Yellowbird's Screen Time Advice

At this exam time of year, a great deal of stress is caused by time spent on line. So how do you manage screen-time without causing a row? 

Parents monitor screen time, but the kids should too. This dual-monitoring works for the 10 -13 year olds especially. Try to ‘reverse engineer’ the issue by asking them to analyse how they have actually spent their time on-line when they come off. Don’t just let them switch off, make them talk about what they achieved/did. 

 They often have no idea how long they’ve been looking at YouTube or playing Fortnite, because the time seems to go so quickly. The actual time spent, often comes as a surprise to them and this has the effect of making them think more about what they are doing (or not doing) during that time. 

Encourage them to keep a weekly total and see if they can beat it down. Encourage them to find the optimal level themselves. It can be quite encouraging for them if they surprise themselves by being on-line less. If they feel in control, they are more like to be able to control it.

So, our Yellowbird advice is to dual-monitor their use, but make it seemas if they are self-monitor it. This puts them in control (notionally) and helps them see that, when you call time, you are right about enough being enough. This avoids the initial angry denial, followed by whinge that can lead to an argument. Good luck! 


Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, August 2019

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Malamander, by Thomas Taylor

Every now and again, I come across a real cracker of a book. I was reading something else for Book of the Month, but tossed that aside to read Malamander, by Thomas Taylor. I’m so pleased I did, because this has that magic about it - that sense of the outlandish that seemed to fill children’s books a while back. It’s clear that it has been thought-through rather than just banged out on a word-processor (like the other one I was reading). This story has been crafted.

The setting is Eerie-on Sea. Like most English seaside towns, it’s a dead place in the off-season. The Grand Nautilus Hotel is owned by Herbert Lemon (Herbie). He’s the Lost-and-Founder there; someone who reunites people with their lost things. He passes the winter months solving mysteries, but he has never had to solve a mystery like this.

Twelve-year-old Violet Parma arrives at the hotel. She is on a mission to find her lost parents. They disappeared in deeply mysterious circumstances twelve years before (coincidence? perhaps!). Violet hires Herbie to help find them, but this is Eerie-on-Sea and it is a strange, enigmatic place... especially on the flood tide. It is a place of legends and strange happenings. It is full of the quirky and odd. Things come from the sea - and then there’s the chilling tale of the Malamander...

This is a lesson in how to create mood through atmosphere. I loved it from beginning to end. It does have a hint of the Neil Gaiman in it, so it could be a little scary in places for younger readers with an advanced reading age. However, for boys and girls of 10+, it’s great. If they’ve read the Explorer by Katherine Rundell and you’re looking for something else to enthuse them - then go for this!

We give this a Yellowbird rating of 5 out of 5!

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The Interview: A valuable tool for leading Heads

Prepared for FamiliesNorth Magazine – June 2019

Growing numbers of children and too few places has generated fierce competition for top independent school places in the Capital.  The number of children registering to sit grueling entrance exams has grown to such levels that parents and children are required to be meticulous in their preparation. 

It is perhaps this combination that presents a fresh ‘selection’ challenge to Head teachers of London’s top schools…how to accurately identify and subsequently choose “best fit” children? For many, the interview has become the most effective tool for aiding this selection process enabling them to see beyond the prepared often formulaic answers associated with excessive tutoring.

The interview structure frequently comprises both individual and group scenarios incorporating problem-solving tasks that provide the opportunity to demonstrate ‘individual creativity’ and the ability to ‘think outside of the box’ - something not showcased effectively through the written test.  Every school has a unique ethos and it is the role of a successful Head to carefully select the right children to uphold and contribute towards maintaining it.

Yellowbird Education have long recognized that preparation must extend to this subjective interview element of the admissions process.  But groundwork does not involve telling your child ‘what’ to say (defeating the very purpose of this step), but ensuring a child is comfortable and confident in unfamiliar interview situations and has strategies to fall back on.

Their experienced team work alongside a group of Head teachers to offer accurate Mock Exams and Interview Practice to equip children with valuable skills and techniques with which to succeed within competitive school admissions.


Yellowbird Education

A Creative Approach to Exam Preparation

Prepared for London Life Magazines – April 2019 Issue

Competition for limited places at top London schools has led to tutoring becoming the acceptable norm with families often choosing to supplement expensive education to secure their child a school place.

Many recognise such harmful pressure on children is not sustainable and thus welcomed the well documented ‘creative assessment’ introduced by the London 11+ Consortium earlier this year.  The logic behind the new innovative testing is to avoid children being taught restrictive exam techniques and instead allows them to obtain a clear well rounded picture of a child’s academic potential rather than their ability to obtain knowledge.

