Stretch and Support – how do we stretch and support students?

Most parents want to know how the school they choose will stretch their daughter, especially if she enters as a high achiever already, and how she will be supported if she finds things difficult. A summary of how we do both these things is below.

Academic Stretch

Some students will be identified as potential Academic Scholars through their entry process, and others will emerge as Academic Scholars during their time here on the basis of attainment and intellectual curiosity. Each year we award a few additional Honorary Academic Scholarships on the basis of exceptional performance through the year, including in exams. Clear intellectual enquiry is a key criteria for these.

We do expect Academic Scholars to continue to perform at the top of their cohort and take advantage of all that is on offer. However, it is important to note that most academic enrichment, as detailed below, is open to all students on the premise that exposure to interesting activities can trigger a passion in students and help everyone’s attainment. Lessons are fully differentiated to ensure that even the ablest student is challenged and developed in the classroom. Occasionally, an exam may be taken ahead of the rest of the cohort, but this is unusual: we prefer to extend beyond the syllabus than accelerate a student’s programme, as universities prefer all exams to have been taken in the same season.

Girls laughing in lessons

However, we do have two staff who have a specialist responsibility for scholarship, and they work closely with the Oxbridge coordinators. The Scholars are offered a specialist programme of activities in addition to the normal enrichment programme: this comprises lectures, workshops, trips and visits that are focused around a termly theme. Previous topics have been Gold, The Silk Road, the Enlightenment and New Technologies. After having experienced the activities, the girls work alone or in small groups to present their own project on the topic. Scholars are also expected to undertake an Extended Project.

Once a student enters the Fifth (Year 10) she may be identified as suitable for competitive university entry (such as Oxbridge, Ivy League, Medical school) at which point she will be offered entry to the specialist preparation programme. Around a third of each year group will follow this programme, entering at any point between Year 10 and the summer of Year 12.

The School’s policy on providing for Able Students can be found here

Academic enrichment takes place in a variety of cross-curricular ventures, including:

  • Lectures and seminars by visiting speakers who are at the top of their professions. In the past two years, girls have had the opportunity to meet and discuss with, amongst others, geneticist Robert Winston, politicians Amber Rudd (below), Helen Grant and James Brokenshire, entrepreneurs and businesspeople Dr Margaret Mountford and Lord Billimoria, historian David Starkey, philosopher AC Grayling, political commentator Matthew Parris, novelist Santa Montefiore, musician Tasmin Little and Olympian Georgie Harland.
  • Our Experts in Residence programme, with a visiting writer, poet, entrepreneur, artist and foreign language theatre companies.
  • Trips and events, which are organised by departments throughout the year to supplement the curriculum, including trips to museums, the theatre, landmarks, fieldwork centres, exhibitions and lectures, and places of worship.
  • Entering national competitions such as Foyle’s Young Poets of the Year and working with organisations including the National Youth Orchestra.
  • Clubs and activities, many of which are run by the students themselves.
  • Post-GCSE and AS and A Level programmes which encourage research and collaborative learning and prepares the students for the following year.
Amber Rudd spoke at Benenden just weeks after resigning as Home Secretary
Amber Rudd spoke at Benenden just weeks after resigning as Home Secretary

The Extended Project Qualification

Universities tell us that the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) Level 3 is an excellent preparation for undergraduate study as it gives real evidence of independent, critical thinking. It is a stand-alone qualification, an extension from studies, which enthuses students by offering the opportunity for open debate and research on their own topic. Students of all abilities from the Lower Fifth Form can opt to take the EPQ, alongside their GCSE or A Level studies and will be taught skills such as researching effectively or time management. It is essential that students work independently, but have a supervisor who assesses their progress. It focuses on:

  • A solid and coherent grounding in a specialist topic
  • An ability to undertake independent and self-directed learning
  • The ability to think laterally, critically and creatively
  • Problem solving
  • Reflective learning
  • Self-management
  • The development, presentation and communication of information
  • The delivery of a presentation to an audience

Examples of titles undertaken recently include:

GCSE

  • How did chairman Mao eradicate a generation of Chinese teenagers through re-education since the 1960s?
  • Can one train the mind to overcome performance anxiety in competitive sport?
  • How do past racial prejudices in America affect contemporary black Americans?
  • Does the right bit matter for your horse? An investigation on the importance of bits for horses.
  • What contributes to the creation and spread of fake news and what are its impacts?
  • Will the Sugar Tax be successful in reducing obesity levels in the UK?

A Level

  • Damien Hirst & Chris Ofili: To what extent is contemporary British art a revival of Primitive Art?
  • Is the English Criminal Justice System as successful as it can be in its support and protection of female rape victims?
  • Have the European Union’s founding principles of peace been successfully upheld post-Brexit?
  • How feasible is a high-speed train service between Melbourne and Sydney?
  • How does biology determine whether someone is male or female?
  • “We the people of Mars”: What are the Political and Legal Implications of a corporation colonising Mars?
  • What are the environmental, social, political and economic impacts of the Grenfell Tower fire?
  • Visions of Beauty: How does late Victorian art depict and classify female beauty?

Academic Support

Many students at some point will find an aspect of their academic programme extremely challenging and there is lots of support available.

The first point of call should be the student’s class teacher who will be happy to go over material or help her understand what she finds difficult. There are also subject clinics which take place at lunchtime or after school, where a girl can pop in for some extra help or explanation from a teacher. Sixth Formers act as subject ambassadors and learning mentors and are available at clinics and during prep to help younger girls with straightforward problems. In some subjects, we also have Associate Staff, who are additional to our full time staff, and can offer one-to-one tuition at a small charge if parents wish.

Teacher at front of class

Some girls will enter the School having been diagnosed with dyslexia or a similar processing issue, and others may be identified as having a Special Educational Need (SEN) whilst here. This is entirely usual and nothing to be ashamed or concerned about. In this case, the Head of Academic Support will contact the girl’s parents and discuss screening and appropriate support. This may take the form of attendance at small group sessions, a period of one-to-one tuition at a small charge, or in some cases, adaptation of the student’s curriculum eg studying one language rather than two, or taking a foundation subject rather than a higher level. If the girl has a qualifying score from her screening tests, she may be entitled to exam concessions such as extra time or computer use, if this reflects her normal way of working. There are strict rules about access arrangements which have to be adhered to.

Some girls may have a visual, mobility or hearing impediment which might affect their learning and we are able to support these students by adapting their curriculum or the resources used in their curriculum.

We track the progress of girls on the SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) register to ensure they are making equal progress to other girls in the cohort, and adapt our interventions accordingly. Our aim is for every girl to develop the resourcefulness and skills to cope with any learning issues she may have, and be able to overcome and manage them in the workplace so they do not adversely affect performance or wellbeing.

The School’s policy on the provision for students with SEND is here