Posted on 08/01/2019

It is not just WHAT we teach but HOW we teach it

FBS seems to be forever taking flack – protests, letters, emails, press. It comes with the territory when you are trying to do something exciting, different, edgy.  So let me start 2019 on the front foot. Punchy, unswerving and assured.

2019 promises to be another action packed 12 months for FBS. Our first set of GCSE results, our inaugural Sixth Form, the start of more schools. So what makes us tick? What are we about? And why do we need more free schools like FBS?

For the following reasons:

  • Our distinctive, unmistakeable ethos
  • Exceptional staff retention rates providing extraordinary continuity of teaching, learning and pastoral care
  • Being more than just a school; establishing a real cooperative where boys, staff, parents and governors are all engaged, challenging and supporting.  
  • Being a school of choice – heavily oversubscribed despite being on a temporary site with no public exam results;
  • Social mobility. FBS must rank as one of the most comprehensive schools in the country: 20% private school boys rubbing shoulders with 40% young men living in social deprivation; 15% black Caribbean, 13% Black African, 10% Asian. Our boys learn valuable lessons from mixing with each other, crossing socio-economic divides, and learning from each other’s perspectives rather than falling back on ‘group think’. No boy is allowed to use his upbringing or background as an excuse for not meeting our high standards, or as a barrier to achievement.

Some free schools make much of their freedom to teach outside the national curriculum. For me, it is not so much about WHAT we teach but HOW we teach it.

This is best shown by the way we tackle big, counter-cultural issues. We’re a Christian Faith school and we expose our boys to the claims of the Bible. We invite our boys to think, question and  challenge what society thinks. Not just tolerate those who think differently, but actually love them. We want boys to be risk takers, discoverers, courageous, unafraid of going against the crowd, and showing the ability to back up their views with reasoned arguments, kindness and respect.

That is why ‘HOW’ we teach, as much as ‘WHAT’ we teach, is so critical. In every subject the Christian views are presented alongside other world views and theories. We expose our boys to what Christians believe and encourage them to evaluate it, weigh it up. We don’t force them to believe it. We have created a transparent environment that encourages thinking, questioning and scrutiny. We believe this is how to educate a mind. And certainly preferable to having society’s views and biases ‘taught’ unquestioningly, particularly if certain arguments and views are not even allowed to be put on the table. Isn’t it right, safe and even our duty to consider topics such as origins, relationships, the family, the sanctity of life, and gender?  

Ofsted (May 3-4 2017) commented, ‘Christian values of the school are clear while at the same time everyone is welcome and included…Debate and discussion are encouraged which the pupils told inspectors they value very much’. While the Community Focus Group said, ‘Muslim families are aware that FBS is firmly built upon the Christian faith but feel that everyone is welcome’

However, if some of our detractors had their way, some of this debate would be ‘off limits’. One of my recent blogs discussed science, the views of Richard Dawkins and creation. To be clear, none of my staff have ever, or will ever, teach creation as scientific fact. As I wrote:

‘I agree with Dawkins that indoctrinating children is wicked. So stop doing it professor! Again, like Dawkins, I am keen to present our boys with evidence; but all of it, not some of it, and none of it coloured by bias and prejudice. As Winston Churchill said, ‘True genius resides in the capacity for the evaluation of uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information’. I want to walk into science labs at FBS and find boys (and teachers) who question, challenge, explore, analyse and consider, critically, absolutely everything. I don’t want FBS boys to just accept things because everyone else does. I want FBS boys to be risk takers, discoverers, courageous, unafraid of making mistakes or going against the crowd, showing the ability to back up their views with reasoned arguments, kindness and respect. Be that evaluating the theory of creation or that of evolution. The Education secretary Damian Hinds said recently that he thinks alternatives to the theory of evolution must be presented, allowing for critical assessment in schools At FBS we believe it is the role of a school to make students question and think openly, not be blinded by bias’.

Again, as I have said in previous blogs, I have no time for extremism and indoctrination but equally I have no time for schools being made to force an aggressive liberal agenda on the next generation. Surely we should present our young people with all views and perspectives and create an environment whereby they can decide for themselves. That is what we are achieving at FBS, hence why it is as much about HOW we teach as WHAT we teach. In the environment we have created and the approach we have exposed our boys to

For me this is what education is about; I get excited at the thought of our sixth form becoming a hot bed of discussion and debate; where young men thrash out big issues, disagree strongly, shake hands and laugh together later, while at the same time shape the thinking and attitude of our nation. This is why FBS is genuinely a ‘Free’ school. This is why we need more schools like FBS out there. And for anyone who questions our approach, you’re most welcome to come in, speak to whoever you’d like to and inspect whatever you need to.. Everyone who comes will find a school where HOW is as important as WHAT we teach!   

Wishing you all a happy 2019.


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