Headteacher's blog

Communication from the Headteacher, Ms Sarah White

Ms Sarah White
Headteacher

June 2014 Newsletter – Special Edition

Written the 11 September 2014

The 2013-2014 academic year has brought success for all members of the British Junior Academy of Brussels community. As the new Headteacher, I am determined to maintain the high academic standards for which the British Junior Academy of Brussels is known, while insisting on my personal aim to make all children, and their needs, the centre of our decision-making.

I am grateful for the support of Mme Demaertelaere and the Board of Governors during the year. The improvements to the playground space, the investment in iPads, the increase in teaching staff and the new website are just some of the initiatives they have supported. There are many other behind-the-scenes achievements that have been ably supported by the hard-working administrative team, who are equally important to the school’s sustainable growth. Since March, the school has been a member of the prestigious Independent Association of Preparatory Schools, which I am sure will add value, particularly in assisting Year 6 pupils moving on to other schools.
We fixed the stairs during the holidays: no more tripping!
The school wishes to recognise the wonderful contribution made by Mr Dan Michaels and Mrs Sayana Brenton, who are leaving the Board after years of distinguished service, and I am delighted to welcome Ms Stephanie Harland, as our new Chair, and Mr Alexander Willan, the new Parents’ Representative. I look forward to working with them.

Parents have a vital role in the school community and in their children’s education. I am indebted to those who provide regular feedback, as this is part of my aim for continuous improvement. I am particularly grateful to those parents who have offered their professional experience to the school: language lessons from Ms Georgina Tate, internet security from Bagayshree Dandekar Pinto, Science from Dr Clyde Gibbons to name a few. The British Junior Academy of Brussels’ parent body is a deep resource of talent and opportunity which serves to broaden our children’s knowledge of the world around us.

My thanks to the steadfast work of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), which has organised some excellent events, none more entertaining than the Christmas pantomime.

The children at the British Junior Academy of Brussels are a joy to us all. They work hard at their academic studies, as the SATS (National Curriculum Standardised Attainment Tests) results reveal. All children in Year 6 are achieving at, or above, their expected level, with over half achieving Level 6 in mathematics – two levels higher than expected.

In year 2, 96% of children are at, or above, their expected level for English and mathematics. These excellent results once again reflect our mission that each child should reach his or her maximum potential and we continue to welcome children at all stages of English language development.

Success at the British Junior Academy of Brussels is not only measured in academic progress. I have placed a high priority on standards of public speaking and performance in our regular assemblies and drama productions. Once again, we have achieved an impressive set of LAMDA results. The new appointment of an outside coach has resulted in more Physical Education activities after school and the cross country run at the British School of Brussels created a spirit of friendly competition. The two small choirs have provided beauty and calm in assemblies and they sang together recently with other schools.

building entranceThe school’s many and varied activities cannot, of course, take place without our team of talented teachers, assistants and support staff. I am grateful for the way the staff has embraced change while at the same time gently educating me in the traditions of the British Junior Academy of Brussels. As is customary at this time of year we say farewell to members of staff who are either moving on in their careers or completing years of dedicated service. Miss Sophie Auster has an infectious enthusiasm for life which has made her a joy to work with this year. Mrs Sara Khogali has been devoted in her service to BJAB for seven years and I will miss her loyalty and knowledge: the school loses a caring teacher and most professional Deputy Headteacher and we wish the whole family well in China. Mrs Gill Depypere has served the school for sixteen years and every child she has taught has benefitted from her high expectations. We all wish her a long and
fulfilling retirement.

In the friendly and successful environment of the British Junior Academy of Brussels, it would be easy to become complacent but I am continuously looking outwards to ensure we are moving in the appropriate direction in line with similar excellent schools. I attended the British Schools Overseas conference in November, was part of the team inspecting a British school in Kuwait in April and have been a key member in developing a Primary Heads’ Leadership group for international schools in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

In summary, the British Junior Academy of Brussels pupils and staff have excelled in all areas and we look forward to next year with excitement and commitment.

