Posted on 06/06/2016
What’s the Point?
What better question to ask in this 50th Headmaster’s blog than, what’s the point of school?
Moving to London from Wales I was struck by how important ‘school’ is to so many people in this part of the world; particularly how vital it is to get into the ‘right’ school. There are schools in West London that have built up huge reputations, for offering a highly prestigious education. But how do we judge a school? What do we want it to be and do? What’s it there to teach? What’s the point of school?
I’m sure we all have in our minds what a school ‘does’. We look at the subjects it teaches, the school shows, assemblies, sports fixtures, clubs, trips, exams, uniform, timetable etc. We then judge how well it ‘does’ what it ‘does’.
But shouldn’t we start by asking why it does what it does? Is there more it should do? Should it do some of the things it does differently? Or even not do some of those things at all?
Everything we do has had to pass this ‘why?’ test.
Our starting point is always what an 18 year old needs to know, be and have to make it in life. What do businesses, universities and industries require? What do our communities, our country and the world want a young man to look like? Working backwards, we put everything in place to provide our pupils with what they need.
So our boys study history, geography, RE, science, English, maths, languages and computing because they need to know about the past, learn about the world, communicate effectively, understand how things work, meet, negotiate, live alongside and do business with people from other backgrounds and countries. Our teachers are tasked to bring these things alive and make them relevant; boys know why they are learning as much as what they are learning. We approach Art, Sport, Drama and Music differently. These subjects bring the ‘feel good factor’ to the school and community, allow pupils to be creative, build up their confidence, develop real talent and give them the platform and opportunities to excel.
Above and beyond this, ‘school’ is also the experiences provided which you cannot learn from books. The currency of the future is resilience, an ability to solve problems, deal with failure, possess a can do attitude. If we want to develop boys who can change and improve the world, we need to encourage and provide them with opportunities to take risks, be daring, be ‘game changers’. If we want young men who will improve society then we need to encourage them to challenge our culture and question current values and trends.
So if not from books, how do we teach these things? Let me give you some examples.
Three weeks ago we took 11 boys to the Calais Jungle to play football against refugee children. They also visited some of the men and women in the camp and distributed aid. Why? To broaden their experiences, expose them to real world problems that seem impossible to solve and ask them how they’d solve them; to ensure that our boys understand how personal ambition must combine with social compassion.
Two weeks ago our Year 7 and Year 8 football teams both played and won in their respective finals at Loftus Road to win the QPR league. Our Year 7 rugby team has brought home three trophies this season. While these 5 trophies bring glory they’ve also taught all our boys important lessons for life. How to be a good winner, how to cope with not being good enough for the first team, how to be genuinely pleased to see your school mates do well, how to not give up trying to get into the team. Important, vital skills needed in life that no text book can teach you.
How do we encourage our boys to work with others, make the best of every situation, be patient, self-disciplined and thoughtful towards others? By using our experience on a temporary site for a few years – a canteen that isn’t quite big enough, negotiating the tube to get to sports afternoon, not having a locker, narrow corridors, a school hall we can’t all congregate in – to nurture those characteristics.
How do we encourage boys to try new things, be active, be creative, deepen and re-enforce learning and explore things further? By providing a wide range of co-curricular clubs.
And how do we fuel aspirations and rid pupils of the notion that the top universities and top jobs will be filled with people from the most privileged backgrounds? We create an ethos that demands the highest standards and greatest expectations and then invite boys from all walks of life to join and tell them their postcode doesn’t matter; boys from both sides of the track, rubbing shoulders, having their eyes opened, widening their experiences and learning from one another – kindly and respectfully.
So, while we will no doubt continue to assess schools by their reputation, history and tradition, by, their facilities, sporting achievements and performance in exams, let’s keep in the forefront of our minds the real issue: What’s the point!