Yellowbird Education have long identified the need to introduce creativity into school admission processes. Their hugely popular holiday workshops are carefully designed with a fun but educational approach acknowledging that exam preparation needs to adapt to both encourage and inspire children to think creatively during assessments.  

During lengthy school holidays, Yellowbird offers small group workshops for children of all abilities that are interactive and forward thinking.  Their innovative fresh approach equips children with key skills whilst building vital confidence to think differently.  As such, creative writing becomes an enjoyable lifelong skill rather than a means to passing grueling exams – a valuable asset on any educational journey.  Exam practice is vital, but if structured well, can be a fun and dynamic exercise allowing children to learn whilst making new friends.

So whilst admissions processes are undoubtedly changing, exam preparation in all it’s many guises still has a role to play ensuring children have the creative skills with which to shine!

Yellowbird education – Holiday Workshops 

Now available in North London

Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, May 2019

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Little Badman and the Invasion of the Killer Aunties, by Humza Arshad and Henry White.

Now, from a grammatical point of view, I have to say that this isn’t my top pick. I’ve always been a bit down on the David Walliams books for the same reason, but, on the basis that all reading is good, I decided to give this a go.  

I really only picked it up because one of my daughters had been talking about a You-Tuber called Humza Arshad and I recognised the name. I’m glad I did. Little Badmanis a really clever book. Not because it sets out to be, but precisely because it doesn’t. It doesn’t want to be the new Roald Dahl. It just wants to be what it is. Perhaps, the writers could be described as more You-Tubers than writers, but that is certainly not meant to be a criticism. It works, because it is fast paced and funny. It talks to the reader in the vernacular and I’m sure the young will love it. At last, I’ve found something funnier and - in my opinion - better, than Walliams and Baddiel. 

So, grammar purists, beware! Here’s an example of the style: ‘But now these aunties are trying to mess with my music, so me and my best friends Umer and Wendy are going to hunt for the truth. Cos something big and bad is going on and we won't let anything mess with my music... or you know, the world.’

Humza Khan is a rapper. His ‘handle’ is Little Badmanand strange things are happening. The aunties are taking over. Even his teachers are being replaced by them. Watch out for the aliens, slugs and the cameo by Grandpa. It also literally ‘does the trick’! There are some good positive themes about family life and trusting who you are. These add a layer to the book that may not be immediately obvious. It also has illustrations and I have no doubt that Little Badmanwill soon be featuring heavily on dressing-up days at most schools. 

It would suit readers of 9-12 (younger, too, if read to them by an older reader).  

Ignoring grammar, we give this a definite 5 Yellowbirds out of 5:

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ps. It is published by Puffin – that speaks volumes.

Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, April 2019

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From Hereabout Hill, by Michael Morpurgo

I usually avoid collections of short stories, mainly because I find them a bit like the curate found his egg (good in parts). They are often ideas that ‘didn’t quite make it’ to full novels. However, I was drawn to From Hereabout Hill because of the author and because, at Yellowbird, we are always talking about short stories. We are so used to longer books and films, that it’s easy to think that plots should be that complicated. When this happens, the story at 11+ level normally ends up way too big for the time allowed and format of five paragraphs.

This collection of short stories is a good way of reading something short to see how the story is constructed around a very tight idea. The nearest I’ve come to finding an author who can do this so well is the Australian author Colin Thiele. In fact, I was struck by one of the stories in Morpurgo’s collection being heavily influenced by The Shell by Colin Thiele – the one about the Cowrie shells. However, that won’t worry younger readers...and anyway, I’m suggesting this book mainly from the point of view of the craft of writing. 

There are nine stories and, in my opinion, the first is the best. So, if your child reads no further than The Giant’s Necklace, it will not be a waste of time. Read it and deconstruct it. It’s a lesson in short story writing. Some of the stories in the collection are haunting and other poignant, but above all else they are superbly crafted by a writer who knows what he is doing.

Therefore, from a story-craft point of view, I would give this collection five Yellowbirds out of five. However, because there are echoes of other stories in this, albeit changed enough and modernised by a master craftsman, we feel this collection rates 4 out of 5 Yellowbirds: 

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, March 2019

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The Murderer’s Ape, by Jakob Wegelius

Now, I’m a bit of a fan of writers from the Nordic countries, perhaps because my ancestors were from that part of the world, but more likely because they seem capable of weaving a thread of melancholic mystery into their stories that only seems to come from the land of the midnight sun.

 If you give your 11-year-old (boy or girl) no other book this year, make it this one by the Swedish author Jacob Wegelius. It was a best seller in Germany and Sweden and won the Best Children’s Book Prize last August. It’s a mystery and an adventure and has that mystical fable-istic (sorry to invent a word, but it’s so hard to describe) quality. However, it does need careful reading. 

