Joel Worrall, Headmaster At Stroud School, On Core Values

 Joel Worrall is the Headmaster at Stroud School.

Joel Worrall was born in New Zealand of English parents and so enjoys dual nationality. He was a professional coach in NZ and came to work in the UK in 2002 as a staff coach with Lancashire County Cricket Club. He had already trained as a teacher in New Zealand and settled on a teaching career in 2002. His sporting background naturally lent his choice of subject and he was offered the role of Housemaster and Director of Sport at Forres Sandle Manor, a prep school in the New Forest. He taught there for eight years, and then moved to Taverham Hall School near Norwich as Deputy Head. He was there for five years when the opportunity came up to become Head at Stroud, a prep school in Hampshire which he joined in September 2015. In May 2012 Stroud became the Preparatory School to King Edward VI, Southampton and I wished to discuss the effect and benefits the tie up has had, as this is also becoming more common in the state sector.

Education Magazine (EM)      You make a very plain case for your schools approach when you say in your Heads introduction ‘Expect to see pupils who are happy, respectful and honest. These three fundamental attributes ensure that our leavers are fully prepared to move on to the next stage of their education and the start of their young adult lives’. How do you impart this ethos into your charges?

JW       Our core values are honesty, respect and happiness and they underpin everything that happens here at Stroud School. Children develop a values structure which is fundamentally moral, but also allows them to be self-reflective. They are honest with themselves, and have self-respect as a starting point for everything that we install on top. I talk to them about this being a three legged stool; we can put anything we like on top of a three legged stool because as a triangle it is the strongest shape in the world, but if you take one of those legs away that stool falls over. On top of the three legs we put an academic curriculum that successfully puts children into the top academic schools in the South of England, our link with King Edwards VI has improved that process however we also send our children to other academically selective boarding schools, with excellent rates of success for both entry and scholarship. This all comes from the core values we instil from the outset.

EM       The cooperation you have secured with King Edwards School. What is it, why did it happen and what’s the rationale behind it from the pupils’ point of view?

JW       This was started in 2012 when our school was acquired and merged within the King Edwards VI charity. Now our school provision is from 3-18 and all of our structures, procedural workings, and much of the operational elements of both schools work with and for pupils across the full age range. That means from the Upper 6th right down to the Nursery our educational standards are being replicated. Stroud School is also getting access to a senior school level of academic ability, resource of staffing, facilities and investment.

EM       Geographically the King Edwards School is separate from you so how can the ethos be consistent if you are at least 15 minutes apart when there cannot be much intermingling of pupils?

JW       There is a shared ethos across the schools but there is also an advantage to being an independent identity. Stroud School is a preparatory school and our purpose is to prepare children for the next stage of their education. A large number of our children will go to King Edwards but not all of them. We are not academically selective so we do not test children at five years old to determine whether or not they can come here. King Edwards is a selective school and therefore we have a conversation with every parent as they come to senior school decision time to discuss what is ‘right’ for their child. Often King Edwards is the aspiration and so we will prepare and direct the child for that but sometimes it is not the best fit and therefore we will prepare for and direct that child elsewhere, for example to an independent boarding school at 13+.

EM       From a parent’s perspective, what are the benefits of the association with King Edwards?

JW       It brings a level of facilities that is unheard of until you get to the really huge prep schools, but without the need for us to be a huge prep school. As a model we have increased the numbers of classes in the school, rather than the numbers in each class, so our capacity is about 370 and we do not look to put more than 16-18 children in each class. Along with all the teachers, I get to know every child in this school well; this approach has a massive benefit to pupils, so we will not go above a headcount where that does not happen. The tie up gives us ‘big school’ benefits and facilities whilst we retain the small school feel, care and attention. For instance we now have a sailing club on Southampton Water, an outward bound centre in the middle of Dartmoor that has a 24 bed bunkhouse that was purpose built for outdoor education. We also have a 33 acre playing field with international standard all weather hockey surface. For our size of Prep School, such a level of facility is incredible and it is the tie up that enables it to happen.

