Education Guide: Winter 2024

Round & About


There’s a new year on the horizon and we hope our education special will help you. We take a look at the International Baccalaureate, learning to read as an adult and supporting the mental health and happiness of children.

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Learning for the future

Many schools are choosing to expand their education offering with the International Baccalaureate which examines ‘how to learn’ as much as ‘what to learn’, is it right for your child?.

In today’s world more so than ever children need to become well-rounded individuals developing strong academic, social and emotional characteristics, but how best to help them achieve this.

An increasing number of schools are opting to teach the International Baccalaureate. In its Schools of the Future report in January 2020, the World Economic Forum identified a model of education which “more closely mirrors the future of work and provides children with the skills to thrive in the new economy”.

In contrast to the traditional method of gaining specific subject knowledge, it emphasised the development of key skills, employing a wide-ranging set of characteristics which would enable today’s children to adapt more readily to the challenges of tomorrow.

So what is the IB?

The programme is spilt into four parts for children from the age of three to 19 – Primary Years Programme, Middle Years Programme, Diploma Programme and Career-related Programme. Schools and colleges can utilise one or more parts of the programme.

Rather than teaching a predefined set of information in preparation for a test / exam at the end, the IB focuses as much on ‘how to learn’ as ‘what to learn’ reinforcing the idea that this better equips children with the skills they need for the world at large.

Pupils still learn the content giving them the knowledge but it is more ‘self directed’ allowing them to develop the necessary critical life skills. Teachers are also given more freedom in the way in which they teach as subjects may develop along a different path depending on the existing knowledge levels and interests of pupils, rather than covering the same content in each academic year.

Children also benefit from the connectivity of the IB syllabus with teaching staff coming together with common topics (units of inquiry) so everything interlinks. For example, children may be learning about The Great Fire of London – in an English lesson they may read books and write about it, in art and DT they may build models of the houses, in science they may look at how fire spreads and then in maths, use this data to explore equations. While there is still separate and distinct teaching in some areas, a large portion of the learning is built around topics, better replicating the real world problems likely to be faced which are multi-faceted and benefit from a more all-round approach that learning of this type encompasses.

“IB students have the opportunity to reflect upon what they already understand”

One such school which has adopted this method is St George’s School Windsor Castle, which last year became the first standalone prep school in the country to be certified as an IB World School. It employs the Primary Years Programme from kindergarten to Year 6 (3-11 years of age) and then the Pre-Senior Baccalaureate in Years 7 and 8 (11-13 year olds).

Head of Pre-Prep at St George’s School, Emma Adriano spearheaded the roll out and said they realised the “rapid change of pace and uncertainty around the future job market required a bold change of strategy”.

“Rather than learning subjects by rote with the sole goal of passing exams, IB students have the opportunity to reflect upon what they already understand, identify their own knowledge gaps and areas of interest and explore how to research and develop a deeper understanding of each topic across a range of subject ideas and practical applications.”

She added: “Fundamentally, alongside imparting knowledge, the curriculum teaches not what to think, but how to learn.”

As with everything in life, the IB is not for everyone and critics cite those who have very defined career paths in mind such as physicists for whom specialisation may be more relevant with the need to focus heavily on maths, further maths and physics at A Level as opposed to a more broader curriculum.

Pupils choosing to study the IB Diploma (16-19 year olds) which focuses on six subject areas over the two-year course, need to be organised and committed as well as being an independent thinker and learner and be able to communicate their learning well, oral presentations are a key feature.

In terms of life skills and developing a critical balance of knowledge, skills and mindset – the IB is highly rated. Some schools offer both options to suit individual needs giving students more choice.

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Taking an all-round approach

Education Guide: Autumn 2023

Round & About


Another September beckons and we hope our education special will help you, whether you’re a parent to a SEN child, would like advice about bursaries, want to make maths fun or continue learning whatever your age 

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SEN support for parents

Worried about a child’s progress in school? Learning differences consultant, former head teacher & SEN editor Mary Mountstephen offers parents some tips on being proactive

There’s always that moment when, as a parent, those doubts in the back of your mind start to assert themselves more loudly. Or perhaps a well-meaning family member or friend might make comments that add to your anxiety levels.

These might include: “Why isn’t he doing as well as his brother?”, “She should have started talking by now, surely?”, “That’s just not right, he needs to stop having tantrums”. Sound familiar?

Each child is unique. They often develop faster in some areas than in others and comparison with their brothers, sisters, cousins or classmates can be unhelpful and unwelcome. Depending on the type of concern and the child’s age, there are organisations and professionals to support you, such as your GP, your child’s setting (early years/ primary etc). The following information is intended to provide you with some basic tips, plus information about other sources of support and advice which are cost-effective or free.

Types of SEN

There are four types of SEN: communication and interaction needs, cognition and learning difficulties, social, emotional and mental health difficulties and sensory and physical needs. Some children and young people may have SEN in more than one of these areas, but for most children with SEN, they will attend their local, mainstream school.

Don’t delay if you have concerns

There is a significant body of research that confirms the importance of early intervention when a child’s progress is causing concern. Looking back some years, school often operated a ‘wait and see’ protocol when being asked about delays in progress. Children with a dyslexic profile, for example, would possibly only be monitored until the age of seven, as it was a prevailing belief that they could not be identified before then, whereas current research indicates that this is possible from a much earlier age.

Be persistent but polite when communicating with the setting/ school

Parents and carers are not always confident in advocating for their child and in being able to communicate their concerns articulately. They may have had difficulties themselves at school, and this can translate into feeling nervous or hesitant in expressing their ‘gut feelings’, have known parents, on occasion, to become quite emotional or even aggressive if they feel they are not being listened to. So it’s a good idea to be prepared in advance.

Gather evidence using checklists

There are many checklists of child development, depending on where the concern(s) lie. If your child is in a school or early years setting, advice about this may be available. If not, carry on reading!

Check out national charities & organisations

A quick internet search will produce a long list of organisations and many of these can offer free support and resources. The difficulty here, as with self-diagnosis of symptoms, that you may become convinced your child has more complex needs than they might have. For that reason, it’s a good idea to communicate your concerns with the school at an early stage and be-guided by them.

Contact trusted sources

Finding trustworthy online support can be confusing for parents; the sheer volume of advice can be overwhelming and knowing who to trust can be daunting. For the last two years I’ve been working with SENDStation. I provide training about dyslexia and auditory processing difficulties. The company’s mission has always been to provide great quality learning that’s affordable and accessible. Their online courses are live and cost less than £15, including hand-out and certificate. The team cover 40 different sessions from dyslexia to toilet training. Visit SEND-Station. I’d also like to recommend a free newsletter from SEN magazine. You could also point both of these resources in the direction of the school! Please visit Mailing List Subscription – SEN Magazine to sign up.

Mary Mountstephen is a learning differences specialist with a background of working in a range of school settings, including roles as headteacher of two primary schools, and as an SEND specialist in the independent sector. She provides school training, individual assessments and online training. Find out more at Learning Differences| Mary Mountstephen and follow @M_Mountstephen on Twitter.

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