Sally Jones is a gorilla. Not just an ordinary gorilla (if there is such a thing) but a highly intelligent one that can think like a human. She is an engineer (yes, you read that right) and a friend of Chief, a cargo boat operator. They make a great team, until Chief is wrongly accused of murder and so begins Sally Jones’s quest to clear her friend’s name. The only trouble is, Sally can’t speak.  

It’s no mean feat for an author to have a silent protagonist that is so integral to the whole story and for it to work so well. It’s a great book, a long book, a thought provoking book with some major themes (courage, corruption, fairness, resilience to name a few) but, above all else, it’s a page turner that keeps you reading and guessing to the end. I can see this being used in comprehensions texts in years to come.

We recommend this book for competent readers of 9+, both boys and girls, but it is ideal for 10+. We give this a Yellowbird rating of 5 out of 5 Yellowbirds:    

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, February 2019

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The Last Chance Hotel, by Nicki Thornton. When a book is described as ‘Harry Potter Meets Agatha Christie’ I must admit it immediately makes me want to avoid it. In fact, I only read this because I felt sorry that the author, after all her hard work, had been saddled with such a banal advertising strap line. (Note to publishers – resist the temptation to try and make money by comparing any book with Harry Potter).

And I’m so glad I did (read it, I mean). This serves up a starter of Masterchef, a main course of magic and a dessert of murder mystery. Seth is the kitchen boy with ambitions to be a chef. He is also an orphan, taken in and exploited by the Bunn family in their hotel (I must admit there are echoes of early Harry Potter here). It isn’t called the Last Chance Hotel for nothing – but I’ll leave you to find out why – and Seth works for the chef Henri. His only friend and companion is a black cat called Nightshade. This sets the scene for the main action.

A strange gathering of magical and mystical people takes place at the hotel. I really liked the descriptions: the eeriness of the hotel is enhanced by characters that are interesting and unusual. They all come for dinner, but one, Dr Thallomius, is poisoned. Spoiler alert! I can’t tell you how this happens without ruining some of the surprise, but Seth is the main suspect because of his culinary skills. He has to prove his innocence – a job made all the harder by the Bunn family and the powers of dark magic...                    

This is a great read for both boys and girls of 10+. Recommended reading for après ski. We give this a Yellowbird rating of 5 Yellowbirds out of 5:       

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, January 2019

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My Parents are Driving Me Crazy, by Pete Johnson.


This is a very funny book and perfect for encouraging reluctant 10 year-old-readers. However, underneath the humour there is subtle emotion and poignancy that most parents will tap into. 

In Louis’ family, his mum and dad have just changed roles. His dad has lost his job and is now staying at home while his is mum working. Unfortunately, his dad is a hopeless cook, lazy, a post-it-note fiend and, worse, he even expects Louis and his brother to tidy their own room (bring back mum!). Louis decides enough is enough. His Dad has to go (back to work, I mean, nothing sinister). But how to do it? Then Louis discovers that his dad can do his homework... 

This book has some very funny moments and some gross ones. However, there’s a strong sense of being a real family with real problems to solve in the awkward way most parents of early teens will recognise. In fact, I think the parents emerge as the most believable characters in the book and this gives it a certain understated charm. Better still, it makes it fun to read aloud – it’s even good enough to keep our reluctant-reader of a son asking for more. 

Praise for other titles in the series: 
"Pete Johnson is a hilarious writer." Mail on Sunday 
”In Louis, Pete Johnson has created a boy who makes you laugh out loud." The Sunday Times 
"Funny and light, Pete Johnson’s humour disguises real emotion truth and depth … it offers some very funny and pertinent home truths for parents too." The Guardian 
"Pete Johnson is a wonderful storyteller." Evening Standard.


Ideal for 9-11 year olds. Boys will love it. We give this a Yellowbird rating of 4.5/5.

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, November 2018

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Boy Under Water, by Adam Baron. First of all, let me say that this is one of those sad/happy books, but don’t let that put you off. I think it is one of the most interesting books I have read throughout these reviews. I had visions of the Hugh Grant film About a Boyat times during this.

The book follows Cymbeline Igloo (I’m not sure why writers choose names like that, I think it’s something to do with trying to make the book seem mystical and I never think it works... but that’s just a personal observation). It is life seen through a ten-year-old’s eyes. Cymbeline or Cym (which does work better) is trying to make sense of it all and this book captures that sense of struggling to ‘know the unknown without knowing why it’s important’ perfectly. 

