An exclusive interview with Mr Pascal Evans, headmaster of Hereward House
It was with great pleasure that I met and interviewed Mr Pascal Evans, the very honest, charming and friendly headmaster of Hereward House on 4th December 2015. Mr Pascal studied law at Oxford and then after practising as a pupil barrister, decided to follow his passion and went into teaching. Having started off at Colet Court, Mr Evans moved on to Westminster Under. He taught French and then went on to become the Director of Studies at Westminster. He is a firm believer that boys mature academically at different ages and that testing for senior schools at 11 can be inaccurate as late developers can miss out. His own children are trilingual and he believes in children enjoying their childhood and feels fortunate to be able to welcome boys from different backgrounds and cultures.
What is your vision for Hereward House? Are there any areas of the school that you feel you need to change and if so what are they?
I joined the school in January and of course I would not have joined if I hadn’t liked the school enormously. The owner, Mrs Sampson, is passionate about the school and has a firm belief in education and always thinks of the child first. Her influence is evident from the 30 years she ran the school. My predecessor did an outstanding job and was incredibly popular with both the parents and the boys. There isn’t anything for me to change fundamentally. We are updating our computers and we’ve brought in iSAMS, a school management information system, to help us with pupil tracking, academic results and reports. The teaching staff and I all talk to one another very often, so we are verbally tracking the students extensively in addition to written tracking. We currently have two ‘morning shouts’ (meetings) a week to talk about the boys and day to day issues and we have staff meetings every week. However, we will record data more efficiently and be able to access it remotely. We are also making some changes to the timetable (that I will refer to later).
With a non-selective policy how does the school maintain its high standards and what about the school do you feel attracts bright boys? If admission is not based on either an assessment or on a first come first served basis, how does the school decide whom to offer a place to?
A lot of the bright boys who come in, do want to come as they are provided with a rounded education at Hereward House and we are fortunate to have enough bright children who rub off on one another. Of course, we have devoted teachers who work extremely hard and we have parents who take an active interest in their child’s education. Much of the school’s success relies on the partnership with parents in encouraging high participation in school activities and the promotion of high standards. If our parents were guilty of ‘opulent neglect’ we would not be able to achieve our levels of success.
We always try to cater for different abilities. We don’t believe that you can test and identify what these abilities are at such a young age, which is why we do not have a formal entrance assessment for transition (our reception class). A colleague plays with the boys for around 10 – 15 minutes when they come in with their parents. It is very informal and parents are nearby.
We have changed the process in that we have reduced the number of families we take on tour at a given time from 3 sets of families to 2 sets. We look for families that are suited to the school and match our ethos. We feel that there is more to life than exams and look for parents who are supportive of the school and what it stands for.
If boys are applying to join after Form 1 or 2, we usually offer a taster day so that they can be more informed about the school and the class before making the decision to join the school. It is important that the boys are sure that they like the school.
Boys who join after Form 3 are often given a CAT test to help parents determine what a realistic exit route is likely to be for the boy. If for example, a boy has a low CAT score, schools such as Westminster and St. Paul’s are an unlikely destination and parents need to be realistic. It is a very difficult task to choose one boy over another and we can’t apply scientific methods with 2 year olds. We look at a variety of little things and try to make sure we get a mix of types and a spread of birthdays. It is in many ways educated guesswork. We try to see whether the families are genuinely interested and like us as a school. Mrs Sampson does get involved in the process as well and it is a collective decision. Choosing our 2017 intake was one of the hardest things in my first year. There were so many families that we really enjoyed meeting and that we would have loved to make offers to if we had a larger intake.
Hereward House is one of the few schools that specifically states that admission is conditional upon parents committing to keep the boys in school until 13. What are the reasons behind this policy and are there any exceptions?
The obligation to stay until 13 is of course a moral one rather than a contractual one and we encourage the boys to stay until 13 because generally it takes longer for boys than girls to mature and develop in order to reach their true potential. We do have occasional places available, when families relocate, but our families recognise that the boys will have the best preparation by staying with us in smaller classes through to 13.
