Author Archives: Jane Daubney

Before or after

Before or after?

“I realised I wasn’t cut out for merchant banking when I was asked, in the middle of a very long and tense meeting about some take-over bid or other, whether the numbers I had prepared were ‘before or after’. I looked at them, and looked at the serious faces around the table, and scratched my head. Before or after what, I wondered? Before or after lunch?”  Nicholas Oulton

They, of course, meant before or after tax. But for young people thinking about university, the big question is, ‘Before or after exams?’ Should they apply before they have taken their A Levels or IB, relying on predicted grades, or should they wait until they have some real results to refer to?

There are pros and cons for both routes, but here are some things to think about:

If you apply AFTER your results are known, you know which courses you can apply for, you have more time to get your application together, without the distraction of exams (!), you can write a better personal statement, reflecting the realities of how your studies at school went, and you can add work experience or gap year plans to what you say about yourself, allowing for a more rounded, interesting application.

On the other hand, by waiting until AFTER you leave school, help and advice from teachers will be harder to get, your gap year plans will be interrupted by the need to put the application together and be on standby for interviews, your interest in your studies may have dwindled during the months away from school, and you will be putting all your eggs into one basket (i.e. you will have missed the opportunity to TRY an application last year, and you don’t really want to he hanging about until next year if this one goes wrong).

So, as with so many of the decisions in this process, there are arguments both ways, but it is wise to get a view on your preferred strategy before you find you’ve missed the deadline for an early application.

Most of what you need to know about this and all the other pitfalls is in our book on University Entrance. Have a look and see if you think it will help.

Nicholas Oulton is Managing Director of The Parent Brief.

Vital timings for university entrance

“So to get yourself ready to hit these deadlines, you must have decided whether to go, chosen a subject or course, chosen a university (well, a list of 5 universities actually), written a personal statement and have had a reference written by the school.”  Nicholas Oulton

Many students go to their first open days during the summer term of Year 12. That sounds unbelievably well organised to me, but you’d be amazed at how useful that can be. Because actually, if they want to put in their application for uni, getting an idea of where they might want to go is pretty important, granted that UCAS applications can be made as early as mid September.

But if you are not ahead of the game like this, what do you need to know in terms of timings? Working backwards, the final deadline for most university applications through UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) is 15th January. If it’s Oxbridge or medicine you are looking at, the deadline is much earlier: 15th October.  So to get yourself ready to hit these deadlines, you must have decided whether to go, chosen a subject or course, chosen a university (well, a list of 5 universities actually), written a personal statement and have had a reference written by the school. All while trying to get on top of the vital 6th form work on which so much depends; because it is no good putting in an amazing application if the A Level results are a total wash out.

So how can you help? Well, our view is that knowing what it is that they need to know is half the battle. If you know what steps they are having to go through, what decisions they are having to make, where they are expected to get answers to their questions, you will be a million times more able to help than if you rely simply on your own half remembered experience of a system that has changed out of all recognition since you were at school.

Most of what you need to know is in our book on university entrance.  Have a look and see if you think it will help. And good luck!

Nicholas Oulton is Managing Director of The Parent Brief.

Deciding to go to university

“For today’s teenagers, the high cost of going to university, the massively increased competition for places on the best courses, talk of limited contact time and the fact that a job at the end of it is far from assured makes deciding whether or not to go to uni a really big decision.”  Nicholas Oulton

The decisions around university choices for young people today are very different from the ones I faced when I went to university, back in 1980. Money is the biggest change. When I was at school, most of us drifted off to university if we had good A Levels – or even just quite good A Levels. We got a grant to cover our living expenses and there was no suggestion that there might be a charge for tuition fees.

When we came down from university, we agonised over which profession to join, and then entered the rat race, with a wistful look over our shoulders at the long holidays we had grown used to over the past decade or so. The idea that it might be difficult to get a job was an alien concept.

But for today’s teenagers, the high cost of going to university, the massively increased competition for places on the best courses, talk of limited contact time and the fact that a job at the end of it is far from assured makes deciding whether or not to go to uni a really big decision. And in most cases, it can seem like they are making this decision on their own. They listen to their teachers, they listen to their friends, they surf the internet, and then they decide. But what are the factors they should be considering, and do YOU know, so you can help?

The team behind The Parent Brief have been working in schools for 30 years or more and have a huge range of experience in advising young people on the key decisions that will influence their lives. We don’t know it all, and we don’t pretend to. But we have managed to pull together the information on a range of topics that will help when it comes to giving advice to young people when they need it most. Our latest take on university entrance is available now, so do have a look at that. And good luck!

