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?
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?
How many forms are there per year?
What scholarships do you offer for Year 7?
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?
My son will be going into Year 7 in September 2021. Do you offer bursaries?
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?
How do we apply for a bursary and when will the test be for entry for Year 7?
Do you have any mock papers we could look at
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.