At Varndean, we are committed to nurturing and developing a range of talents. This is something the school has done for 130 years. From being two individual schools, one for boys and one for girls, via time spent as Grammar schools, and latterly a mixed comprehensive school, we have a rich and diverse history. Throughout that time, the quest for excellence has remained our driving ambition.
Our focus remains on academic excellence. By that, we mean ensuring that all students perform significantly better than Government expectations. Our aim is to stretch our students to four levels of progress or equivalent, matching the ambition of the best schools nationally.
We want every child who walks through our doors to be able to think for themselves, to have the resilience and confidence to respond to life’s challenges, and have a sense of wonder about the world around them. It means our students can engage with other people, feel happy to try out new activities, and gain pleasure from attempting something challenging and unfamiliar. It means they take pride in all that they do. These are skills that will prepare them for the life that lies ahead of them.
Our belief is that students get lost in a bigger school; particularly that large majority of students in the middle who turn up every day, work hard, and do the right thing.
Since September 2012 we have been using a system that can cope with a larger school and its varying range of abilities and needs. We have four schools within the main school, each similar in size to small primary schools. We aim to build on the personal approach that many of our parents tell us their children miss when moving to large High Schools.
Our four schools are called Angelou, Russell, Turing and Ellis. Each of these is named after an individual who represents qualities that inspire us. Together they reflect the hopes and aspirations we share with our students. Each of these schools has its own page on the website where you can find out more about the history behind the names, and read about what is happening within each school.
In practice, our structure means we can track and nurture your child’s progress faster and more accurately than before. Each school has a Head of School, a Deputy Head, a School Leader and a Student Manager. Their focus is to ensure that progress, attendance, dress code, behaviour and punctuality meet our high expectations. A school typically contains around 340 students. These sub-divide into smaller year based tutor groups. Students within their school meet those from other years as occasion demands in a more vertical way of working. This provides greater leadership and developmental opportunities within an identified unit – learning with and from peers as well as from older/younger students.
The smaller nature of the schools enables us to track your child’s progress more intensively. This covers academic progress, participation, rewards and the wider scope of holistic care. Heads of School will get to know your daughters and sons more deeply. We want students to be happy and to feel supported. Our structure empowers us to be proactive and decisive in helping them exceed their expectations.
Schools compete against each other. We believe competition is healthy and encourage it through a series of inter-schools competitions throughout the academic year. Taking part and representing one’s school gives students a sense of identity and purpose. We offer a wide range of opportunities for competition: sport, drama, music, writing, punctuality, debating, and community involvement, to name a few. We want everyone to feel the passion and excitement that comes from being part of something that is larger than the sum of its parts. It would be wrong of us not to prepare your children for a life that will require skills of collaboration, determination and focus.
It is important to make clear that students are taught by academic departments, in classes made up from all four schools. Our overriding aim is to ensure every child is stretched and challenged during their time with us. To facilitate this we reinvest resources from leadership level into classrooms: smaller schools – smaller class sizes – four levels of progress or equivalent. This is part of our plan to reduce class sizes, allowing more attention to be given to each student.
In addition, we have recently achieved the NACE Challenge Award (National Association for Able Children in Education), making the school a centre of excellence for Gifted and Talented Students. Varndean School is the only secondary school in Brighton & Hove to have achieved this award and one of only 1% of schools nationally. The award is given for high quality work by the whole school, teachers and Governors, in challenging all pupils, including those with high abilities, to achieve their best. We are also one of only three schools in the city to be re-awarded the Artsmark Gold Award. A key feature of the award this time was for the work we are doing around creative writing as well as the outstanding arts provision that we are famous for. We have also been awarded the Green Flag Gold Award for work in the eco-sphere. Finally, we have an International Schools Award for our work in reaching out to school students overseas.
Last year our students achieved some amazing individual results, and overall, students achieved 1703 A*-C grades, with a quarter of students securing 10 or more A*-C grade GCSEs. 69% of students taking English Literature and 62% taking English Language secured A*-C grades; 62% of students achieved A*-C grades in Maths and 78% of students studying three Sciences achieved A*-C, with 57% of students studying Science overall achieving a pass. In 14 subject areas 90% of candidates achieved A*-C grades, including Higher Maths, Art and Design, Textiles, Music Technology, Sociology and Sport and we had a 100% pass rate in several subject areas. The continuing growth of individuals is of paramount importance to us and with our support 99% of leavers were accepted onto further education courses or apprenticeships.
We are a nationally recognised provider of the Outstanding Teacher training programme for schools in the South East. This is led and run by outstanding members of our teaching staff and we have a teaching lab to support and share this excellent work.
Varndean is an inclusive comprehensive school. The progress of students with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) is overseen by our Head of Progress and Learning and supported in our ILS Department and Aspire to Achieve Centre. Our school places continued emphasis on valuing individual differences that leads all pupils – irrespective of social or cultural background, disability or difficulty in learning – to succeed in terms of the fulfilment of academic and social goals, and in the development of positive attitudes to self and others. All our students may require support at some time in their school career, whatever their background or ability. The intervention our staff members provide attempts to remove barriers to learning, whether they are academic, social or emotional. Our provision is one that is able to respond appropriately, and communicate the needs of children with SEND effectively to the relevant staff. As a community, Varndean School is committed to maximising inclusion and minimising exclusion. All teachers are teachers of students with SEND and SEND is therefore a whole school responsibility requiring a whole school response.
An Ofsted inspection in July 2013 saw the school being awarded good in all four categories and good overall.
Varndean School is a place where the whole person counts. Our aim is that every student exceeds national expectations of academic progress. Every child we teach should be able to think and respond to life’s challenges with courage and imagination and have the independence and opportunity to tend the garden of their own giftedness.
Varndean is a school going places. We are not resting on our laurels. We are looking at every aspect of what we do and reflecting on how to make our professional practice, our learning, and our environment better. Ours is an exciting journey and we would be delighted if you would like to join us.