16.8 percent of new free schools have opted for an all-through model, compared with 0.6 per cent of schools in the maintained sector in England. In 2010 there were 13 all- through schools in the country, by 2015 there were 157. Why have schools started to use the model? Some proponents of free schools say that students benefit from a solution to transition problems and also receive numerous learning benefits.
At Bradford Christian school we have had 25 years experience of taking advantage of the benefits of an all-through school and have worked hard to address the potential disadvantages of students receiving their education in one school.
Nick Hughes, a freelance journalist writing for the Times Educational Supplement, looks at the school model from both positive and detrimental angles. Amongst the positive benefits, he cites those that say there is benefit to being able to pool resources – both financial and human. This is true of our school where our most significantly resourced department is the DSP, supported with funding by the LEA. Funding a good infrastructure benefits the whole school. For example, Mrs Chadwick’s (our Business Manager) role which ensures the policies are compliant and in place for the pupils in the DSP, is also able to ensure the same policies are applicable to students into mainstream. When it comes to sharing human resources, students in our Year 5 & 6 class receive lessons from specialist teachers in Art, Spanish and ICT as well as from specialist teachers in core subjects two years earlier than most children in Bradford. This is a great benefit for staff and students alike. Staff who teach GCSE in Years 9,10 & 11 can begin to shape their students skills from an earlier age than the typical Year 7 start most secondary teachers get. Continuity is a big advantage as long as teachers can teach appropriately to each age and keep their approaches fresh with students they will teach for longer periods of time compared to staff in secondary schools.
Does this consistency show in exam results? Our data shows that it does. In the four years before exams began to be reported in numbers 1-9, rather than letters A*-G, (between 2013 and 2016) the numbers of students gaining 5 or more A to C passes was 88% per cent with students who had been with us for a significant part of their primary education as well as their secondary education; compared with 48% per cent of students who joined us at Year 7 or later.
There are also benefits for students being taught by teachers who build up an in-depth knowledge of them as people, their abilities and potential as well as knowledge of some of the episodes in their earlier life which will invariably affect their development in later years. A consistency of ethos, teaching style and physical setting are also cited as benefits that can be made to work in a student’s favour.
A key point to focus on by an all-through school is on making the advantage of transition within the same school work for students. Professor Jennifer Symonds, a lecturer at the school of Education, University College Dublin, specialising in engagement, motivation and well being within educational settings and across transitions, says that ‘the shock of transition can be dramatically reduced in an all-through environment because the continuities are increased.’ At Bradford Christian School, we have a middle school, which students join in Year 5 and an upper school which students transition to in Year 9. Once students are in Year 9, they start their GCSE courses with an option to gain their strongest 8 subjects for their P8 portfolio as well as taking some non exam courses on offer devised by staff at the school, reflecting the school’s Christian ethos. ‘Christian Perspectives’ being one such example.
Primary to Middle School proves to be the biggest transition point and the biggest ‘jump’ for students, who experience most of their education in one classroom with one teacher (a common primary model) to having 7 or 8 teachers for 1 hour slots (a common secondary model.) We have listened to parents and work hard to make this transition as smooth as we can. Recently we have taken the step to keep the students in one area of the school for most of their lessons for the benefit of familiarity and have the specialist teachers move into work with the students rather than have the students trail round the school. We also begin to introduce students to doing a lot of their work in google classroom from Year 5 onwards, which also gives parents greater access to their children’s work and progress. Developing an all-through Management of Information System has give us tangible means to plot student progress consistently across the phases and monitor rates of progress more accurately. Having the students in the same school across the transition from Key Stage 2 to Keys Stage 3 also avoids the spike of development in Maths and English when Primary schools ‘cram’ their students for the Key Stage 2 SATS; but which results in a dip in development often noted and complained about by Secondary schools and their experience with the same students when they get into Year 7.
We also seek to mark those transitions with some kind of ritual acknowledgement to let students know that we are noticing their ‘growing up’ within the school community. We have a uniform change at each of our two transitions and there is an increase in privilege and responsibility as students progress through the school. Having a Prefect system, which really functions as a leadership training programme, is an important part of our transition rituals with our older students. This acknowledgement of growing up can also be reflected in the residential trips we offer, which are typically 3 day visits to the Dales for students in Middle School to week long trips abroad to places like Paris and Berlin, the opportunities to be involved with student exchanges with students from the Netherlands and the opportunity to serve on short-term mission projects in Romania for our older students.
For the team of staff working with your children, we take it as a compliment when our students say that they value being involved in the school because it feels ‘like one big family.’ This is often noted by visitors to the school as they see classrooms for Middle School children next to classrooms for Primary children and see our students interact with projects such as: the Reading Buddy scheme which pairs primary pupils with secondary students; joint assemblies and all school themes.
All this is made to work by having designated Senior Leadership who have specific responsibility for an area of school where they are responsible for promoting the welfare and education of their children in their departments. Currently the school enjoys an SLT consisting of a Head of Primary, a Head of Middle, a Head of Upper School, a school Senco and a leader of the DSP, along with an overall Business Manager.
The rest of the country is experimenting with this model. We continue to build on the benefits of an all-through school whilst ameliorating potential disadvantages.