Summer 2023 – Coronation Fever!
On Friday 5th May, our school community enjoyed a day of celebration in advance of the Coronation of HRH King Charles III at Westminster Abbey on Saturday.
For anyone born after 2nd June 1953, when the late HM Queen Elizabeth II officially acceded the throne, this was the first such event in their lifetime. Consequently, there is no doubt that we bore witness to history in the making and I actively encouraged KHS families to congregate and watch the most significant parts of the ceremony together.
The truth is that King Charles inherits a country that is fragmented both politically and societally; for many across the Commonwealth, the Monarchy is perceived to be an expensive, outmoded irrelevance. Certainly, the late Queen was a matriarch and genuinely revered by people from all walks of life who felt they could relate to her but this feat of empathy and humanity from a global icon is a rare skill.
Whilst the benevolent shadow of his predecessor will in itself present a challenge for the new King, I believe that if he can harness the popularity of Queen Camilla together with the successful brand of the Prince and Princess of Wales- and somehow unite the warring factions within his own family – then he will stand a good chance of commanding respect on a wider scale in our country and beyond.
I, for one, wish him well and feel sure that everyone enjoyed the luxury of an additional Bank Holiday weekend – anyone for quiche??
9th May 2023
Spring 2023 – Does the advent of ChatGPT mean no more homework?
It’s a topical debate; what impact does the latest innovation in education have upon pupils in our schools and their ability to learn? In recent weeks, Jane Lunnon, a well-respected headteacher in the independent sector, abolished the traditional concept of homework at Alleyn’s School as a direct response to the inception of ChatGPT. Work for pupils outside school hours will instead entail preparation tasks that can have no malign influence on their level of academic attainment courtesy of a third-party application. As you might imagine, this decision elicited a host of responses across social media. A small minority were disgruntled at the perception of ‘dumbing down’ thanks to the machines whilst others proposed a values-based approach – keep the rigour and teach intellectual integrity. The majority favoured a rational balance of harnessing AI so that its strengths might be effectively harnessed and understood by future generations in the work-place. I see logic in the second and third of these opinions.
One school of thought (pun intended) is that ChatGPT is merely the latest innovation to carry the potential of fundamentally transforming education (just like every previous incarnation is supposed to have done). Inevitably, when it comes to pedagogical reform, debate can become heated. In a recent article by the New York Times, it is argued that Plato was concerned about the birth of the alphabet and the impact it would have on traditional, memory-based storytelling and preservation of knowledge. Similar parallels can be drawn across the ages. Were the Victorians anxious about the proliferation of slate in the classroom or flustered about the rise of pen and ink? What must pure mathematicians have thought about the birth of the pocket calculator? Did the classrooms of the late 20th century shun computers or embrace them? And then, of course, there is the internet generation…the emergence of Google did not end the essay, even if it did raise credible questions about plagiarism.
Certainly, one of the key legacies from the pandemic is the successful integration of online learning platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, to sit alongside the physical classroom. Without the absolute necessity for digitalisation thanks to home schooling, would this have occurred so quickly? Schools are not renowned for their agility; to my mind, the old proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention”, rings true in this instance. It is also fair to say that online learning platforms and virtual reality technologies have theoretically made education more accessible, allowing students to learn from anywhere at any time. Additionally, educational technologies such as gamification and simulation tools can make learning more engaging and interactive. However, it is also important to note that there are concerns about the potential for these technologies to exacerbate existing educational inequalities, particularly in terms of cost. In practical terms, the technology is only as far-reaching as those who are able to afford it.
Perhaps a classroom of the future is one where there is a synergy of technology and personality; ChatGPT might be a fantastic resource for the teacher and help improve pupil outcomes – but a human touch will still be required to establish and maximise the benefits of a conducive learning environment. As such, artificial intelligence in education can be used as a means to an end but it cannot replicate creativity, mastery or understanding. Our responsibility as educators is to give pupils the tools they will need to succeed beyond the school gate whilst maximising their potential in and out of the classroom. Academic credentials play one small part in this ambition, with strong values and life skills already becoming an increasing currency with major employers. What price an Oxbridge degree if you lack people skills? Artificial Intelligence is the future – and whether we like it or not, it will have a significant role to play across all industries, from farming to banking, and the world of work will change irrevocably as a direct consequence. Our pupils need to be adaptable and enterprising enough to benefit from the advent of technology, rather than become victims of it.
