Preparing for Senior School
I have a favourite saying which goes like this – ‘Today we seem to value what we are told to measure rather than measuring what we truly value.’ One of the biggest problems with our education system is that it is designed around clearing hurdles and jumping through hoops rather than helping young people to become the best versions of themselves. Many prep schools are forced to focus almost exclusively on passing tests and therefore an education becomes training to pass an exam rather than being the inspirational, exciting personal development process that a good school should provide. At Reigate St Mary’s when we think about preparing children for their senior school it is really all part of the process of preparing them for life. What we want most is for our pupils to become caring, confident, resilient and creative young people who will one day become leaders who care deeply about a sustainable and equitable future for everyone. Is that too highbrow for Prep School children? Absolutely not! We are laying the foundations for life and in a world where there is a dearth of good leadership, believing that our young people can be leaders and change makers in whatever walk of life they end up in, is really our core business. We want them to believe in themselves and think big.
It is also so important that children go on to a senior school that is right for them as individuals. Like running the 1500 metres, you will get your best time if you are in the pack. If you are out in front, there is no-one to push you. If you are straggling behind, it is demoralising and will knock your confidence. Therefore over tutoring to shoe-horn a child into a school that isn’t right for them, is actually doing them a disservice.
So how should children be prepared for senior school and beyond? At Reigate St Mary’s we believe that the success and confidence of children stems from the following:
- A relentless focus on wellbeing: without the self-esteem, confidence and sense of belonging critical to wellbeing, it is impossible for children to achieve their potential. With this focus, their chances of success are optimised. That’s why wellbeing is the absolute bedrock of everything we do.
- Truly holistic and individual support: a joined up picture of each child is vital to enable personalised support both in and out of the classroom. No one should be invisible or slip under the radar.
- A growth mindset that celebrates hard work and effort not innate talent: we dedicate one assembly a week to talking about something the children have tried really hard at. Each form celebrates hard work at the end of the year instead of a traditional prize giving. In focusing on the journey and in embracing mistakes and failure as part of improving, the children build the resilience and risk taking required to succeed.
- A rich, broad and stimulating curriculum covering STEM, Computing, Languages, Science, Philosophy, PHSE, the Humanities (History, Geography and Religious Studies), Art, Drama, Music and Sport galore as well as the core subjects of Maths and English.
- Committed staff recruited for their desire to see children flourish and overcome hurdles, trained in the art of learning, focused on building relationships not CVs. When coupled with staff ratios that facilitate individual attention and the conversations that matter, real growth happens.
- An emphasis on lifelong learning: from the beginning the children are part of our Philosophy for Children programme which develops critical and abstract thinking. In discussing whether Red Riding Hood should have deviated from the path, for example, they learn to question, evaluate, decide and articulate. In listening to others, and building on their ideas, academic standards are lifted for everyone and the children develop important soft skills such as communication and teamwork.
Going back to my opening quote, what we all really want for our children, what we truly value, is that they are confident, happy and enthusiastic about all areas of life. When you get this right the learning naturally flows and those examination hurdles just become part of the educational journey and not the be all and end all of their schooling.