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Benenden Hosts First Conference for Heads


Education /

Benenden Hosts First Conference for Heads

Headteachers from some of the leading independent schools have gathered for a conference at Benenden

Newton Prep, London

You may have seen this Telegraph article featuring comments from Alison Fleming, headteacher of Newton Prep, London, about the way that Common Entrance is harming pupils’ mental health.

‘We are worried about children’s mental health and well-being,’ Ms Fleming told The Daily Telegraph. ‘The idea of pre-testing in Year Six and then the pressure to do Common Entrance which is 13 or 14 exams over a 3 day period when they are only just 13-years-old. If it’s not needed, let’s not do it. Let’s take that level of anxiety away from children and indeed their parents.’

This came out of a conference that was held at Benenden, a girls’ boarding school in the heart of the Kentish Weald, on Friday 16th March. Alison was a speaker at the conference, which included representatives from 50 different schools – both prep and senior – who spent the day discussing issues that are pertinent to the sector. There was a particular emphasis on Year 7 and 8, including a focus on enquiry-based curriculums and the transition from prep to senior school.

The conference provoked lively discussion

There were some strong views expressed that enquiry-based curriculums offer pupils a more relevant and lasting education: that they provide genuine skills for life by fostering independent learning, creativity and encourage risk-taking. By contrast, Common Entrance was seen as an exercise in merely testing a child’s ability to recall knowledge, which senior school headteachers felt was a less effective method of assessing a pupil’s potential.

There were presentations from Benenden, Newton Prep in London and Holmewood House in Kent, all of which have introduced enquiry-based curriculums in whole or in part. There was enormous interest from other schools in working with us to develop their own likeminded programmes.

There was then a positive but robust discussion about the best method for managing prep pupils’ entry to senior school. A panel discussion was held, in which heads of prep and senior schools outlined their varying positions on pupils’ entry and an open and honest debate ensued about how the system could be improved.


The John Wallis Principal, John McParland, spoke passionately about state-independent partnership

The afternoon drew to a close with a very well-received session on partnership working, with Benenden and The John Wallis Church of England Academy discussing how the partnership brings enormous benefits to pupils from both schools.

Benenden headmistress, Samantha Price, said: ‘Overall we were delighted with the response from Heads and felt the turnout on the day reflected the importance of the topics on the agenda. The Conference was an enormous success. Benenden is proud to take a lead on industry-wide issues and we look forward to holding similar events in future.’

READ MORE: Protesting the Pre-Test: The Problem with Senior School Entry Process | Why Schools Are Teaching Life Skills

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