The benefits of meeting Head-to-Head

Would you host a conference at your school? Samantha Price, Headmistress at Benenden School, reflects on the success of the first Conference for Heads

Over the course of the academic year, headteachers benefit from attending a number of conferences, particularly those organised by IAPS, SOH,GSA, HMC and BSA as well as a growing number of one-day ‘bite-size’ conferences to focus on just one or two areas. Having the opportunity to get together in this way and discuss the topical educational challenges that we all face is invaluable. This was the first Conference for Heads we have held here at Benenden and we were delighted with the response. Fifty different schools were represented, bringing together prep and senior schools, and we felt the turnout on the day reflected the importance of the themes on the agenda.

From a Benenden perspective, we want to continue to build genuinely strong two-way relationships with the prep and senior schools we work with and to build on what makes conferences so useful, which is providing a forum to share good practice and generate open, supportive and challenging discussion. Curriculum, exams, strategic partnerships – these are big-ticket issues which have the potential to be contentious; yet this is all the more reason to discuss them openly.

After all, we should never lose sight of the fact that everything our schools do is ultimately for the benefit of the pupils in our care, supporting their academic and personal development. By leaving aside any school rivalries about comparing exam results or competing for new pupils, we are all working together to improve all our schools, which increases the opportunities for children. It is on this basis that headteachers are happy to share ideas from their schools, to discuss potential industry-wide improvements and take care to consider whether any changes introduced in one place might have repercussions on other schools.

The curriculum for Year 7 and 8 and the transition from prep school were two particularly live topics for us at Benenden, having recently adopted the ISEB Common Pre-Test ourselves and having introduced, in 2015, the Benenden Diploma – our bespoke innovative curriculum for the younger year groups. We felt that these issues warranted further exploration. In addition, state school partnerships and the impact of Brexit are never far from headteachers’ minds so we devoted a session to each of these as well.

Conversations around the Common Entrance syllabus are nothing new, and I know that ISEB, IAPS, HMC and others are discussing it on a regular basis. Nevertheless, I found this session at our conference particularly enlightening and I hope that the ideas which emerged will be of use moving forward as this debate develops.

Samantha Price

Some of the points that arose included working towards a single date for the ISEB pre-test to be sat – it was recognised that this is not without challenges but equally it was noted that it is achievable for GCSEs and A-levels so is not impossible. Another idea was that results of the pre-test could automatically be fed back to prep schools as well as senior schools. Perhaps the most significant outcome of the day was a collective recommendation for the Common Entrance curriculum to be refocused, with an enquiry-based creative alternative to the current system for all humanities subjects. Of course, this is food for thought at this stage but we were pleased to emerge from the conference with some tangible action points which we will feed back through the associations to discuss with ISEB. Of course, there are ramifications to any proposed changes and what is important is to generate the dialogue to test the merit of any proposals put forward which I very much hope the outcome of our conference will do.

I am sure that this conference will result in these issues being seriously considered by these bodies, and that individual headteachers will have been inspired to investigate whether there are innovations they could introduce into their own schools. For these reasons our first conference was a worthwhile exercise and we look forward to repeating it in future. 

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