Samantha Price

What is a complete education?

Samantha Price, headmistress at Benenden, one of the UK’s leading independent schools, explains the difference between education and exam results.

What is a complete education?
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‘A Complete Education’ is the philosophy by which we live at Benenden. I am frequently asked by parents what is meant by the phrase, especially at this time of year when exams dominate the sector.

Certainly, a school’s duty is to fulfil the academic potential of every student – and, as you would expect, our results reflect this very well. However, a good education is about more than just helping young people to achieve strong exam results. As my academic deputy head says: ‘It is important not to mistake a syllabus for an education.’

There is no point in a young person leaving school with straight As if they lack the skills to function effectively in the workplace. We see it as our duty to ensure that girls leaving Benenden are equipped for the modern working environment. That is why this time last year we unveiled our professional skills programme to teach sixth-formers the practical skills that are vital for employers. These include the ability to work in a team, having the confidence to turn an idea into a business proposition, giving a business pitch, developing marketing plans and reading complex financial information.

Yet schools should not just focus on university destinations or a pupil’s future workplace. Are young people prepared for life in general? Are they compassionate, confident and ambitious? Can they work well with others? Have they experienced a wide variety of cultures? Have they pushed themselves out of their comfort zone and learnt to be resilient, as well as academically successful? The latter, I believe, is as important as the former for professional success in the future.

This is why co-curricular opportunities are vital to the development of pupils. Our girls experience a wonderful array of more than 150 co-curricular activities, including everything from

Model United Nations, in which pupils learn about international relations, to building a microlight and learning karate. These activities are designed to challenge pupils, to help them develop their team-working skills and resilience, and to teach them practical skills – whether that’s making a campfire or coding a robot – that will set them up for life.

The final piece that makes us complete is our boarding offer. There are enormous benefits to every girl living on site, and I don’t just mean the practical advantages (instead of long commutes home each night, pupils can use the time to play tennis, learn an instrument or rehearse a play immediately after school). Aside from having all these extraordinary facilities on your doorstep 24/7, girls make especially close friendships which last a lifetime; they learn compassion and understanding, as well as how to manage their own time and to juggle different opportunities and responsibilities.

This is all part of what we call the ‘inner curriculum’, where the education and development of the whole girl is so important. It is where the academic, co-curricular and pastoral support work in tandem to identify and grow talent, build confidence and resilience together with self-knowledge as we encourage their ambitions. At Benenden we are experts in teenage girls — there is nothing we haven’t seen — and, together with home, we can provide enormous support during this time.

A school should be a place where children discover who they are, where they try new things, develop key life skills and are encouraged to stretch themselves. Perhaps most importantly, it should be a place to have fun.

If they cannot operate in the real world when they leave school then, regardless of how many A grades they may achieve, the education of that child is incomplete.