The Changing Face of the School Trip

Traditionally school trips were a day out at a local museum or a weekend in Wales or some other part of the UK. However, they have now become something far more exotic. The majority of schools – but in particular independent ones – offer trips that you would be forgiven for mistaking as a 5-star holiday.

Trips can now be as a varied as an Antiguan cricket tour, winter sports in Lapland, turtle conservation in Costa Rica and language tours to Cuba. The options are limitless. Despite the wide range of choice and the exotic countries and continents they take in, some parents will question if these trips add anything to their child’s education and will question if they are worth the often exceptionally high cost.

The new trips are an unforgettable experience that expose your children to new landscapes, cultures and religions. At a young age these experiences could have a long lasting beneficial effect. Not only does the student benefit from the experiences available in the new country they also benefit by being independent. Being away like this will helps youngsters to cope better and function as individuals, while also having benefits in social skills too. They will be forced to communicate with peers and teachers more, improving relationships and getting a better understanding of human interaction.

There has also been a lot of research that has shown that residential trips boost the overall attainment levels of children. This demonstrates that even though these new educational excursions may not feature strict academic teaching, they can actually have a positive effect on how your child does in exams.

The cost of these trips is no small matter though. They can be over £1500 per child – representing a huge cost for parents, especially ones with more than one child. Despite the clear benefits that these trips do have many will wonder if they are really worth the money. Family holidays are often touted as a reason that exotic school trips are unnecessary but the independence on family trips and chances to explore are more limited. Remember school trips are optional and it is entirely up to the parent whether their child participates. If you don’t think your child will benefit, then you do not have to send them.

School outings certainly have changed and moved in to a very exotic world that provides diverse experiences with many upsides for a child’s development but whether or not a trip to Cuba as a teenager or Antigua is beneficial is for the parent to decide.

Where is the most exotic place your child has travelled to for a school trip? Do you think it helped their education? Let us know on our social media sites.

Making The Most of Parents Evenings

With the end of term fast approaching, many parents will be receiving invitations to parents’ evenings, where they’ll get an invaluable chance to chat one-on-one with their child’s teachers to find out more about their little one’s progress and behaviour at school. But how can you make the most of parents’ evenings? We’ve put together a few tips…

Preparing for parents’ evening

First up, you should decide who’s going to be attending. If you’re attending as a couple, the child’s teacher will know you’re both actively engaged in your child’s education. If one of you can’t make it because of prior commitments, or if you’re a single parent, consider asking another friend or relative to accompany you – this will allow you to discuss the things that were said with someone afterwards.

If you have any specific questions, such as behavioural concerns or issues with certain subjects, write them down and bring them along with you. Your child’s teachers will appreciate that you’re prepared and will be happy to provide the insight you need.

The evening itself

Try to focus on your child’s progress and attainment as much as possible. General questions about the school or the curriculum can be addressed at another time – check the school’s website or get in touch with the office for more detailed information on this type of thing.

It’s important to try and remain impartial at parents’ evening. It’s likely your child’s teacher will want to talk to you about where your child can improve, and it’s crucial to avoid getting defensive about it. If there are some slightly negative comments, try to take them on board rather than dismissing them.

You can also take this opportunity to let the teacher know about things at home that might be affecting your child, to give them better insight into any upheaval or changes in your child’s life. If there’s something going on – whether you’re moving house, going through a divorce or expecting a new baby – let your child’s teacher know.

Remember – school is about much more than just academic achievement. Ask your child’s teacher about your child’s social circles and friendships as well as their grades and test scores. The development of social skills is crucial at any stage of school, and your child’s teacher is uniquely placed to offer updates on how your child interacts with their classmates.

Post-parents’ evening

Make sure you sit down with your child and chat to them about how the evening went. Start off with the positives, and if there were any concerns raised by the teacher, try to phrase them in a way that doesn’t make your child feel that they’ve done wrong. Instead of telling your child that they’re not doing very well in maths, tell them that you’ve talked to their teacher about ways you can help them improve their performance in maths, for example.

Should Schools Scrap Religious Assemblies?

