Having a senior moment at Downsend School
Downsend School is expanding to include a senior school. Here are all of the hows, whys and what fors that you need to know about it.
Downsend School in Leatherhead is expanding to include a senior school as of September next year giving students at the school the chance to continue their education up to Year 11. I’ve recently had an interesting chat with the school’s head master Ian Thorpe about it all. Here’s the inside line on the school’s expansion – ahead of their open day on Sat 11 May.
What will the addition of the senior school mean for Downsend?
This is a really exciting time for Downsend as there is an energy that comes with a significant investment and a recognition that Downsend has so much to offer as an all-through school.
It really does enables us to build on our proven track record by playing to our greatest strengths. In creating the new Senior School, with 65-70 pupils in a year group, we will be able to offer a level of intimacy more akin to a Prep School Plus model than a senior provision, and to focus on that breadth of education, sport and art that our current parents hold in such high esteem.
What prompted the decision to expand to include the GCSE years?
The feedback of our parents. Conversations over the years really demonstrated how parents would genuinely like their children to continue their education at Downsend, so it felt like the natural next step for the school. Pupil wellbeing is such a key area of focus throughout exam years that we wanted to provide a sense of balance between offering opportunities and allowing pupils to grow and develop as individuals without getting lost in a larger setting.
A three-year GCSE programme? How will that work? Do you expect most students to stay on to do the GCSEs?
Our 3-year GCSE programme has been designed with the children in mind. It allows them the time and space to achieve a greater degree of confidence and mastery before sitting these important exams, but it will also be combined with an opportunity for pupils to undertake the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and the Duke of Edinburgh Award so they’re having a fully rounded experience. We feel our 3-year programme will reduce the level of pressure that children can sometimes feel at this stage of their studies, and it’s very important to us that we maintain that healthy balance of learning and excellent pastoral care that Downsend already prides itself upon.
We’d expect the majority of our pupils to progress with us to GCSE. Our parents have been hugely supportive of our plans and recognise the strengths in our approach. They are delighted to now have the option for this natural progression for their children at Downsend through to GCSE.
The school has invested a lot of money in the expansion – around £3 million, isn’t it? What does that amount get you in terms of school resources these days?
The investment in Downsend will actually be closer to £8m in total over two phases. The next few months will be busy ones at Downsend, with initial internal refurbishments adding a modern Learning Resource Centre, STEAM Breakouts, Junior Library, dedicated Food Technology facility and Junior STAR (Science, Technology & Art Room) being added to our impressive suite of facilities by September. In addition, the planning process for the £5m Arts Centre at the front of the school is proceeding nicely. The new two-storey build will comprise a 200-seater theatre, Drama teaching spaces, Music practice rooms, Music classrooms and a Recording Studio and should be completed in readiness for the arrival of our first Year 9 pupils in September 2020.
The new creative arts centre sounds fab? And surely this will be a great asset for kids across the entire school, as well as your three pre-preps.
The creative arts centre will be wonderful for all our pupils, from pre-prep all the way through to GCSEs. The arts is a key element of their education, as well as being central to developing their confidence and creativity. Sadly this key area is being squeezed out of so many curricula; our new building will use imaginative learning environments and state of the art technology to inspire and excite children at all stages of their journey at Downsend. Our parents will also obviously have many fantastic opportunities over the years to share in the wonderful productions and performances their children will enjoy staging in this supportive and inspiring environment.
Any chance you’ll go the whole hog and introduce a Sixth form too?
At the moment we’re focusing on providing the breadth of education that we are so good at and what our parents have asked for. Our aim is to stay focused on providing a solid and well-rounded foundation for our pupils in a range of core subjects, while equipping them with the confidence and initiative to make the right choices for themselves as they continue their education as young adults.
There are so many fantastic sixth form offerings, both in the independent and state sectors in this area, and so the focus right now is to ensure that our children can continue to enjoy the nurturing, happy and supportive environment that Downsend provides, right through to their GCSE exams, the crucial, first key landmark in their senior school education.
But, Downsend is a forward-thinking and progressive school, so although it’s not currently in our plans, we like to stay open minded about what the future holds.
Have a look yourself, and let me know what you think. The main school and pre-preps have Open Morning on Sat 11 May. Book here.
Downsend School, 1 Leatherhead Road, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 8TJ. Tel: 01372 372197. downsend.co.uk