Senior school may seem a long way ahead, but here at Heywood Prep we begin building the foundations early. Leonora Martin, Deputy Head – Academic, explains how Heywood’s tailored approach ensures every child achieves their full potential…
Finding the right secondary school for your child might seem like a bewildering prospect, but here at Heywood Prep our dedicated team guides families seamlessly through the process. From helping parents navigate the application process to supporting students through interviews and examinations, our bespoke Senior School Preparation Programme ensures every child has the chance to shine.
“Heywood Prep is all about the individual,” says Leonora Martin. “And when it comes to senior school preparation, we take that ethos to the nth degree. From helping parents to decide where their child will thrive to giving students tailored support through interviews and examinations, we are here to make the process smooth – and successful!”
And it works. This year, 100% of Heywood’s Year 6 pupils were offered places at their first-choice senior school. Out of a year of 28 children a record-breaking 17 scholarships were awarded too, across academia, art, drama, music and sport. This follows a stellar three years, which sees a combined total of 38 awards.
“We are so proud of all our children and the results are incredible,” says Mrs Martin. “But they are built on firm foundations, which begin from the moment a child sets foot in Nursery or Reception. Senior school preparation doesn’t just start in Year 6 – that’s actually the culmination of a long journey.
“Throughout their time at Heywood our children are exposed to such a broad curriculum and they thrive on their specialist subjects, like art, sport and music, taught by passionate experts in their field. Our intimate knowledge of each child also enables us to identify a particular talent early on, whether that’s in academia, art, sport or music. We can then stretch and extend those children.
“Likewise, we can nurture and support those who need it too. Every staff meeting starts with us swapping notes on our pupils. If a child isn’t engaging in maths but she is throwing herself into history, we know it’s something we need to look it. That type of triangulation starts in nursery, long before the secondary school process starts.”
Knowledge and information
So, how does senior school preparation begin? When a child enters Year 5, their parents are invited to an information evening, shortly followed by Heywood’s Senior Schools Fair in Corsham. There, parents have the opportunity to browse the independent and state schools in the area and make contact with their admissions departments. Meanwhile, families visit senior schools for tours and taster days too.
“It’s an exciting time, but visiting schools can feel quite overwhelming,” says Mrs Martin. “There are so many questions to ask, from GCSE options, to how they’ll help your child if he has a wobble, to practical considerations like the bus links. We support parents through this fact-finding mission, so they come home armed with the information they need to make a decision.”
After half term, parents meet up with Mrs Martin and headmistress Rebecca Mitchell, to talk through potential choices. “We recommend which schools we believe would be a good fit for a child, academically and pastorally, and whether they might be a scholarship candidate,” says Mrs Martin. “That advice comes from collaborative discussion, between us, their form tutors and their teachers.”
A tailored pupil preparation plan
Once parents have made their decision, every child receives a bespoke pupil preparation plan. This is a detailed document, mapping out how Heywood and the parents can work together to prep the student for the entry requirements set by their first-choice senior school.
“Exams and entry requirements vary, and we carefully tailor each child’s preparation to their specific school,” says Mrs Martin. “We do this by taking a very forensic approach, looking at the results from their assessments and the Cat4 tests everyone sits in Year 5. These are standardised tests, which assess areas including verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and mathematical ability. The data shows us where a child is performing well and where they might benefit from support.
“While we want children to enjoy a breather over the summer holidays, their pupil preparation plan suggests targeted areas for practice. If a child needs to work on his sentence starters, their maths vocabulary or their non-verbal reasoning for example, we’ll provide activities to support that. This time is particularly important for any children sitting the 11+ exams for grammar schools, which take place in September.”
Going the extra mile
For those applying to the independent sector, things step up a gear in the Autumn term, with mock interviews and exams. Meanwhile, as parents send off their application forms, Mrs Martin and her team are busy behind the scenes, writing references for each child.
“The Bath schools ask us to fill out a form, which requests details like academic data and positions of responsibility,” says Mrs Martin. “But it doesn’t really give a feel for the child, so we write a long letter, telling them all about them too. These are spearheaded by the form tutor, with input from the maths and English teachers, and Mrs Mitchell. The senior schools love the letters, and tell us they give them an excellent sense of each child. We know each pupil intimately enough to go the extra mile, and that’s important.”
Heywood goes the extra mile when it comes to Individualised Learning (IL) sessions too. These small-group lessons are designed to either scaffold or stretch a child, and in Year 6 they are tailored to the demands of the specific senior schools.
“We look at where each child would benefit from support,” explains Mrs Martin. “One pupil might need to expand their conversation skills, ahead of an interview for Dauntseys, while another may need to work on their writing skills, for their English exam at Kingswood. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle – we literally sit down with spreadsheets and slot everyone into their ideal sessions.”
The confidence to shine
Interview preparation also forms a big chunk of the puzzle. From the Autumn term, pupils benefit from a lesson each week, where they practise critical thinking and engaging in conversation.
“Alongside our support and extension ILs, we run enrichment sessions too,” says Mrs Martin. “These include current affairs, philosophy, debating and speaking skills. Ultimately, it’s about helping the children look more broadly at the world around them and giving them the confidence to form an opinion.
“We might discuss the crisis in Ukraine, and talk around why it’s happening and the historical context. Then we’ll delve into issues, like what the rest of the world could and should do. We make sure all the children are getting involved, even the quieter ones.
“The interview prep is so important, because we want every child to stand out in some area of the selection process. A child may not be a high achiever academically, but if they can talk confidently about their passion to be an archaeologist, that gives them a chance to shine.
“Every pupil benefits hugely from our Individualised Learning sessions, whatever their destination. You may not need to do an official interview for your state school but you will still have an open day and taster day, and it’s important to make an impression. When it comes to Year 7, all these skills will give children the confidence to be efficacious in the classroom too.”
Practice makes perfect
For those sitting written exams, mocks also form a vital part of the equation. Importantly, these sessions take place out of hours, so learning isn’t interrupted for those children going into the state sector.
“Each child sits papers similar to those that will be set by their chosen school,” says Mrs Martin. “We keep conditions as exam-like as possible, in the school hall. If a child is used to working under pressure in a quiet room and answering questions to a deadline, they feel far more confident when it’s the real deal.”
Of course, scholarship candidates are supported too, with specific clubs and workshops. “We stretch and extend those children, giving them specific opportunities,” says Mrs Martin. “Musical children might join our Friday afternoon performance ensemble for example, while art scholars enjoy sessions with visiting artists. They also join a weekly art scholarship club and have their own desks on the art mezzanine.
“But whether a pupil receives an accolade or not, we are geared towards helping every child shine. Life at Heywood isn’t all about chalk and talk, or textbooks. It’s about all the added bells and whistles we can bring to the curriculum, which really engage our children.
“High quality teaching aside, we place a huge emphasis on fun too – and there’s plenty of time for that once the exams are over. Irrespective of whether a child goes on to state, grammar or independent school, it’s about sending them off with the confidence to achieve their full potential.”