Speaking the Truth to Fake News
“Fake News” arrived a few years ago with Donald Trump. It is an incongruous term at best and misleading at worst. I believe there are major problems when people are provided with information that is less than true. For example, if we look to the recent past in British politics, we find another similar term: “spin”. This is the practice of saying things that are technically true – but in such a way as to give a picture of the world that is substantially less than accurate. In schools, and indeed in general, I am a big fan of truth – I suggest that it is only by facing up to the truth that children can grow as individuals and society can flourish. It is also only when we speak the truth, and we avoid saying that which we know to be untrue, that we will derive any sense of personal integrity. In turn, facing up to and living with truth is a significant component of good mental health and wellbeing.
One of my favourite authors on the subject is George Orwell in 1984. At one point, the protagonist, Winston Smith, is interrogated about his diary entry: ‘freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four’. The insightful part of Orwell’s writing here is that Winston’s cruel interrogators are not ill-educated thugs – but party intellectuals. So often, we are in a position where it is difficult to state the obvious truth due to enormous social pressure. At times, it takes real courage to have integrity.
This is especially true in modern education where it is all too easy to use a euphemism in order to avoid difficult subject matter. The football league is a prime example of this in the wider world. Not so long ago, there were four divisions. They were called Divisions One, Two, Three and Four. We now have the Premiership, the Championship, League One and League Two. I am an ardent supporter of a team in the Championship but am I convinced that we are in a league of champions? No, I am not. My club is languishing in the second tier of English football, however one might wish to dress it up! In a school context, did we come second in the match or did we lose fairly and squarely? Is an A * grade actually an A and an A now a B? You can decide for yourself.
Whilst there is sometimes a sensible need to protect children from harmful knowledge that might panic them, for instance the topical threats of terrorism or pandemics, in most cases the use of euphemisms is detrimental. If a child does not know the truth, how can they appropriately respond to it? In my experience, there is no better incentive for a team to win their next fixture than off the back of a narrow loss. Equally, academic progress is predicated upon the principle of authenticity; a child needs to understand what they have done wrong, and how to mitigate it in order to improve accordingly.
A school should be a place where the truth is articulated transparently and fairly, not in a careless, irresponsible manner but with duty, kindness and sensitivity. Alongside this lies a responsibility for educators to develop a culture of resilience and respect in order for pupils, parents and staff to engage and thrive upon a diet of integrity. Only in this way can we successfully challenge fake news and effectively equip our children with the tools they will need to become mature thinkers and global citizens with a strong moral compass.
Duncan Murphy Headmaster, Kingswood House School
Duncan is the IAPS 16+ Schools’ Ambassador for the Sixteen Group and a member of the Society of Heads.
N.B. This article is adapted from an original column by Reverend Andrew Gough in SATIPS magazine, Spring 2020
A View from the Hill –
KHS Wins National School Trip Award!
The school were delighted to find themselves shortlisted in the category of ‘Best School Trip’
The winners of the 2019/20 School Travel Awards have been honoured at a celebratory ceremony held in Kensington, London. BBC TV Question Time and Antiques Roadshow presenter Fiona Bruce hosted the major event for school travel and learning outside the classroom on Friday 15th November at the five-star Royal Garden Hotel. The School Travel Awards, organised by School Travel Organiser magazine, recognise the people and companies behind inspiring school trips, including teachers, attractions and providers. Amongst the winners announced was the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s education team which won a new award for 2019 – Education / Learning Team of the Year, BODY WORLDS London, which picked up the award for Best Museum Visit, while the European Parliament in Brussels received the most votes for the Best International Destination or Attraction. Two of the awards recognised excellence within schools and each come with a £1,500 prize to spend on a school trip. Kingswood House School in Surrey was revealed as the winner of this year’s ‘My Best School Trip’ Award. Teacher Ian Mitchell entered the Year 9 ‘Making a Modern Britain’ trip which involved visits to a host of locations and attractions across the UK. The experience has now become embedded within a whole programme at the school due to its success. Editor of School Travel Organiser magazine, Keeley Rodgers said: “This year’s awards initiative has been the strongest so far with some fantastic entries and nominations which is great news for the school travel sector. “Getting children learning away from the confines of the school classroom has never been so important and there hasn’t been a better time for schools to explore all the different experiences out there. They can have a hugely positive impact on the next generation.
“The School Travel Awards plays a crucial part in celebrating and championing the people, places and providers who make those experiences happen and we’re delighted to shine a spotlight on the best in the sector and raise awareness.” Around 300 guests including teachers, educational visit coordinators and school travel experts joined Fiona Bruce at the special lunch and ceremony, which was opened with a surprise performance by West End theatre production Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. The event annual event provides a platform to recognise the people and companies within the sector and also enables a range of people to meet and network, while celebrating the best in learning outside the classroom. Details of all the award winners are available at schooltravelorganiser.com/awards #SchoolTravelAwards
Independent schools – are some more equal than others ?
It’s not often that you wake up to the news that a major political party wants to abolish you – but that’s what happened to me last Monday morning after Sunday’s vote at the Labour Party conference which means that closing independent schools is now official party policy.
The whole language of the debate around independent education frustrates me. Every time private schools are mentioned in the media, photos of white bow-tie wearing pupils accompany the copy with their gowns flowing as they walk into Eton College. But all our schools are not Eton – and the debate has made Eton a four letter word in more ways than one.
Dig deeper and you’ll find an arm of the UK’s education provision that is revered around the word. You’ll find hundreds of schools that are all different, run by Heads who have the authority to choose the curriculum that best suits the pupils, with pastoral systems and sports programmes designed to encourage confidence, resilience and wellbeing.