Therefore, we should treat ChatGPT with cautious optimism and reverence. If we inspire pupils and teachers to know and understand its capabilities, but also its limitations, the potential exists to augment teaching and learning for the better. Just because temptation will exist for some students to take shortcuts and exacerbate issues surrounding academic integrity should not mean we decline the opportunity to embrace its power for good. Moreover, the need for transparency is underlined. Schools have a moral imperative to show young people how to access the technology, use it productively and enhance their metacognition. Artificial intelligence is brilliant for offering the illusion of education without any conceptual understanding of the words it is generating. It can offer structure and semantics – but that is all. Without depth and opinion, the art of learning is not under threat and the role of the teacher will still be to evoke creativity, emotion and intrigue.
In answer to the title question, homework should continue to exist alongside the inception of ChatGPT – but perhaps it needs to evolve into a more relevant format to take into account the contemporary learning environment. Most schools have already moved towards a less formal system of preparation or consolidation tasks without any consequential degree of linked academic attainment. This seems a logical next step in order to maintain a healthy balance of educational provision which protects the status quo and embraces the art of the possible. In my opinion, the future of education should be about teaching people how to think – not what to say – and that will rely very much on humanity mastering artificial intelligence, not the other way around…
20th February 2023
Autumn 2022 – Consistency & Change!
We live in interesting times. The matriarch of our society for so many years, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, was recently mourned by millions across the world and her funeral showcased remarkable British pageantry, pomp and ceremony to sit alongside a plethora of raw emotion. It is an interesting concept that so many ‘ordinary’ people felt sufficiently moved by her death, most of whom never met her whilst she was alive, that they queued for long hours through the night to pay their respects to her as she was lying in state. Perhaps the most moving moment occurred as the cameras zoomed in on Emma, the Queen’s horse, as well as her dogs, who were looking on wistfully as the funeral cortege approached Windsor Castle. Her Majesty’s ability to connect with human beings across the age range knew no barriers; her empathy, grace and humility commanded our respect whilst her dignity and forbearance during the Royal Family’s darker moments afforded our empathy and understanding. The Queen was, on a human level, very much someone to whom we could all relate – and that is what made her one of a kind. It is hard to believe that we will see her like again. However, Charles and Camilla have won the nation’s hearts for the time being whilst William and Kate offer a healthy degree of reassurance for the long term future of the monarchy.
By contrast, in Westminster, a deplorable demonstration has been given on a global platform of what can happen in the absence of effective leadership. The net result of a power vacuum at Downing Street is three different Prime Ministers in eight weeks. To a lesser degree, but related nonetheless, schools now have their fifth Education Secretary in four months. How can children, or their teachers, possibly benefit from such a lack of continuity? At a time when questions are rightly being asked about the relevance of our out-dated modes of assessment, not least GCSE examinations, the key decision-makers have barely had time to update their LinkedIn profiles before being catapulted out of the door. Our young people deserve better. In good news, and whilst many people justifiably called for a General Election, it is wonderful to see a proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ in politics shattered with the appointment of Rishi Sunak as our new leader, a man of Indian ethnicity and Hindu religion. Notwithstanding the glib criticisms of him as a wealthy ex-Wykehamist, let us hope that he can inspire confidence in those around him and offer our beleaguered nation a glimmer of hope for the future. Certainly, consistency of leadership is called for in order to beget meaningful change. If our politicians show willing to draw upon the legacy of Her Majesty The Queen, then their actions might just start to match up to their words. Time will tell.
31st October 2022
Summer 2022 – The Alchemy of Wordle
During lockdown, a software engineer called Josh Wardle created a word game to entertain his wife. After it proved popular with friends and family, he published it on the web and released it to the general public in October 2021. From humble beginnings, with just 90 players in November, it duly accelerated up to over 300,000 by the start of the New Year – and after the rights to the game were bought by the New York Times for an undisclosed seven figure sum at the end of January, it is now played by millions of people across the world on a daily basis.
