Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Currency of Language - Dr Patricia Gibbons

We face a difficulty when we use language, because we need it to stretch in all kinds of directions to say so many things.  The contents of one language is needed to do it all – from expressing feelings of elation, to making abstract thought concrete, to talking about practical things.  It is ordinary language but we need it to do extraordinary things.  The language we use about education matters.

Increasingly, language from the area of Economics is used about education.  Our colleagues in the Economics Department regularly use terms such as customers, market exchange, consumers, commodities, money etc.  It is entirely appropriate to engage those terms concerning the transfer of goods, such as coffee or oil, from one person to another.  Transactions occur when a person wants to secure an item they desire which they do not provide for themselves.  The transaction occurs through the exchange of money for commodity.  The value of the commodity has no intrinsic value but has the monetary worth of what someone is willing to pay for it.  But is the language of Economics appropriate in matter of education, and do the economic ideas and assumptions faithfully portrays the vision of education we hold?

I suggest that as far as education is concerned, and very specifically private education where parents pay fees, adopting economic language is inaccurate and has a potentially corrosive effect, devaluing and distorting the high vision we have of education.

To read the full article, please visit

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Exam Stress and Sport - Mark Burley, Director of Sport

The importance of maintaining regular involvement with sport and exercise during the exam season can't be underestimated.  There has been a growing tendency to see exclusive blocks of revision as the only option to produce exam success, withdrawing from competitions and matches at late notice. Sadly this not only significantly disrupts the remaining teammates but also has the potential to detrimentally impact upon the physical, emotional and mental health of the individual pupil during this period. Remaining part of a team / crew / squad with whom one has invested significant time and effort is often the necessary interlude which helps generates a refreshed perspective and appetite for further learning during the revision period.

Numerous scientific studies have explored this issue and have proven the physiological benefits of regular exercise to keep the mind refreshed and break up the monotony of revision. This can be complemented by other activities such as breathing techniques, mindfulness and meditation, all of which can help offset stress and panic which can build in the lead up to exams.  See some of the articles below for useful tips on coping with stress during exams: 

A growing area of interest for researchers in this field has been exploring the emotional importance of remaining involved with peer groups and teammates during the exam season. The shared experiences and empathy from friends within a team who are undergoing the same kind of stresses creates a degree of calmness and reassurance which helps to alleviate tension at a key time in an adolescent’s life. Moreover, the value of a shared commitment as part of a team competing in a fixture, tournament, regatta, etc. generates greater balance and meaning to young people’s lives. Exam success is undoubtedly an important aspect of school life which greatly influences future opportunities but the pursuit of such success should not be to the detriment of one’s emotional and mental health, nor should it be seen as the only indicator of success and progress.

It is also important to retain perspective, especially for the younger age groups, where end of year exams are simply an indicator of progress – not a judgement on one’s future academic success. Participating in school fixtures and events is normal for all teenagers and should not be seen as something to give up to singularly focus on exams and tests. As with most things in life, there isn’t anything wrong with a bit of balance.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Has Rap replaced Poetry? - a debate presented by Kacper Kazaniecki (Upper Sixth Former)

If I were to ask you who’s the current Poet laureate, the people’s poet, I don’t presume many of you would know. I for certain didn’t until pretty much yesterday. However, if I were to ask you who won the latest Grammy award for the best hip-hop album, I presume many more would know. 

The MP Emma Dent Coad has pointed this out in the houses of parliament after the Grenfell Tower disaster. She says:
“At times of national disaster, poet laureates are often called upon to commemorate and reflect upon events. In North Kensington we have our own Ben Johnsons and Alfred Lord Tennysons. 
Our poet laureates are Akala, AJ Tracey, Lowkey, Peaky .. we have Stormzy and Potent Whisper calling out what he calls “Grenfell Britain” in gut-wrenching prose."

