National Recognition for Character Education: climbing to success with latest Challenge Partners review.
When it comes to education reforms Varndean School in Brighton and Hove is bucking a trend. Whereas many schools are narrowing their curriculum in response to national changes, Varndean School continues to expand its offer. This ensures that our century-old holistic approach to education matches academic rigour and the wider aspects of education in a balanced way. We believe that this is the essence of character education.
The emphasis on the whole child and pride in hard work was wonderful to hear. But when I walked around the school I saw those values clearly reflected in the students. The students I met were confident, passionate and proud. Year 7 Parent.
Our latest innovation of four Year 7 Specialist Schools (Creativity, Discovery, Expression and Leadership) proves it is possible to expand your curriculum offering at a time when others are narrowing theirs. Ahead of choosing their options in Year 8, Varndean School students have been given the opportunity to devote an afternoon a week to exploring in more depth a subject that interests them or in which they have an emerging talent or gift. They spent the first half term exploring their passions and talents with in-class taster sessions in a programme of 16 subject options including creative writing and outdoor leadership. They are now settled into their weekly chosen specialist school afternoon, each with its own challenging topics to build upon over the year.
With an extensive enrichment and entitlement curriculum within school, featuring, amongst others, a dedicated enrichment week with home-based, national and international courses, a strong student voice, taster sessions for primary students, student-led charity work and events (raising in excess of £26000 over five years), sports leaders and fast-track PE GCSEs, participation in city-wide festivals such as the Brighton Festival Fringe and Artists’ Open House and just recently, launching the BFI Into Film Festival on 13th November, High Impact Days where students are off timetable, instead learning through intensive workshops and with external visitors about a wide range of topics, the Citizens Award scheme for student-community volunteer work, and the largest cohort of DofE awards in the South East. If it wasn’t for the lack of fees for the majority of these activities you could be forgiven for thinking this is an independent school. However we are a state secondary comprehensive school serving a varied and diverse community, yet still increasing 5A*-C including English and Mathematics results by 10% with a quarter of students achieving 5 or more A* this year.
Opportunities for extended learning are second to none, with the student leadership team being testament to the worth of character education, immediately embracing their roles by organising a city-wide senior student conference to share ideas and best practise, led by Varndean’s Student Headteacher (also the Brighton and Hove Youth Mayor). Invaluable life skills are routinely acquired and applied through students’ work, which in turn are inherited by peers both within school and at local primary schools through mentoring.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that educational improvement charity, Challenge Partners, has recently accredited Varndean School’s character education as a national Area of Excellence, which sits proudly alongside their NACE Challenge Award for Able and Talented provision, exemplifying the school’s drive for all students to have equal opportunity to achieve outstanding progress and attainment as well as a fully rounded education.
[My son] left Varndean School a confident, mature and balanced student with a fantastic set of GCSE results, he gained the skills of independent learning, self pride and personal challenge at Varndean school. Parent of former student
A group of Varndean School students took part recently in an Arts Council England film, the 'Cultural Education Challenge', speaking about the role of the arts within education.