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Why We Think Our Curriculum Is the ‘Best of British’

01 May 2022
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At St George’s we have chosen to blend the English and Scottish examination systems by entering students for GCSE followed by Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers in their final two years at school. With this combination of qualifications, which allows for both breadth and depth of study, our students go on to study at Oxford and Cambridge, medical schools across the UK, the University of St Andrews, Russell Group universities in Scotland and England and the country’s leading art schools. Every year some girls will also choose to study abroad, and we have consistently found our combination of qualifications to be warmly welcomed overseas.

In S3 and S4 (Year 10 and 11) our students study for up to nine GCSEs, allowing them to maintain a wide range of academic interests at this stage. Everyone takes English Language and English Literature, Mathematics, at least one science, at least one language (from French, German, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese) and at least one Social Science (Geography, History, Religious Studies, Business Studies). They can also choose from Latin, Computing, Music, Drama, Art, Physical Education, Food Technology and Design & Technology.

As a Scottish school, it was a conscious choice for us to offer GCSE rather than the Scottish National 5 examinations. We like the fact that GCSEs are two-year courses and that therefore skill development takes place over a longer period than the one-year National 5 would allow for. This, and the volume of material that the courses cover naturally makes them demanding qualifications which offer appropriate academic stretch and range for our students. They develop excellent study skills and a strong work ethic which equip them very well for the demands of later study. We believe that nine subjects at this stage allows the girls to maintain a healthy balance between academic challenge and enjoying the benefits of a full programme of extra-curricular life, such as the music, drama, sport, debating etc which are so important in developing a rounded person.

Alongside these subjects we offer something quite unusual at this stage; girls can choose to take the Higher Project Qualification (HPQ) at the same time as their GCSEs, which offers them the chance to undertake a piece of truly independent work which might take the form of an essay, an investigation or perhaps a creative outcome such as a film, a piece of music or an artefact. It is the process and their own evaluation which are assessed and lead to a qualification. Choosing to undertake an HPQ gives a student the chance to develop an existing academic interest, to draw together cross-curricular strands, or to explore areas beyond the school curriculum. We have seen students investigate the impact of pesticides on bird populations, explore the origins of written language, assess the impact of music on mood and examine the treatment of the Highland Clearances in contemporary song. As you can tell from their choices, this is a course that allows students’ individual interests to shine through, as well as helping them to learn the discipline of independent working. They can really set themselves apart by opting for a course like this, while acquiring skills that will help them at the next stage of their education.

For the final two years of the girls’ school career we work with the Scottish qualifications, Highers and Advanced Highers. This route allows great flexibility for our students, and with over twenty courses available to them at this stage, gives them a great deal of choice of direction. Most girls will take five Highers in S5 (Lower Sixth/ Year 12) and may then choose, in their final year, to pursue Advanced Highers, where an A grade carries the same UCAS tariff as an A* at A Level, or to take a combination of Advanced Highers and additional Highers, depending on their requirements, strengths and interests. We like the fact that girls can make their decisions in two stages; first choosing Higher subjects, and then, a year later, with a greater understanding of their developing interests and relative strengths, they select the courses they would like to follow in their final year. They have the chance to change direction if required – perhaps someone who thought she wanted to study Medicine might realise later that her preferred direction was Engineering, and so needed to add in Physics, which she could do by taking Physics Higher in S6. I know of no other Sixth Form curriculum that offers this combination of flexibility, range and chance to specialise in really satisfying depth. With strong grades in five, or in a few cases six Higher subjects under their belts at the point of applying to university, our students find that they receive very attractive offers from universities across the UK: Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Aberdeen, Bristol, Exeter, Newcastle, Cambridge, London, Durham are all universities which have proved popular and successful destinations for our girls.Careers4 240w Over 90% of our applicants routinely take up places at their first choice institutions, which is a statistic that makes us very proud. It is one of the best measures of success for a school as it indicates that students are not only being well prepared but are also appropriately guided and supported when they make their course choices.

Having worked with A Level and IB in the past, both of which I have valued and enjoyed, I have been deeply impressed by the capacity of the curriculum model that we run here to offer a unique blend of academic challenge, breadth and flexibility for our students. No examination system is perfect, but I can honestly say that it does feel like the ‘Best of British’, I am delighted that we are able to make this available at St George’s.

Mrs Alex Hems

Former Head

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