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!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Sport for all at Canford - Mark Burley, Director of Sport


The recent research quoted in the national press regarding the pressures girls face when trying to participate in sport at school is clearly a valid one for many, but it is something we challenge successfully at Canford. The opportunity to participate in regular sport at Canford is a feature across all the year groups and both genders. Of course, there are some pupils who don't necessarily wish to play competitive sport and in such instances a meaningful involvement in a sport which can be pursued for life is very much the preferred option. Our senior girls and boys have the opportunity to participate in a professionally run exercise programme which includes various gym based activities and also music and dance classes three times a week where challenging choreography and high intensity workouts create a chance to be competitive with oneself. Sports such as badminton, swimming, squash, real tennis and golf are all activities which can be embraced beyond the school walls, well into later life and the take up amongst female pupils is high.  Two of our 1st team four golfers last year were girls and others are coming up through the ranks. We are very fortunate to possess outstanding facilities and the combination of enthusiastic male and female teaching and coaching staff create a positive environment which allows novices and experts across the whole pupil body the chance to develop their skills and fitness. There are certainly competitive opportunities and active encouragement for all pupils who wish to represent the school in these sports but equal scope is given to all those wishing to participate for purely recreational reasons.

The notion of girls suffering from lower levels of self-confidence and esteem within sport might well manifest itself within the traditional masculine areas of strength & conditioning and fitness.  At Canford we have instigated female only sessions for junior girls which have armed these participants with the movement ability and technique to lift weights safely and progressively. This has been so successful that senior girls have the self-confidence to lift alongside their male peers without fear of being patronised or sneered at. The S&C room is very much a gender neutral environment and with young male and female staff leading these sessions the female pupils see themselves as worthy and equal participants. An attitude which is transferable to many other arenas. The anxiety and worries associated with exams are often cited as reasons for girls dropping out of sport and there has certainly been concern from some pupils and parents at wanting more time to study during the summer term. However, such concerns have been represented equally amongst boys and girls and when evaluation of exam performances is carried out it is frequently the highest academic achievers who have also been the keenest sports participants. We actively encourage a balanced approach in an environment where focused academic study is critical but having other outlets including physical ones are essential to pupils’ wellbeing, especially at times of high stress. There is a significant body of evidence reinforcing the importance and value of maintaining a regular programme of exercise and sport during exams and this is a message we wholeheartedly endorse for all our girls and boys, and is one which all embrace. With 12 tennis teams amongst the girls, 5 female crews within the boat club and tens of female athletes competing against other schools during the summer term our programme of competitive sport for female pupils is comprehensive and is reinforced during the winter and spring with more than a dozen teams for both hockey and netball plus two lacrosse teams frequently playing matches alongside those many others who engage in more individual sports and physical programmes.

Young, aspirational female pupils see themselves as the equal of anybody and when accolades and achievements are highlighted they are rightly quick to point out any discrepancies or perceived inequity in the attention given. The weekly sports update we produce at Canford is firmly stocked with reports of outstanding performances and application across the genders and this is reflected at end of term assemblies, sports dinners and presentation evenings. Rewards and recognition undoubtedly help boost self-esteem and not just for the highest achievers.  In an area when stress and deteriorating mental health is more prevalent amongst our teenagers than ever before sport and exercise should be used as a release from this issue not as a fuel for it. Our duty as educators and coaches is to create positive environments in which all pupils, regardless of gender, can thrive. This is and will remain a central aspect of our ethos at Canford.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Boarding School: Life Lessons - Preparing for the Modern World



“In 1976 my boarding house had no central heating. There was a coal fire in every room; boys were given enough coal to burn for an hour each evening.  In the morning the room was icy, so we would burn a newspaper to create enough heat for a few delicious seconds to get changed. Rooms often caught fire.”

I am sure that your view of modern boarding school is somewhat different from the recollections of journalist Jonathan Noakes.  Alongside an increasing need to engage with a rapidly changing and ever more global society, such schools have been required to move with the times.  They have responded to educational reforms, to tighter inspectorates, and also to the expectations of modern parents and their children.  There is much less certainty about pupil futures too.  Choosing a boarding school environment offers a child the opportunity to develop the crucial skills of resilience, tolerance and ambition to face the many challenges along the way with both confidence and a sense of purpose.


We need to equip pupils with the life skills to face up to failure, to engage in honest reflection about those experiences and to have the self-assurance to bounce back. A boarding school environment, where you are working and living together with your peers, sharing both the highs and lows of daily life, produces an empathy towards different characters and personalities, tolerance and a sense of mutual support.  In this type of school setting, strong pastoral care is crucial, a point well recognised by the Boarding Schools’ Association which now runs more than 50 courses on boarding each year.  As Victoria Goldman and Catherine Hausman wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Chips has undergone a millennial thaw.


Life for young people growing up in the 21st century is challenging, and boarding schools have adapted radically to meet the ever changing pressures and embrace new opportunities.  Increased social anxieties as a result of the rise of screen based lifestyles through social media has added yet another layer of emotional demands on our teenagers.  A boarding school education offers pupils a sense of place and a sense of perspective.  It gives them the time and space to grow, allows the development of social skills in a nurturing environment, and fosters a sense of purpose in all that they do combined with the ability to adapt positively to change.  Such characteristics are crucial if our pupils are going to make the most of their own futures, and to contribute all they can to the world in which they live. 


Extracted from an article in the latest edition of Absolutely Education - Autumn/Winter 2017