In a recent post, Wardle said he wanted Wordle to feel like a croissant, a “delightful snack” that’s enjoyed occasionally. This is explicitly why there’s only one puzzle per day. “Enjoyed too often,” he explained, “and they lose their charm,” Wardle explained.
Wordle is a humorous play on the inventor’s own surname, Wardle. Since it keeps track of one’s score but does not include any gimmicks, levels, or pay-to-play options, it is arguably more streamlined than crossword or Sudoku puzzles which are printed in physical newspapers. The fact that it is just one single, straightforward daily puzzle is only a small part of its appeal.
I suggest that the actual inception of such a traditional word game, together with its subsequent popularity, shows how people have recalibrated their tastes during the pandemic. Its simplicity, in addition to the concept of an attainable challenge, which can be solved in a time-effective manner and shared with family or friends, has proved to be a literal ‘game-changer’. Who would have predicted that a game like Wordle would be a global icon before April 2020? It is no co-incidence that an earlier version of the game in 2013 failed to make a dent in popular culture. However, fast-forward to a much-changed society in 2022 – and the difference is tangible.
So what is it that makes Wordle such a phenomenon?
In simple terms, Wordle challenges your brain, fosters community and even provides a daily hit of dopamine triggered by a sense of personal achievement. And it is those little moments of being proud of our accomplishments—even if only due to a successful Wordle play—that are essential to our mental health as we rehabilitate towards a more normal existence this summer.
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Matt Baldwin, notes, “When we experience something together, the feelings get amplified so when we have fun with Wordle, that feeling is magnified when we remember that we are playing with millions of people at the same time.”
Having seen increasing numbers of people on social media who discuss Wordle, Baldwin highlights that people are playing with their friends and family, and discussing the experience on private messages while the rest of the world continues solving the puzzle. By coming together around a common goal, Baldwin notes that research demonstrates how common goals create group cohesion. “The fact that we can share our experience on social media just seals the deal,” he says.
With only one word per day, he argues, “We do not feel that the game asks too much of our time or attention. And because it is a shared experience, playing Wordle connects us with others.” As long as there is access to an internet connection and a couple of minutes, Baldwin suggests that this experience can be shared. “The pandemic has caused such great harm, stress, and hardship to so many people and for some, it might be difficult to see beyond that,” he says.
Baldwin highlights, “Something about Wordle reminds us that there is simple good still out there, and that we may be more similar than we are different. We may be starkly polarized on social issues and politics, but if we can all agree that Wordle is fun, maybe there is some hope.”
Equally, Neuroscience specialist, Renetta Weaver, comments, “Regardless of what side of the COVID experience you fall on, it’s safe to say that the past three years has changed something about the way we all experience life. For many, Wordle has provided an enjoyable way, that’s right at our fingertips, to escape from the noise.”
For many, Wordle may provide a reprieve from the stress and exhaustion that individuals feel from trying to figure out how to embrace normality again. “Wordle presents a challenge that our brain is motivated to solve. When we aren’t able to solve the challenge, we are given the answer and that “aha” moment brings calm to our stressed brain,” she says. Weaver also highlights how babies need to be held to thrive and adults need to be socially-stimulated to survive. “The pandemic has taught us that social connection is important to all of us across the lifespan,” she says.
On a short-term basis, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are surprisingly beneficial for our brains because these hormones signal to the nervous system that there is a challenge that needs a response. Weaver explains, “When we are able to resolve a challenge, we get a surge of dopamine and when we are able to share our wins with others, we get a surge of oxytocin. Both hormones bring calm to our nervous system and help us to relax. Consequently, Wordle is a great way to achieve stress release.”
TEN FACTS ABOUT WORDLE:
- The name of the game is a play on the developer’s name, Wardle.
- There is only one word to solve each day; it resets at midnight.
- Everyone solves the same word each day, wherever you are playing.
- Wordle can only be played on a browser – not an app.
- The game is completely free and has no adverts.
