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Insights | Understanding the Upper Prep School curriculum

10 June 2019

Andrew Willis Head of Prep School

Preparatory School is all about preparation. This might sound obvious, but every Prep school needs to think very carefully about exactly what they are preparing their pupils for. At Wellington, we’re not only preparing our pupils to be successful in their exams so they can gain entry to the university of their choice. Undoubtedly important as these things are, they only represent the beginnings of our idea of preparation.It is this question of ‘what are we preparing pupils for?’ that drives us as educators, and it has led us to carefully examine and rework our Prep School curriculum. An awful lot of thought, care, passion and creativity from every teacher has gone into this process, and as a team we are extremely proud of the result and excited at the prospect of delivering it to our pupils.Accordingly, I would like to share with you the outline of the enhanced curriculum and what we hope to achieve by teaching it. 
Preparing for life beyond school
So what are we preparing our pupils for? If achieving good exam results is the narrowest focus, what are we looking at when we ‘zoom out’? Put simply, we are preparing every Wellingtonian to enjoy a ‘good’ life. If that sounds far too broad and vague now, let me fill in some of the gaps! Our belief is that every pupil should leave the Prep School completely confident that they are ready to tackle whatever challenges that the next stage of their life throws at them. We are not only preparing them to be academically successful, we also want them to be successful and fulfilled in their careers, their personal projects, and their relationships with others. We want them to have the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing to be happy in every sphere of their lives. We want them to feel secure enough in themselves to take considered risks; to travel, to be ambitious, to test themselves in multiple arenas, to actively seek out what life has to offer them and what they have to offer other people. Again, in short, we want to prepare them to have a ‘good’ life! We want our pupils to enjoy a life that is exciting, engaging, meaningful and, most importantly, a life that they find fulfilling by their own definitions and on their own terms.  
The Upper Prep Leaver Profile – Nine preparatory elements
Now we know the desired outcome, it’s time to look at how we get there. The following are the nine elements that we feel are essential to instil in each of our pupils. After unpacking the old curriculum, after stripping it back to its bare walls and floors, these are the fundamentally important things we want our pupils to embody. By the time a child in our care reaches the end of year 8, we want them to be:  
Developing independence in learning and life skills; self-reliant and creative in response to challenges; confidently self-aware and with high self-esteem.
Why it’s important: Life can often be difficult and complicated, so it’s best to be able to rely on yourself before others. We’re not expecting pupils to magically achieve this by themselves, but to build up their independence over time. By their university or early career years, we want them to be able to independently handle any challenge or learning experience, confident with tools they have. We want them to shape and lead their own learning, and to make the most of every encounter.  
Reads and writes with fluency, confidence and accuracy across a variety of forms and genres.
Why it’s important: It’s one thing to have great ideas, but without the confidence and technical ability to fully shape them, those ideas either fail to live up to their potential or they go to waste entirely. By utilising a wide variety of literary tools and techniques, honed and experimented with during lots of different learning scenarios, pupils can learn how to take hold of their ideas and breathe life into them.  
Global citizen
Aware of global issues and empathetic to others’ challenges; a generator of action who is determined to make a positive difference.
Why it’s important: No matter how many politicians try to deny it, we are all living in a shared world, with a shared environment and a shared responsibility to improve it. By becoming global citizens, our pupils will better understand and live up to this sense of responsibility.  
Confident and articulate; able to work in a variety of oral formats to communicate and problem-solve effectively.
Why it’s important: Communication is an essential life skill and talking is an equally essential learning tool. We want pupils to be keen debaters and discussers, to think aloud, to articulate their thoughts and ideas with confidence and conviction. To put this into context, by the end of year 8, we want each pupil to be confident enough to give a TEDTalk-style address in the College Theatre. This is because the clear and articulate expression of their thoughts will serve them well in many different situations and contexts; whether they are talking academically, professionally or socially, what they say, and how they say it, really does matter.  
Possessing broad cultural capacity highly relevant to time and place.
Why it’s important: Speaking candidly, life at an international school can easily lead pupils to live comfortably within an expat bubble, disconnected to the wider context of the place where they live and study. We want our pupils to be able to engage with Shanghai, China, or anywhere they may subsequently choose to live. They must be able to question what it means to ‘get inside’ a city, a country, a culture, and learn from it, absorbing its lessons with respect and good-natured curiosity.  
Committed to service that achieves sustainable and authentic change. Developing a broad range of skills, facing challenges and building capacity for resilience.
Why it’s important: We’re living in a time when young people are capable of affecting significant positive change in politics, culture, technological advancements and more. When they consider their future lives, we want our pupils to instinctively search for ways to help others as well as themselves. Whether its forging links with less fortunate children in local schools, driving College-wide recycling efforts, or something else entirely, the impact of their actions should be a force for good in the world.  
Confident to refine understanding and reflect on learning with well-developed skills of metacognition.
Why it’s important: There isn’t one single form of intelligence, there are many. There are different ways for our pupils to think and learn, to work with peers, to test ideas and each other, to prepare for exams and future challenges. By becoming better thinkers, by ‘thinking out loud’ (this is metacognition in a nutshell!) pupils will find themselves better prepared for literally any challenge or life situation. Imagine that your brain is equipped with the world’s most impressive utility belt, packed with tools suitable for every job – this is what we want our children to develop.  
Reads, understands and accurately uses high-level academic language.
Why it’s important: Much like talking, learning to read widely, confidently and ambitiously is a vital discipline for lifelong learning. We want our pupils to go beyond their initial understanding of a subject and get to grips with high-level, subject-specific language that is sophisticated and expressive. By delving into the specifics of a subject, pupils can unlock its deeper meaning, which may inform their understanding of a whole range of other topics and concepts. We also want pupils to be academically critical of everything they encounter. From news sources to textbooks and periodicals, they should always be asking themselves: “Why? Why is this the way it is?”  
Knowledgeable and skilled
Excited by the challenge of a demanding, inspiring and intriguing curriculum.
Why it’s important: With knowledge and skills, our pupils will have tangible tools to utilise in life’s many complex and demanding situations. We want them to eagerly absorb what’s on offer and carry that attitude with them throughout the rest of their lives.  
Preparing for the next step
As you’ve probably noticed already, many of these elements have strong links with one another. Being a global citizen will help our pupils become more cultured, having an academic mindset will help them become more literate and better orators, and vice versa. In each case, we’re trying to allow our pupils to build a series of mutually supportive and beneficial traits that will equip them for what comes next in their lives. Most immediately, this will be moving up to the Senior School, into IGCSEs and then the IBDP. Beyond that, the choice is theirs, as is every subsequent choice for the rest of their lives. More than anything else, we want them to feel capable of making those choices with enthusiasm and optimistic curiosity, rather than nervous trepidation about what they might encounter. If they can do that, then we have done our job of preparing them.
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