Transition is part of the Journey

I am sometimes asked by parents about the virtue of moving their child to senior school in Year 7 as opposed to Year 9. Given that Year 7 represents the start of secondary education in this country, it is a perfectly reasonable question, and a conversation that takes place in prep schools up and down the country.

With the occasional exception, my answer is usually to point to the enormous benefits offered by life in Years 7 and 8 at Exeter Cathedral School, and the concomitant risk of plunging a Year 7 child into a significantly larger senior school. The final two years at Exeter Cathedral School offer, paradoxically, both protection and challenge. Protection from the full effects of adolescence; and exposure to a world of young adults. Is an 18-year-old the right role model for an 11-year-old? Not necessarily. There is also the risk that Year 7 pupils are not the first priority of a school which almost certainly focusses heavily on outcomes at GCSE and A-Level. I know of what I speak, I was once a head of sixth form.

By contrast, pupils in years 7 and 8 at a prep school are seen as the jewel in the crown, and no effort is spared to ensure they receive both academic challenge and leadership opportunities. Whilst protected from unnecessary social pressures, pupils can focus on being themselves and embracing leadership opportunities: as prefects, as senior choristers, as heads of boarding, as heads of school, as captains of sport, or as leaders of the orchestra. It is a wonderful time for pupils to be at the top of the tree, throwing themselves into drama productions, or enjoying the highly anticipated ECS: Futures Programme.

Having embraced these opportunities, and with a clear sense of identity, pupils at Exeter Cathedral School are more than ready to embark upon the competitive world beyond. I have lost track of the number of pupils who have told me how well-prepared they were for Year 9, or even how they found the work ‘easy’.

Towards the start of this blog, I referred, perhaps slightly glibly, to the pressure senior schools have to produce results at GCSE and A-Level. Of course, prep schools face the pressure of results as well. They stand or fall by the quality of their senior school admissions. Preparing pupils for the transition to senior schools is something we have worked hard on in recent years. We have built relationships with senior schools, created an enrichment programme designed to maximise scholarship opportunities, and honed leadership roles to prepare our pupils for that significant moment in their lives.

As part of this ongoing preparation, we were delighted to welcome Mr Bart Wielenga, Headmaster of Blundell’s School, to talk to Years 7 and 8 this week about how to make a smooth transition to senior school. Whatever stage we are at in life, I think we could all benefit from his advice:

  • Optimism: a willingness to see the best in people and in circumstances. To be hopeful.
  • Ambition: a determination to be better than we were yesterday. To not compare ourselves to others but to want to make the most of every opportunity.
  • Adventure: the willingness to try new things, and to be courageous in moving out of our comfort zones.
  • Curiosity: the humility to accept that there is a lot we don’t know and won’t know, and the willingness to learn from others and to keep asking questions.

During his talk, Mr Wielenga also said that just last week an Exeter Cathedral School pupil gave him the best answer to a scholarship interview question he has had in years.

Mr Wielenga: “If you could spend a day with anyone, who would it be and what would you do?”

Exeter Cathedral School pupil: (quick as a flash) “The Prime Minister because he knows how to throw a good party.”


Mr James Meeke

Head of Upper Years

Head of Enrichment & Scholarships


28 January 2022
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