Tuck boxes, inkwells, weekly baths, Sunday letter writing … What life was like for the boarders at Sompting Abbotts in the 1960s

Tuck boxes, inkwells, weekly baths, Sunday letter writing … What life was like for the boarders at Sompting Abbotts in the 1960s

Tuck boxes, inkwells, weekly baths, Sunday letter writing … Life for pupils at Sompting Abbotts was very different in the 1960s compared to today! Luckily, we have a colourful glimpse into the past thanks to Old Abbottonian Dr Richard Stillman who has written this vivid account of his memoirs. Dr Stillman, now a retired GP, attended the school from 1960 to 1964 and was aged 8 when he arrived.

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Why do smaller classes improve academic outcomes?

 
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Some children come bounding into school ready to learn. Others are less eager and do just enough to get by.

Maybe you have a child who’s a consistent high achiever. But most children go through different phases. Do you see something of your child in one of these descriptions?

Conscientious and high-achieving? Smart but distracted? Sensitive and perfectionist? Quiet and compliant? Lost somewhere in the middle? Able but uninspired? Convinced they’re not ‘academic’? Coasting and under-achieving? Struggling and discouraged? Disinterested and demotivated?

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Small classes have most value at primary school stage

How can a school cater best to children’s different personality types, teaching approach preferences and developmental stages? Part of the answer lies in smaller class sizes.

Research by the Education Endowment Foundation shows that a class group of under 20 students gives the best results. It states that it’s during the primary school years that children get the most benefit.

This fact is backed too by the Department for Education’s Class Size and Education in England Evidence Report which states: “The evidence base on the link between class size and attainment, taken as a whole, finds that a smaller class size has a positive impact on attainment and behaviour in the early years of school.”

Small classes are better for both less able and more able children

In our school, class size is capped at under 20 and we see better results. The more able children get the challenge they need. The 'coasters' are galvanised. The less able children – or those with SEND (special educational needs) – are given the extra help they need.

Importantly, no child gets 'lost in the middle' or ‘forgotten in the crowd’.

At primary school age, children are still developing the independent learning skills and self-discipline that they’ll have by the time they’re ready for secondary school. It is at this learning stage that smaller classes give them the biggest benefit.

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Small classes enable the teacher to manage discipline better

In recent years, primary-school class sizes in the UK state sector have increased due to current funding cuts, putting additional pressure on teachers.

It is a tough ask for teachers to oversee a class of 30+ young children. It is difficult to do, even with the presence of a teaching assistant.

‘Managing’ is what you end up doing as a teacher when you’re confronted with a large class. Often, you have to gear your teaching to the middle ability to keep all children on task.

Small classes give space to uncover strengths and weaknesses

Spurts and dips are normal for children. They learn at different rates and it’s not always linear. ‘Plateaus’ are not uncommon.

This could be because it is the way the child is developing right now. Or because other life issues are having an impact. Teachers in a small class can judge this and respond in a measured way. This kind of stable support can be a big help when students are feeling overwhelmed by personal problems outside of school.

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Small classes permit a more supportive learning arena

In a small class, the teacher has space and time to uncover children’s strengths, weaknesses and personality traits.

They can create a learning environment that is supportive and non-threatening and, importantly, where mistakes are viewed as inevitable and useful. This is why behavioural problems in a small class are the exception rather than the rule.

More time with each child also means more time to listen to them properly: to hear their news, answer questions and explain tricky concepts.

Small classes allow children to be stretched more carefully

According to the Department of Education, the UK has one of the largest average primary school class sizes of the OECD countries.

Between 2011 and 2018, every region outside of London saw a growth in the number of state school infant class sizes over 30.

The number of children in Years 1 and 2 taught by a single teacher in ‘super-size’ classes (over 30) increased by 91% nationwide.

Every child deserves to be stretched (carefully – they’re not pizza dough...).
— Stuart Douch, Headmaster, Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School
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In small classes, teachers can be nuanced beyond average ability

Teachers in smaller classes are less inclined to assume ability in their classroom follows a ‘bell-curved’ distribution. They don't plan on the basis that there'll always be roughly three groups of children: the below average, average and above average.

They can be more nuanced to fine-tune teaching to unlock children’s motivations to succeed. The best teachers are the ones who believe in the success of every student they encounter.

Because all children deserve to be stretched. Carefully – they're not pizza dough. So they can achieve their full potential – whether their strengths are academic, music, sports, drama or art.

