Kew Green Prep’s Head of Data, 11+ and DSL Amy Kinross on the importance of keeping curriculum breadth during 11+ preparation to support wellbeing, creativity and joy

For many, the 11+ has become a symbol of the burial of childhood: the beginning of hothousing and the end of curriculum breadth. The mouse-clicks of silent pupils navigating various online platforms are like church bells, tolling for the demise of joy and creativity in learning. Humanities, sports and the arts are put aside in favour of endless English, mathematics and Reasoning papers. Small shoulders hunch over, clubs are cancelled, while school trips become but a distant memory.

All of this, despite our knowledge of a post-Covid decline in children’s wellbeing. NHS England reports that rates of mental health disorders in our young people have at last steadied from 2022-23, with 15.7% of our 8-10-year-olds currently experiencing a mental health disorder of some nature, but this comes after a sharp rise that began in 2017 (pre Covid) and has far-reaching implications for wellbeing in adult life.

Kew Green Prep on wellbeing in action
Keeping activities going in the run up to the 11+ is critical for ensuring wellbeing, says KGPS’ Amy Kinross

All Pastoral and Safeguarding Leads know these stats – and so does the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) – hence the framework’s push for schools to ‘actively promote’ pupil wellbeing. Much is being made currently of positive wellbeing, and it’s an easy buzzword to add to development plans, but it’s important to understand that you cannot create it simply by making resilience a school value or putting up a board display.

We have to show our children what taking care of our wellbeing looks like actively: to model it until they understand, just as we might model column subtraction. Not just through PSHEE, and assemblies, but through the design of our curriculum itself. If we are telling our children to breathe deeply before an 11+ exam while removing their sports fixtures for two terms, that’s a mixed message.

“We have to show our children what taking care of wellbeing looks like – model it just as we might model column subtraction”

This is where curriculum breadth – maintaining humanities, sports, the arts, clubs and trips throughout the 11+ process – is so vitally important and at the centre of our ethos at Kew Green Prep. When we, as adults, maintain positive wellbeing while performing at our peak, we do not do so in isolation, but with the support of our personal toolkits: family and friends; sleep; exercise and fresh air; our pets; hobbies outside of work.

Ultimately, the key to wellbeing is not avoiding challenge, but creating sparks of joy within it, however small. We work hard at Kew Green Prep to give our children regular sparks of joy – a class assembly, a history ghost story, choral poetry, interschool maths quizzes, a football tour, music performances, trips to the Globe, building robots in STEM club, and many more – alongside the necessary academic rigour to support their high aspirations.

As Head of Data, 11+ and DSL, and also leading the school-wide wellbeing strategy, the elements of my role may seem an impossible balancing act, inevitably at odds. But for me, this combination symbolises opportunity, and my commitment to being a passionate advocate for these sparks of joy. It’s not always easy, but staff are endlessly creative, and our data supports our approach: happy children achieve well.

Our value-added is higher than ever at 11+, with academic, music, art, drama, STEM and sports scholarships and several children gaining places at highly competitive senior schools. We are proud of our Year 6s, and we are proud that, through our broad 11+ curriculum, we have modelled for them the way to approach any challenge in their adult lives: with hard work, a dream, and a wellbeing toolkit. The church bells are ringing out in joyful celebration, indeed.

Kew Green Prep School

Further reading: Cranleigh Prep School on making AI work in class