Life at St Edward’s Prep is all about caring, community and developing the confidence to question the status quo. Sophie Barton, freelance writer and editor chats to Headteacher Jonathan Parsons…
When you walk through the doors of St Edward’s Prep, you are immediately hit by a sense of warmth. The atmosphere is buzzing with energy, and it only takes a second to see that the challenges of the pandemic have done nothing to dent the pupils’ passion for learning.
“We’ve come through this together and we’re in a hugely positive place,” says headteacher Jonathan Parsons. “We are first and foremost a family and a community. From our pupils to their parents and of course the staff, everyone matters and we’ve all supported each other.”
Confidence and creativity
A snapshot of day-to-day life makes it abundantly clear that St Edward’s Prep is a fun-filled place, where the children have a real thirst for knowledge. Whether they are racing around outdoors, testing the Fitbit-style watches they’ve made in STEAM or building constellations from marshmallows and cocktail sticks, this is a school where confidence and creativity are carefully nourished.
“Our pastoral program is woven into the fabric of school life,” says Jonathan. “We constantly focus on fostering empathy and respect, as well as shaping and developing a love for learning. Courtesy, courage, collaboration and confidence are all qualities that take centre stage.”
The courage to question
Crucially, questioning is also wholeheartedly encouraged. Children at St Edward’s Prep thrive on an inquiry-based approach to learning, which fosters proactive and independent thought, as well as team work.
“We want to empower our children to have enquiring minds,” explains Jonathan. “Instead of spoon feeding them with facts and information, we pose questions and then guide them through a process to help them discover the answers.
“For example, if we are looking at nutrition in Science, we might decide to investigate how different food affects our bodies. The children might then devise their own experiments, to look at the amount of glucose or fructose in certain foods. Everything we do is geared towards creating lifelong learners, who have a thirst for knowledge and understanding, and the confidence to question.”
Of course, this approach doesn’t just inspire passion – it’s also great fun. In STEAM sessions, the children have channelled their curiosity into creating wellbeing apps, Lego robots and even Fitbit-style watches.
“We used tiny computers with a simple display and motion sensors,” says Jonathan. “The children researched different sports brands to find design inspiration and made straps from Velcro. They then thoroughly enjoyed running around outside, putting them to the test.”
The children also gave their inquisitive spirit free rein while investigating what 21st Century sustainable cities might look like.
“They loved designing their own sustainable building models, then creating their visions using a 3D printer,” says Jonathan. “Our focus is very much on opening up young minds and creating that connection between what they learn at school and the real world. Ultimately, we want them to understand and care for the wider world, as well as caring for themselves and each other.”
Protecting our planet
This ethos radiates throughout St Edward’s, with a constant emphasis on protecting our planet and caring for the community. The children enthusiastically get involved in community charity work, while the Year 6 enterprise project encourages environmental entrepreneurism.
“The children are given a budget to set up a business with a sustainable goal, then they donate their profits to their chosen charity,” says Jonathan. “We offer guidance, but it’s very much driven by the pupils.”
Recent ventures have involved making and selling solar powered desk fans, mobile phone chargers and even solar powered jar lanterns.
“One group sold solar powered torches to promote their company, then explored how they use energy within their own homes,” adds Jonathan. “The solar powered lanterns were another inspired design, to raise awareness of energy poverty. They symbolised all the children in developing countries who can’t do their homework at night, because they have no electricity.
“Building confidence is so key at this age, as is having the courage to try out your ideas and apply any skills you’ve learnt. A huge number of our children leave us with ambitions of becoming entrepreneurs, scientists or doctors, and that’s no accident. We get great feedback about how confidently and enthusiastically they settle in at secondary school too.”
The move to co-ed
Excitingly, these children are soon set to include girls. From September 2021, St Edward’s Prep is going co-ed, with a mixed sex Reception intake. It’s a bold and exciting move for a school that has been all boys since it was founded in 1947.
“We are thrilled to be going co-ed,” says Jonathan. “It’s a completely natural step and very right for us as a school. At St Edward’s we are very much focused on nurturing every child’s confidence, character and attitude to learning, as well as their academic ability and understanding of the world. But that isn’t a boy-centric education, it’s fantastic for everyone!
“We’ve had tremendous backing from our parents, and we very much look forward to welcoming a great mix of boys and girls in September. Of course, we are planning the transition incredibly carefully, so everyone is extremely well supported. We also have the huge advantage that our parent company, The Wishford Schools Group, is behind us. One of our fellow schools, Westonbirt, recently went co-ed and the transformation has been a huge success.
“Ultimately, building relationships is such an important part of life and in the real world, our children will need to get on with and work with people from different genders and cultures. Everything we do is about preparing them for their futures, so why would we limit their environment to boys? We want our children to grow up with the flexibility and adaptability to thrive in any situation.”
Creating lifelong learners
Of course, the well-balanced curriculum at St Edward’s Prep also plays a huge part in preparing children for the future. Sport, Music, Drama and Art are an integral part of school life, while after school clubs enable them to explore everything from chess to fencing, cooking and even street dance.
“We hugely value and set aside a great deal of time for sport, drama and music,” explains Jonathan. “The children relish taking part in plays, performances and of course matches too. Even during lockdown, our remote learning program included scavenger hunts, pancake making competitions, celebration assemblies and fun fitness sessions.
“Ultimately, it’s so important that children don’t feel too pressured. We need to nurture them, not drill them! But with the right balance, we can create lifelong learners who also have amazing emotional intelligence, confidence and maturity. Our approach gives them an emotional toolkit, which they can draw on whenever they face any ups and downs. It’s not just about preparing them for senior school – it’s about preparing them for the rest of their lives.”