Apprenticeships: a growing opportunity

Apprenticeships in this country can be traced back to the guilds of the Middle Ages, when upper-class families would send their children away to learn medieval crafts; an acceptable choice for a well to do family. Since then, the number of apprentices has risen and fallen over the years and after peaking in the 1960s there was a slow decline and in 1995 there were half as many apprentices in employment as there were in 1979.

When I left School, going for an apprenticeship wasn’t a popular option if you were academically able. Things are certainly changing. Since Modern Apprenticeships were introduced in 1993, the scheme has substantially improved, and with more and more A level candidates eyeing the expense of university with some trepidation and scepticism, going down the apprenticeship route can be a sensible and viable alternative.

From 2006, apprenticeships across the country began a journey of popularity and expansion, from only 175,000 vacancies being available then to now over 500,000 programmes at all levels. While the original apprentices were very much ‘hands on’, with young people learning the crafts of the time, these days they are available in many areas of business and industry such as Business & Law, Engineering and Manufacturing and Health & Care Services. Indeed the top apprenticeships are more difficult to secure than an Oxbridge place.

This week is National Apprenticeships Week, which provides a fantastic opportunity for pupils to think about their future careers and the various options available to them after they leave school. The many benefits for young people to work and learn at the same time, gaining real work experience, improving employability and developing skills are undeniable. Arguably, they have significant advantages over those who have gone the university route but have no actual experience of the workplace and in most cases, a large debt which will take them many years to pay off.

Ollie Khan, former Bethany School pupil, is currently completing his Level 4 apprenticeship with Red Carnation Hotels after achieving an A* in Business Studies, B in Finance and a B in Media Studies at A level.

Simon Duff, Head of Careers, said: “Apprenticeships are a growing sector, with many industries embracing them and the opportunities that they present are outstanding. At Bethany, we will always inspire our pupils to love what they learn and in regard to life post-Bethany, we must also encourage them to love the way they learn as well. University isn’t for everyone and we are fully committed to both Level 3 Apprenticeships (post A level) and Level 4 Degree Apprenticeships (where you get a degree as well, with tuition fees paid for).”

This week at Bethany, our Careers department will be supporting NAW by sending out a ‘resource of the day’ to tutees and a ‘webinar of the day’, showing the opportunities of becoming an apprentice. Staff are encouraging conversations with our pupils about their aspirations for the future and I think it can only be a good thing that they have apprenticeships as a good option to consider along with all the other choices young people have today for a successful and happy future in a career they love.

The two keys to success in life

What does success mean to you? Perhaps it’s buying the car of your dreams, receiving a pay rise at work or living in a luxurious house? Sometimes success can often be misconstrued with wealth. When I think of success, I think of achieving a dream or desire which leads to overall happiness.

We are constantly bombarded with social media messages which imply that other people’s lives are much ‘richer’ than our own; glamourised images of what success really means. TV programmes claim to give us all the tips we need to be an overnight success but we must remember that reaching our own personal targets can take a long time.

XiwenSuccess comes in many forms at Bethany School. For example: former pupil, Xiwen Zhang, was included in this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list in Europe for her luxury sunglasses company For Art’s Sake; 15 of our aspiring actors recently received another set of excellent LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) results this term as they all gained distinctions; and our A level academic progress performance at the end of Year 12 in 2018 was the third highest in Kent, beating all other independent secondary schools and colleges with Sixth Form in the county.

A well-known adage, which may come as a surprise to our pupils, is that failure acknowledged is part and parcel of the journey to success. There are many famous examples – we’ve all heard the story of JK Rowling’s manuscripts being rejected time and time again before finally having her first Harry Potter book published.

Our pupils are encouraged to go beyond their comfort zone in order to achieve success. Our activities programme which takes place outside the classroom in the afternoons enriches the independent thinking and interpersonal skills of our pupils.

As we break for half term, some pupils will be embarking on a ski trip to Les Deux Alpes and many of those pupils have not skied before, some have not been away from their parents for such a long period of time, and some are contending with both! However, I have no doubt that they will have a fantastic time and that such trips will help them to becoming well rounded, independent-thinking young people.

I believe there are two personality traits which successful people have and there are independent of race, gender nationality and profession. Successful people work hard and have good people skills.

