Parent’s Story

My 8-year-old daughter, Ava, joined Dame Catherine’s in September 2017, attending their home educator sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Prior to this she was at small state primary school and has just finished KS1. What these simple statements don’t convey is the enormity of making such a leap of faith; I always thought it was the right change to make, but a year later I can now write about our experiences, with absolute conviction – it was the right decision.

I’ll keep the whys and wherefores brief as we all have our own educational philosophies.  This is not a lecture on how to live your life, or that of your child, it’s more a call to arms if you have any uncertainty about the education your child is currently receiving; to show that there are many ways for a child to engage with education.  To be clear – I have no complaints about my daughter’s previous school, within the constraints of current systems and ideologies they did their very best and my daughter was happy there. Yet having trained as a primary school teacher and more recently having worked at a secondary school I have always had my doubts about whether Ava was receiving the best possible educational experience or not.  Having also worked in mental health services for over 10 years my viewpoint is far more holistic than perhaps it used to be.

That said I never felt a burning desire to home educate completely, I have always believed that schools offer lots of positive experiences and opportunities; I just didn’t want this 5 days a week for Ava.  I also liked the idea of having some input into Ava’s formal education and to be able to share in the wonder of learning alongside her.

I came across DCHS through an internet search, divine intervention you might say, potentially the missing piece of the puzzle for us as a family.  The website held a mirror up to my doubts and I just had to see for myself. So in the summer of 2017 I visited and fell in love with the place, I could write endlessly about all the reasons why, (starting with the warmest reception I’ve ever received when visiting a school) teachers who are allowed to teach, children who are encouraged to be children, topics and activities that inspire, an ethos that nurtures and celebrates individuality and a sense of flexibility that is sadly lacking in so many educational settings.  Academic arguments aside it came down to a gut feeling that is so hard to put into words but I just knew this was where I wanted Ava to be. Incidentally we live over an hour away from DCHS, the travelling is worth it as there is nowhere else that offers this unique educational environment.

A year on, I have a very different daughter, she has grown in ways that I could never have anticipated.  The confidence she has begun to develop and the peace that she emanates are of immeasurable value, those are the traits that will underpin all her future achievements, academic or otherwise; those are the parts of the puzzle that I now realise were lacking in the state system.  Ava is valued for who she is, not berated for what she has yet to master, she is treated with kindness and respect and is HAPPY, who could ask for more?

Parent’s Story

Making the right choice of nursery or school is a massive step for any parent.

The decision to send my son Luciano to Dame Catherine’s however was one of the easiest things we have done so far.

Luciano started nursery with Fay as soon as he turned 3 years old and lucky for him being a September baby he has been able to access two full years at Nursery. He loves it so much and we are happy in the knowledge that he is not only relishing every minute he is there but also that he is constantly learning and engaging. His vocabulary is amazing and he is continually being challenged through constructive play and experiential learning.

Classes are small so he has so much time with Fay to support his learning and to ensure he is progressing and developing. Sessions are structured but informal so learning is fun!

Playing and having fun

Science becomes experiments with thermometers, magnets and insect hunts. Growing their own potatoes each year shows them how nature works and they get the rewards of eating the harvest!

Luciano loved a television programme called ‘Number Blocks’ and Fay made him his very own characters out of connecting colour coordinated blocks that included eyes and he would play with his number blocks at nursery everyday. I don’t know if anyone else would do that, cater specifically so much for one child, giving so much time and effort, she is amazing.
Image of the muddy kitchen
The village setting of the school also makes it very special with the garden to play in, equipped with its very own ‘mud kitchen’, slides and climbing frames. We really love the fact that the links with nature are encouraged and that learning is flexible and responsive, which means that every child is catered for and allowed to progress at their own pace.

We would say that Luciano is ahead of where we thought he would be before starting school. He loves his numbers, he is inquisitive, confident, engaging, sociable but most of all happy. We can’t wait until our little girl is able to start nursery next year. She already loves it very much and we struggle to bring her home when we drop my son off.

Ready to get messy and have fun!

We are so happy and pleased that we made the best decision, to allow our son to grow, be happy and enjoy these precious first years.

Claire, Fabio, Luciano & Cecilia Read more “Parent’s Story”

Parents’ view

We are both design professionals and involved in teaching at University level. We see first-hand the increasing levels of anxiety and mental-health issues experienced by students who have come through an education system set up to teach pupils to pass exams, and not to think for themselves. The concept of learning through trying, and doing; where failing is an important part of the process, and where having confidence in yourself is key, students are worryingly ill-prepared.

We were therefore really excited to find Dame Catherine’s, and signed our son up when he was 2. He joined nursery with Fay when he was 3 on a part-time basis as he was already established in another setting. He had become increasingly unhappy as the environment got noisier, bigger and more disciplined – with a strong reluctance to go in the morning, but we were unsure how he would settle in. We needn’t have worried. Fay is amazing with the children.

The small class setting is nurturing and familiar, and allows the children to develop as individuals – Fay would often respond to topics/activities that we had been doing at home and work on, and develop them at nursery. We went from two mornings a week to a full week within the first term as our son was enjoying his time there and wanted more.

He’s moved from there through class one (KS1) with Margaret and has now started class 2 (KS2) with Deb…and he’s continued to be a happy little boy.

When asked ‘is it school today?’, the answer ‘no’ is not met with delight, but with dismay. When it’s home time, we are often still standing outside in the garden at 5pm as he wants to stay and play with his friends. School is seen as a positive experience, not an anxious one.
The teachers follow, and deliver, the curriculum but have flexibility with the classroom to expand, develop and explore topics in greater detail. They can respond to the children’s interest and engagement and maximise the learning experience by looking at subjects across a range of activities.

No subject is withdrawn because time needs to be devoted to practising for SATs, but children are assessed and as parents we have a clear idea of how they are progressing against the learning outcomes…but without the pressure to ‘perform’.

Life after Dame Catherines – how children adapt to…

We have had two children go through Dame Catherine’s Nursery and School.

It was a big decision initially to ‘step out of the box’ of sending them to the local mainstream school, to a very small independent school. But the lure of no formal testing, small class sizes, no homework, and the family orientated environment was a huge influence in our decision.

Read more “Life after Dame Catherines – how children adapt to Secondary and beyond”

Parents’ view

I am the mother of two young boys, aged 5 and 7 who joined Dame Catherine’s School about 6 months ago. Despite the short time period, they are both flourishing at this school and have made new friends very quickly, with boys and girls of different ages. It gives me immense pleasure to see them going to school so happy and content. They are confident and secure in the knowledge that they will enjoy the teaching and get better at their work. I do not need the results of an Ofsted report to tell me DCHS is outstanding in their provision of an excellent learning environment, for any child.

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Parents’ view

Finding the right school can be a minefield at the best of times, but when your children need to learn in a very special way, it is particularly difficult. Our search for such a school began at short notice, when our children’s school closed. We visited several well run schools, but somehow, they didn’t quite match up.

Read more “Parents’ view”