EM       How many staff do you have here and what does this level of cooperation mean to them? Are they able to work at King Edwards?

JW       All told we have 103 staff of which teachers’ number 54 and there is a lot of sharing that goes on between the two schools. For example, our Head of Science and the King Edward Head of Science meet every couple of weeks to make sure that the curriculums dovetail together. This ensures the transition for children between the two schools is very smooth. There is wider cooperation in Design Technology, Modern Foreign Languages and ICT. The cooperation is very close in PE and the games coaching. We have an opportunity to share staff and this is both important and beneficial to the staff and the pupils. Our Classics programme is run by the King Edwards Classics department, which is offered to the senior children in Years 6, 7 and 8.

There is a wider benefit for the students because we have begun to use the King Edwards pupils throughout the school as role models, and they also come here in a mentoring capacity. We’re just starting a programme with one of their Lower 6th girls who comes in to offer her time, just to sit with and offer short counselling sessions with our Middle School girls. It can be tricky in their transition for Year 5 and 6 girls, and someone from the Lower 6th offers a person who is not a teacher or who is not necessarily an adult, but a friendly ear and a compassionate listener, as well as someone to look up to.

We do the same sort of thing in ICT with our Digital Leaders. They work together between the two schools to deliver programmes, to build apps and so on. We have ‘ICT in Action’ days where we suspend the whole curriculum for the day for a whole year group. The last one was Robotics in Action and the Digital Leaders assist in providing the computer time for this.

EM       What does the King Edward Senior School get from this?

JW       Much the same as we do. I have worked in other schools with mentoring programmes and I have always found that the mentor receives just as much as the mentee, and often more so because they have to think very carefully what they are doing, which leads to skill mastery. Children that are able to teach and are able to think about their own knowledge and skills, then pass that on to somebody else, are able to develop mastery quicker than those who are working in isolation.  

EM       What are the practicalities behind this?

JW       It takes a lot of work from the beginning. It starts with two committed members of staff from the schools, or two departments that are very proactive and have a desire to make it work.  We are fortunate enough across the two schools to have that desire in abundance. We have science staff working for Year 7 and 8 across the two schools, we also have the PE departments working in the same way. For example last December we had the Year 7 and 8 groups from both schools at Wellington in a combined coaching venture to benefit the children. It doesn’t happen without a lot of effort from the staff.

EM       What is the financial cost of doing this and are there real financial economies of scale?

JW       There’s always a financial cost, but because we are both working for the same entity and we see the substantial benefit of it we find the money. It also has big financial benefits, on things like transport; the way we operate our coach hire which is part of a central agreement. Our school uniform is working with the same supplier on a 3-18 model. This also applies throughout the administrative functions that exist away from the children’s eye, the key and often unrecognised elements that make everything happen smoothly on the surface.

EM       Had this cooperation not come in how would things have developed differently?

JW       I think that the school’s progression would have developed more slowly because we would have had to stay within our own finances and physical limits. I think the development of our own programmes, and the development of those resources within the facilities would have happened, however over a much longer period of time.

EM       How to you instil aspiration here? We’ve talked about the three legged stool but how do you manage it so children leave here with a ‘can do’ attitude?

JW       I think it happens at lots of different levels. It starts off at a very base level with the pastoral structure which has a class teacher, a form tutor, a Deputy Head that’s responsible for pastoral care, and it has a Special Educational Needs department that has enough teaching staff within it so that the children can all be seen as individuals. Targets can be set and monitored throughout their time at the school. Each child knows they’re an individual and they have got individual needs. Some of those needs are exceptionally high level. By this I mean those children who are exceptionally gifted in arts, science or on the playing field; these pupils have special educational needs just like those children who have dyslexia or global processing issues or working memory issues and we have got a department that is big enough and experienced enough to look at each child separately. That means the top of the classes are looked at very carefully, the bottom of the classes are looked at very carefully, and it means that the middle group is not overlooked either.

EM       What curriculum activities do you do here that develops your charges character?

