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11 July 2022

Options Open - Being flexible, but sticking to our principles

Options Open - Being flexible, but sticking to our principles

There are several perks for our staff as part of a small college: the smaller class sizes enable more targeted teaching; more time per pupil can be spent on ensuring that marking and feedback makes a swift and lasting improvement to student performance; most importantly, perhaps, working relationships can be committed to with more intent and a greater level of understanding of each individuals needs and preferences.

In terms of the students, the same is true. Obviously they also benefit from the close and encouraging relationships possible given the number of students under each teacher’s care, but there are several other benefits: those who really push to extend themselves by seeking out extra assistance from staff need only ask for it (a state of affairs simply not possible in larger schools); a smaller College community is often seen as less overwhelming for students to become settled - and they can find confidence more quickly because of this; fewer students leads to more leadership opportunities for all, in turn building a sense of empowerment.

Another freedom which becomes possible in a smaller education setting is for one’s choices to become more individualised, with far less restriction being placed on them. Firstly, at the College students have far more leeway to choose a combination of subjects to their liking. We have had several students in recent years who have had less orthodox interests or skills, and, rather than limit them to option blocks, we have been able to support students to go their own way.

To give an example, one student in Year 12 this year started her A Levels taking Sociology, Geography and Biology. She then changed Sociology for Physics, and finally Art. She seems finally happy with her choices and I have absolutely no doubt that she is going to be extremely successful in all three - not that she hasn’t shown she is capable in all five of the subjects she has studied in lower sixth.

On top of this scenario, there is also the capability for students to take an accelerated path in certain subjects - whether that be in GCSE or A Level - as long as they show they are ready for such a course. As with the College football team, if you are good enough, age is largely irrelevant.

Our GCSE courses at the College are very much designed around flexibility. The core subjects (Maths, English Language and Literature, Biology, Chemistry and Physics) are offered over three years, and the vast majority of our students take the fullness of that time to maximise their grades in these areas. Our options subjects (History, Geography, Art, Computer Science, Business, Sociology, Modern Foreign Languages) can be taken over two. It is perfectly feasible for a student to take three GCSEs at the end of their Year 10, and then take five more in Year 11. In fact, this is exactly what one of our current Year 11 students did, and the College also helped facilitate her studying Arabic at the end of her Year 9. She has attained grade 9s in all three GCSEs so far, and looks set for more come the summer.

A prime example of another student who made the very best of these possibilities is Sara. It was clear that Sara was an incredibly talented young woman from her first days at the College. What really set her apart was that she coupled intelligence and an astute approach with hard work and determination. This combination led to some truly outstanding results: Sara scored an incredible three A*s across the sciences, two 8 grades in English Language and Literature (the equivalent to A*), alongside a 7 grade in Maths (equivalent to an A grade), and an A in History. She also scored a B grade in French. Considering the fact that Sara was sitting these exams one year early, on an accelerated programme, her results were superb. 

But she did not stop there. A grade 9 in Art followed the year after, and a grade 8 in Religious Studies, alongside being able to study her passions of Chemistry and Biology at A Level. She attended classes and got an incredibly useful head start before she commenced life in the Sixth Form. Sara used the system to her advantage, and she simply would not have been able to take a similar approach in a more conventional school setting.

Sara now studies Chemistry at UCL, and cites the approach taken at the College as a reason for her success.

Another student who took a more personalised approach was Alex. An extremely talented individual, Alex had pinpointed applying to American universities when he first joined the College. Ealing was the only place which offered him the ability to sit two A Levels intensively as a Year 12, with the hope of his gaining the requisite grades to gain entry. He embarked on one year courses in Mathematics and Computer Science, with the potential for sitting Physics over two years and then taking on Further Mathematics intensively in Year 13. As it panned out, during the year, he shifted his sights towards universities in England, but having the flexibility to take his own path is something which he valued immensely.

Alex secured tremendous grades across his subjects, and now studies Computer Science with Innovation. The empowerment gained from developing his own approach to studying at a pace which was right for him has no doubt contributed to his success.

Several of our students have benefitted from our more flexible approach to Mathematics teaching, with a number of them taking A Level Mathematics over one year in Year 12 and Further Mathematics in the same manner in Year 13. Having such paths available is an attractive prospect for students.

Another way in which the College enables flexibility is through our approach where students have other commitments. A good example of this is with a student who has just departed, and is heading off to university. As part of the Brentford FC development squad, he had several training commitments to attend to, potentially limiting his ability to attend lessons and so fulfil his potential academically. Taking this into account, a range of one-to-one support sessions were included within his timetable to cover any shortfall. This arrangement was a pleasing one for him - he was able to pursue his dreams of a career in professional sport, whilst not neglecting his studies. He is set for a range of excellent grades, and we will be employing a similar strategy with any student who has similar passions, be they sporting, theatrical or musical.

Round pegs do not have to be squeezed into square holes at the College and never will. We are an educational establishment which puts the student experience at the heart of every decision we make, working hard to ensure that their options are widened rather than limited.

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