The Beacon is an iaps for boys aged 4 to 13 in Amersham, Buckinghamshire.
The Beacon is a world-class independent prep school in Amersham, where boys aged 4-13 are nurtured, thrive and acquire exemplary learning and social skills that will last them a lifetime.
While academic core skills are at the heart of the School, underpinning every subject and activity and reflected in the outstanding 11+ and other senior school external entrance examination results, The Beacon is also dedicated to teaching our boys how to learn, instilling key core learning skills such as independent thinking, teamwork and resilience.
Strong pastoral care at The Beacon surrounds our boys, allowing them to grow, flourish and develop in a safe, secure and happy environment. We even have our own dedicated School Counsellor who provides incredible support if needed for both our boys and their families.
Caroline Yolland, Counsellor at The Beacon boys’ school in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, advises how to pastorally prepare your children for a possible return to school.
26th May 2020 — From 1 June, many children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 may be finally returning to their school site after 10 weeks of lockdown and learning from home.
However, this return is not as simple as a ‘normal’ return to school after relaxed weeks of holiday enjoyment. During the crisis, many children will have experienced significant changes and challenges, including the abrupt closure of their school sites and a switch to home schooling or online learning. A number of children will also have been exposed to further distress and anxiety during the pandemic period if their home lives have been touched by illness, the death of a close family member or other emotional, psychological or financial strains.
All children and young people will have registered and reacted to these changes in some way. The younger children expected to return to school do not yet have a fully developed sense of time, so for them, a break of a few weeks or months can feel like a significant period of separation.
While some children may be eager to return to their old routine, others may need help to adjust and it is a good idea for parents and carers to start planning how they can support their children’s return to school in order to make the process as stress-free as possible. Here are some tips that I hope can help you to help them:
Tell them about the return as soon as it has been confirmed by your child’s school.
In a quiet time, with no other distractions, explain calmly, and without any bias from your own opinions and feelings, that it is now felt that it is safe to start to return to school after the stay-at-home lockdown.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings about returning
Your child may feel sad, worried or cross about the sudden break from school or about going back and reconnecting with their classmates and teacher. Their behaviour may change because of these feelings. You can support your child by remaining calm and trying to name the feelings out loud so that they know that you have heard how they are feeling. Learning to be an active listener without imposing any judgements or trying to ‘fix’ a problem is a real skill and will be hugely beneficial for your children both now and into the future.
Prepare your child for the new social distancing rules and changes to routines at school.
Find out if there are to be changes to the school routine, the layout to the classroom or indeed the classroom they will be in. If you can, find out about which children will be in their designated group / class and which teacher they will have. Talk with your children about these changes and explain exactly what they are. Acknowledge that some changes might feel strange and different and may take some time to adjust to. If their teacher is different, explain why this has happened if possible. It’s important to keep talking about these changes after the return has begun to discover if any variations are causing unnecessary anxiety.
Talk about the possibility that some teachers or children may be wearing masks and gloves.
Explain that some staff members or children may choose to wear masks and gloves while in school. Talk about the reasons why some have chosen to do this openly and honestly and answer any questions they may have. You may like to also discuss why (if applicable) you have decided not to send them back to school in personal protective equipment, explaining all the increased health and safety steps the school will have outlined to you.
Create a ‘countdown to school’ calendar for each child.
A visual tool of a calendar or timetable can really support any worries or anxiety. This preparation provides a sense of predictability and security, counteracting feelings of uncertainty and disruption they may have experienced as a result of the crisis.
Give your child a level of control over aspects of their new school day
You could ask your child to choose what they would like to pack in their lunchbox or what they want wear to school each day (many schools are asking children to come dressed in their own clothes so they can be changed and washed every day). This can give them a sense of control and ownership over their return to school.
Ask your school if your child could have some contact with their teacher (new or otherwise) before returning to school.
This could be a phone call, email, letter, online meeting or recorded video message. This way, that first meeting or reintroduction to their teacher will take place in their secure home environment.
Arrange to have a catch-up call with your child’s teacher about their experiences during lockdown.
This could be helpful in order to review any issues that may have arisen during the break from school. It is helpful for the teacher to know of any particularly difficult experiences the child may have had, including whether they or their parent(s) or carer(s) have lost anyone close to them. This enables the teacher to understand their specific needs and behaviours after they return.
How to be an active listener
• Turn devices off and show that you are listening. Squat down to the same level as your child and maintain eye contact with young children. Remember, though, that older children and adolescents often don’t like eye contact.
• Smile and use a gentle tone of voice.
• Try to avoid impatient body language like eye rolling, foot tapping or sighing. This can discourage children from talking.
• Put your own thoughts and feelings on one side.