- An earlier prototype was floated in 2013 but failed dismally.
- The game chooses from a database library of 2,315 ‘mystery’ words.
- In its current format, the game will run for six years with no repeat.
- Wordle uses American English for its spellings.
- A ‘share result’ option enhanced the game’s popularity significantly.
It probably says more about my social life than I need to divulge, but unfailingly my family and I tend to discuss Wordle over dinner every night. It has managed to become a part of the daily routine, something that it is eminently quick and achievable, so one feels bereft if it is not ticked off the ‘to do’ list. The feeling of angst is humiliating if the challenge is not accepted, or heaven-forbid, failed – conversely, the gratification of unravelling the solution offers a sense of meaningful, accomplishment, especially if it is achieved with three or fewer guesses – this equates to bragging rights…at least until midnight when the game starts all over again!
So, if you have yet to see what all the fuss is about – check out the link:
27th May 2022
Spring 2022 “A Very 21st Century War…”
This week, a new generation saw war in Europe for the first time. Children in England will be acutely aware that not too far away from countries that many will have visited for holidays, a nation full of young people just like them will be waking up in fear.
War in Europe is an experience that has shaped generations before, from the ‘baby boomers’ growing up in the aftermath of World War Two to the ‘millennials’ who watched the siege of Sarajevo on BBC Newsround. We all hoped this spectre had been consigned to history.
Children today are a generation who feel connected across the world through social media. Whether it is through the Champions League, the Eurovision Song Contest or parkour videos on YouTube, children in England and Ukraine have a set of shared experiences and cultural reference points.
I know how keenly young people will feel the negative karma from the invasion of Ukraine. If there is one thing that came out of the “Big Ask” survey run by the children’s commissioner, Rachel de Souza, last year, it is that children care passionately about the world around them, especially other boys and girls. Their empathy is off the scale – which is a good thing.
Consequently, we should not hide what is happening, but support children in understanding it. We must remember that they can find solace in being part of a wider community that is comprehending and responding to these events. Ultimately, these experiences may help them to find their voice, a sense of perspective and become empowered members of a more altruistic society.
One interesting aspect, apart from the obvious scenes of horror, to emerge from the last few days is a sense of just how differently this war is being conducted. In addition to the visible weaponry, an invisible subtext is being played out. A prime example was Vladimir Putin’s blanket switch-off of Ukraine’s internet – disabling the entire country and its infrastructure under a virtual shroud of darkness whilst his army marched on Kyiv.
However, via the medium of social media, one of the Ukrainian ministers made a direct appeal to Elon Musk for assistance. The entrepreneur responded positively and within hours the Ukrainian network was back up and running thanks to the power of Musk’s Starlink programme – which is operational from space.
Effectively, the resources of one individual counteracted the third most powerful country on the planet thanks to an exchange over Twitter. It seems almost paradoxical at first impression and then the reality dawns – the platform for this appeal single-handedly reached its desired target but also raised awareness of Ukraine’s plight to millions of people. In other words, it is brilliant in its conception and simplicity. This was, in its own way, a genuinely seismic moment which not too long ago would have been more akin to a far-fetched James Bond plot – albeit with the roles of protagonist and antagonist reversed.
Another unlikely hero is the Ukrainian leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who prior to becoming the president of his country in 2019 was a comedian and actor. His defiance and ‘front-line’ leadership will win him a place in the history books and potentially a Nobel Peace prize as well, although it may be posthumous if reports of his impending assassination by Russian mercenaries are to be believed. He continues to act with enormous courage and integrity in the face of aggression and intimidation.
It goes to show that just as Shakespearean texts stand the test of time thanks to the enduring traits of their characters, the same is true in real life. For every individual like Macbeth who is seduced by ambition and power, there is an alter ego like Banquo who retains nobility and virtue.
Whilst grounded in timeless humanity, with all the emotive hallmarks of human suffering, this is a very 21st century war…with not just an estimated seven million families displaced from their homes but also multi-layered logistical, technological and financial implications for citizens far beyond Eastern Europe – and that is before one considers the nuclear threat. Let us hope that Charlemagne’s adage of “the pen being mightier than the sword” still holds true and that a diplomatic resolution to the conflict may yet be achievable.
