The Benenden Diploma is our bespoke curriculum for our Fourths and Upper Fourths. Pupils in these year groups are 11 to 13 years old and they follow this curriculum for their first two years at the School, when they are in a year group of around 45 students. They graduate from the Diploma at the end of the Upper Fourth in a special ceremony where they showcase their best work and achievements from the two years.
What is special about the Diploma?
In most senior schools, students of this age will have many unrelated lessons across a week, where the content within each subject is not linked to other subjects. Each lesson is self-contained, and each teacher would not usually know what their colleagues were teaching, or why. National surveys by Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate have shown that the learning in these critical year groups sometimes lacks challenge or repeats content learnt in prep school.
In contrast, our unique curriculum has been designed to capture the sense of awe and wonder that students of this age still have about discovering new knowledge and skills. We have the freedom to teach our Fourths and Upper Fourths outside the requirements of Common Entrance or another exam-led syllabus. So our curriculum not only delivers the key skills necessary to each subject specialism, giving students the knowledge and aptitudes necessary for public exams later, but also enables our students to make exciting and innovative links between subjects through a series of enquiry projects and themes. This is a way of learning that better reflects life and the workplace: after all, in our adult days we do not have one hour of maths followed by one hour of languages and so on.
The Benenden Diploma is a highly interactive, investigative curriculum designed to provide challenge and intellectual stimulation and promote problem-solving and the application of knowledge.We do continue to teach through hour-long subject specific lessons, but each term the content of the lessons is linked to a central theme, and each term, for a few days, we suspend the normal structure of the day to allow students to work on projects, often in role, that allows them to learn new subjects or work in a cross-curricular way. These sessions are often led by professionals such as working artists, writers, scientists or engineers.
The themes for each of the six terms are:
- Childhood and Adolescence
- Rites and Celebrations
- Around the World in 80 Days
Each department considers how it can deliver content that links to the theme, and draws on the work of other subjects so that students need to make links and apply work from elsewhere as they complete tasks within each subject. At the beginning and end of each term, the students experience a launch or plenary project that addresses the theme directly and where they can work on projects for a sustained period of time. Often the work developed in teams is presented to an adult audience, developing skills of collaboration, timekeeping, resourcefulness and communication, all so important in later life.