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Discovering potential

Former Director of Admissions, Edrys Barkham, shares her reflection on our introduction of the pre-test now that we have made our first set of offers. You can find out why we introduced the pre-test in a previous blog here.

We have just sent out our first ever pre-test offer letters for pupils entering Bryanston in September 2019. We collated the results at the end of last term, which happened to be during the Jewish Hanukah Festival of Light. At that time, I heard a timely ‘pause for thought’ on the radio on my way to school outlining the different approaches of the House of Shamai and House of Hillel for the lighting of the eight candles of Hanukah. The Shamai start with eight candles and decrease by one each day, whilst the Hillel start with one and work up to eight. Both approaches have their origin in the last century BCE and have their own philosophies. To be admitted to the House of Shamai pupils were judged and had to be considered worthy of learning the Torah. The House of Hillel, on the other hand, were prepared to admit all those who asked, as they saw the potential in everyone. It made me think carefully about whether we should take the judgemental and selective eight-to-one approach with the pre-test, or see the potential in all and look to understand how we can nurture it. I had this very much in mind as we analysed the results. Should we have a cut-off and exclude all those below, basing decisions on the ability of a child on one particular day, at one particular time, and judge them suitable or unsuitable, and keep a small group of children in limbo on the waiting list, hopeful but helpless, relying on the chance of a place becoming available?

We are, and always have been, a selective school, but more in terms of what we can do for a child rather than what a child can do for the school. We see potential in all the children who went through the pre-testing process last term and we will not be rejecting any of them purely as a result of the marks they achieved. The reports we have received from their schools tell us far more about a child’s potential. 

Our focus now, therefore, is on the children who haven’t yet reached the point at which we feel comfortable making an offer. They are on our development list, so called because we really do want to see how they develop over the next months. They have the priority for interviews, so that we can get to know them individually and discover their wider interests and talents. The key for us is to discover whether we are the best educational environment for them. “Will they thrive at Bryanston?” is always our key admissions question. Whilst we have to be certain they will be able to achieve their academic potential within our (modified Dalton) educational approach and recognise that we won’t suit all children equally, we do also look for the talents that can be nurtured over their five years with us, in order to develop confident young people, aware of their strengths and ready to contribute to our wider society. If a child on the development list is not suited to our system, we will advise that it will be in their best interest to be at a school where they will flourish.

In this uncertain, increasingly populist world of the present, our aim continues to be to educate reflective young people who understand who they are, are comfortable in their own skin and recognise what they are capable of achieving. To deny them that possibility purely on the basis of one test result, when they are at an age at which they are just beginning to discover their individual strengths and talents, would seem to be a waste of potential. Our sincere hope is that all our young people will develop the confidence and creativity to shape positively the world in which they find themselves.