[W]indermere School, the only independent school in the Lake District National Park, has been named in the Sunday Times as the International Baccalaureate (IB) School of the Year for 2018.
The Sunday Times published its 25th edition of Parent Power at the weekend, a publication which identifies the 2,000 highest-achieving schools in the UK, which are ranked according to their examination results. It is widely acknowledged as the most authoritative survey of the country’s best schools and, as well as providing arguably the most comprehensive rankings for elite performance in secondary schools, the publication also recognises the top ten national schools of the year, which are broken down into ten different categories. According to the report, this year’s winners all achieve exceptional academic success, without it becoming their sole focus.
Among the winners this year was Windermere School, where all sixth-formers follow the International Baccalaureate programme, as they have done since 2009. In 2017, and for the second year in succession, the school celebrated record-breaking IB results. The mean score of 35.03 is the highest average score the school has achieved since the IB was introduced. What makes this achievement all the more exceptional is that the school remains steadfastly non-selective.
Ian Lavender, who has been Headmaster of the school for almost a decade, has no plans to change the non-selective entry requirement. “It’s been a real eye-opener to me over the years to see students with four or five GCSEs, who have been rejected by other schools, come to Windermere School and go on to get great results in their IB Diploma. The alternative for them might have been a couple of modest grades at A-level.
“In my opinion, the perception that the IB is only for the very able, multi-talented students simply isn’t true. In many ways I think it has the great advantage of being accessible to students with modest GCSE results, while also stretching those who achieve As and A*s.”
The IB is currently taught to more than one million students worldwide, in over four thousand schools (over one hundred of which are in the United Kingdom), and aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people with a motivation to succeed.
The Diploma Programme offers a more rounded education to A-levels, comprising six subjects, which must include Mathematics, English, at least one foreign language, one science subject and one humanity subject. As well as the main subjects, the core also includes an extended essay of around four thousand words, which offers students the opportunity to investigate a topic of special interest; the theory of knowledge, which encourages critical thinking and aims to help young people make sense of what they encounter; and the third aspect of the core is creativity, action, service. Creativity, action, service is at the very heart of the Diploma Programme, encouraging students to be involved in a range of activities which take place alongside their academic studies.
In addition to the Diploma Programme, the school also offers the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP). This course offers a more vocational style of learning, combining practical and academic skills.
Almost all of the students make the most of what Mr Lavender calls “the greater classroom”. Located a stone’s throw from England’s deepest natural lake, with the Lake District fells providing an awe-inspiring backdrop, students are able to enjoy a range of outdoor pursuits one would usually associate with dedicated outdoor centres, not least at the school’s Hodge Howe campus, the home of the school’s watersports centre. He believes that this proximity to the wonderful, natural landscape which surrounds the school promotes an all-round sense of wellbeing and acts as a calming influence on the students.
Mr Lavender is also quick to acknowledge the role of the students, their families and the staff, stating; “This staggeringly impressive achievement is a reflection of the whole school community. We were awarded this prize because of what we achieve with an academically non-selective intake of students. In short, we have been recognised for delivering the best outcome for all of our students.
“I must pay tribute to the staff at Elleray, where for many students their journey through Windermere School begins, and to the staff at Browhead for their unwavering support. Everybody is committed to trying to make this the best place it can be. Their dedication is something I have not experienced before. I can’t explain where it comes from, other than the joy we all share in seeing students who might not achieve elsewhere, achieve things at Windermere which are beyond what one thought possible.”