Got that? Good. I loved the idea of Cym challenging the school bully to a swimming race when he didn’t know how to swim. It sums up Cym’s frustration and what happens next changes his life completely. Suddenly up pops a mystery, that needs to be solved to understand everything else, but it’s the point of view that makes all the difference. As readers, we struggle along with Cym, because we see it all from his perspective. To stand back would be to permit the reader to wonder why he had never been allowed to go swimming before -  but that is from an adult view point and not his. Strangely, it didn’t occur to me to question it – and other things in the story - until the character does... which is why this book is, in my opinion, one of the best of recent years. 

I recommend you read it, but let me also remind you it has sadness in it. The humour in it works to sweeten the bitterness. So, for a reader of 9/10+ (boy or girl) who is not too sensitive or going through too much in life, with a good sense of humour and an enquiring mind, this is a must read. It is the very essence of empathy. 

We definitely give this a Yellowbird rating of  5 Yellowbirds out of 5.

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, October 2018

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Bad Hair Days, by JM Forster (author of The Shadow Jumper)

This book was put forward for all sorts of awards, so I must admit I chose it thinking it might be more hype than substance. However, I was immediately gripped. Mallow (14) has a great deal to cope with. She has alopecia (something that has affected a member of our family, so I know something of the distress caused) and wears wigs to cover it up. If that isn’t enough, she is also faced with being bullied and having to move schools. A new town, a new school, a new start... or so she thinks. She is desperate to keep her secret, but when she starts to receive creepy texts, she realises that someone else must know. The thought of everyone finding out, drives her into a determined search for the identity of the person behind the messages. Unfortunately, she can’t be sure of anyone and this compounds her loneliness.

This is a well-written and sensitive book about issues surrounding hair loss. It’s tied in with important themes on family, friendship and coping with life in general. There are also valid observations on bullying and social media. In fact, it’s all about the problems and stresses of modern life mixed with an intriguing mystery. It has had a lasting impact on me and is a great read for 11+ (perhaps girls more than boys). Teens will love it and I think parents will benefit from reading it too.

There are some major themes in this book, so it’s not for the very young (no matter what their reading age or ability). On that basis, we give this a Yellowbird rating of 5 out of 5 Yellowbirds:

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Interview with Paul Dowswell, author of Wolf Children, the Yellowbird September Book of the Month.

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At Yellowbird Education, we are starting an ‘Meet the Author’ section to complement our Book of the Month section.

September 2018’s featured book is, Wolf Children, by Paul Dowswell. This is a gripping World War II drama set in the dangerous streets of Berlin just after the end of the war. I can’t put it down!

Meanwhile, we are delighted to have secured an interview with the author himself. Paul Dowswell has won many awards for both fiction and non-fiction. He is a leading writer of some of the best Historical Fiction in the UK today. For further information about his books:

Q&A date: July 2018.

Hi Paul,
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us here at Yellowbird Education.

Q. Do your ideas mostly start with a character, time, place or a theme? 

PD. My ideas start with a historical situation which I think a reader will find interesting - for example, what was it like to be a child or a teenager in Berlin immediately after the war ended. It's difficult for us in 2018 to imagine such utter devastation in prosperous Europe.

Q. Do you plan your stories right to the end before you start writing? Is planning important to you?

PD. I always have a good idea where my story is heading because I write a detailed synopsis before I begin to write.

Q. Where do you start when you are visualising a main character?

PD. I find a picture or painting and decide 'THAT is what my character will look like.'

Q. What tip would you give a young writer about writing beginnings?

PD. Your reader has a hundred other things they can do. Why should they read your book? Make the start of your story as intriguing as possible. 

Q.  Do you have a writing motto or mantra?

PD. Bash on! Even when you don't feel like it, something good usually comes out of a day's writing.

Q.  ‘The characters in Wolf Children lead the story through the choices they make.’ Would you agree with this statement?

PD. Yes - there is always a reason to do something. Is it the right one?

Q. Wolf Children is set in Germany after World War II. How did you research this?

PD. I have been to Berlin twice to research books. I love the place. I also read very widely and watched documentaries.

Q. You have written many books. If you were to put all your main characters in a room, do you think they would like you if you walked in?  Why?

PD. No - they would say 'Why did you give me such a terrible time in that story???' I would say 'Sorry - had to keep the reader turning those pages...'

Q. What is the point of writing stories?

PD. Mainly to entertain, but also to educate and to encourage reading - and to pay my gas bill... Reading fiction develops empathy - and I don't think we have enough of this in the world at the moment.

Q. Would you be prepared to visit a school and give a talk about writing?

PD. I visit schools all over the country, and the world, so I'm always happy to visit schools to talk about my books and give writing workshops.