1st March 2022
Pic 1: Olena Kurilo, Ukrainian teacher who became the image of war after the Russian invasion
Pic 2: Elon Musk & Vladimir Putin
Pic 3: Volodymyr Zelenskyy in combat uniform
(With thanks to Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner, for use of some of her words in the introduction to this piece.)
December 2021 – Sir Richard Rogers RIP
The Kingswood House community is sad to learn of the passing of one of its most eminent former pupils, Sir Richard Rogers. After struggling with learning difficulties through school, which were entirely undiagnosed at the time, he trained in architecture and went on to design some of the most famous buildings across the skyline in London, Paris and New York.
Richard Rogers, the architect who designed the Millennium Dome, the Lloyd’s building and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, has died aged 88. Lord Rogers “passed away quietly” on Saturday evening, a spokesperson said. His death was described as a “huge loss for architecture” by the American critic Paul Goldberger.
Born in 1933 in Florence, Italy, Rogers moved to London with his family in 1938. He trained at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London before graduating with a master’s from Yale, where he met Norman Foster and developed an interest in the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. He would later describe Wright as “my first god.”
One of Britain’s best known architects, he rose to prominence for his work with Renzo Piano on the Pompidou Centre, which opened in 1977. As leading members of the then-controversial “High Tech” style, their work exposed the functional elements of buildings by placing lifts and air conditioning ducts on the outside. Lord Rogers’ other designs included the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the Senedd building in Cardiff, London’s “Cheesegrater”, Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport and 3 World Trade Center in New York, an 80-storey skyscraper on the site of the former Twin Towers. He was knighted in 1991 and created Baron Rogers of Riverside in 1996, sitting as a Labour peer in the House of Lords. His work attracted criticism from Prince Charles, prompting the architect to describe the heir to the throne as “architecturally ignorant”. More recently he clashed with the head of his professional association over the failed Thames garden bridge project, which he believed was “a great addition to London’s public domain” and “a magnet for visitors”. When awarding him the Pritzker Prize in 2007, the jury praised him for having “revolutionised museums, transforming what had once been elite monuments into popular places of social and cultural exchange, woven into the heart of the city”.
He received the Freedom of the City of London at Guildhall Art Gallery in 2014 in recognition of his contribution to architecture and urbanism.
Lord Rogers is survived by his wife Lady Ruth, sons Ab, Ben, Roo and Zad, his brother Peter and 13 grandchildren.
Autumn 2021“A Brave New World…”
We are just five weeks into our co-educational journey at KHS, and, in combination with the ongoing fluctuations of the pandemic, it has been hugely interesting to chart some early observations during the embryonic stage of this process.
Fundamentally, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience to have girls on site and it feels as though it has been a very natural evolution. There is no sense of ‘us and them’ and early friendships have been established, as we hoped, across the age, ability and gender divide. With so many new pupils starting in September, as well as the on-off dynamic of school life over the last eighteen months, the opportunity for historic cliques to have formed was diminished and consequently this enabled a fresh mind-set of settling in for all pupils because everybody has needed to reacquaint themselves with the idea of ‘the new normal’ after so much time out.
Without a doubt, preparation has been the key determinant of a successful transition into co-education. Over the last two years, teaching and support staff have considered every facet of school life and made careful adjustments to ensure that the KHS environment is inclusive and welcoming to new girls and their families. Examples in theory comprise hugely time-consuming ‘detail’ tasks such as balancing the curriculum to include an equal ratio of female role models and topics, editing all literature such as the parent, pupil and staff handbook, as well as signage and the website, to ensure consistency of message and navigating the rigour of an ISI material change inspection so that the move to co-education could be officially ratified by the Department for Education in a timely fashion.
