What do we mean by a boarder’s progress and how do schools measure it?


by Chris Hillman, Deputy Head Academic of Godolphin School

Progress is one of those words we see a lot in education – you’ll read it in your son or daughter’s reports, on school websites and in inspection reports, and there are even league tables for some schools based on average academic progress in selected GCSEs. But is this the only type of progress, and is it reasonable to attempt to measure this concept?  


At Godolphin, through our ‘Policy for Progress’ we consider progress in a number of broad areas. Academic is of course included but we also focus on personal and pastoral progress, co-curricular progress and staff development (by setting a culture of everyone progressing and learning, we find this rubs off on the pupils too). 

In its most basic sense, progress is the difference between a boarder’s starting point and where their journey leads at the end. In an academic sense, this is often the difference between, for example, the GCSE grades that their baseline tests, or raw ability, might suggest they are heading towards and those they actually achieve on results day. Such progress is relatively easy to measure and report on – it is often quoted as fractions of a whole GCSE grade compared to where the boarder would be expected to be. Schools often term this sort of progress ‘value added’, a rather impersonal phrase which hides the stories behind each and every grade obtained in public examinations. 

Academic progress

A study of the GCSE results at Godolphin showed that our boarders made more academic progress compared to day pupils. The opportunities available to boarders to progress in the wider sense are likely to have contributed to this effect. 

Outside the rather narrow definition of progress in academic terms, it is more challenging to measure progress in such a quantitative way. 

Pastoral progress

Most boarding schools consider the pastoral progress and the personal and spiritual development of pupils to be as much a priority as their academic development. Development of so-called ‘soft skills’ is valued highly by employers and it is crucial to any successful education to nurture these skills just as much as academic skills.  

We have a mental health plan to ensure that each girl is receiving the education she needs to be able to progress positively. A key tenet of this plan is that we have very small tutor groups of around 10 pupils. The tutors who look after these relatively small groups of pupils are the focus of the provision of pastoral care. Tutors meet their tutees daily and also meet frequently with each other and with boarding staff and other senior staff. Their work is coordinated by Heads of Year and the Head of Sixth Form. Academic and pastoral staff meet regularly to discuss pupils who need support and to put in place any support needed. 

Pastoral progress is difficult to quantify but it can be broadly measured by a combination of professional judgement and pupil self-reflection. Our PSHCEE programme and Elizabeth Godolphin Award Programme in the prep and sixth form are the cornerstones of our provision to encourage personal development. This includes inviting outside specialist speakers who give talks or workshops to the girls, staff and parents as well as sessions run by staff. All pupils attend these sessions but boarders find them especially invaluable as they result in the sort of developmental and relationship progress that comes from building resilience, learning to lead, and developing tolerance and mutual respect. The Godolphin Learning Programme is an additional provision offering a diversity and breadth in co-curricular activities that include cultural appreciation, mindfulness, critical thinking, digital literacy, Bright Futures, library skills and a range of other topics that extend and progress pupils beyond the curriculum.

Co-curricular activities

For a boarder to be mentally healthy and for them to continue to progress as a person they need to participate in a range of co-curricular activities, from peer mentoring, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE), CCF to cookery, Model United Nations and kickboxing. Boarders find these sessions very accessible as they live onsite and so can replace travel time with these activities without impinging on time needed to complete their academic work and enjoy the boarding family environment. 

At Godolphin, tutors monitor the involvement and success of pupils and this information is shared with parents. Commendations and Head’s commendations are awarded for particularly outstanding progress in any field.

Spiritual progress is important for boarding pupils and is, by its nature, impossible to quantify. We consider it in terms of how the girls have grown in their understanding of how to cope when life throws things at them, and the extent to which they have developed a sense of mutual respect, wonder and appreciation about the world around them. As a school we have strong links to the diocese of Salisbury and the provision of spiritual learning is monitored by the school chaplain, tutors and teachers of relevant subjects.

Progress in these broader areas is non-linear – there are the inevitable kinks and twists encountered along the way. How we teach pupils to respond to those unexpected challenges sets the tone for mapping their progress. A newly arrived boarder setting out on their journey may feel a little homesick and need some help to settle into school life. Outstanding pastoral care, knowing the boarders and a good dollop of humour and patience makes the difference here. A boarder may find some subjects easier than others, and this balance may change, or they may need encouragement to participate in extra-curricular clubs to progress in a certain area. Through shared experiences with fellow boarders, they gradually become more independent and able to look after themselves and to work and live with others. Although our digital strategy undoubtedly impacts academic progress, it also provides the medium through which pupils learn the digital lifeskills of efficient, effective and organised working, another benefit of considering progress in the round.

Successful boarding schools play a vital role in shaping a pupil’s progress towards adulthood. The relationships developed with other boarders throughout their time at school make their progress all the more palpable as they leave sixth form to navigate their own way in the world.

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