Daily or weekly assemblies have long been an integral part of the British school day, with many schools sitting down for between thirty minutes to an hour before school starts, so that teachers can address the whole school on important topics and issues.

Religious assemblies are also highly popular – but a new report has advised that these assemblies could actually be discriminating against other religions. The study, for the Arts and Humanities Research Council, has advised that daily acts of collective worship should be scrapped.

The current law states that British schools are obliged to offer acts of collective worship – these must be Christian in nature, unless the school in question is a non-Christian faith school. But with ever-diversifying classrooms in this increasingly multicultural country, can these assemblies ever be fully inclusive?

The argument for scrapping religious assemblies

In an increasingly multicultural UK, there are those who disagree about the appropriateness of having single-faith assemblies in schools. Many also express concerns about the degree to which the current system affords respect for the rights of individuals, including those who have no faith. Some experts have also noted that parents don’t seem to have been informed that they can withdraw their children from religious assemblies if they wish to.

It’s been suggested that, to move forward, schools and educational authorities should make all content of these assemblies public, so that parents can make informed choices – and they should also make it clearer to parents that they can legally withdraw their children from the assemblies if they wish.

The argument against scrapping religious assemblies

The Department of Education is firmly against scrapping these assemblies, saying that the daily act of collective worship helps to increase things like tolerance, respect and understanding of others, as well as giving children time to reflect on their own beliefs.

Some experts have suggested that, in order to keep religious assemblies on the agenda, schools could tailor the content of the assemblies to fit with the multicultural nature of many UK schools today, offering lessons and morals from a variety of different religious texts, so that children may be better informed about other faiths.

What do you think of religious assemblies? Are they an outdated relic from a time when Christianity dominated, or are they a necessary tradition in this multicultural world? Remember if you’re unhappy with the teachings of a school, search our school database to see if there is somewhere more appropriate for your child to be learning.

What Can We Learn from Finland’s Education System

Finland is widely credited as having one of the most sophisticated and successful education systems in the world. After huge reform forty years ago, the country consistently ranks at the very top of international educational league tables. 93% of Finnish children graduate from high school, and 66% go on to college – one of the highest percentages in the world. But children don’t start school until they’re seven, and teachers only spend around four hours per day in the classroom, with two hours a week dedicated to professional development.

So what exactly could we learn from the Finnish educational model?

Less rigidity, more options

With students starting formal schooling at the age of seven, they’re developmentally ready to learn and focus – rather than forcing four and five year olds to remain stifled in a classroom environment when they could be exploring, playing and learning through other means.

Just nine years of education is compulsory in Finland, with most students given three options when they reach ninth grade (the equivalent of Year 9):

  • Upper Secondary School – a three-year program that prepares students for a test to see whether they’ll be accepted into university. Just under 40% of children choose this option, which seems to be a mix of high school and college.
  • Vocational Education – another three-year program, this one focusing on various career paths as well as offering the option to take the Matriculation test (as taken by those in Upper Secondary School) so that they can apply for university if they choose. Most students enter the workforce after this step, although some head to polytechnic colleges to further their skills.
  • Entering the workforce – less than 5% choose to enter the workforce straight from compulsory education.

Consistency and care

Children in Finland can often have the same teacher for up to six years of their education, rather than changing every year, or every lesson, as children do in UK secondary schools. The same teacher is responsible for the education of their group for six years in a row – giving them plenty of time to figure out how each individual responds to certain educational material, and allowing them to adapt to each pupil’s learning styles.

Fewer classes, longer breaks

Finnish students tend to have three or four classes per day, with several breaks and snack times lasting between 15-20 minutes. Various studies support the need for children to be physically active in order to learn – it’s been established that stagnation of the body can lead to stagnation of the brain, trouble focusing, and hyperactive children.

Less testing, more learning

News filtered through this week that the new Education Secretary has plans for children to be tested when they’re as young as seven. In Finland, it’s the opposite – the only mandatory, standardised test for Finnish youngsters is taken when they’re aged 16, with children not measured at all for the first six years of their education. This places less pressure on teachers to meet arbitrary targets, as well as giving children more freedom to learn core subjects as well as real life skills like cooking, cleaning, woodworking and sewing.

What are your thoughts on Finland’s education system? Could we learn a lot from our Scandinavian friends?


STEM Students Flock to UK Higher Education

It seems the UK’s glowing reputation as a provider of high-quality STEM courses is working in its favour, attracting thousands of international students to the country to study science, technology, engineering and maths.

A new survey by the British Council has found that 51% of overseas undergraduate students on STEM courses chose their particular UK university because of its reputation for high quality. A further 29% chose to study in the UK because a qualification from a UK university will enhance their career prospects and look great on their CV.

The picture is replicated in the postgraduate world – 40% of students chose the UK for its reputation as a high-quality provider of STEM education, while 23% added that the UK was at the forefront of innovation in their particular subject of study.

The importance of reputation

The study shows that the UK’s reputation for great education has spread much further than our own shores, with students across the globe seeing the UK as the best place to further their studies. Reputation is very important when choosing a higher education establishment – not only can a good reputation give students an idea of what to expect, it’s also likely that having a reputable establishment on your CV will look good to future employers.

STEM success in the UK

It seems the UK’s glowing reputation has also led to heightened acceptance rates, bolstering the entire industry and further enhancing the reputation of the UK as a stellar education provider. Last year, the Higher Education Funding Council also announced that more students than ever before are being accepted on to STEM courses. 98,000 new students were accepted onto science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses in 2013-2014 – an 18% rise on 2002-2003’s figures.

The gender gap

While the STEM figures are very promising, there’s still a significant gender gap within the industry that needs to be addressed. Just 30% of the UK’s A-Level maths intake are female – and that’s after an increase of more than 15,000 students. Only 21% of more than 5,000 physics students are female. The problem also progresses much further than simple education, with the Women in Science and Engineering campaign stating that, despite women making up around half of the UK workforce, they make up just 12.8% of the STEM workforce in total.


Have Scottish Schools Set the Standard by Banning Traffic?

Six primary schools in Edinburgh have made headlines after imposing a traffic ban outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times. The council-run pilot scheme bans cars from streets outside schools for an hour at the beginning and end of each day. With the initiative in place for 18 months, we are asking could English schools learn something from the Scots?

Edinburgh City Council has introduced the scheme with the aim of creating a safer, more pleasant environment for all. They also hope that the initiative will encourage children to walk and cycle to school promoting healthier lifestyle for school children and their families. The scheme is also expected to impact on congestion and help reduce pollution levels.

Car exclusion zones will be set up outside Abbeyhill, Duddingston, Colinton, Cramond and St John’s RC primary school from Tuesday. The scheme will also be introduced by Sciennes primary in October – A similar scheme was trialled by The School Streets project last year in East Lothian.

The Edinburgh schools were chosen after reporting on safety issues with cars parking too close to school gate. After the 18 month trial period a decision will be made as to whether to roll the scheme out elsewhere.

The aim to reduce air pollution around schools is something that has been approached many times. In March a study suggested that air pollution leads to lower cognitive development, with pupils in polluted areas developing less quickly than those with clean air.

The study published in PLOS Medicine found that those in areas with high levels of pollution perform worse than those who work in clean air. The year-long investigation looked at 2715 pupils in 39 schools across Spain and found that pupils working in clean air showed an average memory improvement of 11.5% over the year. This was compared to the 7.4% of those at polluted schools.

16 UK cities have illegally high levels of air pollution which has led MPs calling for air filters to be installed in schools that are close to main roads. Areas including Manchester, London and Glasgow have failed EU quality air targets since 2011. This led to the European Court of Justice ruling last November that the UK was in breach of EU law and should have created plans to tackle air pollution.

With the Scottish plans to reduce traffic and the overall levels of air pollution, Should UK schools take inspiration from Scotland and start tackling the issue?

What do you think about the scheme? Did you know that air quality can affect a child’s intellect? Share your thoughts with us on social media!


How to Keep Kids Learning Over the Summer Holidays

Summer holidays may be a welcome break for many children, but for parents it can be a time of great stress, especially when thinking how to keep children engaged and active. Six weeks of pyjama parties, seaside breaks, catching up with friends and outings galore!

