Breaking news…. - Gateways School

Gateways commits to restricting average class sizes to between 14-18 pupils and opens its doors to boys joining the High School from September 2019.  Click the link below to read all about it!

Letter from Chair & Head – 04.01.2018

Understandably this news has been met with lots of interest as well as lots of questions.  In the hope that it helps everyone to understand developments as they take place, we will be keeping this page updated with questions we get asked and the answers we are giving!  Check back regularly for updates.

Comments on Q & A sessions

I just wanted to say after yesterday’s meeting what a great job the governors, Doctor Johnson and you (Mrs Wallis) are doing. The strategy and the reasons behind it are 100% clear and I believe it is the right way forward for the school. It should bring new opportunities for the pupils.

I wanted to drop a quick note to say thank you for the meeting yesterday. I didn’t get a chance to voice my feelings in the meeting but wanted you and the rest of the team to know that my husband and I are 100% in support of the direction the school is going in. It is very exciting and you can rely on us to help spread the word that this amazing school is truly ‘open for business’!

Thank you for the opportunity to come and ask questions on Wednesday. You were all very gracious in your responses to the questions even when one or two parents were a little more ‘direct’ than I was expecting!”

FAQs

What exactly has been the main driver for allowing the boys to join the High School?

About a year ago, the Governors embarked upon a strategic exercise to plot the course that Gateways would take over the next 10 years and beyond. That exercise involved the use of an external facilitator who led various consultations with governors, parents, pupils and staff. The first key task for the facilitator was to really find out what all of the stakeholders viewed were the real strengths of the school in order that those strengths could be further developed and built upon within any future strategy.

An interesting thread began to emerge during these consultations and it concerned the main reason parents said that they chose Gateways for their children. They chose Gateways because of its ethos. Pure and simple. The sense of community that exists within our gates, the smaller size of the school compared to our neighbours, the small class sizes compared to our neighbours, our knowledge of our pupils, our passion for our profession, our attention to detail, our educational principles, our values and of course, the fantastic outcomes achieved by all of our pupils were the things that most mattered to people. Yes, some did mention the single sex nature of the High School but, in truth, the number that did was very small and many more parents said that they simply accepted that because they rated the other things as more important that the co-ed / single sex issue.

And so the question was asked – would allowing boys to transition into the High School change any of those other things that we are so highly valued for? The answer is of course ‘no’. For example having boys in the High School will not change the sense of community, the school does not intend to undergo rapid and significant growth through the admission of boys, like all schools we can determine and implement our preferred class size and it would be silly to think that having boys would change that or any of the other characteristics valued by our parents. It doesn’t even have to change the classroom dynamic because we have retained complete flexibility to determine the best way to teach the boys and girls as they move through High School together. If it suits a particular cohort to be split on a gender basis, we can do that. If it suits a group in a particular year group or subject to be taught in a mixed group, we can do that. We might have different needs within the same year group so we might want to have a girl group, a boy group and a mixed group. We can do all of that. But one thing is for certain, those decisions will be made with the best interests of that particular group of children at that particular time forefront in our minds. No ‘model’ will be applied unilaterally. And parents trust us with that because we have shown time and time again that we do change our model depending on the needs of the children in front of us.

The final considerations therefore became – is there a desire within the local market for a smaller school alternative for boys at the senior level and by opening up our High School could we better serve our own boys in Prep by providing them with a senior school choice? The answer to both of these questions was a resounding ‘yes’ and this has ultimately led us to our current position.

Having taken the decision to allow the boys to graduate into the High School, we further decided to take our time over the implementation of the strategy. To do it properly rather than quickly. To allow ourselves time to talk it through with parents and to provide time for parents to work with us in ensuring a successful realisation of the plan. And that is what the next 18 months is all about. Getting the details right.

Where is the evidence that 14-18 pupils in a class is the ideal range and will fees have to rise to pay for this?

The Institute of Education in London has conducted the most recent research on this matter and determined that restricting class size really does make a positive difference to pupil outcomes.  Their findings regarding the optimum range is supported by a number of other international pieces of research.  This is because it improves one of the top factors known to impact on pupil outcomes, that of teacher efficacy.  And this stands to reason doesn’t it?  Having fewer students to teach means that individual teachers can:

  • get to know every pupil much better
  • get a stronger handle on their strengths and weaknesses
  • build more knowledgeable relationships with each pupil
  • give better quality and more regular feedback to each of their students on how to improve their work because they are feeding back to fewer pupils overall
  • create more frequent opportunities for all students to participate in class discussion because there are fewer pupils to be listened to
  • respond to and implement the recommended intervention strategies for those children who have them.
  • Classroom behaviour is also improved with a reduction in class size and the ability to provide direct instruction enhanced.  Teachers also have fewer parents to engage with on a regular basis and therefore the home-school partnership is stronger and more focussed with each and every pupil, not just those who would usually demand an additional focus.  Although you have not asked this I would also mention that limiting the overall size of the school so that most of the teachers actually teach most of the pupils, means that the teachers not only all know one another well, there is a smaller number of staff overall and therefore communications across the staff body are more frequent and meaningful.   This regular sharing of quality information between colleagues also benefits the pupils.

