A few days ago, Ian Sheldon, Deputy Head of Queenswood School shared an exclusive interview with BE. Queenswood School not only comes in 40th place in UK's academic ranking but it is also the school the Iron Lady chose for her daughter. When asked what the main goal of Queenswood School for its students is, Ian answered, "Well, actually it's that they're happy."
Click the link below to watch the interview
BE: First could you give a brief introduction of yourself and your school?
Ian Sheldon (Ian): My name is Ian Sheldon, the Deputy Head on the academic side at Queenwood School. I've worked there for just over 5 years now. It's a lovely school. I live there; my family is growing up there. So a very safe leafy environment and I'm very proud of it
BE: Where's the school located and is there any advantages about it?
Ian: Queenswood is a girl school. I think that's perhaps the most important thing to start with. We're located around about 20 miles, about 30 kilometers to the north of central London. I can guarantee it takes about 30 minutes to get to the west end to do shopping, and if you want to go to the Westfield about the same amount of time.
We're due north of London, and we sit in what's called the green belt, which is an area the UK government make sure is not overdeveloped. So London is not allowed to sprawl out into the countryside, into the area of Hertfordshire that we live in. So Queenswood has about 400 girls. We've got just over 80 teachers, all of whom are extremely dedicated and extremely professional in their academic but also pastoral care of the girls.
Part of the package that we provide is the environment. The school sits on top of the hill, in the middle of some farmland, it’s got its own wood, large playing fields. So there's a lot of space to relax, there’s a lot of space to think and to reflect on the studies that the girls have, and a lot of space to just to be themselves and to grow up, because being a teenage girl is quite a difficult thing and that's something we're try and help with.
Well, Queenswood was set up in 1894 to be a school that educated girls for modern life and that's the ethos that we retain nowadays. Of course modern life has changed somewhat. It was quite visionary setting up a girl school at the end of the Victorian era, because girls' education was not thought as important as boys' education, which was quite a ridiculous statement looking back in history.
So set up on the teachings of John Ruskin which was about preparing girls for modern life but in a holistic way. So we deal academically, of course we do, but we also think it's very important to educate girls emotionally, socially, economically, politically, so that they're able to go and have conversations with people they don't know, and they're confident speaking in public, they’re confident having those conversations with new people and learning about them. So we're helping them to network, we’re helping them to get into university and we're helping them to be the leaders of next generation.
BE: We know that Queenswood has been doing very well with the academic scores. So how do the teachers at your school help with that?
Ian: First of all they are very good scores. They're very good scores in context of the girls who arrive with us. We're not as ruthlessly selective as some schools. And what we're known for is allowing girls to develop academically far beyond their expectations..
You can measure the progress that girls make at Queenswood between the start of Year 10 and the end of Year 11 where we sit GCSE exams. Grade 9 to the end of Grade 10 here. Girls on average improve by one grade per subject and that is then maintained through the last two years of the school to A-level. So our exam results are in fact extraordinary in that context
And the way we do it is that the teachers are so very generous with their time. Yes of course they teach their lessons, and they teach them in an exciting way, in a way that girls in general like to learn, which is a much more collaborative style than you might get in a co-educational or a boy school. The teachers are experts in their subject field, but they give their time outside class
Our staff room it's normally quite an empty place, because our teachers are out there giving time to the girls, maybe one-to-one, maybe a small group, because they found that there was a little bit that needed some attention, or a girl is coming to us for extra help and they'll give that extra help. And that goes on and on and on throughout the girls’ time at Queenswood and it really does support their exam results. That's how we do it.
One of the strange things, when parents come into my office and they ask me what is my main goal as the academic deputy for girls at Queenswood, and I say well actually it's that they're happy. And I think lots of parents are surprised at that initially. But if we get the pastoral care right, and we get the girls to have as little background noise going on in their lives, then I firmly believe that they will progress faster academically. That's another way we do it - we look very carefully at the pastoral care. And that of course underpins all of their progress.
BE: Could you talk a bit about the co-curricular activities at your school?
Ian: Very extensive co-curricular activities as you might expect from UK boarding school. We have around 80 clubs that operate every week. We have sporting clubs, we have arts clubs, we have drama, we have individual subject extension clubs so girls particularly interested in one subject can do some more, get some more experience. We enrich the sixth form curriculum as well. As you narrow down your choices in the UK towards the end of your school career we're providing……
a little counter-point; I'm a chemistry teacher. I would hate girls to leave Queenswood without understanding something about the beauty of art if they were scientists. Similarly the artists, I'd hate them to leave without knowing something about science. And so we provide that information for them in the form of lectures, in the form of visiting speakers and that all goes in to their all-round education.
At Queenswood we have international athletes, we have girls who win scholarships for art courses, girls who have gone off to fashion design courses at the New School in New York, in Milan, or at the Courtauld Institute in London and they're very very successful there.
BE: How many international pupils are there at your school?
Ian: We’re 75 percent UK and then we draw the remaining quarter of our population from 27 different countries. So we're a very cosmopolitan environment. We have obviously girls from China, we also have girls from Africa, we have girls from other eastern countries, we have girls from the Americas, and we celebrate all of the cultures together.
And actually being part of Queenswood is about knowing about the world, so we ask girls that come from other countries to teach us about their culture as well as they learn about the UK culture as well. Well, we celebrate Chinese Year, why wouldn't we? We celebrate Nigerian Independence Day, why wouldn't we? It's all about being home from home. It's important that girls from the UK know as much as they possibly can about the world. Because as we find at the moment with the UK withdrawing from the European Union, it's very important for us to counterbalance that and to stop being insular, and to be a worldwide community member.
BE: Do you have any social activities with boys' school?
Ian: Yes we do. They don't come into the school very often and we find that the girls quite actually like that. What we try and do is we go out to other schools. We do have some social events with boys' schools. Lower down in the school we have evening events with a local boys' prep school. We also go to one or two of the local boys' schools for other events. We have an open school in the evening for speak and meetings.
We compete in debating in Model United Nations against boys' schools. We take girls out school very often so that they go extend their education outside and, of course, they will then come into contact with boys. Yes we're a girls' school and we educate in a style that allows us to teach girls, but we are a in a country that boys exist. There is plenty of contact, but not too much.
BE: What do you want to say to your Chinese applicants?
Ian: First of all thank you for being interested in the school and I hope you will find the time and have the ability to come and visit, and you'll have very warm welcome in the UK if that's what you want to do. Listen to BE, listen to your agent. They know the type of the school that will suit you the best and they will point you in the right direction. If you come to Queenswood, of course, you'll be very welcome. Get stuck in, get involved, speak English, enjoy the fact that you're in the UK and enjoy the UK curriculum and we will celebrate your achievements, and be very glad to have you as part of the Queenwood team.