Additionally, in practice, boys received specific training in advance of September in vital themes such as behaviour, boundaries and consent. A new, carefully-located girls’ changing room was constructed and a lovely girls’ uniform designed by our suppliers which paid homage to the renowned KHS branding. Meanwhile, all staff attended INSET workshops with three consultants over the course of the last academic year in order to inspire and support them in their effective planning for the transition. Questionnaires for pupils and parents garnered useful information, upon which we acted, and it became evident that we needed to cater not just for the needs of the girls but also the boys too. As a school, we pride ourselves upon being good at listening and the pupil voice continues to be heard loud and clear via an active student council, weekly divisional assemblies, regular house meetings, daily form time and weekly PSHE lessons.
Since the start of term, girls and their parents have enjoyed a well-received ‘Tea & Talk’ which celebrated them as pioneers and covered the important topic of empowerment. These bespoke, thematic talks will occur each half of term during this year and as well as imparting useful advice, they are also a forum for the girls to raise any concerns and feedback so that we can continue to be reflective and sensitive to their needs.
It was a source of great pride for the KHS girls to play their first competitive netball fixture before half term. I can also share news that a number have auditioned successfully for the Kingswood Singers and the showpiece school production – so our new recruits have not been backwards in coming forwards and making the most of the opportunities on offer. Long may it continue!
Whilst in many ways it seems obvious that the pandemic has been an impediment during our move to co-education, particularly in respect of being able to showcase the school in person, I also believe the legacy of the pandemic has been beneficial. Namely, our girls joined the school at an opportune time when the reset button has been pressed in so many different aspects of our lives. There is a greater appreciation of change, creativity and culture in our domestic and professional lives. There is more resilience and stoicism if things are not going well. Above all, there is a collective understanding of the importance of mental health, physical fitness and overall well-being.
These valuable ingredients form the perfect recipe for a change of strategic direction such as a move to co-education. Set against the backdrop of the ‘new normal’, our boys and girls have merely embraced one more alteration in their day to day lives and taken it in their stride.
Summer 2021 ‘How might the European Football Championships assist society at large?’
I am really looking forward to the delayed Euro 2020 tournament which will eventually kick off after a year’s delay on Friday 11th June and run for a month until its culmination in the final on Sunday 11th July. The competition will be the first of its kind to be played across the entire breadth of the continent, using eleven different venues from Budapest to Baku. With each stadium, including Wembley, hopeful of permitting a limited number of live spectators, the initial ticketing process saw the biggest demand ever seen for a major tournament with more than 19 million people applying for approximately two million available tickets.
There are some strong contenders, notably Belgium and France, but I do believe that if England get their best team out on the pitch consistently, they have as good a chance as anyone to lift the trophy. Irrespective of the outcome, I am hoping that the games generate a wave of optimism and a positive ‘carnival’ atmosphere. Set against the backdrop of a long year dominated by Covid and punctuated by lockdown, it will be invigorating for everyone to look forward to a festival of football. As ever, the players have to shoulder a huge responsibility as role models both on and off the pitch. If a sublime piece of skill can be collectively appreciated – so can great sportsmanship. How refreshing might it be to see football players and managers consistently respect referees’ decisions whether they agree with them or not – for example, as they typically do in rugby union, a much more physical game? Even with the advent of VAR, which was introduced to minimise human error, close decisions are still highly contentious and often result in questionable behaviour from professional players and managers alike.
Furthermore, I read with dismay the news that people have started booing teams ‘taking the knee’ before kick off in recent fixtures. Whilst I can understand how and why this gesture might now be at risk of losing its original significance, essentially due to familiarity over a lengthy period of time, the underlying message is one that is too important to be forgotten. It would be truly gratifying for a global audience to witness players from different countries and cultures showcase the universal qualities of respect and tolerance for one another thanks to their actions and words during competitive matches. These fundamental values are discussed with pupils on a daily basis in schools but there is an opportunity for the work of teachers to be powerfully reinforced by the actions and words of global footballing icons in the weeks ahead. I truly hope that the level of skill on display is equally matched by that of sportsmanship so that the Euros can have a meaningful and resonant legacy for society at large. There has arguably never been a more prescient time to do so.
Spring 2021 ‘What Kind of Education is Fit for the 21st century?’
If there is one positive step to be taken from the uncertain landscape as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, then it is the opportunity to hit the reset button and reimagine education. There is now an amazing opportunity to be bold and reconsider every aspect of teaching, learning and assessment, transforming education to meet the needs of today and tomorrow’s young people, helping them to become the researchers, employees, employers and leaders of the future.