Thank you, Paul. We wish you all the best with your writing. Perhaps, you’ll come and give a talk at one of Yellowbird’s Creative Writing courses soon?

Interviewer: Viv Richardson

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, September 2018

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Wolf Children, by Paul Dowswell.


The book is set in the months just after the fall of Berlin in 1945. The victorious Russian troops have the city in an iron grip and the orphans of the Third Reich have largely been left to fend for themselves. The story follows a band of children and their struggle to survive; indeed, it opens with Otto and Helene stealing food from the Russians during the curfew hours – an extremely dangerous thing to do in a world where anyone could be shot on sight.

Berlin, at the time, was a cold, dangerous place (even during the summer months) filled with unexploded bombs and booby-traps. Few could be trusted. Is Doktor Holzman all he seems? Then there’s the sinister and mysterious Ernst... but I can say no more.

At its beating heart, this book hints at a love story. However, it’s more a love of life than a love of your life which is both clever of the author and far more acceptable to pre-teens. Otto and Helene hold together a rag-tag band of lost children living in a derelict basement of an old hospital. Their motivation isn’t school or the future, it’s simply to eat and survive. The settings in the book are brilliantly brought to life in a seemingly effortless way that speaks of endless research. Indeed, when I finished the book, I felt as if I had crawled out of the rubble.

For me, however, it’s Ulrich (Otto’s younger brother) who makes this book so good. Children like Ulrich had been brought up to believe in the Nazis. They had been told they were invincible, but by May 1945 their country had been crushed. What was left for the defeated? Here, in the heart of Ulrich, we glimpse the true battle: it wasn’t just a battle to understand right and wrong, it was a battle to understand what right and wrong actually meant. It raged long after the last bullet was fired and it is still (sadly) raging today in the hearts of many around the world. In my opinion, this book is a well-timed warning that nobody wins in war.

There are some major themes in this book: friendship, honesty, self-sufficiency and more. It should be, however, classed as a war story and on that understanding it makes it, in our opinion, suitable for both girls and boys of 12+. We give it a rating of 5 Yellowbirds out of 5!

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, August 2018

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The Letter for the King, by Tonke Dragt. This book is talked about more and more in a way that suggests it’s hard to believe it has been so overlooked for so long – and yet it has won all sorts of awards and sold millions! It is a fantasy/sci-fi classic, with a number of themes (courage, loyalty, companionship and initiative to name the main ones) and it has been translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson (who also illustrated it brilliantly, in my opinion).


Antonia ‘Tonke’ Dragt was a brilliant writer... for her time. And here comes the ‘warning’ (for the want of a better word). She was born in 1930 and as a result this book was written for a different generation of children. This is an ‘old-style’ book in terms of the way it was written and it takes it’s time. It is unhurried in its descriptions. It’s challenging in a good way but, in places, could be considered over-long for today’s young audience. It falls between a younger readership in its storyline and an older readership in its written style. In fact, it’s ideal for young-minded adults! My message is: they have to persevere to read it. It also has Tolkien-style moments, that are very vivid and well written, but over-all it’s not quite up there with the Hobbit.


Having said all that, I loved the story (perhaps because I’m old-style too). In brief, this is a story about a boy entrusted with a secret. When sixteen-year-old Tiuri is given a letter by a mysterious servant, he finds himself on a dangerous mission. The message is for the Black Knight with the White Shield, but unfortunately events over take him. The Knight is murdered by the Red Riders and Tiuri is left to carry the message over the Great Mountains to the King. His quest is to deliver a secret letter, save the kingdom and do it all in secret. He must never reveal what is written in the letter...


This is a stand along story in a series of books by the same author and Netflix have picked it up too. It is well-worth reading (not least because it is on most school reading lists) and it is suitable for competent readers of 11+. However, it isn’t quite a modern ‘teen’ book, so don’t be surprised if they prefer to watch it rather than read it! For that reason, we give this a Yellowbird rating of 4.5 out of 5.

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, July 2018

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The Light Jar, by Lisa Thompson.  

This book is by the same author as Goldfish Boy. I must admit that I haven’t read Goldfish Boy and I really only picked this up because of the reviews and the subject matter. However, having read it, I will certainly be reading more of Lisa Thompson’s books in the future.

This is the story about Nate and his mother (but mostly Nate) and it starts when they are forced to make a hasty escape from everyday life. There is good reason behind their sudden  flit, but this isn’t explained very clearly to Nate by his mum. They go to a house in the middle of nowhere, a place Nate has spent holidays before (which ties in later with the mysterious girl in the woods). The house is safe, but they need food and when Nate’s mum goes to stock up, she doesn’t return.

