The benefits of a 3 to 18 school

Posted on 11th Mar 2020 in Prep Schools Guide, School News

Andrew Johnson, Headmaster of St Benedict’s, Ealing, outlines the advantages of a seamless education from 3 to 18...

Whether it’s starting a new job, getting married, adjusting to parenthood or moving house, even the most positive changes in life can be unsettling. Any transition in life is significant, and most require a certain amount of courage.

It’s easy to underestimate the number of transitions a child has to make in the course of their school career, from the age of 3 as they start to attend nursery, to the sixth form. And it’s just as easy to forget how significant each step is for the child.

We all understand that it’s important to try to ensure that these transitions are managed carefully, so that they can be made as smoothly as possible; that we should equip children with the resilience and confidence they need to manage change. But how do we do this?

The school years are made up of a series of important transitions: from Nursery to Reception class; from the Early Years Foundation Stage to Year 3; from Junior School to Senior School, and finally into the Sixth Form. These transitions mark out significant social and intellectual landmarks in a child’s education and are made much easier if they are negotiated within the same school, on the same familiar site.

St Benedict’s has the distinct advantage of being one of the few 3-18 day schools in London, offering a seamless education from Nursery to Sixth Form on the same site. We manage these steps very carefully so that each stage is a natural progression, rather than a bewildering jolt. Our Nursery offers an excellent preparation for ‘proper’ school, for example, as it is housed in the same, brand new Early Years department as children in Years 1 and 2, sharing many activities and resources. Three year-olds at St Benedict’s follow a carefully planned curriculum which frequently dovetails with the Reception class’ activities: artwork, stories, music and dressing up may relate to a given theme, such as ‘The Wild West’, or ‘Ice and Fire’. Specialist teaching in Music, Art and PE enriches children’s learning and provides expert tuition, as they begin to find where their enthusiasms and talents lie.

What about your plan for the next stage, at the age of 11? An all-through school can virtually guarantee your child’s transition at 11+.

The advantages of an all-through school, for pupils and parents alike, are obvious. Children can make firm and lasting friendships, enjoy familiar surroundings and facilities, and feel known by their teachers, as well as benefiting from a continuity of approach, ethos and community. On a practical level, the morning school-run is much simplified if siblings can be dropped off at the same place; there is a single school calendar to deal with rather than several sets of dates and events; and one set of teaching staff to get to know, over a longer period of time.

Children at our prep school have frequent familiarisation visits, shared facilities and opportunities to take part in events at the senior school. These include the annual Science Fair, in which pupils in Year 8 set up a series of hands-on science experiments, such as making slime, or testing how much sugar is contained in fizzy drinks. Our prep school pupils can take part in plays, concerts, dance shows and art workshops at the senior school, and attend some of our events, such as author visits, Classics and History days. As they approach the big move into Year 7, children aged 9 and 10 attend several special science, languages and history lessons at the senior school. Taught by senior teachers, often assisted by sixth form students, these lessons are very effective in helping to familiarise the children in advance of their transition.

Academic tracking, departmental syllabus planning and pastoral care all bridge the gap from junior to senior school too, ensuring that each pupil receives close, informed care and attention.

Perhaps the first major decision pupils have to make is choosing which subjects to study at GCSE. It’s important not to close any doors, by dropping a subject they may later need for their chosen university course, for example; and it’s good to strike a balance between breadth, on the one hand, and the chance to begin to specialise on the other. Making informed choices at this stage is made much easier if those who teach them know them well, and can advise them effectively.

Finally, there’s the sixth form; two vital years which go by particularly quickly, as any student will tell you. Sixth formers must adapt to the greater degree of independence, both academic and organisational, required by A level study, as well as make big decisions about university applications. If it is possible to stay at the same school for the sixth form after GCSE, this makes the settling in period much quicker, since students and teachers already know each other. After GCSE exams in the summer, introductory A level lessons are offered, to prepare the ground for more advanced study.

Sixth Form students are essential role models for the rest of the school, and there are many ways in which they can show leadership, as Prefects, House Captains and by mentoring younger pupils, for example. Many of our students volunteer to help out in the junior school where they began their school careers, to hear young children read, or to help with IT. In so doing, they get as much out of the experience as the younger children they are helping.

Mark Twain said, “I’m in favour of progress; it’s change I don’t like.” We can’t avoid change – nor should we, since however uncomfortable it sometimes makes us feel, it usually brings with it growth, progress, development. But we can minimise its anxiety through familiarisation, good communication and careful preparation.

This article first appeared in John Catt's Preparatory Schools 2020, which you can read here: