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Headmasters’ Blog – Ballard – a through school

October 17, 2011

At a recent Speech Day we commended six of our pupils who
had arrived at Ballard in the Nursery aged 18 months and were now leaving
at the top of the school aged 16 years in Year 11. These pupils and their parents
were very sad to be moving on and most were sorry that we didn’t offer a Sixth
Form! Herein lies part of the conundrum of a ‘through school’: should we be
encouraging pupils to stay with us for fourteen or so years or are we simply
cocooning them from the ‘real world’?

In a school which emphasises the importance of family,
pastoral care and continuity there are strong arguments in favour of offering a
‘one stop shop’ from Early Years through to GCSE. Siblings can be educated
together with all the advantages for parents of knowing one school, having some
fee concession (sibling discount is common in most independent schools) and
being able to track their children’s progress knowing that they are well known
within the same setting. The children also have the security of an established
campus, teachers who know them well and friends who remain together over many
years.  It’s not surprising that come
Year 11 many prefer the environment with which they are most familiar. This in
itself, however, is a good argument not to offer a Sixth Form as the time has
arrived for the ‘chicks’ to fly the nest and prepare more fully for university
and the world of work – and we are fortunate in the variety and scope of plus
16 providers locally which cater for A levels, the International Baccalaureate,
vocational training, grammar schools, boarding and college environments.

A concern with the ‘through school’ which we have sought to
rectify lately, is the argument that without an 11+ or 13+ (Common Entrance)
hurdle, the academic rigour will only come up to the mark as the GCSE years
approach. Children know that they can stay in the one school for both the
primary and early secondary phases of their education and thus there is little
incentive to aspire to high academic achievement. This notion, of course,
pre-supposes that we need external exams to achieve this rigour. Our approach
has been to ensure our own assessments are thorough and challenging, that we
offer significant rewards, that teaching standards are carefully monitored and
classroom approaches frequently refreshed. We don’t have to ‘teach to the test’
and thus our educational programme can truly be the National Curriculum
‘plus’.  Cross-curricular themes are
common place and include, for example, the STEM approach – looking for links
across Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – whilst not having to worry
overmuch about ‘is this in the syllabus?’

A ‘through school’ on the same site and with a relatively
small pupil roll (we have 500 on roll from 18 months to 16 years) means for a
complicated timetable, not least where some teachers will ‘cross over’ from the
Prep (Y3-8) to the Senior (Y9-11) parts of the school. We might prefer to
shorten the lesson length for the younger pupils but can’t easily have a
different ‘shape’ to the day. We have got round this in part by enabling Y3-5
to operate as a unit (with their own teachers in the main) and to have a split
lunch time and an extra afternoon break. We have also emphasised the positive
about having specialist senior teachers able to teach younger classes (our Head
of MFL, for example, teaches some French down to the Junior Prep) and also
ensuring that the youngest have access to the excellent facilities in Science,
Technology and Art which would not normally be available in a primary or Prep
school setting.

The family emphasis allows us to enable older pupils to
mentor the younger ones (such as Y7s coming into Y3 Form times and Prefects at
Y8 and at Y11 being able to take some junior activities). There are some
distinct parts of the school only for particular age groups but there is also a
necessary and a positive ‘blurring’ (with careful behavioural expectations and
boundaries) which allows for the mixing of age groups in a friendly, nurturing,
atmosphere.   The younger children really
enjoy having the older ones help with their activities and watch their
performances (etc.) whilst many of the older pupils relish the opportunity to
take responsibility for the younger ones.
Having always been in a secondary school with Sixth Formers until my
current post, I have been thrilled to see the way in which Year 11s as Prefects
have risen to the challenge of leadership roles at an age (15-16 year olds)
when in a setting with 17-18 year olds they can be regarded as being rather
silly and immature!

Ballard has grown into its present structure over a 15 year
period (since the mid-1990s when a Prep School and a Senior School amalgamated)
and thus has had time to evolve and develop as a ‘through’ school. There are
peculiar challenges but, in the main, we see the opportunities such a wide age
range presents and seize them enthusiastically!

Alastair Reid
(Headmaster, Ballard School, New Milton, Hampshire)

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