Such long stretches of relaxation can be bad for some children, especially with regards to education and development. Read more and find out how you can keep your children learning, whether they know it or not.

Holiday Diaries

A great activity which can generate tonnes of parental-child discussion, a holiday diary is one of the best ways for a child to keep track of their summer excursions.

Heading to the shops and choosing the right products can be a major motivating factor for a child. Allowing them to pick a fun journal and funky coloured pens can provide a day packed full of bonding. Plus, at the end of the holidays they will have a log of their memories and any items such as tickets or photographs that they want to keep.

Local Library Summer Reading Scheme

Available in most libraries up and down the country, the summer reading channel is a great free way to encourage children to read during the holidays. Those who read six books over the holidays will even get a certificate, a great incentive for young readers in particular.

Reading Chest

Ideal for those who cannot get to the local library, Reading Chest is a book service for four to nine year olds. A similar service to Netflix, parents sign up to monthly subscriptions starting at £9.95, then four reading schemes will be sent. Once finished, they are sent back in a provided envelope, and then children will be given more.

The scheme also helps encourage reading, with a colour star chart and printable certificate to motivate readers. Reading Chest offers banded books for children at all reading levels, ideal to keep their brains active over the long six week holidays.

Be Dramatic

Getting creative and dramatic can help fuel learning. Simple tasks such as creating a puppet theatre, or acting out plays are not only active and engaging activities, they can prepare children for the upcoming year.

Children can set up their own stages, “sell” tickets or hold performances in spaces such as the park or back yard. If given enough time to plan, then why not make costumes too?

How do you like to encourage your child’s learning over the summer period? Let us know on social media!


Summer Holiday Days Out – For Free

During the summer holidays, many parents worry about how to keep their children entertained. You may want to take them out to attractions and activities, but without spending a small fortune every time.

Luckily there are tonnes of events up and down the country suited to all budgets. We’ve gathered a selection of free days out for you to choose from, perfect for every family during the six week holidays.


Liverpool: Make It Monday (1-4PM) – July 2, 10, 17, 24 and 31 August

Situated at the Walker Art Gallery on William Brown Street, Make It Mondays are a great way to get crafty this summer. Adults and children alike can sit and make works of art for free, that can then be taken home. There is also no time limit during the three hours, allowing families to get as arty as they like.

Manchester: Dig The City – July 31 – August 6

From treasure hunts to walks, Manchester’s week long gardening festival has something for everyone. From flower exhibitions, discos and wildlife trails – to special guest visits including CBeebies’ very own, Mr Bloom.


Nottingham: The Robin Hood Festival – August 3-9

Offering medieval madness for all, the Robin Hood Festival hosts daily activities such as archery, jousting competitions and medieval music. As well as this there are costumed characters and unique stalls dotted throughout the forest for all essential medieval purchases plus falconry displays to make the day’s events wilder!

Birmingham: Animation Workshop with Fantastic Mr Fox’s, Tom Allen (11AM onwards) – 2 August

The guy behind Fantastic Mr Fox, Tim Allen, will be leading a fox model-making session for aspiring young animators. Children aged six and above will get to make their own animation using the latest software, as well as learning more about their favourite animated cartoons.


London: Open Air Theatre, The Scoop – Wednesday – Sunday – 5 – 30 August

Offering unexpected Roman era education on the banks of the river Thames, Captain Show Off will be giving families a free comedy show -ideal for sunny days out.

London: Free West End Show – 1 – 31 August

As part of Kids Week, children aged 16 and under can attend any participating west end show for free, when with a full paying adult. Shows including The Gruffalo, The Lion King and Adventures in Wonderland are some of the shows to name a few – great for an exciting new experience for adults and children alike.

What will you be doing with your children over the summer holidays? Do you know of any other activities that are not on our list? Let us know on social media!


Are School Holiday Charges Worth It?

Many families find themselves facing fines if they take their children out of school during term time. Many parents face the predicament of being fined should they try and save money by taking their child away during off-peak seasons.

Parents face fines of £60 per pupil per parent, which could increase to up to £2500 should it not be paid, along with a maximum of 3 months imprisonment.

