November 2020 Lockdown 2.0 in England, Personal Statements, Educational Presents

Monday November 16th, 2020

Welcome to your November edition. In this issue we’ll update you on the latest coronavirus news as England continues with Lockdown 2.0, and we’ll consider the longer-term effects of all this change and uncertainty on the education sector. We’ll also look forward (in both senses!) to Christmas and share with you a few educational gift ideas, as well as some thoughts about the all-important personal statement for UCAS submissions due in January.

Lockdown 2.0 in England

With England back in lockdown, the latest rules require people to stay at home except for essential reasons such as travelling to school or work or shopping for food. They should also refrain from meeting people outside their household; restaurants, pubs, gyms and non-essential shops are closed and the furlough scheme has been extended until March. Schools, nurseries and universities in England will stay open during the lockdown period, but staff and students in secondary schools and colleges must wear face coverings in communal areas – but not classrooms – for the duration.

The month-long lockdown restrictions are scheduled to be lifted on 2nd December – but that end date isn’t guaranteed at this stage. With a changing situation across the world and international travel adding another uncertainty into the mix, many schools are planning for various different scenarios. For example, some boarding schools propose that children can travel home for Christmas and return into free-of-charge quarantine accommodation at school from late December-early January, with access to remote learning, for any pupils who may need to quarantine on arriving back in the UK.

For pupils unable to return home over Christmas, families could consider a stay with their guardian, because many schools may not be able to provide accommodation over the holiday period.

If pupils can’t stay with their guardians or go home, a Christmas residential course could be a fun and educational alternative. We work with several companies across the UK who still plan to provide these in a COVID-secure way, despite the uncertainties around Lockdown 2.0 in England. If this is something you’d like to explore, either for the Christmas break or for future holidays, do get in touch for more details. It’s likely that many boarding schools will be able to provide accommodation for the Lent Term Exeat and February half-term break.

The longer-term impact on education


Exam content debate

There’s already been much debate about next year’s GCSE and A Level exams, with some teachers calling for content to be reduced to take account of missed learning opportunities. Not all state schools offered access to remote learning or even a suggested schedule of work as per the syllabus for students in Years 10 or 12 from March to mid-July. Compounding those lost months of learning is the further disruption caused by rising cases of Covid-19, some school closures, and enforced self isolation while pupils wait for tests.

The National Education Union insists that:

“[Exams] must be slimmed down by making some topics optional to allow for the different order in which content will have been taught across the country.”

Pupils at UK independent schools are far less likely to have been affected by this, due to more robust, privately-funded test procedures plus access to remote learning for the duration. But the outcome of the debate could affect the way these key exams are structured as well as their timeline and assessment methods. Watch this space!

Changes to the entry process for UK independent schools


Something that will affect prospective pupils at independent schools is the impact of the pandemic on the entry process. Many schools have changed the way they accept applications as part of their COVID future-proof measures.

Many schools are switching from multiple, school-specific written assessments to a single, online test run by the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB).

Taken at face value, this could be a good thing. Children need only complete one exam, they can do it from the comfort of their own home and that result will inform the selection process at whichever schools they are considering. The challenge this year though, is that the goalposts have been significantly shifted because the deadline has effectively been brought forward by two months.

If you’ve been affected by this change, then do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you and we might be able to help you prepare for the process or reassure you or your child about how it will work.

First all-online school launches


In our June 2020 blog, I introduced you to the Head of Harrow School Online, independent from – but building on the heritage and success of – the famous ‘physical’ Harrow School.

Now the first-ever private school to offer exclusively digital education has launched – (slightly confusingly) called ‘King’s College Online’ (but bearing no relation to King’s College School in Wimbledon, or King’s College London) – but rather its counterparts in Spain and Panama.

Students in China and New Zealand can register for live-streamed courses starting in January, with courses available to students in Britain and Europe from September ’21.

Co-ed independent school group Inspired – who already educate 50,000+ students on circa 60 (physical) campuses worldwide (including Fulham School in London and Reddam House Berkshire in Wokingham) – developed the non-selective, private, online school.

Inspired’s CEO Nadim Nsouli explains:

“What we didn’t want to do is upload homework and have parents deal with it… We made sure to have as close to a normal timetable as possible with live full-day synchronous learning from the teachers as if you’re in class.”

With class sizes of 15, taught by teachers from a 4,500-strong talent pool from Inspired’s physical schools, plus smaller study groups that reflect the teaching format of university, King’s College Online costs about 60% of an equivalent education at the group’s physical schools and gives pupils access to more than 60 prestigious schools around the world (as well as the – albeit COVID-dependent – option to spend some time learning in those physical locations if they wish.)

Personal statements

Viewed by many as the most daunting part of your UCAS form, your personal statement is your chance to stand out and shine. It can feel challenging to summarise your achievements, interests and aspirations in a few paragraphs (4,000 characters to be precise!), but try to see it as a positive opportunity to explain more about you and your subject choices.

As such, it can be the differentiating factor for courses that are competitive and over-subscribed. If the majority of applicants achieve or exceed their entry requirements, admissions staff will look to the personal statement for additional insights into applicants’ suitability. Likewise in a situation where you don’t meet your offer grades, the personal statement could make the difference between you being accepted in spite of lower-than-predicted results or having to go through the Clearing process to secure a place.

It’s your chance to convince the admissions staff that you’re suitable for and capable of completing the courses you’ve chosen. To do this, you need to strike a balance between a passionate interest for your subject or chosen field of study and a more rational tone conveying specific evidence about your abilities.

