It’s a hot potato of a subject, but what do religious schools bring to education in modern times? One successful all through school, Bishop Challoner in Shortlands, Kent, is a shining light as Mark Kebble discovers when meeting up with their recently appointed Headteacher, Paula Anderson

How would you say Bishop Challoner has evolved since being founded in 1950?

I think the ethos has remained the same. We have a very strong Catholic ethos, but we do take pupils who are non-Catholic – we have a real mix of faiths. But the ethos is one of being tolerant, showing respect, being supportive, always looking out for each other in a caring, nurturing environment.

You joined in September, so what was the attraction of becoming the latest part of the school’s history?

I came from Bromley High. I had been there ten years, where I had moved up to Senior Deputy Head. The attraction here was the fact I wanted a Headship at a small school with a family community feel and a rich history. Being a Head has its challenges and I wanted somewhere I could make a real difference and continue to promote the Catholic ethos of the school.

Why religious schools play a role in education

Paula Anderson took over as Head of Bishop Challoner School in September 2014

Faith in schools is a hot potato at present – do you feel religious schools play an important role in schooling today?

I do feel that religious schools have a valuable role to play in education. Parents make that conscious decision to send their children, by their choice, to a religious school. From a Catholic point of view it provides a good moral grounding and they can see the value in goodness and learn to be tolerant as a result of that. Schools are about educating individuals and offering an education foundation for life to the full. I think religious schools are perceived of having that strong discipline and pastoral care, and at Bishop Challoner – we put the pastoral care right at the heart of the school for our pupils. Of course a well disciplined environment is conducive to quality teaching and learning. We want our pupils here to grow in confidence, to be caring, resilient and creative adults ready to make a difference in the real world of work.

How are pupils of other faiths accommodated?

Parents know that when they apply for a place for their children that they are expected to uphold the Catholic ethos, but pupils of all faiths are welcome and the school responds with sensitivity and openness to the needs of those who belong to other churches or faiths and to value their beliefs. We do offer a community environment that allows our children a unique opportunity to grow in knowledge and connect their faith to their daily lives, so they are able to live out the values upon which their education is based.

What does having your own chapel on site offer you as a school?

It’s very beneficial and we have a chaplain and we celebrate Mass and hold regular services. Roman Catholic pupils in Year 3 are prepared for First Confession and Holy Communion in partnership with parishes where they worship. It also allows us to support and guide pupils in their own faith journey through Mass and prayer.

You offer an education from nursery through to sixth form. How beneficial is it for pupils to spend their entire education with you?

It’s absolutely amazing. I think we are fortunate to have an all through school. A lot of people are surprised when they hear we have nursery through to sixth form. The children here are aware from an early age that they are part of a bigger environment, sharing facilities which is ideal, and therefore have excellent transition and are well supported prior to the change. The teachers here know the pupils very well and provide consistency, allowing them to carefully monitor, track and look at the progression of every individual. And of course the sixth form plays an active part in the school, helping the younger children in the crèche and breakfast club as well, and this allows a close and caring interaction providing a family atmosphere throughout the school.

Throughout the years Paula, are the small class sizes crucial to the teaching environment you can offer?

It is. That’s something that’s one of our biggest assets and that’s what the parents like. So we are a small school with big aspirations. It means that every child is treated as an individual and they cannot be ignored, and our supportive, caring and nurturing environment enables them to feel comfortable. We are able to ensure each pupil reaches their full potential in a culture of high expectation.

Why religious schools play a role in education

Bishop Challoner School occupies the oldest building in Shortlands

Can you give an overview of the teaching methods we will find at Bishop Challoner?

There is a variety of teaching methods, of course tailored to the individual. What the teachers do is they build up a really good rapport with each pupil because they are able to identify their needs and able to engage fully with them. Teachers adopt different strategies to support the needs within that class. Staff are also encouraged to relate well with them in the classroom, and to develop their independent learning skills by pupil-led activities.

Can you define a Bishop Challoner pupil?

Every pupil is different, but I would say they are polite, respectful, honest, decent, loyal and well presented – and very confident. Our pupils leave here as confident and responsible individuals.

228 Bromley Road, Shortlands BR2 0BS; 020 8460 3546; bishopchallonerschool.com