Nicholas Oulton is Managing Director of The Parent Brief.

A Parent’s Guide to UCAS

IMG_0740 “With more than 150 degree-awarding institutions in the UK and well over 50,000 different undergraduate courses to choose from, it is hardly surprising that many teenagers are apprehensive when it comes to applying for university or college.”  Jonathan Watts

Understanding the process

With more than 150 degree-awarding institutions in the UK and well over 50,000 different undergraduate courses to choose from, it is hardly surprising that many teenagers are apprehensive when it comes to applying for university or college. Add to this the attractions of studying in Europe or the USA, the alluring delights of a GAP year, the possibility of studying a new, unfamiliar subject and the uncertainties of the job-market – pundits tell us that young people today can expect four or five major changes of direction during a working life which may well continue into their 80s – and a normally confident, not to say arrogant, 18-year-old can be reduced to a quivering wreck of indecision. For the first time in their lives, they have to make decisions for themselves which can determine their future. They are bombarded with advice, information and pressure (often dressed up as ‘friendly guidance’) from all quarters – school, fellow-students, family, universities, UCAS, government, employers – so that the fundamental issues quickly become clouded.

For parents, this period of transition towards adulthood can quickly become a nightmare; even the most cordial family relationships can disintegrate under the pressure of completing the UCAS application, while the process can become the focus of that endearing but frustrating combination of adolescent angst, insecurity, unreasonableness and desire for independence. You obviously want the best for your child, but you know, deep down, that it has to be their decision. If you went through higher education yourself, you are probably aware that the university scene has changed out of all recognition, as has the world for which your child is being prepared. If all this is new to you, the labyrinthine workings of UCAS can be mystifying and the information on university websites overwhelming and impenetrable.

The Parent Brief’s University Entrance: A parent’s guide to UCAS and more provides guidance, information, advice and reassurance to all parents who are keen to support their children in the most effective way possible. Full explanations of the various stages in the application process are supported by suggestions as to how parents can best be involved, without seeming to interfere too aggressively. While there is plenty on the technicalities of submitting an application, UCAS and schools provide excellent practical support; more important perhaps is the process of decision-making beforehand – what subject(s) to study and which courses to select – and what to do when universities have made their own decisions. It is crucial that your child makes the right decision – by the end of their first year, one-third of students apparently think they have chosen the wrong subject or the wrong university, something which can be avoided by ‘quiet calm deliberation’ at any early stage.

Parents often ask ‘Which is the best university or course?’ The answer, clichéd though it sounds, is ‘The one which is right for your child’. All children are different – and there will almost certainly be a course out there which is right for your child, whatever their interests or ability. Similarly, all families are different, but University Entrance: A parent’s guide to UCAS and more will help you ensure that your child makes the right decision – and without too much heartache for all involved.

To download a sample of the University Entrance book click here.

Jonathan Watts spent the majority his long teaching career at Benenden School, where he was Head of History and Politics as well as Scholars’ Mentor, with a special responsibility for advising students on Oxbridge application.

Permission to use image kindly given by Mount Kelly

God Bless the Queen

Debra Price“Witty and amusing with a host of little known facts about the Queen, a book to make you smile, learn more about the origins of modern day monarchy and feel proud to be British.” Debra Price

God Bless the Queen – illustrated by Matthew Rice and written by Christopher Yeates

Celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday have sparked the interest of young Britons in both the life of the Queen and Britain’s monarchy. ‘God Bless The Queen’ is a book for young readers aged, 7-11 years to learn more about the life and role of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

A joyful and highly informative child’s introduction to the life and role of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the world’s longest reigning monarch. This fascinating pocket guide to the Queen’s life moves effortless between glimpses into a unique royal lifestyle whilst also providing a highly accessible and easy to understand introduction to core British values such as the birth of British democracy, respect and tolerance for others and the role of constitutional monarchy in the 21st century. Witty and amusing with a host of little known facts about the Queen, a book to make you smile, learn more about the origins of modern day monarchy and feel proud to be British.

God Bless the Queen is the first in Gresham Books British Values series. The series has been developed to help support teachers promoting fundamental British values as part of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. The series is aimed at Key Stage 2 children providing key fundamental British values content in a highly accessible and enjoyable format. The series is due for publication in August 2016.

To buy a copy of God Bless the Queen click here or visit Amazon and buy from them.

Debra Price was until recently Deputy Head of Benenden School, she is now Deputy Managing Director at Gresham Books advising on education content and generally keeping everyone in line. She has been instrumental in the creation and publication of Gresham Books British Values series.

