Open Event questions & the New 11+
Our recent Open Evening was one of the busiest we have ever had. It was amazing to greet so many girls and their parents. There was lots going on so I hope people who came didn’t miss out on activities. Open Days have also been well attended; giving parents the opportunity to see a normal school day. If parents have missed out on these occasions we hold another in May, when you are very welcome to return. I was asked many questions by parents so I thought I would share some of my answers.
Parents of children on the Wirral are extremely fortunate because of the wealth of excellent schools. In some areas of the country there is just one good or better local school that everyone has to fight to get into. Here that is not the case.
There are huge debates taking place nationally regarding the Government’s latest dictat that there should be more Grammar schools. This has led to, at worst, some Grammar school “bashing” and at best, debate regarding pedagogy and values. Our recent Open Events have been opportunities for us at WKGS to showcase our school but also a chance to have discussions with parents about the pros and cons of the 11+.
Having been the Head of two excellent mixed comprehensives and now an outstanding Grammar, I have seen the benefits first hand. I would argue that bright girls can thrive in any situation. My daughter for example, and her friends did brilliantly at Dinas Brân, my previous school. They were catered for because we had a fast track programme and were taught by some teachers who would enrich the curriculum both in and out of the classroom. When I was Head there I used to say to teachers, “If your child was in your class, would you be proud of what you are teaching?” “Would you speak to her like that? “Would you be happy for her to witness what happened in your lessons?” I was Head there for eight years. Eventually, with whole school training, dealing appropriately with behaviour, having streaming etc. teaching and learning improved and I am proud to say, in my last four years, Dinas Brân was in the top 10 schools in Wales.
A key focus, however, of a comprehensive is very much the C/D borderline students and, in my experience, of managing behaviour. Teachers have to be able to differentiate their lessons because of the enormous ranges of ability in the school and have to be masters of their craft to convince reluctant learners that they want to learn as well as providing opportunities for the most able to excel. A difficult task.
However, a Grammar School education is very different. A parent told me yesterday that they were in a quandary because they have a good mixed comprehensive on their doorstep and they loved West Kirby, but it meant a bus journey, therefore they were weighing up the pros and cons. And it is a dilemma because we all want the best for our children.
As a Head, I do not have to ask teachers at West Kirby questions. Teachers here are so focused on doing their best to achieve the highest standards. They do not have to spend their days dealing with disruption, they can focus on the task in hand. Girls come to a Grammar School to do well. They want to achieve. It is a joy to walk around the school, to feel the buzz in lessons, to see them laugh and enjoy learning. Year 7 girls are still able to play outside, to skip, to hopscotch, to enjoy being young girls. The pressure on them to grow up quickly is there in the outside world but I truly believe that here we can give them the confidence to grow and mature at their own pace, we support them to achieve, we stretch and challenge them to aspire to be the best they can be without the distractions of the opposite sex, boisterous behaviour and noise. The main difference in an all girls’ school is the confidence they show in the classroom. Here, no one is afraid to put their hand up to answer questions; girls support each other and help each other to find solutions; they are not called “swot” or “teacher’s pet” for producing beautiful, detailed homework because they all do it! In a mixed setting, even in a good school, you do find that boys shout the loudest and girls modestly take back seats unless really pushed and encouraged. It never failed to astound me that my articulate, argumentative daughter and her very bright, lively friends, used to acquiesce to her male peers, even if they knew the boys were talking rubbish!
I suppose it could be argued that by being in a mixed environment it prepares children better for the outside world and the challenges that lie ahead. Again, unless you have taught in a Grammar or experienced the enrichment opportunities and the challenges offered you might think this were true. Nothing can prepare girls better than the grounding we give them. It gives them space to think, to grow, to develop their arguments, beliefs and character. Our school is inclusive, bringing girls from all over the Wirral, North Wales, Chester and Liverpool. This brings together different cultures, backgrounds, beliefs and customs. It is a mixing pot of view-points and experiences. Girls here are exposed to critical thinking, problem solving, enrichment that extends far beyond the classroom and they are able to realise their dreams without battling with disruption or put downs. It doesn’t mean that teachers have an easier job. The pressures are different. We still need to differentiate, support and guide – but the stretch and challenge is at a much higher level; the girls are thirsty for knowledge and teachers have to keep abreast of the latest developments in their fields.
The school is one big family and always feels very positive and calm. This isn’t to say that the girls always get on! As in any family, there are times when there are disagreements. Any Head who says that friendship issues do not happen in their school is not telling the truth. When one has over a thousand young people under one roof there will always be fall-outs, disagreements, and very infrequently, someone who feels isolated or excluded from a friendship group. At West Kirby, if we know about a situation we deal with it, communicating with parents, endeavouring to build bridges between girls and sorting out problems. Strong pastoral care means we get to know girls well and can solve issues quickly. Friendship problems happen everywhere, but here they are dealt with and not pushed aside. Our aim is that every girl should be happy. If they are they, can then focus on their learning and achievements which is why we are so successful. We offer support through a Learning mentor, School Counsellor, excellent pastoral teams, youth worker, School nurse and so on. No one gets lost. We strive to ensure every child is successful.
So now to the 11+. “Should I put my daughter under that pressure?” was a question asked on Wednesday night.
My answer is “what pressure?” If she passes you give her additional choices, if she doesn’t there are excellent schools on the Wirral or Chester or Flintshire to choose from. Our joint decision with the other three Grammar Schools to move to the new CEM 11+ negates the need for tutoring. The new test builds upon the work the children do in their primary schools. Numeracy, literacy, comprehension and problem solving. The old 11+ was archaic and children often needed a tutor to help them access the language of the test. Many horror stories have been bandied about regarding how hard it is…..but I am sure much of that is to keep tutors in business! If your daughter loves to learn, can talk about what she is doing/reading/learning, is good at English and Maths, then she should attempt the paper. The test is now done on one day. There are two fifty minute papers with a twenty minute break in between. What’s to lose?
We are proud to welcome girls from all backgrounds, cultures and north west areas. Why not come to join our happy family?