You’re only writing one statement and it needs to work for all your course and university options. For that reason, it can be better to avoid course titles. Talk about subjects rather than courses – or if your subject choices vary then focus instead on common themes, such as problem solving or creativity.

Starting is always the hardest part – especially now we have gone on about just how crucial it is – no pressure! So, here are some ideas to set you off.

Descriptions of courses – if you can identify the skills or qualities needed, and match these with your own experience or attributes, then that can give you a useful starting point that’s insightful and helpful for the person reading it. It shows them why you’re suitable for that subject or course.

Explain why – tell the reader why you’ve chosen these subjects, or why the common theme if you’ve opted for different subjects at different universities. But not just why these subjects – why university? What are your broader plans, aims, beliefs and ambitions?

Paint a broad picture – don’t just limit your statement to your academic achievements or ambitions. Do talk more widely about any voluntary or work experience, any hobbies, any clubs or societies you belong to. I know it will have been much harder over the last 12 months to maintain extra-curricular activities, but even talking about how you’ve personally adapted your life and interests according to lockdown restrictions is a great insight into your character and shows a can-do, flexible mindset.

For international students, it’s a good idea to include why you want to be an international student, rather than studying in your own country, and why in the UK specifically. If you can also include details of your English language skills, and any English courses or tests you’ve taken, that can be really helpful too.

There are lots of tools that exist, alleged to help you write ‘the perfect personal statement’. However, in our opinion, the best personal statements are not necessarily those that fit a specified format or structure. It’s far more important that you convey elements of your own character through the style in which you write. If you can do that, whilst including the content outlined above, you’ll have the makings of a strong personal statement.

If you still feel uncertain about how to start, have a look at the planning tools on the UCAS website . This site also has links to blogs and pointers about writing your personal statement, as well as FAQs answered by admissions staff at universities.

One final, crucial point about personal statements. If you’re invited to interview, it’s likely your personal statement will form the basis for at least some of the questions. So make sure you know the content well and feel comfortable and confident discussing the themes it explores and the questions it could provoke.

If you’d like advice about writing or adapting your personal statement, do get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

Planning ahead… 

Christmas ideas with an educational twist


How about a 500-piece puzzle following the timeline of incredible developments in science and medicine? Hampshire-based company History Heroes have created a series of historical heroes in various educational formats and this is a recent addition to their range. It ticks all the boxes: an educational and constructive distraction if you’re stuck indoors and a positive perspective on the pandemic. Although the timeline stops at 1953, with the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA, it focuses on innovation and hope at a time when we all need it!

Buy yours here.

For scientists and bounty hunters

A Crystal Growing Experimental Kit (suitable for ages 10 and over). This could appeal to treasure hunters, pirate lovers and scientists alike! It enables you to conduct seven different chemical experiments to grow beautiful crystal clusters. I love it! It reminds me of the fairy gardens we grew when I was young, where you watered a little cardboard tree with a special solution, sat back and waited for the ‘blossom’ to grow. Exciting, educational and uplifting. More details here.

For budding naturalists

These kits are a great idea. The gift includes the environment for caterpillars to grow and transform safely into butterflies, and it comes with a voucher for you to redeem the caterpillars when you’re ready to begin. It’s a fascinating insight into the insect world and a rare opportunity to witness the marvel of metamorphosis at close quarters. There are options for stick insects and ladybirds too!

See more here.

Geologist in the family?

You don’t need to be considering geology as a career to find this kit exciting! National Geographic’s ‘Build your own volcano’ lets you do just that – then watch in awe as it erupts and spews lava from its crater. More details here.

52 gifts in one!

What about a magazine subscription? There are loads of options out there, but I personally really rate this one as a well-written insight into current affairs. The award-winning Week Junior is designed to give 8–14 year olds a better understanding of the word around them. Providing context and clarity to complex issues, The Week Junior promotes discussion and debate as well as improving general knowledge. The grown-ups’ version is great too! More details here.

Charity gifts

There’s a huge range of these available, and they’re a great way to foster children’s interest in and understanding of different cultures and ways of life. We’ve talked before about emotional intelligence being an important attribute for success in our connected world and charity gifts can be a talking point to build empathy and appreciate different perspectives. Take a look at World Vision’s Must Have Gifts range or Oxfam Unwrapped. UNICEF does a great educational gift called Paddington’s postcards.


The National Literacy Trust has published research that suggests children who enjoy listening to podcasts are more likely to want to read.

According to the Times:

“Previous research has shown that children’s reading levels tend to stall around the age of 11, with many teenagers reading the same fiction books at 14 as they did at the end of primary school.”

This study suggests that podcasts could trigger an interest in new subjects and an increased engagement with reading.

Emily Best, Research Manager at the National Literacy Trust and co-author of the report, added in the Times:

“We were excited to discover that podcasts not only support children’s reading engagement but that their rise in popularity during lockdown could present new opportunities for the classroom and distance learning, particularly in terms of getting pupils interested in different topics, encouraging further reading around subjects and nurturing a love of storytelling.”

The Times has a ‘top 10 podcasts for children’ page here with recommendations of what to listen to over the Christmas holidays (but it does date from 2017). shared their popular kids’ podcasts at the start of lockdown and for bang up-to-date ideas try here (but parental supervision is advised as some of these sound scary!)

Read more about the research here.

Until next time, stay safe and keep well.