• Allow your child space to talk and tell their story without interrupting or contradicting them.
• Allow silence if your child is using it to reflect and think, but step in if the silence feels uncomfortable.
• Encouraging things to say: “Tell me more.” “And then?” “Go on, what else?”
Bereavement support for your child
Being cut off from family, friends and communities because of the coronavirus pandemic is difficult for everyone, but especially for children, young people and families who are grieving for a loved one. Advice and guidance from the team at the charity Winston’s Wish is readily available at www.winstonswish.org/coronavirus. This includes information on topics such as advice on telling a child someone is seriously ill or has died from coronavirus and how to say goodbye if you can’t attend a funeral.
Other useful websites and links:
Child Bereavement UK - https://www.childbereavementuk.org/
Cruse Bereavement Care - https://www.cruse.org.uk/get-help/for-parents
Useful books to share with your child
Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine by Diana Crossley
The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup
Always and Forever by Alan Durant
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst
Death: I Miss You by Pat Thomas
Useful books for parents and carers
Talking about Death: A Dialogue Between Parent and Child by Earl A Grollman
The Copper Tree: Helping a Child Cope With Death and Loss by Hilary Robinson
Never Too Young to Know: Death in Children’s Lives by Phyllis Silverman
Mrs Yolland’s Magic Toolkit
Try any of these exercises with your children to help them to decrease feelings of anxiety and encourage them to live in the moment. If one doesn’t work, just try another and then make it a valued part of their day.
Mindful breathing: Focus on your breath, imagine a sailing boat that rises and falls with each breath. Alternatively, imagine your breath as a colour (breathe in blue and breathe out yellow).
Body scan: Lie on the floor in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, squeeze every muscle as tight as you can and then relax all your muscles. Think about how your body feels. Squish your toes and feet, squeeze your hands into fists and make your legs and arms as hard as stone. After a few seconds, release and relax your toes, feet, hands, legs and arms.
Heartbeat exercise: Jump up and down or do star jumps for one minute. Sit down and put your hand over your heart, then close your eyes and pay attention to your heartbeat and your breath.
Petal breathing: Squeeze one hand or both hands into fists and breathe in. Open your hands on the out breath. Repeat three or four times.
One-minute breathing: Using a timer, how many breaths can you count in one minute? One breath counts as in and out.
Hot chocolate breath: Put hands around an imaginary cup of hot chocolate. Breathe normally and naturally on an in breath, pretend to smell the hot chocolate and savour the smell. On an out breath, blow on the hot chocolate to cool it down. Repeat two to three times.
Breathing buddies: Lie down and place a soft toy, cuddly, small pillow or cushion on your belly. Notice how it rises and falls with your breath. Pay attention to the rise and fall for a few breaths.
7/11 breathing: Breathe in for a count of seven and breathe out for a count of 11.
54321: This technique will take your child through their five senses to help remind them of the present. It is a wonderful calming technique. Take a deep breath and then notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and then take one more deep breath.
Balloon breathing: Put your hands on your belly. Notice how your belly balloons out on your in breath and how your belly balloons in on your out breath.
Simon Detre, Deputy Head (Academic & Digital) at The Beacon prep school for boys in Amersham, examines the potential pitfalls of social media. What do parents need to do to ensure children’s safe and appropriate use?
10th February 2020 — Some years ago, I was walking down Oxford Street in search of a Christmas present for my wife. Outside Selfridges a small crowd had gathered around one of the shop windows. I glanced in to see some mannequins wearing bikinis, sitting on sunbeds, with sand scattered on the floor. A second glance made me do a double take: two of the mannequins were talking to each other. I realised the reason for the crowd: these were not mannequins but young women and men modelling swimming costumes.
Although they were securely behind the shop window, I could not help feeling that these models must have felt somewhat vulnerable. The purpose of a shop window is to entice passers-by to come inside. It was a gimmick by Selfridges to employ real people and the fact that it had attracted a crowd meant, I suppose, that it was working.
Can you imagine – I’m sure you cannot, because to do what I am about to suggest would be ludicrous – putting your teenage son or daughter in that shop window? And can you imagine leaving your teenager there without any adult oversight or help? And just to make the situation even worse, can you imagine removing the window glass so that any passing stranger could talk to your child or comment on their appearance? Of course you cannot. And yet this is exactly what parents in their millions do every day. This is the reality of social media: we provide our youngsters with unsupervised environments in which they can interact with anybody.
We would not dream of allowing such a situation in the actual world. But in the online world, when our teenagers (and much younger children too) are ensconced on their devices in their bedrooms, this is the environment we are putting them in. We allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security and to forget all the old “stranger = danger” messages of our childhood. It’s worse online because anybody can pretend to be whoever they want to. The person you think you are communicating with might not be who they say they are. The social media giants would have us believe that they go to great lengths to make their platforms safer. However, in my view, their child protection provisions are inadequate.
