The benefits of a whole school education

We quite often refer distinctively to our Junior School and Senior School, but although there are natural lines of demarcation based on the Scottish education system, it doesn’t quite work like that in practice

For example, our school George Watson’s College is based on one, single campus. Pupils of all ages mix together in lots of different ways.

And when it comes to the curriculum, the integration between “primary” and “secondary” is deeply embedded in the way we do things. 

This is achieved in several ways. For example, our Junior School pupils receive specialist subject teaching in a number of areas, with staff either operating across the whole school, or at least part of a whole school curricular department. 

By the time your child reaches Primary 6, the process of their transition to Senior School is well underway (even if you don’t necessarily see it!). 

We operate an ‘enhanced transition’ for those pupils who have particular neurodiverse needs. This enables us to help prepare them for the inevitable changes that come when starting S1.

By P7, every pupil is regularly taught by five or more  'Senior School teachers’ across different subjects in PE, Art, Music, Drama, and Modern Foreign Languages so they are completely familiar with many of the approaches they might expect in S1.

Indeed, in many ways, the S1 and S2 curriculum is built on the work that goes on in the Junior School. Developing literacy skills happens across social subjects, whilst numeracy skills feature across the sciences. 

This type of interdisciplinary learning reflects the Curriculum for Excellence. Pupils might be studying The Vikings but that doesn’t mean they can’t hone their reading, writing or arithmetic skills. 

Another part of the curriculum across the whole school which is extremely joined up is our approach to mental health and wellbeing. This really, really matters to us. It permeates our curriculum, because it’s not just about making sure a child is mentally well, but that they have the skills to understand what to do if things are not going right. 

One thing that our Watson’s staff have thought a lot about in recent years is setting. There are a range of arguments as to whether grouping children by ability works. 

In our Junior School we’re beginning to unpick this approach, because the groups are quite arbitrary (you can have a lot of variation within a group) and we think differentiation in learning needs to be looked at on an individual level. 

So we ask the question: what does a pupil need to help them improve, build skills and be challenged? 

Quite a few things are evolving. Self-assessment and reflection is really important now, giving pupils the chance to assess their own progress (and set their own goals, too!). Peer-assessment can be helpful, and we find using data through specific tasks (often carried out digitally) provides instant feedback and valuable insight for teachers. 

Underpinning this is a culture shift that might be quite different to when you were at school. Staff and pupils work together in partnership. With mutual respect, these strong relationships are incredibly powerful. 

There’s no denying our school is big. With plenty of maroon blazers about. But ask any teacher or pupil and they are likely to tell you that it doesn’t feel an impersonal place. 

That’s because, by design, our staff have the time to get to know the pupils they teach; not just their academic ability, but their personalities, what makes them tick. In doing so, they’re able to think not just in terms of supporting academic success (although there’s plenty of that!) but about the totality of each young person’s Watson’s experience.

Or as we might say, their Life in Maroon.