Permission to use image kindly given by St Peters Eaton Square

Encouraging Young Readers

Holly Goodwin“Books and reading are a crucial part of a child’s experience as they prepare to enter the adult world: they inform, they inspire and they heal. Why not make your child’s world a reading-centred world?” Holly Goodwin

Encouraging Young Readers

As Head of English in a busy Kent prep school, one of my most common queries from parents is ‘How do I get my child to read?’ With this in mind, here are some useful tips on creating a reading-centred home, and making reading part of your child’s everyday experience.

Firstly, don’t make reading a chore. Reading is fun, relaxing and pleasurable. Make it part of your child’s routine to relax, either after a hard day, or before a busy one. If your children are very young, leave some picture books by their bed (or even on their bed!) and they may just pick one up and give you a few extra minutes in the morning. If they’re a bit older, morning is a great time to rea
d before the day begins. Make sure they have a bedside table and a reading light, and you could even make them a hot drink in bed at the weekends so they can have some quiet time before a busy day of sport or music.

If reading before bed fits in more easily to your family routine, make sure they turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before lights out, and chat to them about which book they’re going to read that night. If your children are pre-schoolers, you’ll probably still be reading to them, but don’t think this has to stop! If you have the energy, it’s lovely to continue to read to older children at least once a week, and your children will cherish this special quiet time with you. They could cuddle up in your bed, and you could take turns to read a page – so many parents find it difficult to spend quality time with their children when life is so hectic – and this is a perfect way to solve that.

Secondly, try to show them that you are a reader too. We all know how our children look up to us as role models, and in a busy family home, it’s really important to model good practice and let them know that you find reading relaxing. Why not sit down and read together as a family once a week? If you can, find a quiet time when everyone’s at home and share a cup of hot chocolate and a cake. Get some blankets and put your phones and tablets away – it’s time to read! You can read to each other, or, and this is definitely my preference, you can all read to yourselves. Silence is indeed golden and you and your children will come to look forward to family reading time.

Finally, don’t nag them. Some children take longer to come to a love of reading than others, and for some, they always struggle. For me, it’s about finding the right book for the right child. Use your local library: librarians are a fount of knowledge and love to chat to children and parents about new and exciting books. Your school may well have a fantastic library – and they usually welcome queries from parents. Bookshops are another source of information, and both you and the bookseller will find your day has been brightened through a chat about a book.

Books and reading are a crucial part of a child’s experience as they prepare to enter the adult world: they inform, they inspire and they heal. Why not make your child’s world a reading-centred world?

Holly Goodwin has been Head of English at Dulwich Prep Cranbrook for three years and previously worked at Benenden Girls’ School. She is a mum of two young boys (aged 8 and 9) who both love reading fantasy fiction (particularly with dragons!) and her favourite author is V. E. Schwab.

Growth Mindset – What’s the Story?

Louise Hall“For a child, possessing a growth mindset is far more likely to make them open to the idea that success and achievement are a consequence of them putting in time and effort, regardless of their level of intelligence or knowledge; they will inevitably believe that hard work pays off.”  Louise Hall

Growth Mindset

Given the recent education buzz surrounding the phrase ‘growth mindset’, it is more than likely you are familiar with the term; but what does it mean, why is it important and what is your role, as a parent, in encouraging this approach for your children?

Mindset, as a term in itself, tends to relate to a self-determined theory, belief or perception we have about ourselves, usually about how good or bad we are at something or how likely we are to succeed in a venture. We all have different mindsets, and not only do these vary between people, they can also vary within each of us, according to the situation. We are likely to determine or alter our mindset, even if we are not aware of it, according to our prior experience, expectations and confidence in our success within a given task or field. However, understanding mindset and its implications goes much deeper.

Psychologist and renowned author, Carol Dweck (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success), identifies a relationship between mindset and impact on learning, skill development and achievement, in addition to within many other areas of life.

In a fixed mindset, it is suggested that:

‘People believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talents instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort’ (http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/)

What this perhaps means in reality for a child, is them feeling their perceived intelligence level, whether high or low, has little chance of changing. As a result, it is possible they might experience slower progress than if they were more aware of the power of effort. Whether they would learn less with this mindset is not clear, but given the rationale, this may be a consequence, especially as this kind of mindset will certainly suggest they are less likely to put themselves at risk or under excessive challenge. Fear of ‘failing’ and either disproving their intelligence, or reaffirming the opposite, is bound to impact thus avoidance and excuses will probably become more common behaviour.