JW       Classics is a good example of that development. This is an after school provision that has come about as part of the link with King Edwards. We also have debating, as well as a number of classroom based clubs which go alongside the full range of outdoor clubs; the Forest School, the low ropes assault course that we have that builds leadership and confidence in them. All these happen in after school hours. From 4.45pm to 5.45pm our club provision is included as part of our school fee. Children here do not sign up to clubs and then pay for it as school care. The only time we levy a charge in that regard is for external providers, so if we have a dance or gymnastics coach who comes in to teach the only charge that goes to the parents is meeting the fee of that coach. All of our clubs offer a late night session every week. It is a big part of what we do because it means that every child has the opportunity to do something every day of the week.

EM       What about the kids who sit at the back of the class, and generally avoid doing too much. How do you tackle those characters?

JW       We do that by making sure that all of our staff are on the same page with each child. We meet weekly with each body of the school, the Senior School, the Middle School and the Early Years. We also meet weekly as a whole staff to update across the age groups. We then all know if a child is maybe sitting back a little bit. His or her Form Teacher is able to sit him down in a mini-tutorial and say, “We have noticed that you are not quite where you need to be in your lesson, how do we address that?” That way, that child comes in the next day or for the week, from then on knowing he is getting the same message from every single teacher. That shared message between the staff makes sure that each child is delivering their best.

EM       How do you organise your after school clubs to achieve the same aims?

JW       The after school clubs are generated on demand. If we have a situation where the children, through the school council perhaps, or one of the pupil voice committees, say to us that “We would really like to have a club that does……”, then we look to do it, so it is all driven by demand from the children. If there is a demand for it, and we think that it is of benefit to the children, then we find a way of putting it on.

EM       What’s the role of alumni in this school? How do you stay in touch with them?

JW       This is now a developing issue. It hasn’t been something that the school has done a lot with historically. The model where the alumni have been developed has largely been on the Senior school level at King Edwards VI.  It is something that we are starting now, particularly with my involvement; I am quite passionate about re-connecting and staying in contact with the children who loved Stroud.

So I will be writing to the children just before they start their GCSE’s at Senior School just to say, “Good luck with your GCSEs, we are thinking of you,” and I will do the same thing with the children that are about to go to university. There will also be a reminder and an invitation to our forthcoming events. We have a very strong parent body which is the Stroud School Association (SSA) who do a huge amount of work voluntarily. They decorated the front hall at Christmas, they put on the school Christmas Fayre, they put on parent events and make the social element of the school a very special place for new parents, many of whom do not know what the school environment is about. Many of our smaller development projects have largely been funded by the Association. We are going to start to branch that out slowly, and start to bring our alumni back into the fold.

The danger for the alumni is that they see the contact as a fundraising venture and that is not what we want to do. The way we will develop the link is to pass on our best wishes, offering invitations to things like the Carol Service in The Abbey, our end of year production or the many school concerts that we put on. The things that our children will have left the school with really fond memories about, I would like to reconnect with them at those events.

EM       What advantage can you see to the school of doing that?

JW       One of the most important things is the possibility of a role model situation. Our children go on to do wonderful things. All children go on, we hope, to do wonderful things but it is not until we reconnect with them later in life that we see how their journey has developed. That is a really powerful story; for a child who is still here at prep school to see that a person was sitting exactly where they are now in an assembly all those years ago and to look at the amazing journey they have taken since leaving.

This coming term we have an old boy returning to Stroud who has invented a device that goes on ships, and in particular refugee ships that is a self-inflating rescue device with multiple handles on it. It can go into the water in the event of a capsize or emergency. It self inflates, and has got enough handles so people can grab hold and keep themselves afloat. For me that is a real success story and the school is privileged to be able to talk to former pupils about their lives post-Stroud.


 

We are all breathing the same air as those people who do great things and there is no reason why our children, many of whom go onto King Edwards, then on to be the medics, the lawyers and the professionals of the next generation, cannot go on their own journey that ends with similar success. It is a different picture for every child, and they have to be made aware what the possibilities are. Bringing those alumni back in, bringing in members of our community, really shows the possibilities there are.

EM       Thanks for talking to Education Magazine    

     
   
   
 
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