Alone, Nate has to face uncertainty and fear, as well as some more mundane things (watch out for the cameo appearance of the pooing chicken). He relies on his predicting ball for answers that never quite come. He defeats the shadows with a light in a jar, but as hours turn to days it is the reappearance of his old friend, Sam, that helps most. Sam is his imaginary friend of old. The mysterious Kitty appears and refuses to leave Nate alone. At this point two mysteries become entwined to provide a book full of intrigue and suspense. It is easy to spoil the surprises, so I will say no more on this.

It is worth noting that there are a number of themes in this book that are definitely challenging. Gary is emotionally abusive towards Nate’s mum and sometimes this can feel very painful. Having said that, it is sensitively handled by the author and integral to the plot.

As the book goes on, however, I was filled with a sense of hope for the characters. It shows the need to hang in there and have faith. 

Owing to the serious themes in the book, this isn’t one for the very young (whatever their reading ability). So 10+ and all the way up. We give this a Yellowbird rating of 5 Yellowbirds:

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, June 2018

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The 1,000 Year Old Boy, by Ross Welford (author of Time Travelling with my Hamster and What Not to do if you Turn Invisible).


Alfie is a 13-year-old Viking boy who has the extraordinary ability to live forever... as a 13-year-old. He’s frozen at that age. Sounds good, on the face of it, but there are serious drawbacks to eternal life. However, once Alfred Monk, the Viking boy, has swallowed a magic pearl, there’s no going back OR forward. He lives with his mum until disaster strikes her and Alfie’s quiet, endless existence becomes more difficult for him. After all, it’s hard to avoid notice if your appearance never changes for years and years.


The clever part here is, that Alfie doesn’t want to stop living, but that he wants to start. In other words, he wants to grow up and go on to enjoy the rest of his life, something he has been unable to do. That makes a big difference and I must admit when I picked up the book, I did wonder how the author was going to get around the idea of Alfie not wanting to go on... for obvious reasons. The result is well-handled and poignant in parts. Moreover, the plot is engaging and intriguing, it’s a page-turner with some humour thrown in - so that should appeal to boys.


The cover notes offer some serious accolades for this book by famous people, most of which I agree with. I must admit to preferring Time Travelling with my Hamster. However, if your child has read that then this is the next best thing from Ross Welford.


Suitable for 10+ (no younger, in my opinion because of the themes and the length of 400 pages). Ideal for both boys and girls of 11+. We give this book a Yellowbird rating of 4 "Yellowbirds" out of 5!

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This week the team at Yellowbird and Janie Richardson School Search and Placement attended a Forum on preparing for the 11+, with guest speakers Lucy Elphinstone, Head of Frances Holland, Sloane Square, and Jill Walker, Head of St Nicholas Prep School. The main thrust of the talk concerned the proposed changes to the 11+ examination by the North London Girls’ Schools Consortium (now to be known as The London 11+ Consortium - in the hope of allowing co-ed and boys schools into the club). These changes to the exams are due to come into effect for the January 2019 exams.
An introduction to the subject was made by Mr Petty. Following this, Jill Walker spoke on behalf of the majority of the independent schools who will be continuing to use the existing established system of testing, comprising of the traditional comprehension, composition, verbal and non-verbal reasoning, Maths and formal interview. This was an opportunity for us to find out more about the new and added exam process for some of the girls’ schools.
We are in total agreement that anything that reduces the stress and general anxiety in the exam process is a great thing for both children and parents. We have always believed English should be taught as a life skill and that tutoring is best used to field extra problems or issues rather than a means to an end goal. We spend a great deal of our time trying to reassure parents and believe far too much school time is taken up in the preparation for exams. So, when a new idea comes along that has the intention of reducing stress then we are definitely all ears.
Lucy Elphinstone spoke on behalf of the 12 girls’ schools in The London 11+ Consortium with her proposal to try a different way of testing. She is very much the driving force in this.
The London 11+ Consortium will now be one group with one exam, the schools in the group are: Francis Holland School (Regents Park), Francis Holland School (Sloane Square), Notting Hill & Ealing High School, Queen’s College, St. Helen’s School, South Hampstead High School, Channing School, More House, Northwood College, Queen’s Gate School, The Godolphin and Latymer School, St James Senior Girls’ School
This is their mission statement:
The aim of the consortium will be to provide an admission process that will be fair, clear and robust which is accessible to all children from all schools and backgrounds.

