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Specialist teaching at St Nicholas brings a dynamic, invigorating pace to the subjects taught and ignites a passion in early learners.
To find out more about our amazing team; choose a teacher to read about their passion and commitment to inspiring minds. Alternatively, if you are ready to take the next step on your child’s education, enquire today and let us know how we can help you.
What compelled you to become a teacher – and, in particular, to specialise in maths?
I came into teaching after previous experiences in accountancy and as a chef. I always enjoyed learning and I made a conscious decision to become part of the education sector because of that.
Maths is just awesome. It has had such a bad name in the past but I believe that we are all born mathematicians. It’s the bedrock of how our species has survived so far and the platform from which we continue to progress.
Do you have a particular approach to teaching; a philosophy shaped by your education – a teacher or environment?
Sometimes it’s the bad experiences that we go through that shape us positively. I make a pledge every day to ensure that no student went through what I went through during high school maths. I once did an IQ test that described me as a ‘creative mathematician’. Hence the accountancy and pastry arts previous careers.
It was one single teacher, Mrs Simmons, who opened my eyes to the beauty of maths and nurtured that creative mathematician within me. She helped me to succeed so quickly at something that I thought I could never do.
If your pupils were asked to describe you – your teaching approach, your characteristics and passion for your subject – what words do you think they’d use?
I think they would say that I expect them to be the best versions of themselves, that I insist on excellence and that I challenge them to see the beauty and relevance of mathematics.
What compelled you to become a teacher – and, in particular, Humanities?
My first job after university involved training and coaching adults. I helped them use computing systems and enjoyed training adults so much that I ended up teaching adults and children English as a foreign language. I was working abroad, returned and qualified as a primary school teacher.
Humanities is History, Geography and Science. They were always my favourite subjects at school and still stand out in my memory – learning about different countries and doing topics like the Romans where we would dress up in togas and have a feast.
If your pupils were asked to describe you, your teaching approach, your characteristics and passion for your subject, what words do you think they’d use?
I would hope that they would say I am passionate, I am excited and enthusiastic about what they’re learning and that I love it when they ask questions.
I love seeing how they think and the things they come up with.
The teachers at St Nicholas know their pupils very well. We have small class sizes which helps us get to know the children quickly. We know which children are shy, which are loud… It helps us adapt and work out how best they can take part.
Was there a teacher during your school experience that personally inspired you in your career?
I just really loved school. I loved being given the time to write stories and talking to people in my class about what we were learning. Things like building a bridge out of lollipop sticks are challenging and completely different to the normal school day.
Is there anything in particular that you personally want people to know about St. Nicholas?
In terms of teaching Science, we do a huge amount of experiments. I have never worked in a school like St Nicholas where there’s been this much practical science. Every week I do a demonstration of different activities and then the children will do an experiment themselves. Science is a very big thing here. You can see it in the way the children think. They are able to make predictions and then evaluate their results. I think there is a real passion for science at the school!
What compelled you to become a teacher and in particular, to teach English?
I came to teaching late. I would drop my young daughter off at her first school and I would be wondering about how and what she was being taught. I did some voluntary work at her school and became very interested in the teaching methods. So, it all started there. Before my daughter’s birth, I’d never really had any contact with primary schooling since my own time in education.
My daughter has grown up now but I’ve carried on working with the same aged children and I remain fascinated by how they learn. Sometimes you have barriers to learning and finding ways around that is really interesting.
Here at St Nicholas, I teach some children who are hoping to get into their first-choice senior school so the motivation levels are much higher than other schools I’ve taught at. It’s really rewarding to be teaching highly-motivated children. You can do a lot more if children are eager to learn.
I am a specialist English teacher for Years 5 and 6 and English is my first love. I studied it to degree level and I just really love books and getting children into reading. I absolutely love it when they get hooked on a book I’ve introduced to them or enjoy a poem I’ve chosen that they’ve never encountered before. If they leave a lesson saying ‘this is brilliant, I love this’, that’s really rewarding. My primary aim is to get children interested in reading and to maintain that interest as they get older.
We’ve recently been reading a book called Private Peaceful, by Michael Morpurgo, and it’s a really difficult book for Year 5s and there are times when they struggle to understand some of the content. But the book is so emotionally powerful that they’re always eager to return to it, to read some more. With all the distractions they have, to build that kind of emotional attachment to a piece of literature is fantastic.
If you start young with a love of words – of stories, literature and poetry – you won’t lose it when you’re older. Even if, as teenagers, if they go through times when they don’t read as much, they’ll return to it later.
I hope that they would describe me as kind and helpful. I like to think I am kind of strict – but I’m not really. They need to understand that there are boundaries, though. I can’t learn for them, they have to put the work in themselves and I facilitate that, I’m guiding them.
I know the children enjoy the lessons, as they tell me they love English. English is all about telling stories, really. It is also about being able to write grammatically correct sentences and being able to express yourself but if you can’t understand, for instance, why someone else has written in a certain way, you won’t do it yourself.
Year 6s have been recently spending time on persuasive writing, the kinds of letters people send to newspapers expressing discontent. The children have been writing their own and they’ve done a fantastic job. They’ve done it through mimicry, really. They have to have a good example to follow.
There are some exceptional children at St Nicholas. They’re highly motivated and come to school ready to learn. They are being taught to express themselves – and they do.
Was there a teacher, a subject or an event at school that shaped your approach to teaching?
I went to a very old-fashioned grammar school. It was strict and didn’t bring out the best in me. I make a conscious effort not to be like that – not to be didactic. My primary school experience was a positive one, though. I recall my English teacher, Mr Locke, who was kind and inspirational. I want children to learn through enjoyable experiences. I see my role as a guide rather than someone who stands at the front at dictates to them. And I don’t want to be boring!
St Nicholas has a nurturing ethos. At the same time, we do have very high expectations because we want our children to flourish.
What compelled you to become a teacher – and, in particular, to specialise in PE?
I’ve always loved sport. I grew up loving sport, playing sport all of the time and using all of the opportunities given to me. When I was younger, I had the opportunity to coach and teach other students. I love helping students enjoy and succeed in sports.
Is there anything from your time at school that propelled you to want to work in education?
Given your personal attachment to PE, do you think that has helped shape your teaching approach?
I always looked up to my PE teachers when I was at school. I’m still in contact with some of them now. They guided and helped me get better at sports. They always made me feel like I could try things. They taught me that failure is a positive thing so I could push myself further.
When I teach, my main aim is to create a positive and relaxed environment. I want the children to not be afraid of failure. I want them to know that failure brings success. Those things that I have been taught are the things I want to teach the children. I want them to keep working hard, not just in PE, but in all areas of life.
I hope they’d say ‘fun’. I’m quite relaxed and knowledgeable in terms of all sports. I always demonstrate everything and show them that whatever I can do, they can do.
I think they would say they enjoy the environment and the lessons. I hope they’d see me as a role model as I always get involved. I teach the girls netball and so from a gender point of view, they’ll be able to see a role model in me even though it’s considered to be a female sport.
What sports do you teach the children?
I am new to the school and only just started this year, but I have improved a lot of the curriculum to make it as engaging as possible. Sports such as dodgeball, basketball and, possibly, badminton are all being introduced to the children.
My priority is for the children to enjoy themselves as they learn.
Is there anything you particularly want people to know about St Nicholas prep school?
Sport is going to keep getting better and better. There will be more opportunities available and more clubs because there is specialist PE teaching now. Because there are more specialist teachers, the quality of teaching is getting higher and higher. St Nicholas is a very exciting school to be a part of at this moment in time. It’s very friendly. Every child is pushed to succeed and every child is taken care of.
What compelled you to become a teacher and in particular, to specialise in music?
I have always loved music, I think that’s just an outlook you are born with. My educational background is as an organist and choral director within the English church music tradition. Whilst I was studying for a Music degree at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, I was the Organ Scholar at the city’s two cathedrals and worked with their choirs of children and professional adult singers. I became accustomed to the idea that children can achieve high musical standards. When I graduated, I spent several years as a freelance musician, however my regular income was as the organist of a church in Leicester that maintained an excellent children’s choir. So working with children has always been a part of my experience as a musician. Over time, I began to realise that I was at my happiest working with young people, so I decided to become a full time teacher in 2010.
Is there an object, an instrument, an artist, an album or a piece of music that symbolises your passion for your subject?
