Kathy Misson (Director of teaching and Learning at Dunhurst) and I went to a very interesting lecture by Guy Claxton at Winchester University on Building Learning power. In the lecture we explored the skills we felt young people will need to succeed and live life to the full in the 21st century. We accept that the world our children will live in will be fast changing and demanding. In a recent UK government’s major Foresight project on ‘Mental capital and well being’ they gathered a wide range of expert advice on foreseeable social and technological trends and the personal and material resources that will be needed to meet the likely challenges and opportunities. The report concluded that human well being will become increasingly dependent on the ability to be curious, inquisitive, experimental, reflective and sociable – in short to be lifelong and life-wide learners. One of the most reliable sources of happiness turns out to be learning. People report feeling happy when they are engaged in wrestling with something difficult but worthwhile; when they feel in charge, and are not criticised by others.
If we want our children to be happy we need to help them to discover the ‘joy of struggle’ and understand and develop the craft of worthwhile learning. This all points to a need for a radical re-think of the priorities and practices in education. In many schools skills such as remembering facts, being deferential and doing what you are asked to do without question are given the most positive rewards and yet this now must be considered out of step with the skills our children will need in the future.
Many examination systems, particularly 11+ and 13+ Common Entrance and many of the GCSEs are now very dated and provide a straight jacket curriculum that requires children not to think but to regurgitate facts and leaves the teacher little option but to push facts into children’s heads. Social interaction, discussion and debate are forfeited for revision, practice questions and exam technique. Guy Claxton made a very good point that schools should put greater emphasis on analysing data regarding how our students are fairing two years after they leave school, how well they settled into their university study or job rather than just analysing the raw exam statistics. In schools where there is an obsessive focus on drilling pupils in exam techniques, absorbing facts and jumping through regimented hoops, the transition to University can be very difficult because students are suddenly having to think for themselves for the first time.
Our teaching philosophy across all three of the Bedales Schools is to promote inquisitiveness in our pupils. The teachers are encouraged to offer pupils open questions rather than questions that have a closed and teacher held single answer. For our Dunhurst pupils the facts are revealed through discussion and exploration and the teacher is not the only source of wisdom and ideas. The more we challenge our pupils to dig deeper and look beyond the facts, the more they own their learning and enjoy the process. The more our pupils enjoy and engage in their learning the more exciting they are to teach and so we have a very positive spiralling of positivity in the learning process.
Education is a long ball game but at the end we want to send our children out into the world well prepared. The best universities will put our children through rigourous interviews to see if they can think on their feet, articulate complex ideas and have individual outlooks and original and daringly unorthodox thinking. I am sure the success we are seeing with our Bedalian University applicants is due to our unique approach – we have been building learning power in our Bedalians for over a century now and Head, Hand, Heart is truer and more important to the education of our children today for preparing them for the complexities and demands of the 21st Century than it has ever been.
By Jane Grubb, Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst