A Taste of Things To Come

This week children in Year 6 had the opportunity to experience what life in Years 7 and 8 is like at Yateley Manor because they shadowed the senior pupils for a day. I know that they thoroughly enjoyed themselves and there were many happy faces at the end of the day.

Being happy in your school when you are young is critical in the learning process, which is why it is one of our core values. With it children are able to thrive; without it, children fail to see the progress they could make. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Russian-American Abraham Maslow. He created a classification system which reflected the universal needs of society as its base, proceeding to more acquired emotions. He suggested that we all need basic needs met in hierarchical form, starting with the physiological needs of warmth, food and shelter and then moving through safety needs and those of belonging and love.

Deciding your child’s route through their schooling can be the source of much anxiety and stress for many parents. Every parent wants the best for their child which is why choosing the best school for them is critical. Experiences in our childhood can significantly determine our behaviours and emotions in later life and schooling is high on the list of opportunities which can make an impact. Roughly 1300 days or 43 months of our lives are taken up with schooling so it really does require careful consideration.

Previously in my career I was Head of two maintained-sector primary schools. The final year for children in these schools was Year 6, from which point they would automatically transfer to a senior school. I feared for many children as I bid farewell to them in the summer. So many of them were not ready. They did not have the maturity, the independence or the resilience. They did not have the skills of leadership, collaboration or even communication to survive effectively in the first stage of their senior school journey. That is not to suggest they did not survive at all – they had to. But their initial steps were not as positive as they needed to be and there was the risk that they would become disengaged from their learning. In short, I was hugely concerned for many because support for their safety, belonging and love needs was diminished and needed to be rebuilt. Clearly this needs to happen any time a child moves schools, but to do it at such a critical age, with adolescence dealing some young people cruel hands, seemed harsh.

Moving into the independent sector of prep schools, I rejoiced at the notion that children did not need to go through this exposure to experiences that could have an impact at such a vulnerable age. Giving children the warmth, the nurture and an environment where they could continue to feel safe with their education, postponing decisions for a further two years until they were ready, was a breath of fresh air for me. We know the children in our school really well and we know that, for many, delaying the move to another school by two years has a tremendously positive impact. We also know, incidentally, how the result of an early move to a school which does not meet those hierarchical needs for a child can really pause a child’s educational development. Fortunately we have been able to welcome children back and repair any damage done.

I know of one or two senior schools whose heads actively encourage families to make the most of the prep school experience and transfer into Year 9 but there are a number of others who suggest that the best thing for your child is to move into Year 7. Why is that the best thing?  How can it be in the best interests for your child to potentially shatter the first three building blocks of their needs, the foundations upon which they will learn, just because they will make friends? Actually, with the confidence our senior pupils developing significantly over their final two years, they can go into any environment and make friends. And that is before we get into the topic of a senior school suggesting implicitly, perhaps, that their pastoral care provision is not all that it could be and that children who struggle may be left to flounder. It is an interesting perspective.

I remain completely committed to the value of our Year 7 and 8 programme. It absolutely prepares children for their next stage in education, to move at a point when they are ready and will have all the support to meet their needs in place. I know it is a tough decision for families, but if we want the best for our children, we must always, surely, consider them as an individual and how their needs are best met.

As an aside, schools that tell families to move into Year 7 because spaces may not be available at Year 9 has long been considered by us as a myth. We continue to get children into the schools of their choice at Year 9. Children move in and out of the area regularly. Places can be found.

Thank you to the many parents who responded so positively to the meeting on Monday evening, where every Head of Department delivered what is special about the curriculum in their area of expertise in the final two years. It was a remarkable event, as you say, with passion, energy and enthusiasm emanating from every member of staff. As one parent put it, “I wish I could return to school myself!” Well, I am privileged to be with your children on a daily basis, to see how they respond to such talent from our teaching staff.

For any queries about staying on to Years 7 and 8, please feel free to contact Claire Thompson (Assistant Head Upper School) who leads on future schools.