Therefore, let’s keep life simple work hard (never give up) and get on well with those around you. If you do this, then the sky is the limit.

sky is the limit

Celebrating Chinese New Year

The Spring Festival is an annual event held in China and Chinese communities around the world. This spectacular event takes place on different dates each year. Usually, it falls on a day between mid January and mid February. This is a 7-day festival and it starts with New Year’s Eve. This year Chinese New Year falls on Tuesday 5th February and therefore the 2019 Spring festival runs from Monday 4th February until Sunday 10th February.

frank-zhang-1152511-unsplashThe Chinese have a traditional meal on New Year’s Eve which includes fish to increase prosperity, good fortune fruit to symbolise fullness and wealth and tangyuan (sweet rice bowls) that represents family togetherness. At Bethany three Chinese pupils here have been helping the kitchen staff design a nice evening meal for the boarders on Monday 4th February.

oliver-needham-531214-unsplashEvery Chinese New Year is named after a different animal. These are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. 2019 is the Year of the Pig and dates back to 1935. Pigs have a beautiful personality and are blessed with good fortune in life.

“Guo Nian Hao” (gua-ni-an-how) means Happy New Year and is one of the most used greetings. This is like the westerners saying “Merry Christmas” to each other on Christmas Day.

humphrey-muleba-1133986-unsplashHouses are decorated with items called red Spring Festival couplets, which are red lanterns, and red paper cuttings; city streets are lit up by red lanterns; and numerous people are dressed in red. This is because red in Chinese culture is the symbol of happiness, wealth and prosperity, and can ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.

These red decorations are to the festival what Christmas trees are to Christmas here in the UK.

For young children, there is no happier thing than getting gifts. Every visitor to others’ houses during the Chinese New Year will bring gifts including foods, toys, clothes and school supplies.

Although Chinese New Year brings joy and unity it can also bring anxiety to graduates from University. This is because family and friends would like to know when their young relatives will get meet someone and how much they earn for their salary.

Some traditions come with myths and rumours from decades ago. One of which states that you should not get a haircut in the first lunar month because his uncle will die for this. This is a pretty ridiculous rumour and it is baseless no basis in fact!

Of course, Chinese children get red envelopes from their relatives. I asked one of our Chinese pupils, what was the most she ever got and she said £500! A few years ago I was in Hong Kong during New Year and I met a Chinese parent who gave me three red envelopes for each of my three children. On my return to the UK they opened them and were delighted to find some money inside. However, they could not spend it as it was in Hong Kong Dollars. They made sure that I gave them the sterling equivalent.

We wish our Chinese pupils a Happy Chinese New Year and hope the boarders enjoy their meal together on Monday.

What a year it has been!

We have had a fantastic year so far at Bethany. Now that Christmas is upon us and the end of term approaches, I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate our pupils’ successes, achievements and accomplishments over the past term – and there have certainly been plenty!

IMG_3134Bethany School was proud to unveil its brand new signs at the mainline railway station in Marden, Kent. With over 400,000 people travelling through Marden station each year, including Bethany School pupils and visitors, the new signs let visitors know that they have arrived at the correct stop for the School.


Our School band ‘Central’ made progress in both skill and stage presence this year as they organised and headlined at our first-ever festival here at Bethany School, and also debuted at The Forum in Tunbridge Wells.


During the October half term, 30 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) pupils flew to San Francisco for the trip of a lifetime.  The golden state of California certainly lived up to expectation! Pupils had the opportunity to visit multinational technology companies such as Google, eBay and Andriod.

Bethany_CompSci-1057590641838833664-20181031_111032-img1 (2)

As usual, staff and pupils have given up their time for help with charitable causes: contributing towards the Shoebox Appeal for Children in Distress; supporting Eco Schools by sending books to Africa; and raising money for Breast Cancer Now and Dandelion Time.


Bethany School’s STEM department entered two groups of pupils in The Big Bang Competition online heats in November. Over the past month, over 70 judges in the field of STEM have been reviewing projects and helping the Big Bang Fair organisers select the winners who will be attending the finals.

DSC_1968The competition was fierce and the organisers were amazed at the high standard this year. We are delighted to announce that two projects from Bethany School have been successful: The MAW Heating Solution, and The Honda MT-50 Restoration Project.  The pupils involved will be attending the finals at the Birmingham NEC on Wednesday 13th to Thursday 14th March 2019 and we cannot wait to see how they get on!

