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Using Technology to Engage and Connect – Nicholas Allen, Newton Prep

Schools in London often attract professional families from around the world so international prospective parents will use the website to learn about each school before moving to the UK. Even local parents are likely to look up a school online before requesting a prospectus or arranging a visit.

Newton Prep in Battersea is seen as an example of a school that has wholly embraced the most cutting edge resources available both to inform these prospective parents but also to keep in contact with parents of children at the school.

Prospective parents, before their visit, are able to take a look around the school through 360 degree tours of the facilities, photo galleries that display the classrooms and artwork by the children, and video galleries that show some of the film projects being put together. They can even download their own personalised prospectus relevant to their needs. iPhone apps and social media tools like Twitter have been introduced alongside the website with its rolling news and electronic weekly newsletter that can be

easily read on a phone to keep parents up-to-date and informed of news relating to the school or wider education interest. In fact, the school was the first prep school to have their very own iPhone app! Other communication systems that allow text messages to be sent to parents are used effectively to get in touch with them for important, time-sensitive messages (like unexpected snow days).

“Parents are an important part of the education partnership”

Nicholas Allen, Headmaster of Newton Prep, and recently elected Chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) from September 2012, believes in the importance of inclusion:

“Parents are an important part of the education partnership; it is crucial that we find ways of involving them in the life of the school, even when they are busy professionals. I am always happy to meet with parents in person, or speak to them at the school gate, but I know that for many working parents it can be difficult to get into the school in person. We want them to feel that they are engaged with their

children’s education and achievements even if they are not regularly visiting the school.”

It is important to bear in mind when promoting and providing information on public sites that protecting the children in the care of schools is paramount. Schools are able to create secure areas for parents where they can see more photos of children with password-protected galleries arranged by class or event so that busy parents can go in, click on their child’s class or the event, and see pictures of their child in action. Many schools now also have a secure parents’ area with school letters and forms, newsletters, detailed information about curriculum, sports fixtures, policies, PTA information and the parents directory.

So many things are going on daily in schools – projects, performances, exhibitions, sporting events – that there is a constant buzz. How amazing is it to be able to share all of this with parents, so that they can feel as excited about their children’s achievements as the school and children are themselves!? START YOUR OWN SCHOOL !?!

With all this talk of starting up new schools, Eds Up discovered that there have always been pioneers in the education system and perhaps we could all learn a lot from their commitment and drive.

When Dorothea Beale introduced her education reforms for women as Head of Cheltenham Ladies’ College in the late 1800s, she changed the face of women’s education from a focus on domestic skills to the study of history, maths, science and paved the way for social and education change. Just recently, we came across another establishment that was founded by a man with a similar passion for change and the determination to do something about it.

In 1970, with a mission to inspire and motivate and a vision of what a truly modern ground-breaking school should be, Richard Jackson moved with his wife and family plus 17 students into a rambling mansion high up in the Surrey Hills in stunning countryside with breathtaking views, and Hurtwood House was born. Remarkably, just 41 years later, Hurtwood has 300 boarding students and has received universal acclaim

as the best school in the country for the creative and performing arts with Drama, Media, Music, Art and Textiles departments to die for.

We are often asked – “Why not start your own school?” – and now we have found a man who did just that

If only we had known about the school when we were deciding what to do for the two years prior to going to university! The first thing that struck us was the completely different campus feel about the school as everyone is 16 plus. What a fantastic preparation for university. Richard Jackson’s belief that so many schools stifle creativity and enterprise, and that most of the academic syllabuses are completely out of touch with the modern world, is what drove his mission then and which is still true today.

“It’s each individual student’s personal development that is really important to me rather than being top of the league table,” says Jackson. “I have always felt

that if students are excited by what they are doing, and they can see the relevance of it, if there’s a spirit of ambition and adventure in the school the results will follow naturally – and they have.”

Lucky former students whose parents shared the same philosophy as Jackson include Oscar winner Hans Zimmer (music for Gladiator, Rain Man and The Lion King) and Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Gideon’s Daughter) and Jack Houston (Factory Girl). Fantastic state-of-the-art facilities such as the huge theatre complex inspire creativity but Jackson has used this spirit of creativity to cater also for the budding entrepreneur, doctor, lawyer and architect, with a range of subjects which, though less eye catching, are no less successful and inspirational.

So, if you are out there thinking of starting a new school make sure that you have the passion that can change lives. We would like to hear from anyone who is starting a new school so that we can celebrate the pioneers of the 21st Century.

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