There is a good deal of discussion both locally and nationally on state academies following the example of many independent schools in becoming all-through Schools. One of the local academies in Nottingham is currently undertaking a public consultation on its plans.
Such schools are common-place in the Independent sector. My school, Nottingham High made this move fully two years ago with the opening of our new infant section Lovell House. For the first time this meant that pupils can attend the School from reception age to Year 13. The School also has its own Junior School (Years 3-6) on the same site. The Junior School recently celebrated its centenary.
The three parts of the school very much share the same ethos. This is one of the key benefits of this model. Thus, in the case of Nottingham High School all three parts are academically-selective, boys-only, place a significant emphasis on superb pastoral care and believe strongly in the role of extra-curricular activities to broaden the programme. This shared ethos makes it easier for parents to decide whether this is a suitable environment for their child.
Choosing a school is one of the most difficult choices parents have to make. The all-through school model means that having selected the school you are not having to go through all the stress of continuing to do this every couple of years. This, I understand, would also be the case in the state model. However, in our case, over 50% of our Year 7 entry still come in from other schools, the majority of them state primary schools. This too is important to freshen things up and to ensure that everyone does not become too insular.
There is no doubt that the transition from each stage of schooling is made much easier by this way of doing things. The move to secondary school can be daunting but pupils from our Junior School know their way around, understand the way that the School works and can also then play their part in helping those who join the School at this stage from elsewhere to settle in.
The benefit to the infant and Junior sections of the School from being on the same site as the Senior School are enormous. They have access to all of the Senior School facilities. Thus, they can use the sports’ hall, swimming pool, theatre etc. Few stand-alone primary schools can offer the range of facilities that a senior school has to offer.
Parents very much like the convenience of having just the one drop-off for all of their children. It can also mean that older children can travel on public transport looking after their younger siblings.
There is no doubt that having pupils of all ages on the site helps to improve relationships. Here the older boys routinely look after the younger boys on the school buses and also older boys go into the Junior and infant schools at times to help out in the classroom or with activities. This too helps to build bonds between boys of all ages. Our Language ambassadors scheme means that senior school boys help teach languages in our infant and junior schools, these positive role models have a huge impact.
There are, of course, advantages to the School of the economies of scale brought about by having the three sections of the school on one site. Such things as the catering, caretaking etc are organised centrally and this provides cost savings.
Some would worry that having the three sections of the school on one site would be problematical. Our model means that each part of the school has a separate building and separate playgrounds and thus one gets all the benefits without the younger boys competing in the playground for space with the older ones. It is also the case that our Junior School only provides about half of the entrants into the Senior School. This means that a further 60 or so boys join the Senior School from a range of other primary and independent schools. It would be unwise for the Junior School to grow any bigger than this as small class sizes should certainly be a feature of Junior and Infant school provision as they are here.
Clearly this is a controversial move for schools in the state sector but politics should surely not get in the way of something which works so well and is of real advantage to pupils and parents alike.