The Right Fit

How do you choose the right school for your child? This is a question parents may begin to ask themselves early on in their child’s life, sometimes from the child’s birth, but usually from Year 4 or 5. Many factors contribute to the ultimate decision - the more practical issues of proximity to the school, parents’ place of work, finances, logistics regarding work and siblings’ schools, local friends, etc often influence the first step into making the choice. Parents sometimes relocate to be in the catchment area or to ensure easy transport links. Researching the school’s credentials via its website and prospectus, ISI or Ofsted reports, and publications such as The Good Schools’ Guide and Tatler Schools Guide are a good starting point.

My advice is to research several schools in your chosen location and attend their open days, and, in addition, make a personal appointment with the Head. It is imperative to have a tour of the school and experience it on a working day for you to absorb the feel and atmosphere. The ethos of the school and interaction between the staff and pupils, the pupils’ behaviour and their happiness are important factors which cannot be gleaned from a prospectus or website.

Whilst most schools offer a broad curriculum and extra-curricular activities, some are more nurturing, maybe because of their small size, and others are sport or music focused. Children’s personalities, abilities and talents need to dovetail into the school’s ethos and provision. For example, a child who is of average academic ability may feel intimidated at a school that is listed high in the league tables which may impact them detrimentally in the long-term. However, this child would flourish at a good state school or well-chosen independent school, as they would feel comfortable with their peers and happy with the right level of teaching, and therefore more open and receptive to learning.

Children with drama, artistic, sporting or musical talent may be better suited to a school which has a strong department in these areas, and some independent schools offer scholarships in these subjects where there is a greater provision of resources and opportunities. Single sex, co-educational and faith schools are also factors to consider and each have their merits and advantages. Learning Support is also a considered area for pupils requiring support and it is advised to also meet with the Learning Support Manager (SENCo) to ascertain appropriate personalised interventions are provided.

Parents obviously know their children very well, and teachers also know the child well, and, with research and consultation, the right fit can be found for the unique individual. The Croft has links with many local schools and some schools further afield and is therefore well placed to provide impartial advice. The aim is to find the school that matches the profile of the pupil, rather than the pupil matching the profile of the school. I am happy to meet with parents of Year 5 pupils, should they request guidance, regarding the schools that my colleagues and I recommend through unbiased opinion.

The Croft also hosts a Year 5 Parents’ Evening Talk about the 11+ and secondary education, followed by a biennial secondary school open evening exclusively for Croft parents, the next one being on Tuesday 7 February 2017. The event is like a one-stop shop attended by local secondary school representatives who are pleased to discuss their school and offer advice to parents.

Talking to schools, listening to recommendations and doing your own homework will go a long way to drawing a shortlist. We all want our children to be happy in their education, from nursery to university, and together, we can help to ensure that the most important choice is the right choice and the right fit.

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Dulce et Forte

“Hello, Mr Cook, do you remember me?”, beamed a familiar, friendly face, as the confident young man strode towards me and eagerly shook my hand in a local restaurant. I was delighted to recognise a former Croft pupil who I had taught in a previous school, some 16 years ago. We shared tales of our experiences and I was delighted to hear that he was now embarking on a teaching career.

Our conversation was swiftly interrupted by the same scenario, but this time, by a pupil who had left The Croft in Year 6 and who had just finished their first year at university, who joined in our reminiscing. Unbelievably, a third former pupil of The Croft from some 10 years ago also approached me; so the four of us were chatting, catching up on the years in between. It was most surreal, but I gained a lot of satisfaction and pleasure in seeing how these young pupils had grown and matured and become successful in their individual ways.

It is interesting to see people still having connections with The Croft and we are delighted that there are second and third generation families who attend. Their experience testifies that the high educational standard has stood the test of time from the school’s beginnings in 1933 by the founder, Miss M G Phillips, and which has evolved into an enriching curriculum and multi-faceted extra-curricular programme in the 21st century.

Thousands of pupils have benefited from this extraordinary heritage. Many of our current Year 6 pupils have spent 9 fruitful years here, growing physically and mentally, to become strong, confident, happy young people. They started their learning journey with solid foundations and their roots are now spreading into secondary education, university and beyond. We wish our Year 6 girls and boys all the very best for the next chapter of their education – they are prepared and ready for the next stage.