    The crucial thing to remember here though is that reducing class size has been found to have no effect at all on pupil outcomes until it is reduced to a level which allows the teacher to change their teaching strategies. So reducing from 30 to 24 pupils actually has so little impact that it is not worth the cost of implementing the necessary changes to the structure of the school. However, if you can reduce the class size to below 20, the impact starts to become noticeable. Reduce it further to the mid teens and the results are striking. Teachers teach differently and it makes a huge difference to the pupils. Ask any teacher who has had experience of working in this way and you will find them to be effusive in their description of what classes of this size are like to teach and how much progress can be made in this environment. That is why we are nailing our colours to the mast on this issue and are restricting average class size to be in the range of 14-18 pupils, for the benefit of the pupils and to maximise their opportunity to succeed.

    In answer to your second question regarding potential fee increases needed to pay for these changes the answer is a resounding ‘no’.  Every year, independent school fees tend to rise by a small percentage due to the rises in our cost bases.  As our infrastructure and facility changes can all be funded out of current budgets, I do not see any reason why any extraordinary fee increases would be required as a result of these changes.

    Will Gateways be seeking to recruit more staff in order to deliver the 14-18 class size promise?

    In due course, yes.  Looking ahead to September 2018 we can already see the need emerging for an additional member of the Key Stage 1 team and perhaps up to 2 additional members of the Key Stage 2 team.  This is solely as a result of the sheer number of enquiries, registrations and new starters we have already had since making our announcements.  A note to this effect has already been posted on the website under “Working at Gateways”.

    When will the consultations with parents of children in year 5 and below regarding the future educational model to be offered begin?

    The first of the consultation sessions will take place, as mentioned in the letter, on January 31st.  If anyone wishes to express a particular view and find that they can’t make that session then they are very welcome to book a slot in my (Dr Johnson) diary or indeed they can arrange to speak with anyone on Leadership (Mrs Titman, Mrs Wallis or Mrs Wood) at any time.  No doubt other consultation and feedback sessions will follow the one on 31st January but we don’t have dates for those as yet.

    Where will the funding come from to support the additional investment in the facilities referenced in the Letter?

    In terms of facilities, we have undertaken a comprehensive analysis of our site and have determined that the school already has capacity to accommodate boys and girls in High School through to around 2021 without requiring any significant investment.  We will need additional toilet and changing facilities of course but these can be funded out of the usual property and maintenance budgets.

    As Gateways is a small school (one of the reasons we chose the school), how will the grounds/space be utilised to accommodate teenage boys – will there be more separation between the High School, Prep School, Transition + Reception (i.e. at break time)?

    In terms of space, we are actively seeking to enlarge our site because that enlargement would indeed allow the additional space you speak of for the older boys to get together to play football and such like during recreational times as well as providing additional facilities, sporting and otherwise.  However, even if enlargement does not prove possible in the long run, we already enjoy the benefit of a large site which is under-utilised in several respects as it stands.  I would envisage looking at these areas creatively in order to provide those spaces you mention and which I agree are essential in maintaining a harmonious community!

    Will boys and girls be taught in separate gender-based classes when they move through to the High School or will they be taught in co-ed classes all together?

    At Gateways we do not operate a “one size fits all” model.  Our size allows us offer a more personalised educational experience where the interests of the pupils are at the heart of every decision made.  We have therefore not determined this important point yet as we would like to take the time to have further discussions with parents, pupils and staff to determine what model we feel will best meet the educational and pastoral needs of the pupils as they make this transition.  I can only say therefore that nothing has been ruled out and the discussions will be wide ranging and diverse!

    Is Gateways in trouble?

    Far from it!  A number of years ago, in response to the economic downturn, Gateways adjusted its business model to cater for smaller class sizes.  In “accountant speak” our EBITDA every financial year is very nicely positive, every year we turn a cash surplus, we have significant reserves held at the bank and we have a very small debt-to-asset ratio.  Having seen the benefit of the smaller class sizes on our value added data (resulting in an annual placing within the top ten schools nationally) we could continue “as is” quite easily.

    However, we are ambitious for our school as well as for our pupils.  We want to embark on exciting developments and we know parents are also keen for us to progress projects such as an all-weather pitch etc.  We have also been looking at other senior schools for our prep boys and honestly cannot find a “Gateways for boys” anywhere in the locality.  In making these changes we fill 2 gaps in the marketplace:

  • No other school in the area promises to deliver average class sizes in the 14-18 range. Gateways is making this promise and we believe this will appeal to parents who are concerned about class sizes regularly hitting 20 and above, including in other independent schools
  • Girls in the area can already choose Gateways as an excellent senior school. The boys in our area have been crying out for an alternative senior choice for some time and now they finally have that choice.
  • The ethos at Gateways will not change.  We will remain a small school in comparison to those around us and we will continue to place our pupils at the centre of any decision we make.  Their educational and pastoral interests will remain our first priority and we will not have the ‘one size fits all’ model that larger schools have to adopt out of necessity.

    Besides, if Gateways was in trouble, would we really be limiting class sizes to between 14-18 pupils on average or would we be packing as many pupils into each class as we could to keep costs down?  Would we really be waiting until 2019 to make this change or would we be moving much more swiftly?  Would we really proceed in an evolutionary way with a single leading year group of boys moving through the school or would we open up as many year groups to boy applicants as possible?  I think the answers to these questions speak for themselves.

    Sorry – that was a very long answer to quite a short question!