Staying at the same school from reception through to sixth form can be hugely beneficial, says Melissa Gabbott of St Lawrence College
In 2009, at the end of their time in the Junior School, Year 6 pupils at St Lawrence College in Ramsgate were asked what they wanted to be when they were older. Aged 10, the pupils’ answers were as ambitious as one would hope. One pupil, Rudy, answered, “Either work for NASA or Nintendo.” Another, Alan, replied: “Be a business man like Alan Sugar!” Both pupils stayed at St Lawrence throughout their education, from the age of nativity plays to the daunting A-level years. What is remarkable is being able to trace Rudy, Alan and many of their classmates’ responses to the question posed in 2009, and match them to their career paths now they have finished school. Rudy is at Bristol University pursuing a degree in Computer Science; Alan is reading Economics. It is gratifying to see both of them taking steps to become the people their younger selves had aspired to.
Half of that Year 6 class continued into the Senior School at St Lawrence, and some spent their entire school life at the school. Five of the group had gone on to be Sixth Form prefects and between all of them, from sports to music, drama to academia, their achievements were many. They all exuded a natural confidence beyond their years – perhaps this is one of the advantages of feeling happy and secure in your school environment.
Between the different stages of their education, children usually change schools at least once or twice, but it is possible to attend the same school from the age of three to 18. Like many independent schools, St Lawrence College has been offering continuity of education for generations of families. Established in 1879 as a boys-only Senior School, the Junior School on the same site opened a few years later. The school prides itself on being able to offer families an all-through education, or the choice to opt into Nursery, Junior, Senior and Sixth Form education. However, many more families are choosing to buy-in from the start of their offspring’s education, secure in the knowledge that their child will be able to continue through the school without the stress of missing out on a place at a later stage.
There are many advantages to such continuity of education, not just for the child, but for the whole family. For many parents at St Lawrence College who have more than one child, the fact that all their children are in one place makes life much easier – not just for the ease of the drop-offs and pick-ups. It is reassuring for siblings to know they are close to each other, even if it’s just a wave across the dining hall at lunchtime. This is particularly pertinent for a school such as St Lawrence which, alongside local day pupils, also has boarding pupils from age seven to 18, thus enabling siblings to board alongside each other. It also means that strong friendships with similar like-minded families are built up over many years of shared experiences, not just at the school gate, but also from attending school social events. Many parents continue to stay in touch with the school long after their child has left, taking an active interest and attending events with the friends they have made while their child has been growing up.
Far from being afraid of the older pupils, younger children become familiar with seeing the seniors and look up to them. The senior pupils are encouraged to act as role models to the younger years and, in some cases, act as mentors. Senior pupils also carry out valuable work experience in the Junior School, perhaps in the Library, listening to younger children read, assisting in the Nursery, or helping to coach on the sports field.
Consistency is another benefit of an all-through education – a shared school ethos with teachers working together across different year groups, smoothing a pupil’s transition at each stage as they move up. A pupil’s progress can be tracked throughout their school life. It is heartwarming to see a Sixth Former’s achievements shared by Junior School teachers and support staff who may have known that pupil from his or her first day.
Younger pupils have the advantage of being able to share many of the senior school’s facilities, too. At St Lawrence, junior pupils are able to have lessons in the fully-equipped design technology centre, perform in the purpose-built theatre and play hockey on the new Olympic-standard hockey pitch, as well as having access to the school’s sports coaches. They have meals in the shared dining hall and celebrate events in the chapel.
Transition from Nursery to Junior School, or from Junior to Senior School, is a big step in a child’s life. What can often be a frightening and stressful time is transformed into an exciting adventure when the child feels comfortable with his or her surroundings.
Summing up the benefits beautifully, former St Lawrence College pupil, Howard, commented, “What I think is great about being in the Junior School and then moving up into Senior School is the friendships that have been strengthened by all the experiences we have shared growing up together. I’m sure that these great friendships I have made at school over the last 12 years will remain strong for life.”