As Kings' School Al Barsha opens a new Sixth Form in September 2017, Director of Education and Kings’ School Principal Alan Williamson shares his thoughts on the value of a rich experience for senior students.
This September, our sixth form will open at Kings’ Al Barsha which will mirror two aspirations for our young people - academic excellence and strong values.
While the new Sixth Form will deliver A Level Qualifications, participation in our ‘Kings’ Diploma’ will enable our students to undertake the Extended Project Qualification, the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, work experience and contribute towards a charitable cause. The Kings’ Diploma will prepare our students for a very competitive 'positive destinations' marketplace. Whether they are entering the British UCAS system or equivalent across the globe, or looking to enter directly into employment, our student track record and profile must shine. However, in many ways that becomes the by-product of a rich and varied senior school experience that goes beyond the 'exam factory' concept of simply producing fantastic exam results.
Most schools lay claim to developing 'successful learners' but I think the challenge for developing an excellent senior school experience is how schools go about ensuring that students grow in terms of the other capabilities that are essential for living in an increasingly complex world, such as their contribution to the community and a strong sense of social and global responsibility.
Delivering a wide range of academic choices, demanded by students, parents and our staff, has been essential in ensuring a strong uptake in the new Kings’ Sixth Form. Our students want to study an incredibly wide range of A Level Qualifications. That meant recruiting experienced UK trained staff in additional subject areas including Psychology, Sociology, Business, Economics and Photography. We could have ‘played safe’ and narrowed curriculum options for our students but, in all honesty, it is this rich and varied choice that makes the senior school experience special. It also means that learning and teaching will inevitably be both innovative and different with tutorial-style forums and small group co-operative activities over and above the importance of independent learning. This has been a big attraction for senior students choosing Kings’.
Student leadership should be a requirement, not an option, for Sixth Form students. Younger students look up to the seniors as role models. We will expect our oldest students to be wise beyond their age and lead student groups across our 3-18 campus. In that respect we have incredible opportunities to build a range of experiences for students to lead on Eco-Schools, mentoring and coaching younger students through academic and sporting studies as well as playing a lead role in major events such as our fantastic UAE National Day, International Day and Ramadan Iftars. I think the concept of a Sixth Form student spending time developing literacy and numeracy skills in Foundation Stage for example, is exactly what a senior school experience should involve.
Like many schools, Kings' are also developing the importance of student health and well-being. In many ways, I don't envy the pressures on our young people as they move towards the formative experiences of adulthood. I'm not only referring to the importance of achieving the highest level of academic qualifications or positive destinations, but more the reality of a social media focused world of challenge and opportunity. In that context, Kings' have developed a strong pastoral support network for students which includes daily meetings in small tutor groups with a key teacher, and access to our very own School Counsellor service. Pastoral support teams have developed a 'mindfulness' personal and social development programme for students. Developing strong mental health is essential to becoming a confident individual. We want our students to be 'happy'. It is as simple and as complex as that.
At Kings’ Al Barsha, sport and the expressive arts are incredibly important for all students and that will be crucial as the Sixth Form develops. We have a range of ‘academies’ where our scholarship programmes aim for academic, sporting and professional excellence. We often talk about ‘a journey to excellence’ for both our students and ourselves as a new school in Dubai, albeit one with a strong heritage and pedigree. An exciting new initiative which exemplifies this is ‘The Acting Space’ which will run in partnership with the school’s Drama Curriculum and introduces students beyond Kings’ to our first-class facilities and our inspired and passionate teachers.
It is important for our students to learn in an adult, ‘university-style’ environment. The dress code for Kings’ Sixth Form College will be ‘business attire’ rather than the school uniform more akin to traditional organisations, furthering the more ‘adult’ working ethos and importantly allowing our students to develop their independent identity.
Sixth Form also aims to develop students as individuals if you take, as an example, our Kings’ Cricket Academy, where we have attracted students to Kings’ from a number of local and international contexts. It allows senior students to spend considerable time with high quality coaching while maintaining a balance with their academic pursuits.
Finally, health and wellbeing is an integral aspect of Kings’ Sixth Form as I discovered via my own senior school experience growing up in Scotland. Without academic excellence students will be unable to move on to their chosen field of study or work. However, it is about having a well rounded individual, with a balanced, aspirational outlook. I always smile when subject leaders on the academic team complain to senior leaders about 'the pressures on curriculum time’ for seniors due to an extensive range of extra-curricular activities. Whilst I worked hard and enjoyed the rigour and challenge of pre-University qualifications, I remember fondly our First XV Rugby Team winning a national competition and a school trip to Russia inspiring me towards language learning at University. These were the tangible experiences of my own Sixth Form.
The senior student experience at Kings' will ultimately be about preparing tomorrow's adults for a future, today. Our focus remains on supporting the student as a whole with a focus on developing their wider capabilities to ensure we are encouraging successful lifelong learners.