The raison d’être of prep schools is that the boys get so much out of the last two years of the school that is beyond the normal curriculum and boys do get an extremely good education at prep schools. Boys get a great deal more individual academic and pastoral attention in their final years at prep school than in a much bigger senior school and as a result they increase in confidence. For example boys have far more opportunities to occupy leadership positions, do parental tours or help younger boys than they would if they were the youngest boys in a big school. On a personal level I regret leaving my own prep school at 11 rather than staying on until 13 as I missed out on that attention. (from a couple of pages later)
It is most unfortunate that the 11+ pre-test exam for London day schools is becoming increasingly hard and competitive. An electronic pre-test has been introduced and Westminster, St Paul’s and UCS have all joined. The test acts as a filter for the senior school before further assessments and interviews and the test is taken at the prep school the child is attending. The fundamental problem with this method is that the boys only get one go and one test result is sent to all those senior schools. If the boy has a bad day it will affect entry to more than one school. It is of course good to reduce the number of entrance tests but boys at 11 can be erratic in their academic performance on a particular day. I remember performing very differently in my 11+ for 2 different London schools. Fortunately, there are schools which still do focus on the child’s personality and achievements at 11 but some schools are looking mainly at the results of tests at 11. This can put a lot of pressure on children. This pressure can continue for up to 2 years, if boys are placed on a waiting list, as families can hold on to more than one place until half way through Year 8. Some schools will then reassess in Year 8 when further places become available, causing further pressure.
There is a danger of long-term burnout due to the amount of pressure. It is not unsurprising that some pupils lose motivation by the time they get to university. In this part of London, supply doesn’t meet demand. There are not enough senior schools in this area. As a result, as a school we are increasing our links with pastoral boarding schools as well as day schools slightly further afield. Apart from most boarding schools that are still happy to make conditional offers based on Common Entrance after traditional interviews and some day schools that still test in Year 7 or 8, many schools now rely on these 11+ pre-tests for entry at 13. Once a boy receives a conditional offer, it is highly likely that they will meet the requirements of Common Entrance. Our boys achieve extremely good results at Common Entrance and Scholarship at the end of Year 8. There are far more boys that would pass Common Entrance than the number of conditional offers made.
Along with other prep schools, we have unfortunately had to shift the academic focus in recent years as Maths and English in Years 5 and 6 have become increasingly important in the selection process. Specialist teachers are now provided at an earlier age than when I entered the profession. While Common Entrance is still important, we are now facing the fact that ultimately, 11+ is becoming a major testing point.
Without sacrificing academic standards, we are trying very hard to take the pressure and stress off the boys. We have removed the lessons for Years 6-8 that started earlier in the day and all the school lessons now start at 9.10 a.m. The early time of 8.30 is now reserved for assemblies or PSHEE or Form time. We give them this time to settle in and have quality form time. We have also restructured the day so that there are no more than 3 academic lessons in a row.
We will be introducing Mandarin in Form 4 from next September and will also be looking at a linked geography scheme to expand the boys’ cultural knowledge and exposure. We already have a Mandarin Course after the Year 8 exams. I often teach basic Japanese to my classes after exams (Japanese is the easier language) but Mandarin is more useful. As with so many things at prep school, we want to give the boys a taster of things that they may wish to pursue when they are older. To vary the curriculum we have also introduced chess as a lesson in Form 2 and Form 3. I am a great believer in the educational benefits of chess. We have also introduced a philosophy lesson in Year 8. This links with our greater participation in debates and general knowledge events. Our General Election hustings was one of the highlights of my first year at the school.
Being a very well regarded prep school, what are he advantages/disadvantages of having a relatively smaller number of pupils compared to some of the larger schools in the area?
With a small class size, the advantages are of course, more time for the pupils with their form teachers, more individual attention etc. Maybe our sports teams have less strength in depth due to the small year group but we are pleased that all boys have the opportunity to represent the school. The economics of scale are not the same of course in a small school but it is great to have a one building environment. The older and younger boys benefit from being in the same building. Some of our older boys attend Middle and Junior School assemblies and help out in many ways. On a personal level it is easier for me to attend Junior assemblies, lunches and meetings and to be more visible. As the school is small there are more opportunities to perform musically. 90% of our boys play an instrument and each class is able to perform a class concert each term.
As mentioned earlier, boys are also given plenty of individual support before the Common Entrance examination. We even open the school in the half term before Common Entrance in order to prepare the boys for the following week. We feel our boys benefit hugely from the school being the size it is.
How does the school cater for children whose needs don’t fall within traditional boundaries be it children who have special needs or those who are gifted and talented or both?
Our Director of Studies and our Study Skills Co-ordinator liaise with colleagues to identify boys requiring individual or small group support. In certain cases, we also allow parents to contract a support teacher to come in and help a child or provide one to one support. We have many differentiation opportunities available and have two colleagues dedicated to learning support. We also have two preferred external Educational Psychologists, both of whom provide detailed reports and feedback on the boys referred to them by parents. It is a major advantage that they are prepared to come into school to discuss the way forward with parents and colleagues.