Although the two art forms share the same fundamental medium that of rhyme and rhythm, there is a great discrepancy between how the two are perceived within society. If you were to take the average GCSE student, chances are that they wouldn’t have the greatest opinion on poetry. ‘It’s boring’, ‘the language is too confusing, ‘I can’t relate to it’ they might say, views that they wouldn’t necessarily hold of rap music. So, has rap music replaced poetry for (at least) our generation? Or is poetry the eternal art of humanity that is here to stay for millennia to come as it has done in the past. Does one deal with the depths of the human condition, that of: love, eternal truths, and our relation to the world. And does the other cover the superficial and primitive aspects of humanity that of: greed, intoxication and sexual obsession. Or maybe the two aren’t entirely antithetical, as many parallels and influences can be drawn between them.
Before we delve deeper into the analysis of both, here are some sentences either from Shakespeare or from ­popular hip-hop.  Guess which one the line comes from.

“To destroy the beauty from which one came” – Jay z, You Must Love Me
“Maybe it’s hatred I spew, maybe it’s food for the spirit” – Eminem, Renegade
o Later in the song Eminem says: “See, I'm a poet to some, a regular modern-day Shakespeare”
“Men would rather use their broken records than their bare hands” – Orthello
“I was not born under a rhyming planet” - Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing
“The most benevolent king communicates through your dreams” - Wu-Tang Clan, Impossible
“Socrates, philosophy and hypotheses can’t define me” – Wu-Tang Clan, Triumph

The reason to play this mini-game, isn’t to cherry pick some obscure, unknown tracks just to be able to say ‘look, hip-hop has clever lines as well’. But more so to show that the boundary between the two, once the context has been removed, can be very blurred. The hip-hop bars were chosen from very well-known artists who are or were at the forefront of hip hop. Wu-Tang-Clan for example, had the first hip hop album to reach no.1 in the UK charts. Perhaps the appeal that the British audience found in the album was the resemblance to the more traditional aspect of English literature.

To read the full essay and other latest writings from Canford pupils, please visit

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Language learning is thriving - Richard Wilson, Head of German and Other Languages

Despite the national press reporting a decline in pupil interest in learning a foreign language, Languages at Canford are thriving. The school currently offers French, German and Spanish as core subjects at IGCSE and Pre-U, and saw 145 entries at IGCSE last summer and 19 at Pre-U. Results are excellent, with on average 70% of IGCSE graded A*/A and over 70% of Pre-U examinations at D1/M1 level in these languages in 2017. 

Alongside these main languages, last year also saw the biggest ever year for the ‘Other Languages’ department. There were record numbers of native-speakers, bilingual and non-native speaking pupils learning and/or taking exams in a record ten different world languages – Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish and Urdu. Worldwide these languages are spoken by 2 billion people across four continents. A Level saw an A* in A2 Russian and As in AS Arabic, Italian and Polish and at IGCSE all examinations taken were awarded A*/A grades in Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish and Urdu. In addition, pupils also take the internationally recognised HSK Chinese and the JLPT Japanese language proficiency exams. On leaving Canford, many pupils also decide to study one of these languages as part of their degree at top universities. Recent languages combinations include Chinese, Spanish with Chinese, Spanish with Arabic, French and Japanese, Arabic and Ancient Greek, Italian with Danish, French with Italian, Italian and Japanese, Japanese with Russian and many more.

As one Canfordian commented:  "I love travelling to different countries and learning about new culture and I think languages will really help me in my career as now Europe is becoming very international. I am now fluent in English, Dutch and Russian, so hopefully they will guide me to many exciting career opportunities.”

It is a real pleasure to manage such a diverse range of languages and to learn about the pupils’ personal and cultural connections to them. My congratulations go to all pupils involved in our Other Languages programme and their excellent efforts.   

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The Benefits of Music - Christopher Sparkhall, Director of Music

There are frequent articles in the press talking about the beneficial effects of learning a musical instrument. In recent times, music has variously been credited with developing better synaptic pathways, helping fend off dementia in later life, improving cognitive function; aiding the process of speech and language learning and more besides.

Canford is currently involved in a long-term study with the Psychology department at Goldsmiths, University of London, which is investigating whether learning a musical instrument has an effect on attitudes to academic work in teenagers and, related to that, whether it can then show an improvement in academic outcomes. Last summer, almost all of our Shell pupils sat some standardised and specially designed tests which measured aspects of their musical and academic abilities and their attitudes to work. Although the most interesting and useful conclusions will only come in several years’ time, the information from last summer’s testing provided both some helpful confirmation of things we thought were the case, as well as some useful observations which will inform some lively discussions at Canford.