My greatest inspiration is the many musicians I have been lucky to work with over the years and who have shaped my approach to music. Looking back, I’m grateful that I didn’t go straight into full time teaching after leaving Music College, as I had the opportunity to perform at a high level. It’s important for us as teachers to remember what ignited our passion for music in the first place, so we can attempt to pass this on to our students.
The answer I like to give to the question ‘What’s your favourite piece of music?’ is ‘the one I’m playing right now!’.
The word I use the most is ‘teamwork’.
Music for me is about community, teaching children what can be achieved by working together with discipline and mutual respect. In my opinion, music in schools must never become an ivory tower for a gifted elite. The challenge for us as educators, is not just to nurture the top 10%, but to try and engage every child. Even the ones who don’t consider themselves ‘musical’.
A word I particularly dislike is ‘talent’, or at least the negative connotations that it often generates. In my opinion, music education suffers terribly from the idea that certain children have a greater natural ability than others. Musical ability, like any other skill, is developed incrementally over time. There are no shortcuts. What is later perceived as ‘musical talent’, is the result of regular exposure to singing or playing an instrument during a child’s upbringing. Nurture, as opposed to nature. If we were discussing a child who was an excellent footballer, most people, even those with no specialist knowledge of sport, would readily acknowledge that the child’s ability was primarily the result of hours of practice. However, scroll down the comments on a YouTube clip of a child singing on a TV talent show and you will see how engrained the notion of so-called ‘God-given talent’ is, in the general perception of music.
I worry that too many people (both children and adults) don’t get involved with music, simply because they believe they are not ‘talented’. Would someone not play a game of football just because they thought they were not ‘talented’ enough to play for a Premiership team? Of course not. We need to teach children that music is not about being better than the next person, it’s about being the best you can be and helping others be the best they can be as well.
What compelled you to become a teacher and in particular to specialise in art/dt?
I worked in a school as a teaching assistant and I loved working with children so much. I originally wanted to become an educational psychologist and find related work experience to that. I liked working in the classroom so much that I decided to withdraw my application for educational psychology and applied for a PGCE instead.
I love Art so much that it feels so rewarding to be able to teach just Art and DT. I originally trained in everything and so to specialise in Art is a lot of fun. It is really nice to teach Art to children who respond so well to it.
Is there anything from your time at school that propelled you to want to work in education?
I didn’t go to private school, I went to primary school in the public sector and we didn’t really do Art there. I guess the person responsible was my dad. He was an artist so he was responsible for encouraging me to draw. He took me to art galleries and was critical of what I was doing, which helped me get better. At secondary school the art department was amazing and it was very exciting to be at a school where the Art teachers were actually good and taught me what to do. They gave me constructive criticism and helped me develop my skills. I’ve always enjoyed doing Art in my spare time.
Given your personal attachment to Art, do you think that has helped shape your teaching approach?
Yes, I do. But more than that, having such a positive role model in a parent really helped me to become resilient and to never stop trying.
Fun, creative, high standard, good at drawing.
I think they love what they do. A lot of the children tell me that it is their favourite subject when they walk past me in the school environment. I remember one child told me last year that they call Art day “Bancroft day” because my surname is Bancroft.
Children love being taught by a specialist teacher when it comes to art, because I can guide them in a way that helps them achieve a standard of work that they didn’t believe was possible. They are always thrilled by what they achieve at the end of the lesson.
I also teach the children DT where they learn skills for design and implement skills involved in the design process – such as analysis and evaluation. We’ve made things like pop-up books and flapping dragons. One year group made a 3D city of London.
The children are thinking through a project from start to finish and then achieving their final product – combining both Art and DT. They are creating a vision and seeing it through to its final destination.
Is there anything you particularly want people to know about St. Nicholas Preparatory School?
We have a great art department. If you compare the quality of work that is achieved and the extensive projects that we cover, I would say they are a lot better than many other schools.
What compelled you to become a teacher – and, in particular, to specialise in French?
I completed a French degree and after university, I went to live in France for a couple of years, working as a university language assistant. So, I really developed a love of the language and really wanted to share my interest and my passion for languages with other people and that’s why I trained to be a languages teacher.