I am grateful to those who have contributed the following articles which highlight some of the important activities of this year:

  • The Parents’ Representative on the Board of Governors The Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
  • The School Council
  • “B-jabbering” – the English Conversation Class for parents A Review of this year’s drama production
  • The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA)

The Parents’ Representative on The Board of Governors, Mr Dan Michaels

The past year marked a major transition at the British Junior Academy of Brussels, with the retirement of Headteacher Diane Perry and the arrival of her successor, Sarah White. The Parents’ Representative, alongside other members of the Board of Governors, played a role in selecting Mrs White and so it has been enormously gratifying that Mrs White has proven a great success leading the school. The most obvious sign of this was the notable lack of complaints or issues raised by parents to the Parents’ Representative.

After the hectic previous year, which included the school inspection and the search for a new head teacher, this year has been much quieter from the perspective of the Parents’ Representative. Before the school year began I met with Mrs White to welcome her and offer any assistance, and welcomed her to the school at an initial assembly in September. Mrs White quickly showed herself to be in control of the situation at BJAB and needed little guidance from the Parents’ Representative. That said, we frequently spoke and discussed daily life at the school. Mrs White solicited my thoughts and perspective on several issues throughout the year.

As in the past, parents were notified of upcoming Board of Governors’ meetings and given the Parents’ Representative’s email. The only feedback I received in the past nine months was a positive comment in praise of Mrs White. The Board of Governors’ year ended with the selection of a new Parents’ Representative because my term has ended and my family will be leaving Brussels. The Board of Governors selected Alexander Willan, whom I briefed on the duties of the Parents’ Representative position.

I would like to express my thanks to Board and to the British Junior Academy of Brussels parents for the opportunity to serve the school. It has been a rewarding experience for me, and a satisfying complement to our daughters’ wonderful experience at the British Junior Academy of Brussels. The school has far exceeded our expectations, both academically and socially. I know it will continue to excel, foster a deep sense of community and love of learning. I have been consistently impressed how the British Junior Academy of Brussels takes learning so seriously without taking itself too seriously. This is an unusual strength of the school that should never be lost.

The Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Mr Dean Gill

As this academic year draws to a close, I want to thank the members of our PTA for their hard work. The Parent Teacher Association has risen to the challenges of yet another busy year. The PTA has continued to bring together the families and teachers of the British Junior Academy of Brussels. This year we parents have watched our children grow under the guidance of the school’s outstanding staff. We have been involved in our children’s education, finding opportunities to enhance their experience at the school. We have welcomed new friends and families to our community. This has been both gratifying and fun, and we all should have a sense of pride in our accomplishments.
Because of the generosity of our school community, we have successfully raised funds, donated clothing and toys, and continued our tradition of charity. For example, The Adeste Thermos organisation and the Church of Notre Dame du Sacré Coeur have been beneficiaries of these efforts.

Class representatives have been an important part of the school, keeping parents informed and bringing up ways to get involved.

In November, our annual Pizza Pyjama Social event was a success. From this event alone, we raised nearly €600 and gave parents (and our new Headteacher!) a chance to connect in a social environment. Whether it was organizing Saint-Nicholas treats for the children, reworking the Newcomers’ guide, or opening the library to parents, we have had a positive impact on our school. In an effort to help keep our children safe, we organized an information session on Internet Safety. Thank you to all of the Parent Teacher Association for their generous willingness to enhance the children’s school experience.

The School Council

This year The School Council has been extremely busy organising events in order to raise money for the wider community. We have continued to support our school’s main charity: Adeste Thermos. We also helped to collect money for the Philippines appeal. Thank you for your generous donations which will have helped to make a positive difference to those suffering in the floods.

In the Spring Term, we organised a Lego Competition for the whole school. Children put themselves into groups and had fun constructing birdhouses – this formed part of our Roots & Shoots portfolio. This event was a huge undertaking and was a great success. The winners of the competition created a very unusual birdhouse with a solar panelled, liftable roof! Special thanks go to those who donated Lego to the school.

For Halloween, we organised a fancy dress day. The money we raised went to Adeste Thermos. There were some fantastic costumes all round. Miss Iwanicki definitely won best dressed teacher!

