Two schools of thought

Community, Guernsey

For an island with a population of around 64,000 Guernsey offers a wide choice when it comes to private education options. Two of the three independent secondary schools have become co-ed in recent years and developed their curricula to embrace the ever-changing needs of students and parents.

Robert O’Brien is the Principal of Blanchelande College having relocated to Guernsey in 2016 with his wife and three children to take up the post. The school has 460 pupils from age 2½ to 18. Enjoying an attractive rural setting in St Andrew’s, Blanchelande re-opened its sixth form in September 2020 as Robert explained:

‘We have seen rapid growth in numbers sine 2016 and as a result there was increasing pressure from parents for us to re-open the sixth form to be able to offer students a pathway right through to 18. We were delighted to open it in 2020. We have had two rounds of A-level results so far, which have been excellent, with all students getting into their chosen universities or gaining good apprenticeships with quality local employers.’

The sixth form only has 26 students currently, but the college offers a surprisingly wide choice of subjects – 21 in total – with a strategy to develop the offering based on what they describe as a ‘bespoke’ approach.

‘Our offering for 16 to 18-year-olds is bespoke,’ said head of sixth form Matthew Noble.

‘We want to be able to offer subjects that the students want to study. We are looking for opportunities to grow our offering so that it’s attractive to our own students and to those joining from outside.

‘This approach also helps us focus on staff’s interests and passions. So, for example I teach languages, but I also have a background in law and so we will be introducing a law A-level next year and we will be the only school on the island offering it.’

Aside from the academic side of Blanchelande life, there is a very clear focus on ensuring students develop life skills that will prepare them for either university and/or employment. Sixth formers can take a 40-week ‘Confident Cookery’ course; for those more enthusiastic budding chefs, there is the opportunity to undertake a Leith’s Level 3 qualification in professional Cookery which is taken alongside A-levels.

Senior students also complete an Extended Project Qualification which many top universities like to see on an applicant’s CV. In addition, the college has introduced its own ‘Sixth Form Diploma’ which requires students to collect and complete a range of experiences and activities under specific headings (including academic, physical, service to others, cultural communications, and work experience)

‘In order to be competitive we need to focus on the holistic development not just academic side of our students and to equip them with the skills that they need to succeed at A-level and beyond,’ said Robert.

‘When people imagine what life might be in Guernsey, especially if they are coming from a city, they are looking for somewhere where their children can roam, flourish and feel safe and where holistic education is available – and that, I believe, is what parents find at Blanchelande.’

Elizabeth College has recently benefitted by a brand new wing – Perrot Court – named after its benefactor, which was opened in February this year. The new wing has been built on land that was originally gifted to the school by Queen Elizabeth I, so it has come full circle. It is linked to the rest of the campus by the ‘bridge’, which was a key requirement of the development, as Principal Jenny Palmer explained:

‘When we were speaking to the architects this was very important. We wanted it to make sure Perrot Court became an intrinsic part of the campus. We now have single level access on both sides. A key focus for the new development was to look at a student support hub,’ she said.

‘Downstairs there is a library which is co-located with learning enrichment. Alongside that is a well-being hub, and a room where students can have one-to-one meetings with mentors or counsellors plus quiet spaces where they can read or study.’

Sixth formers at Elizabeth College benefit from an academic partnership the college enjoys with The Ladies’ College. This broadens the choice of subjects available and enables the college to deliver the students’ choice of subjects within the timetable.

For Jenny herself, the school holds a special place since she was one of the first group of six girls admitted to the sixth form in 1992. Having developed a successful teaching career in the UK, when the role of Principal came up she didn’t take much persuasion to apply.

‘It’s an amazing place. The atmosphere, the values, the focus on the breadth of opportunities for students – it all aligned with my own educational values.

‘We are lucky to also have two fantastic sports grounds, the College Field and the Memorial Field which people sometimes forget because we are based close to town – which in itself has its benefits.

‘The college offers great pastoral care, high academic standards the combined cadet force which develops key leadership skills plus lots of extracurricular activities and great traditions in sport, drama, science. We enable students to embrace all opportunities available, for them to discover something that might become a passion. I can’t speak highly enough about the privilege it is to work with these young people and with the staff and parents. It really is a special place.’

 

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