Headfort offers a “Primary plus” core academic curriculum: English, Maths, French, History, Geography, Science (in a fully equipped lab.), Religious Studies, Art and Design, Computing. There is a choice between Latin and Irish.
Children are prepared for entry (and scholarships) to the top Irish secondary and U.K. public schools. Recent destinations have included (among many others) Alexandra College, Belevedere College, Campbell College, Clongowes, Dundalk Grammar, Newtown and St. Columba’s in Ireland; Ampleforth, Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Eton, Harrow, Marlborough and St Mary’s Calne in the U.K.
Headfort has the luxury of being able to avoid the inflexibility of larger schools where children are divided into year groups, spending a year in each class, where there is a defined number of topics in each subject which should be covered. This approach generally works quite well, though it can impose strains on both the very clever and the less academic child. The former may well be held back and the latter not necessarily able to move according to his or her needs.
At Headfort we operate a system that allows us maximum flexibility. In the prep school we have six or, more usually, seven forms. The choice between six and seven is determined by what the Staff feel best meets the needs of the particular group of children in the school. Our maximum class size is 18, and the average is between 12 and 15.
The bottom form is Form II and the top Upper VI. A rough guide runs like this.
- Form II: 7/8 year olds
- Form III: 8/9 year olds
- Form IV: 9/10 year olds
- Lower V: 10/11 year olds
- Upper V: 11/12 year olds, some of whom may be taking Irish secondary school entrance exams
- Lower VI: 11/12 year olds and some 12/13 year olds including entrance candidates to Irish and British secondary schools
- Upper VI: 12/13 year olds — entrance candidates and possible Scholars to Irish and British secondary schools
As can be seen, our top three forms essentially cover just two year-groups; having three forms for these years allows us to make sure that each child is part of the group that is just right for him or her.
The school offers between two and four entrance scholarships, which are competed for in May or June. Otherwise, when children arrive in the school, their Reading and Spelling Ages are assessed, and they are given a Maths assessment test. Then they are placed in a form appropriate to their academic and social development; most children, of course, are placed with their peer-group. Thereafter Headfort pupils move up the school as the Staff think fit. This system is completely flexible and allows us to target each child precisely, irrespective of age or intellectual development. Individual attention for each child is Headfort’s greatest academic strength.
Our curriculum has to serve several masters. Common Entrance, Public Schools’ Scholarships and the Irish Primary curriculum make different demands, and we adapt ourselves to them all, as well as making sure that the promotion system does not leave gaps in children’s knowledge. We deem this considerable extra effort to be worthwhile because it ensures that we have a completely flexible system that can address the needs of every child.
As for external assessment, we run the widely respected Educational Research Centre tests every year in March, without the kind of preparation that might skew the results. These tests form a useful guide as to the general progress of each child. They tell us precisely how well we are doing in the areas of reading and comprehension, and evaluate our children against other primary school children in Ireland; results of late confirm that our academic standards are among the highest.