I started learning French when I was really young, which is why I’m a real advocate for early language learning. My mum lived in Geneva for around three years as a child so she always kept up quite a good level of French. She had friends who would always send us games so, even before primary school, I knew lots of vocabulary. She ran a club when I was at primary school too, so I was learning more there, getting a head start. Being immersed in it at an early age is what made me want to teach French.
What’s your aspiration for your students – to share your passion for the language, culture and country or to use French professionally?
I’d like them to share my enthusiasm for the language and the culture. But, more broadly, by starting to learn a foreign language at an early age, it will develop an aptitude in language generally. So, they’ll learn how a different language works and that will be a building block.
When they go on to senior school to maybe learn another language, they will build an awareness of a world beyond their own. It is just about instilling a love of another language and another culture in our children, equipping them with the tools to go on and learn other languages.
I had an inspirational teacher when I did GCSE and A Levels. She was pretty hard on us, we always had to speak in French and she made quite stringent demands on what we had to achieve. She pushed us but, if you worked hard, you were rewarded. She would always show that she was really impressed. It’s not easy, you have to work at it; it’s a skill, you have to perfect it – it was wanting to emulate her that took me into teaching.
What does St Nicholas bring to pupils beyond the classroom in terms of your subject?
We are located close to the French Institute and there is an annual festival run in South Kensington, mainly by the French Institute, so I can encourage authors to come to the school and stage workshops and we can go and watch film screenings. I also have a café, so when the children have learned vocabulary around food and drink, they can order and enjoy it at the café. It is about replicating things they can go off and do on holiday in the classroom. Our children are motivated because they get to eat nice food at the end.
The younger children love it because we play games – they don’t see it as formal learning. They are learning a lot, but they are learning through games and songs – active learning. The older children would probably say I’m firm but fair. They have to work at it, it’s not always straightforward, but when they have done well, I will praise them richly because they deserve it.
I think I make it enjoyable and accessible and they are genuinely very enthusiastic about the lessons.
What compelled you to become a teacher and in particular, drama?
I always studied drama. I did performing arts at A-level and degree. I wanted to go into teaching rather than the media because I knew I wanted to work with children. I also knew I wanted a more “safe career”, I didn’t want to go into an industry where it was unpredictable. After I graduated, rather than doing a PGCE, I did a graduate teaching programme in a school. I did all my training in a school. The only thing I wanted to teach was drama.
What do you think makes Drama such an important subject?
Drama is massively important, especially for children’s confidence. Because I’ve only just started introducing the children to drama, I’ve been saying to them that drama isn’t about acting. It helps with your creative thinking, working individually and in a team. Even this week we were working with some poetry and getting up in front of each other, performing and giving each other feedback. For some children that comes really easily, whilst for other children that is terrifying. Some of these children from St. Nicholas will be going on to have interviews to get into senior school and hopefully drama will equip them with the confidence and skills to go speak to an adult they’ve never met before.
It’s about children presenting themselves confidently and being able to speak in public. We have a boy next week who is going to speak in front of the entire school and he is so nervous. But I have every confidence in him and we’ve been working closely together on his eye contact and public speaking skills. All of the skills that come from Drama translate across every other aspect of life.
I’m hoping they’ll say my lessons are fun and that I always bring a lot of energy. I’m quite good at reading the children too. Drama obviously isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and because I’m quite experienced, I’m very good at reading straight away which children are the natural leaders and also the children who take a step back. I’m quite good at putting the right children together to balance that out. Even by playing one imagination or improvisation game, I can see straightaway who’s up for it on that day and who isn’t.
I had a drama teacher in senior school who was so lovely. I loved her lessons every week, we always did the school play and I was always a part of it. Teaching drama is a way of giving children the memories that they carry with them after school. They won’t remember the day-to-day stuff but they will remember being in the school play. They’ll remember the fun they had in drama class, with all the children being so interested in drama. Everyone remembers their sports day and the bits that they love.
It’s a wonderful school and I really enjoy working here. The children are great and one of the unique selling points is that the children have to visit drama lessons with a specialist Drama teacher. Not many primary schools have that, it’s usually only secondary schools. The children’s drama lessons actually take place just behind the Royal Albert Hall, which is a great location and they are very lucky.