In the context of an article about the relationship between exams and children’s mental health, Barnaby Lenon, Chair of the Independent Schools Council wrote in no uncertain terms about his belief in the importance of exams.
I read his article with interest but I cannot say that I agree with him. Healthy debate, I’m sure, will abound about some of the points he makes.
This week we publish our leaflet about the changes we have made to our Year 7 & 8 curriculum and I hope that many of you will enjoy reading about them. Whilst in part the driver for our changes has been the demise of the Common Entrance in Year 8 as the route into senior schools at Year 9, the changes we have made, which include the way in which we will assess excellence and understanding, are born of a philosophy that is growing within the school; that expressing learning can take so many forms.
Of course in the Prep school world we are not steering our children towards nationally accredited qualifications. Our colleagues in the Secondary sector will at times struggle with the content they are obliged to teach and its relevance and application in the lives of their pupils. I certainly remember dreading the unit in the French GCSE when I had to teach children how to buy petrol or book hotel rooms.
Nevertheless when Mr Lenon says “committing useful knowledge to the long-term memory is one of the main purposes of school education”, I cry “but no!”
Committing facts to long-term memory will in the end be a skill, like map-reading, that some of us will use less and less. We have the internet and research materials and with a couple of touches on the phone we can check all manner of facts.
The roots of the word education lie in Latin. E duco – I lead out. And of course all staff engaged in the life of the school lead children forward into greater learning.
I believe the main purpose of school education is to open the minds and souls of the children we meet, to inspire them, to excite them, to engage them and to celebrate in every conceivable way possible all milestones of their learning as well as equipping them to be creative and committed in their learning, courteous, collaborative and critical thinkers.
This week I had two examples of learning which would not fit behind an exam desk. Firstly on Wednesday we rejoiced again in the myriad ways in which children demonstrated their learning and shared it in the challenge project feedback sessions that were happening for the first hour of the day all over the school. What is extraordinary is that the high expectations and the open ended-ness of tasks set are the markers of advanced thinking and creativity and yet these are embraced by all abilities. The freedom to express learning in film, in display boards, in art or in lively interactive presentations, in film and this time even in cakes is truly phenomenal. Many, many more children achieve high levels of success, pleasure and satisfaction given the choice about how they present their learning.
The second time I faced evidence of learning that could not be collected sat at a desk was when I watched Reception have their final rehearsal for the nativity play next week.
Learning, engagement and enjoyment in Reception took many forms; the child with a great deal to remember and the requirement to concentrate hard and take turns, the child who succeeded in standing still (relatively!) at the appropriate moments, the child who found true expression in movement or singing or performance and the child who perhaps last year looked down and cried and this year spoke lines with pride and joy.
So let’s build on this idea of showing learning in new ways. Let’s keep a healthy respect for exams but know that they are only a part of the purpose of school.
I know parents choose this school because we find ways to affirm and include every child and because we look outwards, question and reflect.
In the run-up to Christmas I look forward to sharing with many of you the milestones in learning that your children have reached.
I also in a different vein look forward to seeing many of you tomorrow at the P&F Christmas bazaar. Rejoice …..those silly jumpers and hats can have an outing that justifies their initial expense!
Have a great weekend and let’s make advent begin in style.