B-jabbering – the BJAB class where you’ll never get told off for chatting during lessons! By Georgina Tate

I’m normally a very chatty person” explained one BJAB mum at the start of the year, “but when I speak English, I can’t find the right words; I don’t understand when people speak fast; I have difficulty with pronunciation; I feel nervous and foolish – and I’m not like me at all…

Anyone who has ever learnt a foreign language will know exactly what this feels like – which is one reason why Sarah White introduced “B-jabbering – the English Conversation Class for parents”, which now runs once a week at BJAB. Here, parents can practise and improve their English in a ‘safe’ and supportive environment.

But there’s a more important reason for the group too. Research shows that when parents are involved in their children’s education at home, children do better at school. And when parents are involved in the school as well, children do even better – and so does the school.

Thus, the aim of the conversation class is to enable non-native speakers to enhance their English so that they can understand and support their children’s education – and participate in BJAB life as much as possible.

“What are SATs?”, “…Phonics?”, “…a ‘fancy-dress parade’?”’ or “…an Easter bonnet?“ And “which English children’s books are the most popular?” These are just a few of the ‘school-related’ questions the group discussed this year.

But the most important theme of the course is bridging the ‘cultural gap’ in order to help parents feel comfortable within the “British” environment of the school, as well as in the wider “international” atmosphere of Brussels.

Things like British understatement, irony and humour can be baffling to a non-native English speaker. So can idioms, acronyms and slang – especially when these are interspersed with “Brussels-speak” such as “garderie”, “stage” and “GSM” – so we talk about these ‘cultural aspects’ during the course. We usually start each session by reading a short piece of text out loud, such as a topical newspaper article or an extract from a popular children’s book. This helps to get the conversation going and is also a good way to pick up new words, phrases and expressions.

There are frequent pauses to discuss new vocabulary (and how to use it in various situations) as well as to practise pronouncing any words or phrases that are difficult. For example “Hic-up Horrendous Haddock the Third” (the hero of How to train your dragon – a popular book amongst many BJAB children) is not the easiest name to say if you have difficulty pronouncing either the ‘h’ or ‘th’ sounds. (…spot the use of British understatement in this sentence….)

Does humour cross cultural divides? Not always; but judging by the relaxed, empathetic laughter in many lessons, the 8 group-members certainly enjoy sharing many jokes – as well as networking with other BJAB mums, exchanging tips and creating a congenial circle of friends.

“It was a great time” said one Belgian mum. “Every Wednesday morning we had class for more than an hour about life-topics, children, habits of different countries…I learnt a lot from vocabulary and grammar to little tricks and humour!”. Another remarked that it was “so convivial and friendly”.

So what about the Mum who, at the start of the year, described so well how many of us feel when speaking a “foreign” language? “I am enjoying this English class”, she said. “I feel comfortable and I don’t feel pressure if I don’t understand some topics”. But best of all, her English has improved – very audibly – and she’s becoming chattier by the day!!

The English Conversation Class will continue in September. If you’d like to join this class, please contact Georgina Tate, email: georgina.tate(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com

A Review of “The Chipping Blockbury Arts Festival 1959” by Hannah Pandian

Miss Pimm in the library with the poison gas? Mrs Barrington Browne (with an “E”) by gunshot? Or the Vicar, with an mbobotogani poison dart? Characters dropped like flies at the British Junior Academy of Brussels this month in a mad murder mystery — one part Cluedo, two parts Enid Blyton, a dash of Midsomer Murders, some Elvis for good measure, and even a throwback to English music hall. All served up with lashings of ginger beer.

The Chipping Blockbury Arts Festival 1959 is about five children pretending to be The Famous Five looking for mysteries to solve. They’re in the right place. Somebody in the village is killing adults and children indiscriminately, but who? As a small English village prepares for a talent show, the plot becomes increasingly littered with corpses slumped over in growing heaps.

