What is the Diploma?
The Benenden Diploma Level 1, is our bespoke curriculum for the Fourth and Upper Fourth. This is a two-year curriculum, unique to Benenden, and was designed to capture the sense of awe and wonder that students of this age still have about discovering new knowledge and skills.
Here, we are fortunate to have the freedom to teach our 11 and 12-year-olds outside the shackles of the Common Entrance or another exam-led or state-dictated syllabus. So we decided to plan a curriculum that not only delivered the key skills necessary to each subject specialism and prepare for public exams later, but also enabled students to make exciting and innovative links between subjects – a way of learning that better reflects life and the workplace. It is a highly interactive, investigative curriculum.
How does it work?
During the planning process, each Head of Department was tasked with identifying what made an excellent young chemist, mathematician, writer etc and designed a challenging and engaging scheme of work and assessment structure to deliver and accredit that knowledge, understanding and skillset. Then at a planning session, we found the links between the topics, reordered everything and came up with three cross-curricular themes for the first year: identity, journeys and change, one for each term.
Every lesson is delivered in a spirit of enquiry, beginning with a question: eg Why does a volcano erupt? What are the key rules for writing a newspaper article? How do Islam and Christianity differ? The work for each subject is marked on a 10-level scale which shows progression across the two years and is linked to our five-scale summative reporting system.
We have added an additional Humanities lesson to the programme, and in this Time Travel lesson, the girls pick a particular year and explore what it would have been like to be a 12-year-old girl in that year in a particular place: what they would have eaten, worn, how they would have lived and spoken, what the landscape would have looked like and how national events might have affected them (if at all) – this is an important addition of social history and landscape geography to their curriculum.
Teaching in a different way
In addition, at stages through the year, we suspend the normal six-hour day of subject-based lessons and teach in a different way with teachers from different subjects working together on themed workshops, sometimes delivering subjects not usually seen on a curriculum for a 12-year-old, such as Economics, Genetics or Psychology. In these days, the girls draw on and apply previous knowledge from their subject lessons, select relevant information and apply skills such as presentation or research. The girls learn to be effective group members, to problem solve, present to an adult audience and meet deadlines.
One such theme is “Who Am I?” where the students take part in workshops on psychometric testing, psychological theories about how your place within your family influences your personality; they do an on-line political survey and learn about how what they believed matched to the main UK political parties’ manifestos.
They learn about the history of portraiture, and make identity posters using the vocabulary they had learnt in their languages, as well as doing some creative writing about themselves and creating playlists of music that are important to them. This work will be put in a ‘time capsule’ for them to revisit later as their identity evolves as they go through the School.
What is studied in the Diploma?
Part of the first year of the Diploma focuses on British Cultural Icons: in the Autumn term our literary icon is Shakespeare. The girls spend four days in Stratford-upon-Avon, working with actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company and professional historians at Warwick Castle, expanding work done in their English and history lessons and preparing their understanding of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which they perform to parents in June on Grandparents’ Day.
To contrast with Warwick castle, in the Spring term they visit a French chateau in Normandy, and compare styles of architectural grandiosity! We look at Chaucer in the spring and Dickens in the summer with visits to Canterbury and Rochester as part of the Maids of Kent theme which also runs through the Weekend Programme activities. We pay particular attention to the achievements of women through the ages, whether that be in science, literature, the arts or public life.
The Complete Education Programme
In addition to subject and cross-curricular lessons, the students follow the ACE programme – ACE stands for our school theme of A Complete Education. This has five headings which cover all aspects of co-curricular and boarding life: Physical Wellbeing; Mind and Spirit; Lifeskills; Creativity and Culture and Life Outside Benenden.
Through this carefully mapped programme, the pupils have a chance to learn alongside boys, explore our local and the wider community, and consider the place of Britain within the world as well as focus on study skills such as how to make notes and revise, have some careers and financial education and learn about how to look after themselves and stay fit and healthy.
We begin the Spring Term with two days on the theme of journeys: the girls study both human and animal migration and learn about demography, as well as having a Careers session using The Real Game where they explore in role the range of careers open to them, and a workshop from the ever popular company Elevate on effective study skills.
The Diploma ends in June of the Upper Fourth, when the pupils present the very best of their work from the two years, receive their Diploma certificate at a graduation ceremony, and have a Prom! From there, they pass into the three years of the Middle School, where we aim for them to begin the Diploma Level 2, soon to be planned, which will incorporate their GCSE and iGCSE studies.