We caught up with Andrew De Silva, head of St. Edmund's Junior School in Canterbury, a co-educational school with the prestigious wow factor, located on the outskirts of the city. He reveals the five key features he's looking to enhance in his time at the helm...
We caught up with Andrew De Silva as he was about to start his new position as Head of Junior School at St. Edmund’s in Canterbury in September 2020. One academic year down, we unearthed the five key features he is looking to enhance at this co-educational school with the prestigious wow factor, located on the outskirts of the city.
Andrew joined St. Ed’s from Fair Oak Junior School in Hampshire, where he had been the Head Teacher since September 2016. He has loved his first year (as has his son with the school’s renowned Churros Friday) but the downside has been not engaging with the parents as much as he would have liked, due to Covid so like many others, he’s looking forward to a more social future come September 2021.
Not only is he a strong contender for the Most Enthusiastic Head that we have come across in our Muddy Kent travels, but Andrew is also deeply passionate about children’s education. A recurrent theme keeps popping up when we quiz him about the five areas that he is looking to develop at St. Ed’s and they all revolve around the word, ‘Curriculum’ and how this impacts his other four key development points for the school.
But how does this all play out?
1) Choices we make come from our curriculum
As Andrew tells us, the common question that he regularly asks of himself, his students and his team is ‘Why Do we Do What We Do? as this is a key question when it comes to everybody’s learning journey. He believes that the power of evaluation is critical in education when it comes to the younger generation learning from the past and equipping them with the right tools for the future.
To this end, from January 2022, the school will be employing the Singapore Methodology (Year 3 and above) for its Curriculum, and this will unite the conventional path for education studies alongside translating these topics into real life. As Andrew explains: ‘How can we make World War 2 relevant now when many of those human concepts are alien to today’s audience so we will strive to translate these topics into real life. Academia is a driver and not a destination and our aim is to make our children citizens of the future and give them the right coping mechanisms alongside their academic learning.’
2) Learning Environment
Andrew is a firm believer in keeping everything calm when it comes to the ultimate learning environment with research highlighting that ‘grey’ is the optimum neutral colour for learning. This soft focus also minimises distraction to learning and helps build a powerful and inquisitive mind.
Refurbishing and revolutionizing Year 3 & 4 classrooms was one of the first items on Andrew’s agenda and alongside the hessian wall displays, are whiteboard tables and teaching walls to access resources so there is still plenty of inter-active of play with bright yellow chairs for a vital pop of colour.
Another positive change has been the impetus on creating a continuity of provision and understanding because as Andrew explains: ‘We want our students’ individual learning to be as smooth and seamless as possible and remove any potential barriers. Therefore, the Junior School will benefit from the same teachers that they will have at the Senior School, which is one of the many benefits of having three schools on one all-encompassing campus.’
3) New Look Diploma
The power of evaluation within education is played out within the New Look diploma which is another new initiative from Andrew, which is starting in September 2021, for Years 7 and 8.
One of its key focuses is to enhance children’s vocabulary choice and incite their passion for talking animatedly about subjects which are close to their hearts. Students can pick their topic and then unpick this subject matter and make academic links to the things that they love.
We are told that they have a free-range when it comes to their choices (from yo-yos to yoghurts) and as Andrew highlights: ‘We believe that these New Look diplomas will spark intellectual intelligence and give our students the confidence to chisel away at a subject matter which encourages others to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes and from an academic point of view.’
4) Experience and opportunities
We know that the launch of ‘Enrichment Week’ will go down a storm with pupils when it kicks off in Autumn 2021. From September and October, Year 3 onwards will be able to benefit from a wraparound learning offer within their Curriculum with this new programme.
Pupils will be able to visit awe-inspiring visits destinations such as Harry Potter Studio Tour or go on a jaunt along the Thames on a Rib boat, plus take part in Crystal Maze or enjoy Afternoon Tea at Ritz. As well as trips away from the school, inspiring speakers will also be brought in to expand students’ minds and initiate thought-provoking discussions.
Whilst we know that these trips and events will bring a smile to many students’ faces, it is also paramount to look at the additional reasons behind these ventures. Andrew expands: ‘It is important to host these engaging activities early in the academic year as it forms a unique bond between the students as they share these experiences together and it makes them realize that school is an exciting place to be where teamwork skills can be learnt alongside the academic learning process.’
5) Community Engagement
This is a matter close to Andrew’s heart from his previous headship within the state sector and the age-old phrase of ‘Sharing is Caring.’ Andrew currently sits as Chair of IAPS (District 2) and is on the Board for the Choir Schools Association on both a national and regional engagement level.
As Andrew explains: ‘We are enormously privileged as a school with our extensive grounds and facilities, and we want to have a positive impact on other children within our community. We will be looking at leasing out our Forest School, as well as other “attractions”, to local primary schools as we know that it will benefit their learning, and it is vital for our students to see the affirmative consequences of these kind of actions.’
GO SEE FOR YOURSELF! Visit St Edmund’s Open Day on Sat 2 Oct 2021, book here: stedmunds.org.uk/admissions/open-events/