St Christopher - A truly independent school
By: Richard Palmer - Head of St Christopher School and Chairman of The Society of Heads
When the School was founded in 1915 the Daily Herald reported that the School was based ‘not on the sameness of children, their conformity to type, but on their differences. ’This concept of treating children as individuals was revolutionary at the time and continues to be one of the distinctive characteristics of a St. Chris education.
We do things differently because they work. We allow children to decide what they wear to school because it teaches them to be self-reliant and to make informed choices. Everyone is called by their first names (pupils and teaching staff alike) because we have found that this promotes better relationships between children and teachers, based on mutual trust. Parents also tell us that the use of first names makes conversations with teachers easier and more productive.
Our system of self-government hold the Governors, Head and staff to account and pupils are able to raise issues and discuss, debate, form and inform policy. We help children to become self-disciplined and self-motivated individuals who are creative thinkers, independent learners and able to make informed choices.
At St Chris we have always been opposed to league tables – and I personally think that they are unhelpful and divisive. In a school like ours, which is not narrowly academically selective and has quite a wide range of abilities it is simply not possible to simply move up the league tables annually. We could though, quite easily do so. We could restrict the ability range on intake so that only highly academically able children can come here (as examination outcomes are what league tables are concerned with)or we could take the range that we currently do but simply refuse to enter those who are unlikely to get top grades into the examinations. This latter option seems morally indefensible to me. To take a child into a School, to look after and nurture them, to become part of their life and then to turn them away because they will spoil what other people may think of the School is just wrong (and sadly it does happen).
So, why not just become more academically selective? The reason is that at our School we want a range of people. We want to be able to replicate a world in which all have strengths and all have weaknesses. We want to develop equality of opportunity in a non-judgemental environment. This wide ability range does not, as is often worried about, simply play to the ‘average’. Our small class sizes and quality staff mean that we can cater effectively for a wide range of abilities and aptitudes. Some have to work really hard and do exceptionally well to get 8 C grades at GCSE. Others have to work just as hard and also do exceptionally well to get A’s and A’s at A-level and gain places at Oxford and Cambridge. This is what makes our examination results so impressive. Over 70% of GCSE and A-level grades are A-B and we are not a narrowly academically selective School.
We are proud of what our young people achieve in National exams but I would not compare them with each other, and I would not compare St Chris to other Schools. Our very best pupils are not always the most academically able; and some of our most able pupils are also some of our best. We value them all for what they bring to the School community – irrespective of whether this is judged by a points system to be of value.
We have been pioneering a distinctive and innovative approach to education for almost 100 years and our methods have stood the test of time. We believe – and universities and employers tell us – that it produces well-rounded, high capability individuals with the skills and confidence to thrive in the modern world. We can think of no better role for a school.
Richard Palmer Head Chairman of The Society of Heads
20 September 2013