The first step of education transformation is to identify what young people should learn and why. Ask the employers and higher education institutions and they will tell you that they would prefer skills over knowledge. Knowledge is available within milliseconds by using a carefully crafted query submitted to a search engine. It used to be said that ‘knowledge is power’, but these days knowledge is common to all at the press of a button; it should be contended that how to find, validate, interpret, apply, analyse, synthesise, evaluate and, perhaps most importantly, construct new meaning and understanding from what we already know, is far more important.
According to ITL Research, SRI and Microsoft Partners in Learning, employers and universities value skills such as effective communication, collaboration, knowledge construction, use of ICT, self-regulation and real-world problem solving and innovation – the 21st century learning skills. So why does there continue to be a traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach to education? It is archaic and harks back to the 19th century process of churning out ‘factory ready’ employees, with enough knowledge to get by. Is that what we want for our children? Are all young people the same?
At Kingswood House, we want to unlock the potential in each and every one of our pupils and we recognise that this process is one of continuous, incremental development. This requires a personalised approach to learning; for each child, identifying different obstacles and challenges that prevent them from progressing to their next step in learning and providing them with strategies to overcome them. The active modelling of critical thinking skills becomes increasingly important for this to be effective. For example, the analogy of giving a man a fish to eat for a meal or teaching him to fish so that he can eat for the rest of his life has never been more relevant. Simply removing obstacles for a child teaches them that someone else will sort out their problems, both now and in the future. However, equipping students with a toolkit of strategies to learn how they might overcome challenges for themselves promotes resilience, problem-solving and innovation skills that are highly-prized once the classroom is far behind.
I believe that the young people who will thrive in the post-pandemic world are more likely to be those with skill-sets that have been historically overlooked and underdeveloped in the classroom. Society has a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to reform the education and public examinations system and it is to be hoped that this opportunity is seized. Nonetheless, and irrespective of whether there is the political appetite for such reform, it is educators who control what happens in our schools and classrooms on a day-to-day basis and this is where a true educational transformation must begin in schools across the land. I am proud that Kingswood House is at the vanguard of such contemporary thinking.
Autumn 2020 ‘All in it together…‘
During the summer term, I spent a lot of time deep in contemplation as I walked around the school campus which was superficially tidy and completely devoid of its normal charm as a thoroughfare of chatter and personality. With the exception of children of key workers, and a skeleton staff, everyone was at home embracing online learning via Microsoft Teams. In its own way, this technological advancement was a triumph and many longer term aspirations were fast-tracked, necessity being the mother of invention; however, the vast chasm of emptiness in school made me reflect upon the importance of human contact in education. This is especially true of a school like ours where friendliness, inclusivity and warmth are paramount. At the time of writing, the school has since reopened its doors and half term is nigh. The last few weeks have not been without their challenges but I can state emphatically that the children have returned with enthusiasm and shown great adaptability and enterprise in accommodating the ‘new normal’. Understandably, given so long without the routine or structure of a longer school day, many of the pupils are now mentally and physically exhausted – they are running on empty.
This is when a tried and trusted relationship between home and school is of true value. Parents and teachers need to work together and troubleshoot; as ever, prevention is better than cure and if early warning signs are detected, then many potential problems can be mitigated quickly and effectively at source. Furthermore, it is also a time when our core values of the Kingswood House Way are of prime significance. The fall-out from Covid-19 has left everyone feeling anxious, with some more acutely vulnerable than others, and nobody knows at any given time what their neighbour is contending with in mental or physical terms. Instead of being self-indulgent, now is the time to reach out and show consideration for others. This can be achieved by the boys in practical, straightforward ways by listening more and speaking less, ensuring appropriate personal space as well as respecting that of others or simply by being helpful and kind. It can also be manifested in more altruistic changes of behaviour. Instead of rushing, pause; instead of showing off, be humble; instead of taking, give; instead of complaining, be complimentary; instead of frowning; smile.