There was some initial evidence for a positive impact from musical learning on academic attitudes too. As the study develops and the evidence base builds, we will continue our involvement with the project. Looking beyond the study, analysis of our own A Level and GCSE results from last summer showed that those pupils involved in learning a musical instrument and musical ensembles gained significantly better academic GCSE and A Level grades than those who were not.

As Dr Wilkinson, our Director of Studies rightly observes, “Correlation is not causation: there will be many factors behind why an individual pupil achieves the grades they do. However we can be reasonably certain that involvement in musical activity does not distract from academic work and that there may well be some substantial benefits to it beyond the purely musical.”

Monday, 5 February 2018

Inspiration Matters: Life is a balance so be yourself. Dr Patricia Gibbons - PRS department

Have you ever tried standing on one leg?  If you are Rob helping me marshal the House Cross-Country course, or part of my Upper Sixth Philosophy class, you have!  It is a bit of T’ai Chi, or preparation to be a karate kid, or practice to help walk the tight-rope at the Climbing Centre.  Physical balance, so I have found is something that needs practice.

In the outer world, so in the inner world.  What do I mean?  To be totally present in one’s body, focussing fully in order to balance, is a great exercise.  And so too, is finding balance in one’s inner world – in your thoughts and self-understanding.  What does this mean?  Well, I’m reading a lot about Carl Gustav Jung, an early psychologist at the beginning of the twentieth century.  His psychology is all about balance – about getting in touch with the various aspects on oneself, giving them each their due and finding balance.  He was the one who coined the terms ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ to refer to inward looking/quiet aspects of people, and vivacious/outward-looking aspects of people.

We might think of ourselves as one or the other – a bubbly party person being an extrovert and a quiet, reflective person being an introvert.  But what Jung demonstrates is that we each have both aspects in ourselves, and we need to honour both in our lives.  We need to give ourselves times to be quiet – unplugged and solitary, as well as giving ourselves time to be with people, in company, buzzing and energetic.

I saw a book whose title was Silence: In the Age of Noise – by a Norwegian explorer, Erling Kagge who writes of his adventures in the Antarctic and of the richness of solitude – being by himself, in harmony with himself and fully attentive to his surroundings.  The bookseller recommended it, and said he thought we could all do with a bit more silence and solitude.

In my experience it takes practice to be comfortable with silence and solitude and alone-time.  We are mostly out of practice because our lives are always surrounded by people and noise and connection.  I also know, however, that there is much inner freedom to be had in silence and solitude and connection to yourself – especially in walking or hiking.  And it’s also great to connect with others – a real joy to chat with others and share life’s stories.

It's all a matter of balance.  So, happy T’ai Chi balancing on one leg, and happy finding that inner balance.  Learning to be who you are.  And you are great.

This piece was originally written to support our pupils in sport, emphasising character being essential for success, but it applies equally to all young people as they develop along the sometimes difficult road to adulthood.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Government League Tables - a note of caution. Dr Stephen Wilkinson - Director of Studies

Canford is very proud of the exam results that its pupils produce, through very hard work and determination on their part.  Whilst league tables take many forms, and are often very variable in terms of the criteria used in their compilation, we are always placed highly in relation to schools of a similar type and intake in those published in the Times and the Telegraph after the results come out in August.

The Government league tables, comparing all schools across the country, are based on different criteria, which do not take into account the academic curriculum we teach. The new 'Progress 8' measure introduced by the Government to ensure that schools don't just 'top up' their results with non-academic options such as Media Studies or Tourism and Leisure, also precludes the inclusion of IGCSE results. These more academic specifications are available to independent schools, and used by Canford in around half of the GCSEs taken by our pupils.

As a consequence, the results that our pupils gain in Maths (which is double-weighted in Progress 8), French, German, Spanish, History, Chemistry, Business, and Computing are all disregarded from the calculation of how well our pupils have fared at GCSE.   Read with caution!