All teaching and learning takes place within a context, and one important feature of school classrooms is the number of pupils in a class. Smaller classes can help teachers provide a more effective education.
— Peter Blatchford, Professor of Psychology and Education at the UCL Institute of Education
Smaller classes at primary school stage allows greater individualisation.

Smaller classes at primary school stage allows greater individualisation.

But push aside the academics. School is also a social experience.

Collaborative learning activities in small groups promote positive social interaction.

Collaborative learning activities in small groups promote positive social interaction.

Small classes promote better social and communication skills

Emotional and social skills will be just as important in life ahead for children as their eventual exam results.

We’ve noticed that small classes benefit the quieter and less-motivated child and the confident and outgoing child because they favour participation.

In a small class, there’s full incentive for pupils to pay attention and get involved because it’s obvious when they don’t.

Small classes help less confident children feel more secure

Often, the reason a quieter child doesn’t contribute is down to self-belief, not disinterest. In a large setting, when they feel insecure, they find it ‘scarey’ to put their hands up. So they let the self-assured ones hold sway.

But with the more relaxed atmosphere of a small class, a teacher can bring all children into group discussions.

For the confident child, the close collaboration of the smaller class also has benefits. They have to learn to be respectful – to listen, share ideas and be tolerant and patient.

These are useful skills. The World Economic Forum says the most in-demand future workplace skills will be these: critical thinking; problem-solving; collaboration; co-operation; adaptability; communication; initiative and curiosity.

Class discussion in Year 2 class at Sompting Abbotts. The average teacher-child ratio at the school is 1:15

Class discussion in Year 2 class at Sompting Abbotts. The average teacher-child ratio at the school is 1:15

The gains from smaller class sizes are likely to come from the increased flexibility for organising learners and the quality and quantity of feedback the pupils receive.
— Education Endowment Foundation

Small classes enable children to get better quality feedback

Do smaller classes lead to better outcomes? In our experience, they do.

I believe that the foundation for children's future success are laid down during the crucial primary school years.

Giving children ‘the best start in life’ is a cliché (it features on a lot of school prospectuses!). But I am convinced that equipping children young is a longstanding gift. There is truth in the saying: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.”

Small classes at primary stage give best developmental value

I agree with Peter Blatchford, Professor of Psychology and Education at the UCL Institute of Education. He states: “Careful moment-by-moment systematic observation of pupils shows that class size affects the amount of individual attention pupils receive, and their engagement and active involvement in class.”

As the Education Endowment Foundation reports: “The gains from smaller class sizes are likely to come from the increased flexibility for organising learners and the quality and quantity of feedback the pupils receive.”

However, the real evidence comes for my staff from our own parents. "I can't believe how well you know my child," is something at parents evenings that we often hear them say.

And for me, that’s the greatest proof.

Author: Stuart Douch, Headmaster, Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School

What's it like to be a pupil at Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School? Annabelle, Year 8, won the Ken Shearwood All Rounder Scholarship Award to Lancing College. She says that she benefitted from the small class sizes at Sompting Abbotts and her "inspiring and supportive" teachers.

Intuitively, it seems obvious that reducing the number of pupils in a class will improve the quality of teaching and learning, for example by increasing the amount of high quality feedback or 1-1 attention learners receive. However, overall, the evidence does not show particularly large or clear effects until class size is reduced substantially to fewer than 20 or even 15 pupils. It appears to be very hard to achieve improvements from modest reductions in class size to numbers above 20, for example from 30 to 25. Overall the evidence does not show particularly large or clear effects, until class size is reduced substantially. The key issue appears to be whether the reduction is large enough to permit the teacher to change their teaching approach.
— Education Endowment Foundation
 

The life lessons children learn taking part in a school drama production

The life lessons children learn taking part in a school drama production

Sompting Abbotts places a strong emphasis on the performing arts. In different ways, we seek to boost pupils’ confidence and communication skills because we know these will be invaluable to their lives ahead. Self-confidence is gained from each tiny success, which leads to more success. Learning to perform and speak in public are essential skills that will be transferable to the children’s adult lives.

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11 essential tips for hearing your Key Stage 1 child read aloud at home

11 essential tips for hearing your Key Stage 1 child read aloud at home

How much should you correct your Key Stage 1 child when you hear them read aloud to you? Should you force them to sound out the word? Do you get them to read every day? If they don't want to, do you insist or just not bother? Here, you'll find our top 10 tips for how to hear your child read aloud. It's a skill in itself that's useful for parents to 'learn' to support their child on their learning-to-read journey!

