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A Rich Education

14.10.21

With the pace of educational change accelerating, Abode2 spoke to Benenden Head, Samantha Price about how the school is preparing its students for a bright future

What makes a Benenden education unique?

The Complete Education approach at Benenden is absolutely unique and enables each pupil to develop academically, personally and professionally so she is truly prepared for life.

We have introduced numerous innovations in recent years which set Benenden apart, such as the Benenden Diploma for our Fourth and Upper Fourth and our Professional Skills Programme for the Sixth Form.

Parents tell us that when they visit the school, they just get a wonderful feeling. It’s just such a happy, relaxed environment, a culture of ‘stretch without stress’ which is the perfect setting for getting the best out of the girls. Anyone who visits, will find the pupils down-to-earth, friendly and relaxed. The community at Benenden is incredibly strong – there’s a real culture of kindness and everyone looks out for each other.

On a more basic level, there aren’t many schools where the eldest year group is given the privilege of zooming around the site on scooters, or enjoying their very own Eco-Classroom.

Tell us a bit about the Benenden facilities

We are fortunate to enjoy 250 acres of beautiful Kent countryside. The site offers an array of superb facilities, including a purpose-built Theatre, state-of-the-art Science Centre, swimming pool, a dozen Tennis courts, an allweather sports pitch and a beautiful Eco-Classroom. We are nearing completion on our new School Hall and Music School, a development which will create one of the South East’s foremost concert halls and which will significantly improve the facilities available for our outstanding musicians.

We have also recently completed the first phase of a multimillion pound boarding refurbishment, with two of our Lower School Houses being transformed during the summer.

We’re looking to the next stage of this project as we refurbish the remaining boarding houses.

 

How do you balance academic rigour with cocurricular activities?

We’re extremely proud of our exam results and our value added scores, which show each student achieving excellent results. But we are not a hot-house and at all times, we place the girls’ academic education in the wider context of her wellbeing, her co-curricular activities and the need to flourish in the real world.

It’s not just lessons that help a young person grow and develop. We’re very clear that it’s the clubs and activities, the Weekend Programme and the collaborative skills that are nurtured by being in a boarding environment. This is what we mean by A Complete Education. This is also why we refer to our co-curricular programme – rather than being extra-curricular – because we see the co-curricular programme as equally important to the academic and boarding life of the School.

We’re very fortunate to have an outstanding co-curricular offer, with approximately 150 different activities for the pupils to choose from.

How do you prepare students for the future?

Our Futures programme is specifically focused on preparing students for university, the workplace and life.

This encompasses a highly regarded Professional Skills Programme. It teaches Sixth Form students the skills they will need to thrive in life beyond Benenden. These include tackling different types of CV and interviews, applying for jobs, creating a formal business plan, reading and creating accounts, delivering a pitch, reading complex financial information, setting up and managing household bills and negotiating a tenancy agreement.

The programme also teaches students a range of practical life skills such as cookery, DIY, First Aid and car maintenance, and technical skills such as touch typing, coding, designing a website and creating an app.

The Sixth Formers all plan, launch and run a business as part of the course, which has been developed in collaboration with senior figures in business and industry, many of whom lead sessions on the course and act as mentors for the students’ business projects.

This project gives the students vital experience of developing marketing plans, managing costs, dealing with supply chains, customer service and working in teams.

Our digital community network gives current students access to parents and alumni working in their chosen field, enabling us to offer networking and work experience opportunities.

Benenden students head off to a wide range of destinations. There are currently around 30 Benenden recent alumni studying at Oxford or Cambridge, another 15 at Medical school and around another 20 at prestigious universities overseas including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cornell, MIT, McGill and HKU.

What are the hallmarks of a sound and successful education in today’s society?

By the time a student leaves Benenden, she will have achieved her very best possible grades at GCSE and A Level, but also have a love for learning and a set of aptitudes that fit her to meet the challenges of both her professional and personal life in the years ahead.

It’s crucial in the modern workplace to be able to think creatively. Students need to apply what they have learnt in School to a situation they find themselves in, whether that’s finding the inner resolve to deal with a setback or finding a practical solution to a problem.

Modern employers want employees who are highly skilled but who are confident, full of ideas and who will think critically: they need to have the ability to challenge decisions and workplace cultures where appropriate.

How does Benenden approach and address issues in relation to student mental health?

Benenden is, rightly, renowned for its strong pastoral care. We have been operating for almost 100 years and we are experts in teenage girls: there’s nothing we haven’t seen.

At Benenden everyone is looking out for one another and all staff have a role in supporting students. Key figures with specific responsibility for student welfare are the Hms and their House teams of Deputy Hm, matrons, Tutors and domestic staff. Medical staff and teachers play a significant role too, as do many other staff. The students are fortunate to have a dedicated team of supporters looking out for their welfare.

In Houses, pupils have a team of staff who offer them emotional, academic, social and practical support. Because the House acts as a second home and the girls spend a great deal of time in it, House staff try to get to know their charges and their families extremely well. When a pupil joins us, we try to understand her background, her behaviour, her abilities – strong and weak – and her potential.

We also have an outstanding PSHE (personal, social, health and economic) educational programme, with numerous external speakers and in-house experts providing guidance and support to pupils and to our parent body, so that together we can all support our young people.

Tell us about the Heart of Benenden campaign

The campaign is the flagship investment of the Centenary Vision – our ten-year development plan for enhancing the School in advance of our centenary year in 2023/24.

The Centenary Vision has already delivered the magnificent All-Weather Pitch – we won the National Schools Lacrosse Tournament a few months after it opened - and additional onsite staff housing to support our pastoral provision.

The subsequent Heart of Benenden campaign has allowed us to create a spectacular new School Hall, with a capacity of 750 people, and state-of-the-art Music School. When it opens in a few months’ time the new School Hall will offer state-of the- art acoustics and will give pupils and audiences a truly professional performance experience.

In addition to the new School Hall, the Music School will feature a smaller Recital Hall, with capacity for an audience of around 150 people, which will offer musicians a performance space in a more intimate environment.

The Music School will have more than 20 teaching and practice rooms, as well as a smaller performance room, IT suite and recording and performance booths. It will be linked to the School Hall by a bridge through a stunning atrium which will flow into the new courtyard outside, creating a tranquil and beautiful space in which pupils will relax and gather with friends.

Are there any new additions to the curriculum in the coming year?

Benenden has long been known for its innovative approach and in recent years this has included introducing the highly-regarded Benenden Diploma for Years 7 and 8 and the Professional Skills Programme teaching Sixth Formers professional and life skills.

We are currently working on extending the Diploma into the older year groups and developing the digital skills we honed during Covid to enhance our digital innovation inside and outside the classroom.

https://www.benenden.school/

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