As published in Living North July 2022 edition.
Set within five acres of leafy grounds in the heart of Sandyford, NHSG’s Junior School is a welcoming, safe and stimulating environment, it offers a unique environment for unforgettable learning experiences for girls aged 3 and above.
We meet up with Kate Gingles, the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) Phase Leader at NHSG, to learn why an Early Years education is important and what makes it so special at NHSG.
An expert in Early Years education with over 19 years’ experience, Kate joined NHSG last September, and she hasn’t looked back. One of the things that strikes you most on meeting Kate is her passion for her role. She’s single minded in delivering an exceptional start to the educational journey for her young charges. She’s confident, calm and in control. At the same time you are immediately put at ease by the way she listens and responds revealing a warm and caring personality; all the qualities you would hope for from someone leading the Early Years phase at NHSG.
Reflecting on her first year at NHSG, Kate says: “This year has been incredibly busy but very exciting. As an early years specialist, I’m passionate about making the first few years that girls spend at our School truly magical and the wonderful staff team I have here, the supportive parents and the stunning school environment make it a special place to work. Most importantly, the girls themselves are just phenomenal, they are capable of such extraordinary things.”
Educational journeys at Newcastle High School for Girls (NHSG), a member of the Girls’ Day School Trust, begin with the School’s Nursery and Reception classes. In these crucial years, the School’s youngest pupils are encouraged to explore and flex the many exceptional skills they are born with – and to do it in a way that is fun, social and multi-disciplinary.
Talking about the importance of a high quality Early Years education, Kate is clear: “Getting the first few years of school right is vital. We are building the foundations on which everything else can grow and these have to be strong. We are also nurturing those early attitudes to learning that the girls will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
“Many parents don’t realise that girls can join NHSG from their third birthday, which means they can benefit from up to five terms in Nursery before starting Reception. Our girls have some amazing experiences prior to joining school. They are lucky children. In terms of school however, the earlier girls start their journey with us, the sooner they will start to benefit from the educational experiences we offer and the stronger foundations they will build.
“When girls join in the term they turn three, fees don’t become payable until the beginning of the following term. For obvious reasons, alongside the 8-6 wraparound care we offer all year round, this is a great benefit for parents.”
It’s a compelling proposition especially when you learn more about what’s on offer. In their EYFS classes, NHSG focus on learning characteristics such as collaboration, creativity and risk taking. Every learning experience at NHSG provides the opportunity to develop the girls’ confidence and build strong academic foundations that pave the way for more formal learning further down the line.
“For us, EYFS learning isn’t about pushing children harder; it’s about nurturing who they already are and what they already know, and protecting those exceptional skills before they are encouraged to ‘un-learn’ them by adopting more ‘adult’ ways of learning in later years,” explains Kate.
One example of this is how NHSG’s expert Early Years teaching teams work with their pupils to develop skills such as subitising – seeing numbers without counting them. Subitising is something children can do naturally from a young age but, all too often, this skill is stifled if we don’t recognise its benefits.
Kate adds: “We are developing our own, bespoke, playful Maths curriculum, which allows girls to explore and be more confident with numbers, to see them as exciting and fun and, importantly, not to fear them. Making arrangements and patterns and playing with natural materials and interesting objects indoors and out is central to our provision as girls build their early number sense.”
This forward-thinking approach is reflected across the whole of the Early Years curriculum and Early reading also has a high priority at NHSG.
Kate says: “We’ve invested heavily in a brand new, research based, phonics programme as well as training for staff on phonological awareness, the building blocks of learning to read. This is supported with high quality and progressive reading books that the girls and their parents are really enjoying. Alongside this, we have a superb, well stocked library full of wonderful and diverse picture books that support our learning across the curriculum.”
It’s not just the approach to teaching and learning that makes NHSG stand out. The learning environment at the School is stunning.
Kate shares more: “Prospective parents are taken aback by how beautiful the setting is when they come to visit. It certainly has the wow factor. What’s more important, however, is how our classrooms and outside space shapes the curriculum and teaching. There really are no limits to what we can offer; it’s as inspiring for the team as it is for the girls.”
The Early Years classrooms are located on the ground floor of the Junior School. They are spacious and packed with high quality resources with plenty of natural light coming from wall to ceiling windows. Wide doors open onto a fabulous and safe outdoor play area. The rest of the school grounds lay beyond and they are impressive. A mud kitchen (bigger than any indoor kitchen) with its mixing stations, giant pans and utensils provides ample opportunity for exciting play. And then there’s the rest of the five acres in which NHSG’s Junior School is set; the perfect location for Forest School with its designated woodland, firepit and wild life pond. It’s idyllic.
Explaining how the grounds are used, Kate says: “The natural world is a key element of our curriculum and is the inspiration for many projects and activities, with girls exploring seasonal changes through Art, English and Maths. Girls in Early Years are encouraged to get messy in the mud kitchen and enjoy all the tactile and sensory experiences that nature has to offer. The girls, and the staff, absolutely love being outdoors.”
As we draw the meeting to a close, Kate concludes: “Underpinning our Early Years provision is the happiness and wellbeing of our pupils and the positive relationships we build with them and their families. We want every girl to enjoy her first years of school, to make memories that they will cherish for a lifetime. We know that happy girls learn best and that comes first for us.”
If you would like to meet Kate Gingles and the EYFS team, and learn more about NHSG’s unique Early Years provision, please register to attend our EYFS Information Morning on Friday 10th June.