Playwright and director extraordinaire (and Year 5 teacher in her day job) Mrs O’Rourke has a track record of thinking big. School-wide promenade performances with a week’s prep time? No problem. Pantos, replete with flatulent cows and flying carpets? Bring it on. Turning teachers and students into singing-acting-dancing ensembles? Piece of cake! (In the case of Chipping Blockbury, more like a piece of Women’s Institute seedcake laced with strychnine and raffled off at the fête.)

Chipping Blockbury was choreographed, blocked, rehearsed and staged in just three days. Children were consulted on whether they wanted to dance, sing or act and their complete engagement in this play was so evident. The production was cunningly carved into small scenes – this episodic structure kept everyone’s attention engaged, and there was plenty to feast our eyes and ears on. Music was superbly chosen, and accompaniment beautifully performed by music teacher Mrs Jakubiec: gauze-draped dancers stepped to Erik Satie’s slightly creepy Gnossienne No. 1, a gaggle of Brownies jived to the “execrable noise” of Blue Suede Shoes, and the entire student body gave an amazing rendition of English County Garden. We are talking here of so many little ones singing perfectly about “tall hollyhocks” and “gentle lupins” in their second, even third, language.

Pardon my French!

Indeed, how did this production – so typically “English” in its setting and literary context, succeed in being so accessible to the audience – made up of 35 different nationalities – most of whom did not grow up reading Enid Blyton? Visual humour played a huge part. Every time someone new kicked the bucket, the village’s gormless police constable plonked a cardboard crime scene banner down from behind which dead characters made their hasty exits. That banner became a running gag, keeping us all in stitches. Much was required of the children – that they employ demanding techniques like drollery, melodrama and slapstick, stay in character, and most of all, have a good time. Needless to say, the children delivered on all these fronts!

There were some surprises in store. Head teacher Mrs White came on as a cynical novelist penning her answer to Fifty Shades of Grey, only to be poisoned on stage, fascinator trembling as she breathed her last. I would seriously suggest she go off and seek her mid-career vocation in theatre, except that the school cannot spare her. Neither did the teachers disappoint: Mrs Bartley (Year 4) plotted world domination, Miss Auster (Year 6) the librarian, expired irritably among her books, Mrs Depypere (Year 3) coolly disposed of the Famous Five, thwacking them with a truncheon. Mr Barney was Dr Barnes with his dashing trilby and secret trysts, and Ms Chambers I almost did not recognize, as the breathless dear looking for a historical romance in the library.

The teaching staff continue to amaze us parents, year after year, in the way they throw themselves into such productions with boundless energy, huge talent and obvious enjoyment, in minimal time, with the least disruption to academic priorities. But there is also a much more lasting impact, under all the fun and froth. Our lucky British Junior Academy of Brussels children are growing up with the great gift of theatre and performance, watching their teachers and role models make clowns of themselves, and learning ridiculously important life lessons: don’t take yourself too seriously, learn your lines, assume confidence even if you don’t always feel it, throw your voice, step into another role occasionally, communicate, convince, but most of all, have a ball. It’s what has always made BJAB the very special school that it is – quite inimitable. I mean, where else would a child see their head teacher choke on poison powders? Or watch their beloved Year 3 Miss murder in cold blood?

A Happy Parent (who is slightly envious of her child)

The LONDON ACADEMY OF MUSIC AND DRAMATIC ART (LAMDA)

All children from Reception upwards are involved in the programme as part of their daily English lessons and many elect to take a LAMDA examination in front of an external examiner. The children learn to recite texts with appropriate style and must be able to respond in detail with knowledge and understanding to questions about their chosen material.

This year, 80 children elected to take the examinations which were held in February: our highest number of candidates ever. The children who have been taking the examinations with us annually are now working at a much more demanding level and continue to achieve excellent results. This year (on the recommendation of LAMDA) we entered a number of our children for higher levels of examinations, showing how, with encouragement, the children have become increasingly confident to speak publicly. Once again, the examiner commended the children highly for their confidence and achievement. This year over 84% were awarded a distinction or merit; the most notable factor in achieving such results is the high percentage of pupils who were speaking English as their second or third language.