Headmaster's Blog

Advantages of 'all-through' schools

Two diverging trends are increasingly evident in school organisation these days with growing numbers of ‘all-through’ schools (where pupils arrive in Reception and stay until the end of the Sixth Form) at the same time as established secondary schools find the existence of their Sixth Forms under threat. 
The move to all-through schooling is driven by sound educational philosophy, the pressure Sixth Forms in secondary schools are experiencing is driven by financial expediency and needs to be challenged. This model is often the result of an exercise in accountancy rather than a desire to provide the best social environment for children, that, in turn, will produce the best education.
Students all too easily experience a loss of momentum in their learning when they are part of a collective transfer from one stage of schooling to the next. Groups of primary pupils for example can experience what teachers refer to as ‘the dip’, when children who are reaching their education potential in the last year at primary school suddenly fall back at secondary. 
More significantly there is the great advantage for students of learning in an extended family from 4 to 18. I am a great advocate of this inclusive form of educating and, indeed, the majority of independent schools have been doing this since time immemorial with excellent results. School has such a significant part to play in providing a stable and reliable backdrop in the ever-changing landscape of a child’s life. This builds confidence and character, essential elements in providing rich and engaging learning.
There are many benefits to all-through education, particular highlights include:
Learning together: when you are able to support a child’s progress from the age of 4-18 it means that all the school phases are brought together, providing consistency and fluency in education. 
Shared educational ethos: knowledge of what and how education will be provided gives the child, their family and teachers much higher expectations of each other. It also allows for greater levels of pastoral care.
Teaching and mentoring: provides teachers with easier access to tools, activities and innovation as they are able to communicate and teach across all age groups. It also provides younger pupils with older role models and creates a mentoring mentality to the mutual benefit of all. 
Granted, the all-through system is not a cure-all and choice is also a key factor in giving children the best start. However, for many, being in what can be thought of as an extended family for the whole of their school life can be a great asset and is surely worthy of greater consideration across all of our education systems.

Rod MacKinnon
Headmaster, Bristol Grammar School