entertainment. Of course they also raise money for causes pertinent to the school. It is to be hoped that you are able to support each event; tickets are available from the School Office. 

I appreciate that parents essentially wish to support their own children and as such they watch the events in which their children are involved. Parents are however, welcome to any events, indeed concerts like the Remembrance Concert - in which our Charlton Singers perform with a professional choir – the Christmas Concert and the School Production are excellent entertainment and very popular. As usual tickets are available to all from the School Office. 

The School Office

We are pleased to welcome Leanne Lloyd into the school. Leanne is our new Receptionist and so she will be making you welcome during the first half of each week. Leanne has a school background and so I suspect that she will quickly become familiar with the idiosyncrasies of The Downs. She is a warm, smiley lady, keen to assist people and I am sure that you will quickly be pleased of her support.  

Conclusion

We much enjoyed the first of the annual Headmaster’s Supper on Friday evening. I very much hope you are join us at such time as your year group(s) are invited. In the meantime I remain very grateful for your excellent support of this lovely school. 

With kind regards

Marcus Gunn