Bromley High School GDST is well-known for its academic success, but how do they ensure their most gifted pupils are stretched and challenged? Headmistress Angela Drew explains their approach to a well-rounded education
My school is full of academically gifted girls, but to some degree this creates a difficulty. In a school where many girls are gifted, how do we select out of those girls who are the cleverest of the clever and provide for their need to be stretched and challenged? Identifying academically able pupils is relatively simple: baseline tests of cognitive ability will reveal most of the pupils who are exceptionally gifted when they enter a school and careful professional teacher observation and experience will gradually discern those pupils who require more than the GCSE and A level curriculum can offer.
However, serving the needs of those very bright pupils is a more demanding proposition. At one level, the secret of bringing out the best in the brightest pupils is no secret at all – they need to be well taught – by which I mean they need to be taught by teachers who love their subject, whose subject expertise and enthusiasm are infectious. The best teachers spend some portion of each lesson off piste – covering the ground more rapidly and with more brio than those teachers who confine children to the well-worn tracks of the nursery slopes. And in the best schools, provision for gifted and talented pupils, far from being simply a bolt on addition to the curriculum, is woven into the fabric of every lesson.
But beyond that, we need to provide expansive opportunities for young minds to be exposed to difficult concepts and provocative ideas. Every pupil deserves to be challenged by inspirational speakers. At my school, we invite speakers from the world of academia to lecture in our rather unimaginatively named Academic Lecture series – this term, Dr Carrie Vout, Reader in Classics at Christ Church, Cambridge, and Professor – now Lord – Robert Winston. But, crucially, whilst we encourage our academically gifted girls to attend, we throw open these lectures to all girls, to their parents, families and friends because we want to encourage a culture of debate. Through a lecture strong on striking visual imagery, Dr Vout put to girls as young as Year 9, the question of how humankind can represent the divine, how art and the creative imagination can make concrete the divinely ineffable. How exciting to encounter such ideas at a young age.
School league tables and the ever burgeoning range of performance measures in state education have placed too much focus upon the narrow margins of grade boundaries, and this has led to a reductive equation of intellectual achievement to a requisite number of A* grades. Able children will achieve A* grades by the handful, but they deserve so much more than this and I hope that independent schools will continue to provide the opportunities for their pupils to participate in the huge range of creative, collaborative and intellectual challenges that are both the spirit and the essence of a real academic education.
Blackbrook Lane BR1 2TW; 020 8781 7000; bromleyhigh.gdst.net