“I believe it is in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown.”
Fifty years from now we are told that schools will have undergone a revolution and that the accepted structures of school will have vanished. There is an enthusiastic group of educationalists who are certain that soon enough all young people will learn at their own pace, perhaps in places of their choosing, using devices to solve the problems that are set and answer the questions that are asked. This is discovery-based learning ramped up to the maximum. There are times when I’d probably favour not wrangling with the challenges of academic work at nine o’clock in the morning, I’m sure that I am not alone in this. Whether I would have the self-discipline to do it by myself, that is another matter. It is perhaps appropriate that in this the centenary week of Ernest Shackleton’s 1912 expedition to the South Pole the theme of discovery has popped up with some regularity in school life. The BSP holds both opportunity and discovery as being at the heart of all that we strive to do. Today’s Junior School assembly had as its theme opportunity and in it we discovered some of Mr. Potter’s worst ever jokes. Fifty years from now we are told that schools will have undergone a revolution and that the accepted structures of school will have vanished. There is an enthusiastic group of educationalists who are certain that soon enough all young people will learn at their own pace, perhaps in places of their choosing, using devices to solve the problems that are set and answer the questions that are asked. This is discovery-based learning ramped up to the maximum. There are times when I’d probably favour not wrangling with the challenges of academic work at nine o’clock in the morning, I’m sure that I am not alone in this. Whether I would have the self-discipline to do it by myself, that is another matter.
Often seen as being on the other side of this educational debate are those who are seen as championing a character-based approach to education. These people see school as a place where being together and in communities is a fundamental part of the educational process. As businesses talk about a return to the office, I’m reminded that schools are social institutions and the lessons learned here are not simply a matter of academic endeavour. Schools should and do develop character. They also allow for discovery, of both self and of subject. In school we have to live together, we share the same environment and not simply an isolated social media platform or virtual learning environment. In doing so we take responsibility not only for ourselves and our learning but also for our relationships with others. This week I’ve seen plenty of pupils shouldering this responsibility, helping others, planning charity events, co-operating in sports teams and rehearsing for the school show. The champions of character-based approaches are equally clear about the importance of discovery, they’d argue that developing traits such as grit, determination and perseverance are preparation for future success, be that in person, or in the digital world.
As is so often the case with educational debate we have lines drawn and opposition created. In truth as technology changes so will schools. But, for the foreseeable future there remains a clear role for the development of character in schools and this is undoubtedly done in person and in face-to-face communities. At its core is discovery.
Shackleton is remembered as possibly having posted the world’s most unattractive job advert. He selected his crew on both their character as well as their particular skills. If we are to prepare our young people for the world beyond school, we do well to encourage them to discover their talents through all the opportunities that they are given.
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. “he felt a surge of anxiety”
2. strong desire or concern to do something or for something to happen. “the housekeeper’s eager anxiety to please”
It may come as no surprise that this year’s Young Person’s Word of the Year 2021 as defined by the Oxford University Press is “anxiety”, it received 21% of the vote from a sample of 8,000 young people. Not an obvious word for pupils to be choosing – previous years have produced results from the world of social media such as “selfie” and “photobomb”. Other words that were runners up were “wellbeing” (13%) and “challenging” (12%). Perhaps more positive in nature, but yet another example of how the pandemic has affected the way our young people think. As has been said before we are only starting to understand the impact that long term exposure to the stress associated with the pandemic will have. What we do know is that if we keep school open and can offer a range of activities our pupils will benefit. Apparently, the teachers’ word of the year was “resilience” and for the population at large, we are told that “vax” has “injected itself into the bloodstream of the English language” during the pandemic (ouch).
For two of our year groups, Year 11, and Year 13 stress and anxiety have been more obvious. Mock exams are something of a New Year ritual, an essential part of preparation for public exams, but always a challenge. The last two weeks will have provided challenge and given experience in equal measure, these pupils have earned a weekend off before they pick up and start again on Monday. It remains to be seen what public exams will look like this summer. The impression being given is that we will continue with some degree of normality. I suspect that few in our public exam years would agree with Kierkegaard in defining anxiety as the “dizziness of freedom” although having worked well now, the summer exams will be a lesser challenge.
It is sometimes good to gain a sense of perspective in the current state of confusion, stress, and worry. Today, many Senior School pupils and parents joined together to hear the story of holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper. Our concerns quickly and rightly recede in the face of a story like Zigi Shipper’s. Our struggle is one in which there is opportunity for communities to co-operate, to share and to think more widely. Today we were reminded of the danger that sits with the prosecution of hate and when rational thought and human tolerance breaks down. Ours is an international community and I hope that the pupils in this school, so privileged to meet and appreciate the experiences of their peers from around the world, will be the torch bearers, the leaders of their communities in the future and will have the courage to speak up for others as well as for themselves. We all do well to be reminded of the danger of closing our ears to the lessons of history. Perhaps today of all days we would also do well to recognise the incredible spirit that lies within each and every one of us when faced with challenges of whatever scale and the fundamental importance of remaining positive even when feeling a little anxious.
If gaining understanding is one of the hallmarks of a good education, then we are perhaps fortunate to have teachers as demanding as the Omicron variant. Since the middle of last month, we’ve begun to understand what “the same but different” means when it comes to this new variety of COVID and how it requires us to think in new and original ways about the things that we want to do. Without doubt the holiday period was a time of uncertainty and worry for many as well laid travel plans were modified, adjusted or sadly abandoned, but judging by the cheery faces of returning pupils fun was had. I hope that everyone in our community found the chance to rest and enjoy some festive cheer. We return to slightly more stringent protocols in some areas but greater freedom in others. Thus, we are perhaps starting to understand the nature of the long road to normality and also some of the challenges that we may face along the way.
At the start of term, it is good to consider what it is we would like to achieve. The School’s overriding aim is to ensure continuity of high quality education. This is already proving challenging as some in our community have tested positive, others are searching for tests as cas contacts, and the rest wonder when it will be that they will be affected. On Thursday morning there were only 2 classes in the Junior School that had not been affected by Omicron in some way, the Senior School had only one unaffected year group. As a right we have cases in all years. Judging by these numbers we are all wise to have a Plan B. Our aim is to stay open for as long as it is safe to, we are looking to provide materials for those who are forced to learn at home and if necessary (or instructed to do so) we will teach remotely. Experience over the last year and a half has taught us that running a hybrid system of teaching in place and remote learning is not effective; we are better to be doing one thing or the other – educating remotely or education in person. We’ve been fortunate so far in only having to move to remote learning for a comparatively short period of time. I commiserate with colleagues elsewhere in the world who are now counting the length of remote schooling in half yearly chunks or longer. What effect this will have for children is difficult to predict. It may be the case that we decide, should numbers increase dramatically, that we will move to remote teaching but will remain able to have pupils on site so that alongside effective online lessons, social interaction (however limited) can be enjoyed. We are trying to find ways to preserve sporting, musical, dramatic and other activities – we want to provide these opportunities for development and enjoyment. Postponement may occur but we are looking to do as much as we are able within the rules. Virtual events help us here, next week holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper will speak to the school and parents are warmly invited to join us via their devices.
The Spring Term is a demanding one. Those preparing for exams start to move up a gear and for some this is the end of their first week in a new school. It can be a term of great advances as we look to build on all that was achieved in the first term, so we will not be coddling, we will be challenging! Our calendar and programmes may well have to be adapted but our aim is to preserve continuity and to give opportunity for growth and development Above all we will endeavour to be supportive.
Here’s to a great Spring Term, whatever it throws at us.