In September, our first cohort of 2 year olds, as the newly named Little Crofters ‘Caterpillars’, will begin their 9-year learning journey. They will be nurtured to develop into ‘Butterflies’ the following year, from which they will be ready to launch fully into the brilliant world of education. Our Caterpillars join us as sweet, inquisitive children and, in time, will leave as strong, well-educated, well-rounded individuals.

Miss Phillips had the wisdom and foresight to create the school motto, dulce et forte – meaning sweet and strong - which our pupils continue to wear with pride on their maroon blazers today. Her words know no bounds and are as applicable now as they were 83 years ago. The ethos of dulce et forte ingrains a balance and resilience in pupils to catapult them to success with a combination of social graces and inner strength.

Success presents itself in many guises, of course, and everyone can celebrate one form or another, be it academia, sporting, artistic, music or anything else that is your personal triumph. So, if you should see me around town in a few years’ time, please do say ‘hello’ - I’d love to hear your successes, however big or small, sweet or strong!

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Mum's the word

The world recently celebrated Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary of his death, and we owe it to the bard and other authors for our love of reading and the splendour of words. The phrase, ‘mum’s the word’, is derived from Shakespeare’s play, Henry VI, and many modern-day phrases and words were penned by the bard – you can’t have “too much of a good thing”! (As You Like It).

2016 also celebrates the birthdays of Beatrix Potter 150 years ago, and Roald Dahl 100 years ago. Her Majesty the Queen marked her 90th birthday with many celebrations across the UK. The nation was respectfully joyful and thankful to someone who took the words in her vows to her very core to become the monarch for life.

Even Leicester City, the underdog with the remarkable rise to glory in the Premier League, turned its fortune around with fighting words of inspiration and encouragement from their manager who listened to the team and played to their individual strengths.

We celebrate many things in life, such as the aforementioned, as well as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, passing exams, and winning a school match, etc which all encompass our desire to congratulate and be happy for the person bestowed with their good fortune whether marked as an annual event or a special one-off.

However, quite often it’s the smaller things which, at the time, don’t seem to be out of the ordinary, but, in hindsight, we realise how fondly those moments are cherished. I especially deeply cherish reading to my children when they were younger, as I also affectionately remember the close bonds and tenderness I experienced with my parents when they read to me in my formative years. Reading, especially fathers, to children, exerts a magnetism whereby the child is entranced in a colourful world powered by their imagination, fuelled by your voice and animations. These precious moments should be celebrated, as so much is garnered in ways beyond measure.

Children love being read to and wholeheartedly absorb the reader’s enthusiasm and words, and the earlier they start, the better. Many studies confirm numerous benefits to the child such as a stronger relationship with the parent, better communication skills, mastery of language, more logical thinking skills, enhanced concentration and discipline, and the knowledge that reading is fun. These attributes also contribute to their love of reading which remains with the child as they grow up and permeate positively throughout all aspects of life.

Reading is a huge part of The Croft throughout all year groups. In addition to general reading within the classroom, pupils read aloud to an adult, Year 6 pupils read excerpts from the Bible during assembly, House Captains read out their match reports to their peers after lunch, and pupils enjoy Library lessons in one of our two extensive libraries where all types of reading is encouraged in a relaxed manner. The Croft also regularly participates in the national Read for my School competition.

Shakespeare’s contemporary, Ben Jonson, anticipated his dazzling future when he declared in the preface to the First Folio, “He was not of an age, but for all time!” In the same vein, let’s celebrate our love of reading for the next generation – so mums - and dads - please pass on the word!

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Outside the Box

Outside my window, in the relative safety of a niche by the farmhouse wall, I recently saw a squirrel furtively eating its morsel of food, delighting in being able to do so, undisturbed by fellow squirrels or foe. It was so close, I could see its tiny paws nimbly rotating and raising the food to its mouth. A happy and triumphant squirrel indeed!

The squirrel could have just eaten its food where it found it, on the open lawn, but had the good foresight to find a safe haven. Whilst this example is quite simplistic, it really does pay to think a little further, to challenge challenges, and to find an alternate way around potential problems.

Getting from the proverbial A to B in all aspects of life can be far more enriching if we free our imaginations to consider another route other than the mundane. At The Croft, the School is sometimes affectionately described as the quirky Croft, because we rather like to do some things differently.

Firstly, we are unique in that we are a family owned school and our ethos of caring, nurturing and friendliness permeates throughout. Pupils enjoy being in school which impacts positively on their learning – you just have to see their smiling faces every day – hand on heart, this is a great place to be!

The School also boasts unique features such as a Geology Museum crammed full of crystals, rocks, fossils and artefacts; an O gauge model railway; a Science laboratory; two kune kune pigs (who love watching the children play football!); several hens; a conservation area; and Forest School complete with teepee. We also teach Latin to Year 6, and we are one of a few leading schools in the country to teach emotional intelligence, a highly efficient tool to help pupils understand themselves to help them to learn better, academically and socially.

Furthermore, The Croft offers a diverse range of Friday afternoon clubs for pupils in Years 3-6, in addition to the usual extra-curricular provision. These include Girls’ Rugby, Train Club, Boys’ and Girls’ Football, Benchball, Debating, Board Games, Just Do It, Lego, Country Dancing, Music Technology and Knitting. And yes, boys also attend Knitting Club!

Our clubs and facilities provide an open backdrop for children to absorb the notion that something different is something good, quirky or otherwise. Croft pupils begin their learning journey with a sense of delight and wonder, squirrelling away all their experiences and, along the way, embracing the inimitable concept of thinking outside the box.


Marcus Cook


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The Art of Conversation

Day to day family life and family gatherings provide wonderful opportunities for us to talk to each other - a simple and natural practice undertaken by everyone from babbling babies to dear grandparents.

Family life provides the backbone of how we interact with other people, influenced by many factors. Introverts, extroverts, and those in between, learn social interaction and behaviours from all sorts of situations. There are many times I can recall interesting conversations with my own family, and on the odd occasion, some embarrassing ones too!

However, there is a growing trend which I fear may put this age old skill at the back of the queue. The influx of modern technology into our daily lives, whilst necessary, has seen a culture whereby groups of individuals become deeply ensconced in mobile phones or portable devices and they do not look, speak or interact with each other. Often observed in restaurants and social outings, it is a sad sight to see.

I am by no means a technophobe or Luddite when it comes to such devices, and, as a parent, I am fully aware of the challenges that face the modern child and the influences peer groups can have. As in many aspects of life, everything has a place, but in moderation. I have enquired, on a number of occasions, if such devices come with a ‘breathing’ app; such is the frequency that these appear in my teenage son’s hand!

At The Croft, we nurture social skills from Nursery to Year 6. We aim to prepare children for secondary school and the wider world with communication a key skill which is achieved in a number of ways.

We teach pupils basic good manners, social etiquette and respect. We encourage pupils to answer questions in class and contribute to discussions. Pupils read aloud in assemblies, participate in performances and accustom themselves to speaking to an audience. Year 6 Peer Supporters help and support other children in the playground and have to communicate clearly and appropriately. We also maintain the tradition of pupils shaking hands with their teachers to wish them ‘good afternoon’ at the end of the school day.

In addition, Year 6 pupils practise mock interviews with me or the Deputy Headmaster in preparation for their secondary school interviews. Here they learn how to engage physically with good eye contact, positive body language and a firm handshake; how to greet in a friendly, confident manner; and connect with their potential interviewer by talking about relevant subjects with enthusiasm and interest.

Communication skills and confidence can be learnt, so, from shyness to shining, it always pleases me to meet current and former Croft pupils when they greet me or my colleagues in town or out and about. Furthermore, I am always delighted to receive praise from travel companies and airport staff who compliment our pupils on their excellent behaviour when travelling for their ski or French trips, or on other school outings.

We are all ambassadors of The Croft, whether in or out of uniform, and we are proud to represent and talk about our school to everyone who would like to listen - the art of conversation is very much alive in our education!

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Marcus Cook


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The Croft Preparatory School
Alveston Hill
Loxley Road

CV37 7RL

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