What is the solution? The horse has bolted and continues to bolt – technology continues to develop faster than we can legislate for or put in place age-appropriate safeguards. Remember how straightforward it was in the days of the nine o’clock watershed? No longer. The internet – the most phenomenal tool for learning yet invented – places children firmly in harm’s way and several steps ahead of our attempts to get a handle on what they are up to. Teachers like me have been pointing out for years how ridiculously easy it is to lie about your age when signing up for social media and none of the major providers have addressed this. To do so would not be in their interests.
There is another simple step the major providers could take to improve their younger users’ experience. The way in which social networks are built means that users become obsessed with how many friends/followers/likes/comments they can collect. We obsess even more when we don’t get them. What is your foremost emotion when your post attracts no reaction at all. Loneliness? Inadequacy? Imagine if you could not see how many friends or followers each person has? Instantly the incentive to interact with more and more people – whether they are friends or merely strangers – would be removed. Admittedly one drawback could be that this information helps to establish credibility (there are many Donald Trump Twitter accounts but only one – the President’s – with millions of followers). Even if this information was hidden for children’s accounts, this would represent meaningful action by the providers that they are serious about child protection. A 2018 report, Life in Likes, by the Children’s Commissioner confirmed the importance attached by children to having their posts liked and, thankfully, an advert suggesting children could gain likes and followers to progress through levels in an app was recently banned on the grounds that it was “likely to cause harm” and “irresponsible”.
As a teacher, I have lived through the advent and adoption of social media and school and parent responses to it, from blocking access in the early 2000s, through coming to the realisation that we ignore them at our peril.
In my experience, parents still fall in to three groups. The “anything goes” parents leave their children to get on with their online activities without taking any or much interest. They then must pick up the pieces when it all goes wrong. Mercifully, this group is shrinking in size all the time. Closely related and yet with the opposite approach are the “lock down” parents who do not allow their child near a computer or other device. This is almost as bad, in my view. The third group are the “parent-engagers” – these are the parents who take an active interest in their children’s online lives. They allow them access but with appropriate controls in place. They acknowledge that, in 2020, this is part of parental responsibility and schools and parents need to work in partnership. It’s not as simple as “I look at my child’s phone regularly to see what they have been doing”.
What these three groups have in common is that they all tend to feel out of their depth – but only the third group try to engage constructively.
Schools have a legal duty to appropriately control internet access and there are several inexpensive products available for home use. Parents need to engage with this – it is part of the responsibility of purchasing a device for use by children. Parents, however out of their depth they feel, also need to have those all-important conversations with their children about the potential pitfalls and how to avoid them. Several excellent resources to help with this are available. Children need to be allowed to take risks and make mistakes – these are important learning experiences. However, in allowing our children to use unsupervised social media, we risk them making mistakes in a very public way.
Children need to understand that the concept of privacy is anathema in the age of social media. Privacy does not exist. All users should assume that any message, photo, video, etc, whether or not sent privately – could unexpectedly become public. The simple rule of thumb must be “don’t share anything that you wouldn’t want your mother/head teacher/future employer” to see.
We now live in a world in which...
insurance against the sharing of sexual images is becoming a new industry
regulators in Australia plan to police algorithms used by tech giants and an expert in the UK has called for a Hippocratic oath to protect users from potentially harmful technologies
too much time spent using a smartphone may be a health hazard.
Think for a moment about the shop window at Selfridges. If as an adult you choose to put yourself in it, that’s up to you. But don’t unwittingly drop your child in. Be a “parent-engager”.
How can we keep children safe? Here are four simple steps parents can take...
Engage with trusted sources of information (for example the NSPCC, CEOP). The picture is constantly shifting and it is important to keep up to date. Twitter is an easy way to do this – you can even set alerts to tell you when new tweets are posted
Engage with your child’s school – when they run events about how to keep children safe online, support them! Parental attendance at such events can be worrying low
Use software to protect your child on all devices (for example Qustodio, Norton Family, Google for Families). Remember though, no technology is 100% effective – it’s not a question of “install the software and forget about it”
Understand that most software includes communication functionality. Children may be using the most unlikely software as a means of communication. Furthermore, children have their own systems of abbreviations, emojis and so on and these are constantly evolving.
 Tech firms mocked for claiming under-13s can't be blocked from social media sites https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/05/26/tech-firms-bluffing-child-safety
The Beacon School in Amersham was delighted to welcome author Lucy Hawking to speak to Beacon families and members of the local community this month through its partnership with the Chorleywood Bookshop.