As a school we do a great deal of differentiation by task and by outcome. Differentiation by task is harder to prepare and we do a lot of work scrutiny and departmental meetings in order to share good practice and think of ideas. Much differentiation is done discreetly as we do not want pupils to identify themselves as being in particular ability groups.
In Year 8, we divide the class into a scholarship group and a common entrance group and the two classes are taught separately for the majority of lessons. The class is taught together for some of the lessons and this is important in order to keep the class homogenous. However, Maths and French are taught entirely separately in small groups of 8 or 9 and we are looking to do the same in Science. Currently English, Latin, History and Geography are taught about 50% of the time in small groups.
With special needs requirements, we are very open to supporting children with identified needs no matter what they are. Our priority is of course our existing boys. We always hope that boys will stay with us until they are 13 and we provide the necessary help right the way through the school with our dedicated learning support. We try to be as inclusive as possible. Many boys who may struggle in one area often have a great deal to contribute to the school in a different area so it is key that we try our best to accommodate all children we feel will be happy and thrive at the school.
With a fairly new parent committee how much involvement does the school expect from its parent community bearing in mind that most families have both parents working.
We have a brilliant Parents Association. They write a Parents’ Handbook that gives detailed information about the running of the school. The recent Christmas fair raised a 5 figure sum this year and the parents were responsible for the success of the event. They also organise the very successful Hereward House cross-country event. Many schools attend, as much for the delicious teas as the challenging course on Hampstead Heath extension. Amongst other things, the Parents Association also help with the swimming gala and organise the Hereward House School disco. I meet the Parent Reps at least twice a term as well as separate meetings with the two Heads of the Association (who do 2 years in the role) and it is a great opportunity for parents to help the school and to pass on opinions. Parents do not have to be involved with the Association to be actively involved in the life of the school. We organise ski trips with families and many families are generally so involved that many become friends by the time the boys go off to secondary school. After attending class concerts 3 times a year and many form plays and school concerts, parents are bound to know one another well. After camping trips and years together in one class, many parents form relationships that last even after their sons move on to different schools. One of our recent classes organised a holiday together shortly after the boys left. Our siblings policy means that many parents will be involved with the school for well over 10 years. At the same time, we realise that our parents have really busy lives and that they cannot be involved all the time. Given my rare appearances at my own daughters’ school, I would be a hypocrite if I expected parents to be in attendance at all our events. The main thing is that parents show an active interest in their son’s education.
In addition, all parents have all our email addresses and know that we are always contactable. I try to be as visible as I can so that parents can catch me on the door in the morning or afternoon. It is not always easy as I often teach French from 9.10 and due to our regular meetings about the boys at the start of the school day but it is vital that our parents feel the door is always open.
Mr Evans is clearly passionate about what he does. He is immensely enthusiastic about the school and his pupils and is clearly well loved and respected by his pupils, the parents and his staff. As I came out of the office, I was able to witness first hand, an example of this. Some of the boys had just come back after a match and they were all crowding around Mr Evans, eager to tell him what had happened and what each one of them had done. Watching his response to this wave of boys descending on him it was clear that his manner in dealing with the boys contributes in large part to the family atmosphere at the school. His words, “the office is the heartbeat of the school and a warm office is one of the most important things” was another indication of this along with the fact that the senior boys mentor and are put in charge of looking after the juniors through a variety of appointed roles.
Although the school does not assess the boys it takes, most boys perform well above average as far as academics go. The majority of boys play a minimum of one instrument, with a large proportion playing a second instrument and form concerts provide opportunities for the boys to gain self confidence and a sense of achievement. A keen runner himself, Mr Evans encourages boys to take part in the park runs and cross country running as well as other sporting activities like fencing and hockey to name a few.
I felt the school had a lovely atmosphere and had balanced academic achievement with pastoral care very well. The boys were clearly happy and enthusiastic. There were many confident offers to walk me round the school. A lot of art work of varying ages and styles adorns the corridors and class rooms are large and bright. It is a real testament to the family atmosphere of the school that the parents remain good friends even after leaving the school and in fact the last set of leavers presented the head with a lovely book chronicling their school journey from the day they joined to the day they left. Hereward House then, presented very much as a busy, academic yet friendly, family school.