“I am just a child…”

“I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.”

Stephen Hawking

Questions are to be found at the heart of every school. We’ve had a week of questions, some are the sort of questions that everyone recognises, others are the questions that we ask of ourselves. Today a panel of students went to the British Embassy to grill the British Ambassador and other pupils have asked questions of themselves through performance.

Let’s consider the most obvious type of questions. In many lessons there will be an element of questioning. Many lessons start (and end) with a question-and-answer session, a vital element of the lesson for a teacher who is assessing levels of prior knowledge and working on recall skills. It is also a valuable way of assessing if work presented by pupils is work they have actually done, rather than outsourcing their thinking to an AI programme.

Most teachers are happy to have an element of volunteering to answer, but it is ever more common to see the teacher making the choice of who should answer rather than asking for hands to be raised. There is often some sort of lottery to this – lollypop sticks with names written on them are a favourite. These are often relatively closed questions. In some lessons, PSHE springs to mind, it is more common to see open ended questions being asked, the “what ifs?” and “what do you think?” type of question. Many academic subjects will ask for questions that outline a point of view or explain a situation. My Year 9 historians were grappling with the thorny issue of what is a war crime in their last lesson, not as easy as it might seem. Some pupils relish the chance to speak about their knowledge, for others it is more of an ordeal. We seek to create a classroom atmosphere that encourages all to “have a go”. Questions and the debates that they provoke are where young people can test their ideas and subsequently make decisions about what it is they believe to be true. It is a valuable element of the learning process.

In an age of fake news and misleading information it is vital that we equip our pupils with the wherewithal to ask the right questions. This is surely one of the greatest skills that we can provide. Alongside this external questioning, it is also important that we challenge and question ourselves to provide an honest answer as to whether we are doing our best. This week we had the Senior School Spring Concert. It was a joyful affair, but I could not but help be filled with admiration with those performers who had put themselves in a position in which they asked the question “How will I do in this situation?”. Standing up to improvise a solo, playing in a small ensemble, singing in a small group to friends and the school community is a nerve-wracking affair and they answered the question with distinction. For even the most seasoned performers there are questions that emerge every time they take the stage and that our young people are willing to do this is testament to their strength of character.

Of course, there is one question that must be asked at this point in the term. It’s one with a simple answer. Are you ready for a holiday? After a busy and successful term such as this the answer is a resounding yes. The holiday is well deserved and falls just as we are likely to benefit from better weather. I hope that you have a good break and look forward to seeing everyone back in school for the summer term.

Nicholas Hammond