Blogs Principal's Blog

Small is beautiful - an intentionally small school

19 July 2022

With nearly one year since my arrival in Surval inevitably it is time to draw breath and reflect on everything I have seen and experienced during this first year.  One thing is certain, I am no less inspired by the beautiful surroundings of the school and photo memories remain part of my daily routine!  The multilingual culture of Switzerland and Surval, as a microcosm of this multilingual, multicultural environment, continues to excite me. What is also certain, is that I am even clearer now about what makes Surval such an exceptional school.

Unique is arguably an overused word, but in Surval’s context a particular blend of exceptional features leads me to feel justified in using it.  Within our boutique school we provide an incredible richness of opportunity and breadth of programmes which has enabled us to build a strong network of Survalienne women around the world, with the ambition and drive to make a difference in the world about us.  

I begin my reflections with a focus on our size: we are a school of maximum 60 students.  

I recently came across the term ‘intentionally small school’ used by the Educational Collaborative for International Schools as the title to their seminar ‘Intentionally Small Schools, an opportunity not an apology’. This fits Surval Montreux’s context so well. We are proud to be small and seek to take advantage of all the opportunities this offers.  

The size of a school has a huge impact on the experience of its students and being deliberate about our size enables us to align this with the education we are seeking to provide.  

Belonging and Connectedness

Surval is a true home away from home where girls live and study during their time with us.  Effective learning happens when students feel safe, comfortable in their surroundings and connected with those around them.  In our close-knit, all-girls environment, the girls form strong bonds across all ages and the strength of community is palpable with a strong level of trust between students and staff.   The girls feel confident in voicing their opinions, asking questions or challenging another’s views.  In a safe and supportive environment, girls are more likely to take healthy risks in support of their growth and development.  

Challenge, Ownership, Dialogue and Engagement

Our Teaching and Learning Charter is based on Challenge, Ownership, Dialogue and Engagement.  In our small class environment, each girl can be challenged at her level, and programmes are carefully tailored to the needs of each student.  Similar to university-style tutorials and seminars, teachers focus on facilitating dialogue between students and encouraging ownership, leading to a high level of engagement by students in their learning - there is no hiding in a class of 10 and under! 

Small class sizes enable opinions, reflections and questions raised by the students to be explored in more depth - teachers can respond to the direction of learning according to the points raised by girls in a way that is simply not possible in a bigger group. Experiential learning is easier to facilitate - a French language group can easily relocate to the centre of town in Montreux to put their learning into practice, or an Art group can quickly move outside to capture the landscape. 

Personalised and Adaptable

Each student is individually known by all Surval staff who guide and support every girl as an individual, not as one of many.  With small numbers, we can be agile and flexible in tailoring programmes and activities to the interests of the girls. Through creative and personalised approaches to timetabling and curriculum design, we offer both American and UK curriculum options.  

Our starting point is the girls. Where are they with their learning when they arrive in Surval and how do we take their learning forward to ensure challenge and progression?  What are their goals and aspirations and how do we tailor their Surval programme to help them achieve these goals? In establishing this, we build the curriculum around them to ensure they graduate from High School with strong academic credentials fit for university admissions around the world, whether they are seeking the American High School Diploma with the option of Advanced Placements or British IGCSEs and A Levels.  We seek to provide optimum flexibility within our options. Our teachers are adept at tailoring individual pathways.

In our exceptional, small school, the uniqueness of each girl is emphasised, all students benefit from all opportunities and each individual student’s voice is heard. Being intentionally small certainly has its benefits!