As someone once famously said, we are all “in it together” – and in order for us to reach the light at the end of the tunnel, everyone has their part to play.
Headmaster’s Statement on Diversity & Inclusion
At Kingswood House, we believe that the acquisition and manifestation of core values such as Respect, Integrity and Endeavour transcend race, colour and creed.
The untimely death of George Floyd and the questions it has raised should make all schools examine the balance of academics and ethics in their educational programme in order to ensure that young people of today grow up as responsible citizens of tomorrow. We want our pupils at KHS to live their lives unencumbered by what they look like, where they come from or what faith they practise, if any. This generation of children should grow up to be custodians of equality and fairness so that each individual can harbour high aspirations, irrespective of their background or culture.
In order for this to be achieved, there needs to be a strong partnership between home and school from the very early years, all the way through to senior years, where a culture of tolerance and trust can be fostered and celebrated by pupils, parents and teachers alike.
The Kingswood House Way, a pioneering tapestry of such values, showcases the school’s commitment in this respect. Furthermore, our admissions policy is broad, open-minded and welcomes applications from families of all faiths, or none. As a community that actively celebrates diversity, with a number of pupils from a range of socio-economic and multi-cultural backgrounds, we believe that at Kingswood House we are in the vanguard of schools who are making a positive difference. However, we are passionate and reflective about listening, learning and better understanding the views and experiences of our BAME families. It remains our fundamental aim to propagate a happy, fulfilling school culture where every child is treated with equal kindness, patience and understanding.
The Home Learning Experience – Summer 2020
If someone had told me last summer that during the course of this academic year the whole school would be closed at short notice and fully operational online within a matter of days, I might have laughed. Yet, with endeavour and enterprise, this new mode of online home schooling had to be up and running remarkably quickly as a consequence of the Coronavirus pandemic. In late March, we effectively had a trial run of home learning during the last week of the spring term when we sent home lessons by email. This was superseded in April by the use of Microsoft Teams, which augmented our provision by enabling interactive video lessons and remote meetings. The entire school community had to ‘up skill’ before the start of the summer term – and this is but one example drawn from our current situation that may prove to be a silver-lining when normality resumes.
New, unfamiliar words and phrases have entered our vocabulary – ‘lockdown’ and ‘social distancing’ being the most topical – as well as eye-catching posters depicting imagery about the threat of the virus, deliberately enshrining a powerful metaphor of warfare against an invisible enemy. The Prime Minister’s announcements have even drawn upon famous Churchillian rhetoric from World War Two, invoking the need for a national effort to prevent its devastating spread, across ten long weeks spent in relative isolation from friends and family and away from the structure of a school environment.
One of the iconic figures from this unusual summer will certainly be “Captain Tom”, soon to be Captain Sir Thomas Moore, who captured the imagination of the public with his fund-raising efforts in support of NHS charities. Originally intended as a simple gesture of goodwill in advance of his centenary, the fundraising effort for him to walk around his house one hundred times raised over £30 million – it was originally a £1000 target. On his hundredth birthday, Captain Tom received over 150,000 cards and even topped the UK singles chart with a version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Could he ever have envisaged that when he was a young army officer serving in Burma? Undoubtedly, Captain Tom’s achievements are indelibly marked in the annals of 21st century social history.
Meanwhile, at Kingswood House, the commendable adaptability and commitment of the pupils, parents and staff during such a testing time has been hugely rewarding – not least for our Y11 pupils who expected to sit their GCSE exams. You only have to witness the sparkling content of our weekly newsletter in order to appreciate the versatility of this brave new world. Strength of character is truly tested during times of adversity and the values hallowed in our philosophy at Kingswood House have shone through with luminosity. The excellent KHS response to Coronavirus should make all members of our school community incredibly proud.
Speaking the Truth to Fake News – January 2020
“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 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
KHS Wins National School Trip Award! November 2019
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 www.schooltravelorganiser.com/awards #SchoolTravelAwards
Independent schools – are some more equal than others ? September 2019
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 Sense of Self Belief… 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.
Duncan is the IAPS 16+ Schools’ Ambassador for the Sixteen Group and a member of the Society of Heads.
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