27th January 2020 — The Beacon School in Amersham was delighted to welcome author Lucy Hawking to speak to Beacon families and members of the local community this month through its partnership with the Chorleywood Bookshop.
She enthralled a packed audience as she talked about Unlocking the Universe, the last book she wrote with her father, Professor Stephen Hawking.
"It was so amazing," said Year 5 Beacon pupil Aaran. "I had started reading her book, so it was really inspiring to listen to her speak. I was especially blown away to learn gravity bends time as well as objects!"
Cressida Cowell Visits The Beacon School in Amersham
Hundreds of Cressida Cowell fans flocked to The Beacon School in Amersham to meet the How to Train Your Dragon author and illustrator in person.
13th November 2019 — Part of the hugely successful Chorleywood LitFest, which The Beacon proudly sponsors, the afternoon with Cressida Cowell was a complete sell-out. Avid young readers, clutching copies of Wizards of Once: Knock Three Times, Cressida’s third book in her new best-selling series, came to hear Cressida enthral them with stories of the inspiration behind her stories and incredible illustrations.
Cressida, who was appointed as the Children’s Laureate in July, seized the opportunity to encourage her young fans and their families to always read for pleasure. “Tell the adults in your life to read to you way beyond the age when you can read to yourself,” urges Cressida. “Just 10 minutes a day can make so much difference. If you’re reading a book with your parents and it makes your mum laugh or your dad cry, that sends an incredibly important message. Books have that power.”
One of Cressida’s biggest fans, Year 3 Beacon boy Eesa, enthused: “I have read six of the How to Train Your Dragon books, so it was really exciting to meet Cressida. She has inspired me to be an author.”
“Author visits are a great way of inspiring children to read,” agreed The Beacon's Librarian Katie Turrell. “However, Cressida’s visit seemed to work on so many levels as the adults in the room were as engaged and enthusiastic as their children.”
After her passionate and engaging talk, Cressida spent a long time with each child, signing their books, chatting to them about their own aspirations and having photos taken. It was an afternoon her young fans will remember for a long time.
Head Teachers and IT leaders from schools across Buckinghamshire and neighbouring counties came together just before half term for a special Virtual Learning in Education event held at The Beacon School in Amersham.
16th October 2019 — Guests had the opportunity to explore the Pyramids of Giza, walk across the surface of the moon and even examine the sea floor whilst swimming alongside sharks thanks to immersive and interactive demonstrations provided by exhibitors NVOY Technologies, Lenovo, ClassVR and RingCentral.
The Beacon’s Headmaster, Will Phelps, said: “This was a fantastic opportunity for school educators to get together and see how Virtual Reality can transform our pupils’ learning. Virtual Reality allows our children to engage in experiences not possible or practical in the ‘real world’. We are very excited about the potential opportunities for our boys when we introduce VR learning into our curriculum next year.”
The Beacon’s pupils also got their chance to experience this incredible next step in teaching and learning. “I’d never tried a VR Headset before,” said enthusiastic Year 4 pupil Michael. “It was so exciting! I felt I was in the middle of all the action – it would be amazing to use this in our lessons.”
Promoting Excellence in Modern Foreign Languages Teaching Conference
Modern-language teachers from over 40 schools gathered at The Beacon School in Buckinghamshire for an inaugural MFL conference. Teachers from across England came together to share their passion for teaching languages and to share best practices.
10th October 2019 —
On Wednesday 9 October, modern-language teachers from over 40 schools gathered at The Beacon School in Buckinghamshire for an inaugural MFL conference. As the world continues to become increasingly connected through advancing technologies, it has become essential for our children to learn to confidently speak other languages if they wish to maintain a competitive edge in an increasingly global careers’ market.
Teachers from Senior and Prep schools across England came together to share their passion for teaching languages and to share best practices on how to engage their students with the subject. “The purpose of the conference was to develop closer links with MFL teachers across the region, and to get to know MFL staff at local schools to which we send our boys. The conference served this purpose well and also provided excellent MFL training and the sharing of expertise, thanks to some fantastic speakers," said Fiona Jones, Head of Modern foreign Languages at The Beacon.
The event was held in conjunction with the ISMLA (Independent Schools’ Modern Languages Association), which exists to provide a forum for modern-languages teachers in independent schools to meet, share idea and inform themselves, and to contribute to developments in modern-languages teaching.
The Beacon hopes to make the Modern Foreign Languages conference an annual event. MFL teachers interested in attending the 2020 conference (date to be confirmed) should email The Beacon Events Department (email@example.com) to register their interest.
The Beacon – Pippa Pearson – firstname.lastname@example.org
For full admissions information, please visit https://www.beaconschool.co.uk/admissions/.