The way that schools manage the transition of children from their final year in primary school (Year 6) to their first year at Secondary School (Year 7) is very different to what our generation experienced. As former and current teachers with considerable experience ourselves, we were keen to understand what sort of preparation was offered by Brentwood’s secondary schools.
We were kindly invited to attend an evening for year 6 parents whose children are starting at Shenfield High School this September. It was a very relaxed informative evening led by the new head teacher Carole Herman, ably supported by some of her senior staff. Prior to her appointment at SHS, Carole had turned around a large comprehensive school in Monmouth where she was highly respected and valued for her outstanding leadership qualities.
The evening was entitled ‘Learning for Life’ which was intended to echo the ethos of a school that values it’s tradition – it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – yet strives to be forward looking and to prepare students for the rigours of the modern world. The meeting began with the proud launch of the new smart but affordable school uniform with its distinctive emblem.
The prospective pupils were then sent away with some of the teachers they are likely to be taught by to briefly experience some of the type of activities they are likely to encounter. They all returned looking very happy and were eager to inform their parents what they had been doing.
While the children were out, the parents were introduced to the school’s ‘Discovery’ programme which commences with September’s intake of year 7 pupils. Whilst new to this school, it is a tried and tested scheme used elsewhere. Carole had experienced immense success with it at her last school. The programme’s core aim is to create successful, confident students prepared for opportunities in their academic futures and beyond.
The programme’s key principles which underpin “Learning For Life” are Respect, Learning, Responsibility, Security, Community and Success. Further detail on the programme is available here:
Across the year, learners will undertake three distinct modules: My Essex, My Role Models and My Britain. These encompass the subject areas of Citizenship, Geography, History and Religious Education in an innovative series of tasks, all undertaken in form groups with the pupils form teacher, over 5 hours per fortnight during Year 7. Alongside this programme, learners will still be taught a very wide range of core and foundation subjects by a team of specialist teachers.
The programme also addresses pastoral issues, offering the opportunity for pupils to build strong relationships with a designated member of staff. Indeed, Carole Herman views pastoral care as being of the utmost importance and is already developing strategies to match. For example, the school is working alongside the Brentwood Schools Christian Worker Trust and actively encourages the organization’s involvement. Mary Thomas is to become a chaplain at the school from September. She is already well known and valued amongst pupils and staff alike, taking lessons in self esteem, anger management, body issues as well as offering the Christian perspective through RE lessons. She also helps lead, with a team, a Christian lunchtime group for pupils who want to explore the faith at a deeper level.
Another area we were highly impressed with was the ‘Stretch and Challenge’ programme which is designed to discover and develop pupils’ talents and gifts. A senior, very approachable, member of staff is a designated leader in this area. He showed us examples of some of the events run e.g. a forensic day whereby scientifically gifted pupils across the age range took part in a role playing scenario. A trip to the Olympic stadium was organised for those with a strong interest in geography. Parents were actively encouraged to discuss areas they believe their child might be gifted in, or to discuss any special interest that their child may have expressed.
The inclusivity of the school was apparent throughout the evening and highlighted in its approach to sport. Whilst having a very good record in competitive sport, it actively encourages pupils of all abilities to partake in and runs sports teams on demand.
The evening reassured us, and the parents who attended, of the excellent steps the school is taking to bring about success in today’s world. We felt confident that all pupils, from year 7 onwards, will be nurtured in a comfortable, safe and happy environment. They will be constantly challenged to fulfil their potential academically, and equipped with life-long skills. If the teachers we met are anything to go by then the pupils attending this school are very fortunate indeed.
Debbie Foster and Kathryn Mayo