Acorns Gardening Club attended RHS Wisley Green Plan It competition after spending 10 weeks researching potential garden sites, performing soil analysis, creating model designs and preparing a presentation.  All the hard work paid off, and the pupils won 1st place.  The judges were highly impressed with their design, noting how technology was intelligently incorporated into the garden space. They were won over by how confidently our pupils presented their ideas and were struck by the considerate way they spoke of each other’s contributions to the design.


We held our annual Anthony Clarke Memorial Match on Saturday 1st December, with Bethany School’s First XV and players from the Tunbridge Wells Rugby Football Club coming head to head for the fixture of the year. On a very soggy and windy day, everyone fought hard and the final score was 29-12 to Bethany. Thank you to Bruce Elliott for some fantastic photography on a rainy day!


During the October half term, a selection of pupils from Year 9-11 flew to China for our exchange programme which was a wonderful success. Pupils stayed with host families and immersed themselves in various activities such as tea picking, sampling Chinese cuisine and exploring the town.


The annual Christmas Concert was certainly a highlight in Bethany’s calendar. There were fantastic renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody, Merry Christmas Everyone and Rockabye. We even had a guest appearance from Head of Kiplings, Mr Devin Reilly, on the bagpipes!

I wish you a truly joyful Christmas and a Happy New Year with your family and friends and I hope that next year is as successful and virtuous as the last.



Fear of the unknown

Brexit. The word that Collins Dictionary has named as the word of the year and the use of which has increased 3400% over the past year.

As Theresa May attempts to convince the people of the UK that her deal is the best deal, we thought about what Brexit means for the younger generation and this week asked our pupils for their own views on what lies ahead for the country.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the result can be summed up in two words: uncertainty and apprehension.

When we talk about Brexit as adults, we possibly fail to consider that young people are subject to the same barrage of press and opinion as we are. The news is clear on one thing, which is that that no one knows what the impact is going to be. Our pupils potentially face real, practical issues, and imminently. Perhaps their parents have a family business which could be impacted positively or negatively as a result of Brexit. Our non-British pupils may feel apprehensive about returning home for Easter and they may have difficulty getting back into the country; or perhaps some pupils were planning to study abroad after their A levels and now don’t know if they can.

When politicians and other expert commentators and journalists have no idea what lies ahead then the uncertainty is pervasive. Children need solid ground to thrive.  They need the safety and security of the knowledge that the adults made the right decision, know exactly what’s going to happen and that it will all be good news.

I can recall feeling anxious about world events when I was a youngster; when adults would discuss the Cold War and the potential prospect of World War III. While the Brexit debate perhaps isn’t inducing fear in the same way, the doom-mongering surrounding the possible outcomes from both sides of the debate does affect children too, and – as they know – will go on to affect their futures.

This is of course particularly hard on those on the cusp of adulthood, who didn’t get to vote and yet are well aware that they will have no choice but to deal with the outcome.

The young people in my own country no doubt worry that there will be physical barriers between Southern and Northern Ireland.

So as we progress to 29th March 2019 let’s remember to take some time to discuss Brexit with the young people in our lives and do what we can to allay their concerns and – maybe – fears as we all face the unknown together.

From my own experience in life things are never as bad as they appear nor indeed as good. Let’s hope whatever the outcome that kindness, courtesy and respect (on both sides) will rise to the surface as it does at Bethany.

And finally, humour goes a long way to lighten the mood in any situation!

Banter and bullying: The fine lines

Whether you work with children or not you may have read about Anti-Bullying Week in the headlines, or seen it trending on Twitter to raise awareness for this annual event. Anti-Bullying Week is aimed at helping young people, school staff, parents and other professionals who work with children to understand the definition of respect, that bullying is a behaviour choice and that we can disagree with each other respectfully.

Choose respect

We are a happy community at Bethany and due to our small size, excellent pastoral care and temperament of the pupils who join the school, we are lucky to have far fewer issues than other schools. Bethany’s School motto is ‘Seek what is right and do it’.
We would all agree that bullying is unfair and wrong and should not be tolerated but it’s no surprise that the lines can be blurred between ‘banter’ and bullying.

The online dictionary defines banter as “the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks”. There is no legal definition of bullying, but it is usually defined as repeated behaviour which is intended to hurt someone either emotionally or physically, and is often aimed at certain people because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation or any other aspect such as appearance or disability. But when do playful remarks turn into something hurtful and upsetting?
Perhaps banter is okay when you know the person and would call them a friend. I asked some pupils what they thought, and it was clear that everyone thought it to be a fine line. One said that banter is if both people are taking part and by contrast, bullying is completely one-sided. Another felt that bullying is any comment or remark that causes distress or makes someone feel uncomfortable.

The importance of Anti-Bullying Week is that it helps young children and adults to have a shared understanding about how we define bullying. A blog written by the Anti-Bullying Alliance encourages us to think about imbalances of power the next time we are confronted with this question. Are the comments and remarks hurtful? Has the person on the other end of them told anyone that they are feeling uncomfortable about it?

If a pupil does notice this kind of behaviour, then they can do something about it. They can intervene personally or take it higher to a senior pupil, prefect, teacher, housemaster or housemistress. There is a hub of caring and nurturing people at Bethany who are willing to take action and deal with the problem.
What do you think? Comment below to give your opinion on the line between banter and bullying.


Nurturing resilience

We tend to idealise childhood as a carefree time, but youth alone does not provide a shield against the emotional hurts and traumas many children face. Children can be asked to deal with challenges ranging from adapting to a new classroom, getting to know classmates, preparing for examinations, dealing with enjoyment and sadness or even difficulties at home. Add to that the uncertainties (sometimes fuelled by hormones) that are part and parcel of growing up, and childhood can be anything but carefree.

Our young people are under increasing stress. In a world with social media access 24/7, they are unable to “switch off”. Children, via the media, are receiving confusing body image messages and feeling the need to document one’s every move can be incredibly pressurising. The Independent yesterday reported that research suggests a third of 15- to 18-year-olds in the UK struggle with mental health or emotional well-being issues. The ability to thrive despite these challenges arises from the developing resilience and promoting mental well-being.

Before the new school year began at Bethany, staff from the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust visited the School to talk to staff about the importance of well-being in ourselves and in our pupils. They characterised a good state of mental health as the ability to learn, the ability to feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions, the ability to form and maintain good relationships with others and the ability to cope with change and uncertainty. I am pleased that the same trust is coming to speak with parents and pupils on Wednesday 7 November.

At Bethany, we pride ourselves in the nurturing, growth and moulding of our pupils into confident, well-mannered and respectful young people. The start of term saw PSHCE lessons trying something new and taking a fresh approach to social media by encouraging each Year 8 pupil to take a selfie. These were printed out and then the other pupils were encouraged to provide a positive comment about each one. This exercise helped boost pupils’ self-esteem and helped cement positive relationships between classmates.


This term, we have actively minimised the use of mobile phones when pupils are in School, reducing their social media time.  We have enforced this rule throughout the whole school, thus ensuring that all pupils are on an equal footing and the ‘fear of missing out’ is minimised.

The learning habits pupils develop through the Virtue of Learning encourage them to be mindful and take responsibility and also to ‘react’ – to think on their feet when things perhaps aren’t going their way. This is a key part of developing resilience. In the Sixth Form, pupils take part in our extensive co-curricular programme, including Young Enterprise, Pengelly Society and The Apprentice Challenge where we encourage pupils to talk to past, current and prospective pupils and to take ownership when selected for important roles.

Of course, the need to develop and maintain emotional wellbeing continues beyond the school gates, and relationships do not end when our pupils leave Bethany; the foundations laid here will last a lifetime. We are fortunate to have a fantastic alumni network, encouraging pupils to maintain relationships with one another after School, a key factor that many members value. Just recently we hosted our annual Careers Fair, with a number of Bethany Network members (many of whom were former pupils) taking part in an event which aims to motivate pupils to network, explore their options and think about their longer-term goals and aspirations.

As the Early Intervention Foundation reports: “emotional skills can be taught and developed throughout childhood, adolescence, and beyond. Schools play a central role in children’s social and emotional development, and there is strong evidence for the impact of high-quality school-based social and emotional learning programmes on the development of these essential life skills.”

This is a key part of Bethany’s approach, putting the child at the centre and developing  skills, confidence and resilience that will last a lifetime.