Benenden’s first 13-year-old graduates make history

Benenden’s new diploma encourages pupils to make the most of their first two years at the school

The year 8 pupils at Benenden School have become the first year group to graduate with the school’s new diploma.

In the final week of term, the girls in the upper fourth, all aged 12 and 13, proudly collected their certificates in front of friends, family and staff at the inaugural diploma ceremony in the school hall.

It was the culmination of two years’ work, which included all their timetabled lessons as well as trips, special projects and enquiry weeks, when traditional lessons are replaced by a focus on exploring a particular topic.

In order to pass the diploma, girls had to submit a portfolio of their best work across all subjects, in relation to the particular termly themes. They also had to produce an extended project – a mini-dissertation or a practical project – and were assessed throughout the two years of lessons.

To celebrate their graduation from the diploma and their journey to the middle school in September, the school threw a party for the girls in the days before the formal ceremony.

‘Congratulations to our upper fourths, who have made history by becoming the first graduates of our Benenden Diploma,” said Samantha Price, Headmistress. “They have worked incredibly hard over the past two years and it was an honour to present them with their certificates at the diploma ceremony.”

Bespoke to Benenden, it was created to capture the sense of awe and wonder that younger children have for learning

Lesley Tyler, Benenden’s Deputy Head Academic, was responsible for designing the diploma and added, “This unique new diploma ensures that girls are making full use of those first two years at school, and working towards something tangible that will stand them in great stead for the rest of their education.”

“They are learning valuable skills such as critical thinking, public speaking, researching, essay-writing, project working and, perhaps most importantly, linking what they have learnt in one subject with what they are working on in others – and all before they reach Year 9,” continued Lesley. “After all, real life doesn’t involve an hour of Maths and then an hour of History – we have to use all our skills to solve whatever challenge we are working on, and this is precisely what the Benenden Diploma is enabling our youngest girls to be able to do.”

This year group, then all aged 11, was the first to start the diploma when it was introduced in September 2015. Bespoke to Benenden, it was created to capture the sense of awe and wonder that younger children have for learning and to offer Benenden girls something to work towards during their first two years while their counterparts at prep schools would be focused on common entrance.

The school wanted to ensure the students experienced a curriculum that was genuinely interesting, extremely challenging and connective and based on real world problems. Through the diploma, girls have had the opportunity to work with professionals at the cutting edge of their field, including RSC actors, entrepreneurs and CEOs of charities and development agencies.

One of the unique features of the diploma is that it crosses all subjects, so the girls’ teachers in, for example, Geography know what they are learning in French and Maths and Physics. All their lessons across each term focus on a particular theme and every subject explores that theme in their own way.

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