Touring the School
Sadly, coronavirus restrictions have already meant the cancellation of our September Open Morning but interest in SGS from prospective parents is higher than ever. Our Virtual Visit is now live but we have begun welcoming individual prospective families for a socially distanced and face-masked tour.
I hope that the families enjoy ambling around the site, chatting to a Sixth Former and peering at pupils in lessons through a convenient window. It is fantastic to have the pupils back in school: a reminder that schools are about the interactions between pupils and with their teachers and creating a vibrant learning community that virtual lessons cannot truly replicate. Predictably, the tours end with a ‘chat with the Head’.
Having participated in a large number of ‘chats with the Head’ I am struck by the individuality of the families who visit and the huge variety in their priorities for the education of their children. Nevertheless, some common questions of a sensitive nature recur, none of which lend themselves to a standard, permanent ‘page on the website’ approach. By exploring them here, perhaps some website visitors may be able to spend more ‘chat time’ asking extra questions if they do choose to pay a physical visit to SGS.
Question 1: Is the school objectively good? Is there any regulation or standards for independent schools?
SGS is subject to many of the same regulations as a state school (academy or not) and is regularly inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. This body is every bit as rigorous as OFSTED but happily is free of the politicisation, fads and aggression often displayed by the latter. SGS does however have great freedom with regard to curriculum; this allows the teachers considerable license to use their professional judgement to explore topics and activities that they feel will interest and develop their students, unconstrained by the often-suffocating national curriculum. SGS was last inspected in November 2019 and here is the objective report. SGS was found to be excellent, the highest possible grade, in both pupils’ achievement (standards reached in examinations, learning, sport, music and lots more) and in pupils’ personal development.
Question 2: Will my child fit in at SGS?
Some parents wonder whether their son or daughter will be robbed of the chance to mix with students from a wide range of backgrounds if they attend an independent school. The reality is that SGS has pupils from a diverse mix of backgrounds with many parents making significant financial sacrifices. A large bursary programme further widens the social mix and makes a real contribution to social mobility. I am sure that there will be many state schools within the UK where there is actually less of a social mix than at SGS as parents must pay a premium on their house price to afford to live in the catchment area of the best schools.
Question 3: Is there a lot of pressure?
Some parents look at SGS’s fantastic examination results and worry that there will be a great deal of pressure on the pupils. Whilst we certainly believe in hard work as a means of making the most of talents, SGS is about all-round education and we attach much emphasis to caring for pupils, character development and to co-curricular activities, none of which appear in an examination league table! A great deal of time is spent ensuring that the students feel secure and happy and encouraging them to be confident in trying new things. Sport, music, drama and outward-bound pursuits are all extremely popular and ensure that the students get a break from academic work. The school encourages pupils to have high aspirations, but these are based around identifying realistic targets for each pupil and offering them support and encouragement to achieve them. I regularly meet with groups of students (socially distanced this term) to understand their experiences of SGS; they tell me that they enjoy the lessons and are very positive about their relationships with the teachers.
Question 4: Will my child lose their local friends?
Some families worry that their son or daughter will be disadvantaged by moving to a different school to their local friends, particularly as they start Year 7. Whilst quite understandable it is normally the case that the pupils end up with the best of both worlds, having made new friends at SGS but still finding time to keep up with local friends in the evenings and weekends.
Question 5: Are fee reductions hard to get?
As with most other independent schools, SGS offers scholarships at 11+ to reduce the fees for students who show exceptional aptitude for academic or musical activities. A much larger number of students benefit from our bursary programme which offers fee reductions to an amount determined by the parental income. As an educational charity, SGS is pleased to help students, who would benefit from the kind of education we offer, to join us regardless of financial circumstances. Here are more details about bursaries.
Question 6: Is SGS in the real world?
Some parents worry that independent schools are far removed from normal, everyday life. The students I see each day seem very much in touch with normal life and they are clearly extremely well-prepared for the future not only through achieving good examination results but also in terms of being able to relate to other people and to be confident and well-rounded individuals with wide co-curricular interests. I am delighted that so many pupils participate in music, drama, sports of all types and in a huge variety of smaller scale clubs which teach the ‘soft’ skills so necessary for success in employment and in wider life.
The best advice I can give to parents as they come to choose a school for their offspring is to visit the school and talk to the people; no amount of data is a substitute for the stories of the students.