With parents biting the bullet and taking their children away during term-time regardless, School Reviewer looks at whether fines should still be issued to parents looking to save money, avoiding the hike in prices that comes half-term holidays.

The current climate

Recently a primary school headmistress threatened to expel every child who is taken on holiday during term time. Angela Konarzewski of Fleetdown Primary School in Dartford, Kent said in a newsletter that breaks were not a human right with education being more important than a family holiday.

The headteacher said, “It is not a human right to have a holiday. I think their education is more important than having a holiday with the family.”

A senior school inspector also recently said that the fines should be made bigger. Sir Michael Wilshaw told the Sunday Times that £60 is no longer a deterrent to parents. “I would like to see the fines raised. We have too many parents taking their children out in term time. I think schools should adopt a hard line and not allow youngsters out.”

The Ofsted Chief Inspector said that if they fail to comply, parents should be taken to court. “If parents are behaving irresponsibly then the state is right to say, ‘This is wrong and you are being a bad parent.’”

Why parents do it

Some parents find themselves incorporating schools fines into their holiday budget – as it tends to be cheaper than going away during school holidays.

However, one teachers’ union warned that such fines were making holidays a ‘middle class preserve’. An Easter National Union of Teachers’ (NUT) conference said that taking children on holiday is not the same as persistent truancy.

“Holidays can provide valuable experiences and outdoor learning opportunities. Giving families time to be on holiday together will also have social and emotional benefits which can be of lasting value and support to schoolchildren.”

The Department of Education has said that taking a child out of school time can be “hugely detrimental to a child’s life chances”, yet this is something that parents continue to do.

NUT’s general secretary, Christine Blower said rules meant families without disposable outcome will miss out. “We’re not saying that it’s fine for children to be out of school at the drop of a hat …But a week’s holiday can be a very positive thing in a child’s life, particularly if they won’t otherwise get one and will see their friends going on one.”

Do you take your child out during term time? Do you think that doing so can affect a child’s school life? Let us know your thoughts on social media!


How Parents Can Help with the Transition from Primary to Secondary School

Attending a new school can be a very exciting time for a child. A chance to make new friends, learn new subjects and experience a whole new educational environment. However, it is worth recognising that some children may need extra support during the transition from primary to secondary school.

Taking the child to visit the new school, talking about how to make friends, assisting with homework and helping them get to grips with a varied schedule are all ways that parents can help guide their child into a successful transition period.

Visiting the school

One of the easiest ways to help ease a child’s possible anxiety about a new school is by taking them to visit it before they begin. In fact, it’s better to visit a few local secondary schools and then decide together which ones to apply to attend. Before doing this it’s also a good idea to check out some independent reviews of the school, to make sure it will provide the right education and extra-curricular challenges for your child.

Whether a child mentions being anxious or not, parents should consider travelling to see the new grounds and local area where their child will be spending the next five years of their lives.

If a visit isn’t possible, take the time to drive past or travel past the school gate. Not only does it help show a child the way to the school before summer ends, it also makes the experience of passing through the gates on the first day less intimidating.

Making friends

In secondary school the number of children compared to a primary school increases drastically. This can make the idea of making friends a scary prospect for many children – especially those who may have gone through primary without meeting new students or friends.

In order to help with this it is important for parents to take charge. Enrol a child on a summer school, forcing them to meet new children. Parents could also role play with their child, starting conversation and seeing how they would act when meeting potential new friends in class. By doing this a child is more likely to feel confident when meeting new friends at secondary school.

The varied schedule

Secondary school can be a shock for many children. In primary school there is a lot of structure. The same thing is done on the same day consistently. In contrast secondary schools’ varied schedule means that children are required to change classes and teachers as regularly as every 45 minutes – 1 hour.

In order to help a child get used to this, parents should make sure that their little one frequently changes activities to help them get used to the hectic secondary school schedule.

There is a variety of ways how parents can help their child with the transition to secondary school. The best thing to do is keep an eye on your child and support them as best you can. It may take a while for them to settle in at secondary school, but as long as they have someone to talk to if they have any problems they should be fine with the transition.