In Defence of Breadth
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In Defence of Breadth

James Webb, Senior Deputy Head of Academics at Port Regis School, explains why a broad curriculum is best

The phrase ‘Jack of all trades, master of none…’ has found its place in our language as something of an insult. However, the full quotation was originally a compliment by continuing ‘…though oftentimes better than a master of one’. 

While we remain fans of Common Entrance in general, Port Regis is not the only prep school in the past three to four years to spend time reviewing its curriculum, reassessing the weighting dedicated to different subjects, and refining its overall academic offer.

This phenomenon was already underway pre-pandemic as the introduction of the ISEB Pre-Test indirectly encouraged an increase in the amount of time spent on the English and maths in Year 5, perhaps also the amount of homework in those subjects, or maybe both.

Some schools have even started ‘teaching’ verbal and non-verbal reasoning, even though those two intellectual activities (which take many forms and for which there is no recognised curriculum) are nothing more than proxies for intelligence and academic potential rather than end goals. Note that there is no GCSE, A-level or degree course in either of these disciplines!

To enhance attainment in English, and presumably by extension verbal reasoning, many schools have decided to timetable dedicated reading periods where no other activity is on offer. For some children this is pure joy: the equivalent of being locked inside a sweet shop.

Those who stand to benefit more are reluctant readers who maybe do not read enough at home, where distractions such as the glowing YouTube icon on an iPad or the trampoline in the garden are just too tempting! Enforced reading is a manoeuvre far easier for teachers to execute at school than for parents at home. This dedicated time will lead to far greater life benefits beyond potential extra marks on the ISEB Pre-Test.

At Port Regis, we have been able to add one extra period of maths to the timetable, and proudly continue to ‘force’ children to read, but we have no intention of downgrading or marginalising other lessons as part of the wider curriculum.

It is certainly thanks to the varied expertise of my colleagues, many of whom worked at senior schools prior to Port Regis, that a record number of non-academic scholarships and exhibitions were won by our Year 8 cohort of 62 children covering the full range: art, design & technology, drama, music and sport.

These, alongside the ten academic awards, prove that a broad curriculum full of non-core subjects can complement a commitment to academic excellence. The unprecedented achievements of the leaving cohort of 2021 are testament to the children’s resilience and the quality of our online learning programme. 

Providing an environment where children can sample all things – and potentially master some – gives them a better chance of discovering unknown talents and, crucially, enjoying their precious prep school years.

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