Dig deeper still and you will find schools like ours that rarely make a meaningful surplus, that subsidises pupils through financial support to the tune of approximately 12% of total income and that goes out of its way to adhere to the charitable objectives of its founders.
Kingswood House has an historic place in our town’s history. Founded in 1899, it still adheres to its mission by offering a holistic education in spite of the pressure of league tables and the 11+ pre-test rat-race. It’s not a grammar school and doesn’t have the same sky-high entrance requirements of some competitor schools. But its focus on equal opportunities for all (especially those with SEN) and strong set of core values (embodied in The Kingswood House Way) makes it worth fighting for. It pays in excess of £480,000 in PAYE contributions a year, adds £2.5 million to the local economy and saves the government £1.2 million by day pupils not taking up places at other local maintained schools.
Don’t get me wrong. Some private schools do seem elitist. Arguably, the case for independent education isn’t helped by Boris Johnson’s questionable moral compass or the image of Jacob Rees-Mogg lounging on the front bench of the House of Commons.
But every independent school isn’t Eton, and Eton needn’t be a four letter word. Every parent isn’t an aristocrat. Many of our parents make enormous sacrifices to send their children to KHS, which we recognise and appreciate.
If a Labour government doesn’t give us time to adapt and develop, and instead introduces extreme measures against independent schools, the state will have to find spaces for over 600,000 pupils and pay an extra £3.5 billion a year to accommodate what seems an indulgent policy.
There is more to lose both for the fabric of society, and financially, should an inconvenient stereotype eclipse the reality of our sector.
A View from the Hill – June 2019
Last week saw the start of the ICC Cricket World Cup, hosted in this country, featuring super-stars from across the globe such as Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and our very own Jos Buttler. For once, England started the tournament as favourites. In recent times, our one-day side has put all foes to the sword and established a fearsome reputation for hard hitting, canny bowling and athletic fielding. For people of a certain age, who all too often were used to seeing England teams wilt under pressure, this is a most welcome and refreshing paradigm shift. Yet, interestingly, when the players are questioned about how the side has cultivated its ability to set or chase down mammoth scores, the answer is not any kind of physical attribute, rather a mental one: namely, self-belief. But how has this been propagated?
It was Benjamin Franklin who once famously said, “Fail to prepare – prepare to fail”. Planning and preparation have indeed been the platform for England’s recent white ball success. Since the last World Cup tournament in 2015, the coaching staff and players prioritised an aggressive style of cricket which they deemed necessary to reboot their pedestrian approach. It has been many months, even years, in the making. On occasion, especially in the early days, this ambitious change of approach saw sizeable defeats as the players wrestled with the balance of shot-making and scoreboard pressure. But the wins started coming. A new brand of players emerged. Winning became a habit. It was a brave decision but one that has ultimately paid dividends with England now claiming the best one-day international record of any country in the lead up to this World Cup.
If planning and preparation have been vital – then so has trust. Players were given licence to play their natural, expansive game secure in the knowledge that they were doing so for the sake of winning matches, rather than preserving their individual career statistics. If they had a few games where they got out early, but kept to the team collective, they knew they would be backed by the coaching staff and not dropped from the side. If one player did not step up on the day, another team-mate came to the fore. A genuine sense of camaraderie was forged in a tight-knit, consistent squad of players who all knew their role and bought into the team ethic – they believed in a shared vision.
Wearing the label of ‘favourites’ is not a customary tag for England teams. It has an awkward fit because the traditional identity of an English side boasts neither the ‘alpha’ status of an antipodean team nor the cultured intellectual reserve of one from the sub-continent. However, this side has retained a refreshing humility and willingness to continue learning from experience. A victory is celebrated in a respectful and sportsmanlike fashion but the contents of the performance are still analysed and dissected in as much detail as a loss. As and when results go awry, the resilience and ‘bounce-back-ability’ of the side is stronger because there is a willingness of the team collective to work harder and make amends. The players are coached not just in the skills of the game but also in off-field matters such as diet, nutrition, conditioning, interview technique with the media and sports psychology. Attention to detail has ensured that the players are more rounded and better equipped to handle on or off field pressures than ever before.
Arguably, the evolution of this much-vaunted England team into potential World Cup winners can be traced back to three elements: their self-belief has been manifested by fastidious preparation to detail, reciprocal trust and genuine humility. These epithets transcend sport and can equally be applied to any individual or institution if there is a desire for positive change. Confidence can certainly be fostered in the right environment. At KHS, the opportunities on offer, in and out of the classroom, give a wonderful platform for boys to shine. In combination with a deeply caring and passionate team of staff, and the shared vision of the Kingswood House Way, the foundations are very much in place for each child to grow in self-esteem and be an important, constituent part of a happy, secure collective.
I was fortunate to attend the Bangladesh v South Africa match last weekend at The Oval. The travelling brigade of partisan Bangladeshi supporters, many dressed up as Bengal tigers, others adorned with bright green or red attire, made for a carnival atmosphere together with the yellow-shirted South African fans and their vuvuzelas. It was a joyful, exhilarating experience to see two differing cultures brought together by a shared passion of cricket. Tolerance was as much in evidence as excitement. The ICC World Cup is an uplifting tournament, featuring a diversity of skills as well as nations, and it is unified by shared values of mutual respect and sportsmanship. If only it were an accurate microcosm for society, the world beyond the school gate would be a healthier place for our children in the future.
Headmaster, Kingswood House School
Duncan is the IAPS 16+ Schools’ Ambassador for the Sixteen Group and a member of the Society of Heads.
Mr Duncan Murphy,
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