Conversely, in a growth mindset:

 ‘People believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment’ (http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/)

For a child, possessing a growth mindset is far more likely to make them open to the idea that success and achievement are a consequence of them putting in time and effort, regardless of their level of intelligence or knowledge; they will inevitably believe that hard work pays off. As a result, they will perhaps make more rapid progress and will hopefully develop greater coping ability when things do not go to plan, seeing this not as failure, moreover, a stepping stone to their own improvement and development.

Our own mindset in any situation is not always something we are necessarily consciously aware of, yet there may be some correlation between general outlook in life and mindset. A more positive outlook might infer more of a growth mindset or indeed, the reverse in cause and effect, with a more negative outlook, similarly implying the converse. Mindset should not, however, be generalized, and much like self-esteem, this might alter, depending on the scenario. Take a child, confident in their sport or music, but less so in the classroom. They might demonstrate more of a growth mindset in their co-curricular achievements but a rather fixed mindset for their curriculum studies; the challenge therefore, is making sure what matters to that individual is recognized as all of us are different, but also that a ‘no limitation’ focus is central to all that they do, so that a growth mindset is encouraged in all disciplines.

As Dweck’s work highlights, there are implications for application of mindset research to education, as children’s perceptions about themselves are increasingly accepted to have major a impact on achievement, progress and improvement within their school careers. Teaching a growth mindset will enable it to become a powerful motivational tool for a child, thus teachers have an important role to play. Ensuring the praise they give recognises effort rather than ability and teaching purposefully to allow children to gain the belief and attitude that they have greater control over their pathway through life, is, in my opinion, important.

However, development of this concept cannot be solely depended upon in the classroom, on the sports field or in the arts arena; parents must also be on board to promote optimal opportunity for growth mindset to be allowed to flourish.

 Practical advice for parents in assisting their children in developing a growth mindset:

  •  Help foster the belief that an individual’s true potential is never really known – it is not a measurable and predictable factor, thus encouraging children to follow their dreams and ambitions is vital; who knows what power and effect this belief can have
  • Nurture and develop a positive approach in children pursuing any goals, encouraging them to enjoy their learning. Assist them in focusing on what is going to happen rather than what might go wrong or might not happen
  • Promote the concept that hard work, effort, practice etc are the critical and changeable factors; children will learn better and achieve greater things if they believe that they hold the key, rather than it being down to how intelligent they are, or perceive themselves to be
  • Encourage the understanding that things take time and success in any endeavour rarely comes right away; sticking with a journey rather than giving up at any sign of unrest or difficulty, is vital
  • Praise effort, perseverance and progress rather than giving too much emphasis on how intelligent, bright or talented a child is; this will help them to understand success is achieved and recognized through factors they have control over, rather than an innate ability they have no power over
  • Allow children to learn (within reason, as naturally, we do not want children to be in danger) from their own errors rather than yours; going wrong provides us with one of the best learning experiences and a mistake for one person, might indeed be a success for someone else
  • Support children in being comfortable, rather than afraid, to make mistakes or ‘fail’ (ban the use of the word ‘failure’ if possible, to encourage everything to be a learning curve or opportunity) – don’t criticize, instead focus on the learning gained
  • Help children to understand that some things are simply out of our control; it is necessary to have a plan but also to recognize that even the best plans need to change and it is how we respond to any obstacles or challenges that is important
  • Aid children in focusing on competition with themselves, rather than others; they really can only try better than they have done before and should learn not to compare too much to others. Dreams and ambitions are personal!
  • Research quotes relating to growth mindset and use these, as appropriate, to reinforce the message with your children but also inspire and motivate them
  • Follow these principles yourself – be an outstanding role model in your own behaviour, language and attitude!

The growth mindset is perhaps one of the most important and exciting concepts to consider in relation to child development in recent years. It may seem relatively common sense, but nevertheless, we are all guilty on occasion, even within our own lives, of putting something down to ‘being no good at it’ or ‘not being clever enough for it’ or similar, and this is an approach that would benefit from changing to support our younger generation through life.

As Dweck says ‘If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning’

For more information relating to Growth Mindset, recommended authors include Carol Dweck and Matthew Syed.

Louise Hall is Director of Sport, Fitness and Wellbeing at Benenden School and Team Manager for the Surrey Storm Netball NPL team. She has previously held teaching and management positions at Brockenhurst Sixth Form College and South Downs FE College in Hampshire. She has an MSc in Exercise and Health Science (Bristol), BSc Honours in Physical Education and Sports Science (Loughborough) and Certificate in Education (Portsmouth).

Permission to use image kindly given by Rossall School