The Consortium is concerned about pressure that the current 11+ process system places on young children and the damage to learning that relentlessly teaches to the test produces, they therefore seek to simplify the process and reduce the number of examinations the children sit whilst providing a better type of assessment to find the information that can match candidates to schools that best fit their profile.

Initiating this change for the well-being of children, they hope that it can reduce the stress of the 11 plus examination process and send a clear message that they do not merely assess children on academic performance.
Their aim is to see Year 5 and Year 6 teachers teach the curriculum throughout all subjects. Expect an improvement in genuinely imaginative and mature creative writing and a confident mathematical problem solving. They hope that other schools will join them.
 The consortium will introduce a three-tier process. All of equal weight.
1) Current Heads reference. (November). This will be completed when your child is in their first term of Year 6. There will be a grade from 1-4 for creative writing. They will ask your child’s current Head teacher to complete this.
The reference will ask for grading the child on: Numeracy, problems solving, creative writing, response to literacy text, enthusiasm for reading, comprehension skills, handwriting, speaking and listening, organisational skills, ability to complete work on time, resilience in the face of unfamiliar tasks, independence of thought, curiosity, creativity, application, team work, leadership, punctuality, attendance. Then there is a section on character: kind, tolerant, courteous, confident, perseverance. Then a section on participation in teams, areas of responsibility, concerts, drama, chess, special educational needs and support, family background, EAL and so the list goes on. It was noted that the crucial difference in this reference system is the emphasis on the specific questions about creativity and creative writing. It’s a long list – phew, quite pleased I am no longer completing these forms!
2) Cognitive Ability Test (CAT). January 11th 2018. which will be bespoke to the consortium and should not, nor can be tutored for. This will be done on paper, it will be multiply choice only and 75 minutes long (the girls will have a break in the middle). Testing in Verbal, Non-Verbal, Maths and Skills/information and tasks. Tutoring for this? Recent studies have shown that it will do almost nothing, but familiarisation with the test will help, practicing under timed conditions. The CAT test will give scores in different areas, plus weaknesses and strengths. Verbal score may come out lower for non-English speaking child. Lucy commented on high non-verbal score as the interesting score, these children will be creative, innovative, and may be the entrepreneurs, those are the types of young people this country will need. She wants them in her school. High NV score are often emotionally intelligent and have wonderful people skills that schools are looking for. They will be looking at children who meet their potential.
2) Creative interview. This will consist of a group lesson/work/activity and an individual interview. But each school will have their own take on this interview process. Problem solving will be included in the interview, creativity and thinking outside of the box, being able to work out a challenge. It will be likely that collaborative/team work will be an element in all the schools, looking at how a child will work with others, looking at their character as well as engineerity, intelligence, are they confident enough to put their hand up and ask a question. A master class may be taught to the children, the children are then observed as to how there are responding in that class, will they give an opinion, will they take a risk to ask a question, this is an element they will be looking at. Comments are made by the teachers. The interview will carry more weight now.
Through this new process the schools are hoping to gain a rounded picture of the child instead of a snap-shot on one particular day. They want to take all elements in to account.
It was noted that there is no significance as to which school your child sits the exam. Your child can sit in any school and you can choose the school closest to you. This will not matter to the application process.
It has been agreed that there will not be any writing involved during the test. The Consortium’s website is going on-line in the next fortnight, so for further details of the actual changes, I would direct you to the horse’s mouth (as it were).
In general, the talk, itself was excellent, well-presented and a point. It may be that the Consortium’s website will soon fill in all the missing details, but I must admit that we left with more questions than answers. At the risk of raising blood-pressure, I would describe it as a bit of ‘Brexit moment’: the aim is known (whether agreed with or not) but no one really knows how it will all work out in practice. It is going to take time to know if the process works properly. For example, when will the schools actually know for sure if they have got it right? Probably when the first group of children tested in this way finish their A levels.
The emphasis will be on three parts to the application, a cognitive test, interview system and school reference. All with equal value. The latter of the three, neatly transfers the onus of testing English back to the prep school on the basis that ‘they know the child best’. For example, competence in creative writing will be assessed over time and a report then sent to the secondary school of choice. Examples of writing may be asked for from the Prep schools.
On the face of it, this seems to make sense. However, two questions immediately arise: what are the criteria for good English and creative writing and who is responsible for assessing the child’s ability over that extended period of time given that heads and teachers change regularly? It’s hard to see how this will be measured accurately and equally throughout each school.
This doesn’t even address the crucial question as to whether this system would actually test English at all. For example, my children regularly gain full marks in a spelling test, only to misspell the same words when they put them into a written piece. Testing written English in the same way as Maths is a big leap in the dark.
Having said that, we, at Yellowbird, would welcome a change like this, because we have long been championing English writing as something to be learned over time rather than just an area to be brushed up for exams. However, from a parent’s point of view, we fear it could be far more stressful.
How are we to know that the right level is being achieved continuously for the school of our choice? (And remember this is about parents choosing the right school for their child, not the school choosing the child to suits its targets.) So, one big question would be, how subjective is this? What actually are the rules to make it a level playing field - especially for a state school that might lack the time and resources to make the reference work for the child.
Also, far from removing the need for tutoring, there is a danger that it will increase it just because parents need to be certain their child is maintaining a constantly good level. What is at the moment a Year 5/6 issue, would morph quickly into a Year 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 problem.
As a parent, I would be constantly wanting to know how that reference was building up over the years. I would want progress reports specific to the Year 6 reference, so I could rectify any problems that might arise and ensure the best reference at the end. Stress levels would immediately arise when a teacher goes on maternity leave or a new head suddenly arrives - we usually have very little warning of those sort of events. Will a change of head affect these assessments? I’m beginning to wonder if the premise Lucy Elphinstone is building this on is actually the right one. After all, if it goes wrong the secondary school can just turn around to the parents and say that the child’s primary head teacher misled them in the reference.
However, the devil, as they say, will be in the detail and also in how easy it will be for schools to run a parallel testing system together with the one in place in general. It will take a few years to know the answer to this, so I would expect the other schools to watch and wait. After all, there’s no hurry with the numbers applying to London Day schools and it wasn’t so long ago that the Consortium hailed the change to mainly discursive writing pieces as the answer - now that initiative (which we considered a good one, not least from a general knowledge point of view) has been dropped.
In the end, it will come down to interviews. These, to paraphrase Lucy Elphinstone, ‘will be less formulaic and predictable’ so the true child will be seen. Does this secrecy make it any less stressful for the children and parents? I know how I would feel about that on the day my child goes in. Each school will be in control of their own interview process and will interview each and every girl at this stage (with the exception of South Hampstead).
Finding the right school for the right child is vital to all in our industry. I think the danger is that parents will see that there is little to lose in the scattergun approach. Why not apply to a number of schools using the existing system (because the requirements are known) but when it comes to the consortium – if you have the money, just apply to all twelve on the list. After all, it’s a one test fits all system and that way the reference is bound to fit at least one of them. It would be a matter of trusting to the interview then. If that’s the way it goes, in our opinion, those waiting lists after the exams will only grow even longer as the schools try to sift through the applications to see which child fits which school – and that process is already stressful enough as it is.
In the meantime, many girls will now be practicing for a newly added exam processes as well as for those schools who will continue with the old process.
Best regards
Janie and Viv Richardson

Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, May 2018

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The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, by Christopher Edge.

I’ve just finished reading The Infinite Lives of Masie Day by the same author and was about to review it, when I realised it would be better to start at the beginning here. These books (there are three of them) are excellent, so I’m starting with Albie Bright.  I haven’t yet read The Jamie Drake Equation, but I will and I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

In this book, Christopher Edge manages to drag us away from the endless diet of magic and into the world of science. It’s this blend of rational thought and emotion that makes these books so readable for me and, I believe, ideal for both boys and girls. In The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, the loss of a parent is sensitively handled (but be aware that this is integral to the story).

Somewhere, in a parallel universe, Albie’s mum is alive - or so his dad says. It’s a statement designed to comfort, but Albie, being Albie, sets out to find her. He uses Quantum Banana Theory and his mum’s old computer to reach beyond the veil. It’s a little bit slow to begin with, but I urge you to stay with it because it’s well worth it. There’s so much in here that’s both educational and entertaining. It’ll bring a tear to your eye, but in a good way.

Ideal for Year 5/6. Buy all three for those summer reads!

We give this book a Yellowbird rating of 5 "Yellowbirds" out of 5!

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Join us at Cupcake Fulham- May 16th

We are thrilled that Janie Richardson is running an exclusive workshop for Cupcake members on Wednesday 16th May at 11am at the club.

Janie is one of the most experienced school search consultants in London given her background as Head in top London Prep schools.  Janie and her highly experienced team are able to offer expert, confidential advice and support to families on all aspects of education. 

This workshop is designed to be informative and will address many frequently asked questions:

  • Which nursery structure is best for my child? 
  • What is the Montessori approach? 
  • When is the best age to start nursery education?
  • How many sessions should my child be offered and at what age?
  • When should I register my child for Reception entry into school?
  • State v’s independent schooling
  • What is the process of admissions at Reception age?
  • Do certain nurseries have relationships with Prep schools?

11 Heathmans Road, Parsons Green, London, SW6 4TJ

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