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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