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Sompting Abbotts stars as film location for BAFTA-awarded director's new film Old Boys

Sompting Abbotts stars as film location for BAFTA-awarded director's new film Old Boys

Sompting Abbotts Prep School is set to hit cinema screens around the UK as the location for BAFTA-award-winning Director Toby MacDonald’s new film Old Boys. The school’s Grade II-listed Neo-Gothic building and well-preserved interior made it the perfect backdrop for the film set in a posh English boys’ boarding school called Caldermount during the 1980s.

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How Sompting Abbotts is growing a generation of bookworms

How Sompting Abbotts is growing a generation of bookworms

There’s something different about Sompting Abbotts’ school library. It’s run by the children themselves! Some people might think that libraries are antiquated. They carry something called ‘books’ that people can borrow! But we believe children’s access to books is critical for brain development and academic success – doubly so in the digital age.

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11 facts you need to know about the Common Entrance exam

11 facts you need to know about the Common Entrance exam

What is the Common Entrance exam? Stuart Douch, Headmaster of West Sussex private school Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School, has the answers to all your questions. Firstly, it’s unique and not that 'common'. It's a series of examinations taken by children in the Summer term of Year 8. These prepare children superbly for GCSE. 

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What not to do at a school open day

What not to do at a school open day

Don’t think you have to take your child to the Open Day. But, if your child is mature enough to come along, then definitely take them with you. Don’t rely on the school inspection report. They tell you little about the school’s ethos. Don’t turn down a school tour from a pupil. Don’t rely on the marketing materials. To get behind the gloss, there’s nothing like actually visiting a school.

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Best-selling author Alex Preston on the "warmth and genial eccentricity" of Sompting Abbotts Prep School

Best-selling author Alex Preston on the "warmth and genial eccentricity" of Sompting Abbotts Prep School

Celebrated novelist Alex Preston recalls his memories of his Worthing independent school Sompting Abbotts: "I saw the school, fell in love with it, and begged to be sent there. It was all of my Jennings/Malory Towers fantasies rolled into one gothic dream of a building."

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Our top 30 books recommendations for Key Stage 1 children (aged 5 – 7)

  Our top 30 books recommendations for Key Stage 1 children (aged 5 – 7)

Sompting Abbotts’ teachers pooled their knowledge and experience to create this list of top 30 books for Key Stage 1 children. It's across the ages of five and seven – in school terms this is Key Stage one: Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 – when most children learn to read. Whether your children are reading alone or you’re reading to them, there’s some inspiring book choices here! 

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How the best preparatory schools are honing children's 'sharp skills' for the workplace ahead

How the best preparatory schools are honing children's 'sharp skills' for the workplace ahead

Many jobs our children will be applying for haven’t yet been invented. But certain skills will be key to help them succeed in the new professional landscape. It’s abilities such as leadership, collaboration, problem solving, creativity and analytical thinking that they'll need to cope with technological innovation such as artificial intelligence, robotics and more. We talked to Mark Brotherton, Director of Education with the IAPS, to ask how prep schools can best prepare pupils to thrive in the workplace ahead.

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Nick Linfield, OBE, on why he owes Sompting Abbotts "an enormous debt of gratitude"

Nick Linfield, OBE, on why he owes Sompting Abbotts "an enormous debt of gratitude"

Old Abbottonian Nicholas (Nick) Linfield was awarded an OBE for his Services to Defence in the 2017 New Year’s Honours List. It’s 50 years since Nick began his education at West Sussex independent school Sompting Abbotts. We invited him to talk about his education and career – and to reveal why he’s proud to be the only former pupil on the school’s scholarship Honours’ Boards whose son and daughter feature there too …

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The hauntingly beautiful hit song inspired by the walled secret garden at Sompting Abbotts

The hauntingly beautiful hit song inspired by the walled secret garden at Sompting Abbotts

Ned Mortimer, lead singer of the talented band August and After, has revealed that the lyrics to his successful track, The Orchard, from the album Embers, was inspired by his time as a child at West Sussex independent school Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School. Here he talks about his life today and just how he came to write that special song …

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10 reasons why learning sports for children is more than one big game

10 reasons why learning sports for children is more than one big game

There’s a sport out there that every child (even the non-sporty types!) will love, says former Sompting Abbotts pupil Matt Richbell. Now Director of Sports at leading independent school Trinity in Croydon, he believes the life lessons sports teach children go far beyond the physical benefits. They will make your child more successful academically too.

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