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Headmaster's Talk

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Headmaster's Talk

Virtual Tour

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Virtual Tour

Q&A from the virtual Open Morning: Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

How many spaces can you offer for entry into Year 9 and when is the best time to apply for those?  

Headmaster: Most of our spaces are available in Year 7. We take about 10 pupils into Year 9, and have around 40 to 50 applicants for those places.

You can apply for places any time from now.

Registrar: The application closing date for entry to the school is November 27th, and applications can be made online. The only difference is the closing date for Sports and Music scholarships, which is earlier, on November 5th All the details are on our website and you can call or email me. Once registered, we will confirm that we have received your registration and will contact you again at the end of November, after the closing date, with details of the assessment process, which takes place on 5th January 2021 for Year 7, and on 11th January 2021 for Year 9.

Headmaster: We have 120 places available in Year 7. Around 45 children come from our own Junior School and the remainder of places are taken up by children from all types of school – independent and state primary schools. We have 4 or 5 times the number of applicants as the number of places, so it is a competitive process.

How are students with dyslexia supported - are they allowed to use laptops, for example? 

Headmaster: Everybody is screened for any special educational needs they may have when they join the school; the entrance exam also helps us in this screening process. We have a very good Teaching and Learning Support department of 5 members of staff. We are able to cater for those with mild dyslexia or dyspraxia, for example, either by providing class support or by ensuring that teachers know about individual pupils’ needs so that they can provide for these in their teaching. Additionally, we may provide support for small groups, or one-to-one support, in the Teaching and Learning department. We are very used to supporting pupils with mild learning difficulties. If someone needs to use a laptop as part of their strategy for learning, for example, then we can enable that to happen.

I have visited a number of schools and found yours to be wonderful. However, I found the Design Technology work and lab to be lacking ambition compared to some others. My son has a keen interest in this area. Do you have any plans to expand and improve this area?

Headmaster: We've recently invested in state-of-the-art facilities. Work of a very high quality is created and the exam results achieved both in Art and in Design Technology are phenomenal. We hold an Art and Design show every year, which is attended by parents and friends of the school. I would encourage the questioner to come back and see the work that is being done now, which is very ambitious and of a very high standard.

How many forms are there per year? 

Headmaster: Usually there are 6, and sometimes 7, forms in Year 7 and Year 9. Our class sizes are a maximum of 20 in a class, and often it’s 18 or 19 in a class: the average class size up to GCSE at the moment is 18 students and the average in the Sixth Form is just 7 students.

What scholarships do you offer for Year 7? 

Headmaster: We offer academic scholarships, music scholarships and sports awards in Year 7, and as Ms Pepper our Registrar, has already said, the closing date for these is slightly earlier – 5th November-than the closing date for general applications for the school..

Do you ever accept students mid-year for occasional places and are there places for Year 8 entry? 

Headmaster: Usually we don’t accept students mid-year or into Year 8 because the places are full. However, occasionally places become available because families relocate, for example. So if you are interested in a place mid-year, or for Year 8, please give us a call and we can tell you if there is a place available.

Do those entering in Year 9 still have the same choices for GCSEs as those who may have started at St Benedict’s in Year 7? For example, if they haven't studied Spanish before, can they take it up in Year 9?  

Headmaster: In principle, anyone entering in Year 9 would have the same opportunities as someone entering in Year 7. However, it’s not a good idea to take up a subject which is completely new to them; rather, it is best to opt for subjects which they are good at or have had some experience of. For this reason, we don’t offer a beginners’ Spanish GCSE, simply because it would be putting students at a disadvantage because they don’t have any prior knowledge of the subject.

Please talk about being a Catholic school; to what extent are non-Catholic children expected to practise Catholicism? 

Headmaster: The first thing to say is that we wouldn’t require anybody to practise Catholicism, whether they’re Catholic or non-Catholic. However, it’s very clear that we are a Catholic school. So, what does it mean to be a Catholic school? We are promoting faith as something which is positive; here, faith is celebrated as a good thing. Secondly, we promote Catholic social teaching, which encourages us to think beyond ourselves and to consider what we can do for other people. So voluntary service in the school is a particularly strong feature, and we encourage all of our students to involve themselves in doing things for other people. I think that’s partly why St Benedict’s is such a warm and welcoming community. You don’t have to be a Catholic to come here: roughly 58% of our students are Catholic, but a large minority are not Catholics. As far as prayer is concerned, there is prayer at the start and at the end of the day, and occasionally we require students to go to Mass.

My son will be going into Year 7 in September 2021. Do you offer bursaries?  

Headmaster: Yes, we do offer bursaries. We have already spoken about scholarships, which are awarded to students with particular talents and abilities. Bursaries, on the other hand, are based on financial means. We want to be a school which is open to a wide range of people, not just for those who are wealthy. Bursaries are strictly means-tested, that’s why we ask people who apply for a bursary to supply evidence of their financial circumstances, which are assessed, in confidence, by a bursary committee. Bursaries are necessarily limited, so there is a rigorous assessment: we need to make sure that they go to families who really need them.

Does the choir cover all years and is there an audition? 

Mr D Thomas (Senior Master; in charge of co-curricular activities) We want people to take part in a variety of choral ensembles. The Concert Choir is our big choir, and there are no auditions. We encourage as many students as possible to join this choir, which sings major choral works, and takes parts in concerts. We have Consort Choir – a much smaller ensemble – for which there are auditions. In addition, I run an even smaller choir, an a cappella group, which sings a wide repertoire of music.

We also encourage musicians to join our many instrumental ensembles, large and small; some require no particular experience to join, others do, and there is a wide variety, catering for all ages and abilities. We do encourage children to get involved in the musical side of the school, as much as they can and as much as they want to.

During the lockdown period many private prep schools have been able to provide varying degrees of live online teaching to their pupils, enabling the continuation of teaching the curriculum to some extent. My daughter is at a state primary school and as with many other state schools has had no online contact with her teacher during the lockdown period. Her home schooling has consisted of worksheets aimed at revising what she already learnt. Her education effectively halted on 20th March. This discrepancy between the way the private and state education sectors have dealt with education during lockdown further increases the gap between pupils' education in these sectors. What provisions will you make to mitigate for the increasing gap between pupils from state and private sector in the 11+ examination process? 

Headmaster: At St Benedict’s we have been using Microsoft Teams, which enables us to provide face-to-face teaching every day for our students. They have continued their learning and to follow the curriculum, albeit from home. We’ve even held end-of-year exams. We’ve also had pastoral care running as normal, so the form tutors have been in touch with their forms every day, to check up with how people are. It’s a different experience, learning online, and being confined, and we want to look out for our students and to try to support them as well as we can. We’ve also provided a whole range of co-curricular activities online: there have been at least 3 concerts, a dance show, and drama performances. We’ve also organised fund raising, where students ran or cycled as far as they could, raising over £3000 for the Trussell Trust foodbank charity. So we’ve tried to do a whole range of things to give pupils opportunities for their personal development as well as maintain their academic progress. We feel it’s gone well and there has been lots of positive feedback from parents about it.

If there is another lockdown -and obviously I very much hope there won’t be –we feel we are in a good place to provide for our students. We owe it to our families to do our very best in these difficult circumstances.

Regarding the 11+ exam, we already do bear in mind the context in which pupils are studying when they take the exam; and we take into account the fact that some children will have had a lot of preparation and others won’t have had any at all. That is why we set the 4 exams we set: English, Maths, (both based on the National Curriculum for Year 6), verbal reasoning, and non-verbal reasoning. The whole point of VR and non-VR is to show potential. We look at potential as well as what they have achieved to date.

I hope that is reassuring

What are the sports facilities on site and is there a focus on specific sports over others? 

Headmaster: At our school site at Eaton Rise, we have a sports hall and a small Astro-turf. Our main sports facilities are 2 miles away at Perivale, where we have extensive playing fields, a really good Astro-turf, which is mainly used for hockey, and netball courts.

The main sports are: rugby and fencing for the boys, and hockey and netball for girls in the winter Then in the summer term it’s cricket and athletics for boys, and athletics and tennis for girls. Having said that, there is a whole range of other sports they can play as well. We have a lunchtime sports programme where it’s possible in our sports hall to play 5-a-side football, basketball, and tennis in the summer term, for both boys and girls, and many other sports as well. We aim to offer a breadth of opportunities, but there are certain sports where we aim to be particularly good, where we play fixtures against other schools and those are the sports I mentioned first.

Mr D Thomas (Senior Master): I think it’s very important to stress that sport shouldn’t be categorised into sport which is elite – for those who are really good at it – or sport for everybody. It is in fact both. We want to cater, as a school, for people who show great ability, and do very well at team level, but we want to give everybody who’s keen the opportunity to represent the school and to have fun. So that is why, for example, we run A,B, C, and occasionally even D teams, in rugby, hockey, and netball – all representing the school and all greatly valued. In addition, it’s important to say that we expect children to be available on Saturday mornings, when many fixtures take place (and occasionally on Saturday afternoons). And if by any chance fixtures aren’t taking place, then training takes place on Saturday mornings instead.

Digital learning. Given that COVID-19 might be here for a while, what steps are you are taking to support remote learning as part of the normal way of working? 

Headmaster: To pick up on what I said earlier – I'm very proud of our teachers because, in a relatively short period of time, they all learned to use Microsoft Teams, which facilitates contact with pupils very effectively. You can have face-to-face video conferencing every single day and it works extremely well. We’re well up to speed with digital learning – we've had to be – and it’s worked really well.

How do we apply for a bursary and when will the test be for entry for Year 7? 

Headmaster: Parents who wish to apply for a bursary should request a bursary application pack from the Bursar’s office, Further details on the bursaries page of our website.

Do you have any mock papers we could look at 

Headmaster: We do not have any mock papers for the Maths and English exams, but there are practice papers for the verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning available from newsagents such as WH Smiths.

How do you stretch and challenge pupils in their learning, both in the curriculum and through other activities? 

Headmaster: We have a centre for academic challenge at the school – the Helikon Centre – which was set up 3 years ago, when we also appointed a Director of Academic Challenge. Every week in the Helikon there are visiting speakers, talks given by teachers, and presentations given by pupils, on particular areas of interest and expertise. There are also competitions, Olympiads, opportunities to compete academically, and many opportunities to research topics they are interested in and then present that research to other people, which helps to develop all sorts of skills, and also deepens their knowledge.

Ms F Allen (Deputy Head Academic): There is a really strong emphasis on teachers giving regular feedback to pupils on their work -through marking of classwork and homework and through assessments - and on giving targets for the next step. Extension work is provided for students who get through their work quite quickly. The departments also offer a range of stretch and challenge, through competitions, for example, at every level.

Can you tell us about pastoral care? 

Headmaster: In Year 7, your child would join a form group of about 18 to 20 students, and they will have a form tutor and a deputy form tutor, whom they meet 3 times a day, so there’s a very regular contact. They also have an hour on a Wednesday during which they can speak to their form tutor individually. There is a strong emphasis here on treating every child as an individual: if there are any difficulties our approach is to support them; we also aim to bring out the individual talents of each pupil, by encouraging them. Our PSHE programme also happens in this hour and it covers a wide range of issues and aims to address the challenges faced by teenagers in their day-to-day lives.

What happens if the 11+ exam date clashes with another school?

Headmaster: Please talk to us. We much prefer children to take the exam on the date set, but if there is a difficulty please tell us.