The pandemic and subsequent school closures shone a stark light on the value of greater independence and autonomy in learning, resilience and mental wellbeing, making it abundantly clear that the one-size-fits all Victorian model of education was well beyond its sell-by date.
|WELLBEING: BEING COMFORTABLE, HEALTHY OR HAPPY|
|Wellbeing, kindness and resilience are in the sedimentary layers of our curriculum and several core aspects to our ethos have been in place since the school was founded.
Love for one another comes from a place of respect and tolerance where we celebrate differences in backgrounds, beliefs and identities. Having wisdom as a child is crucial, and when we own our knowledge, we have a better sense of self-assurance and self-care to tackle problems, understand the feelings of others and take action. Similarly, recognising our mistakes or challenges enables us to confront them, allowing positive thought which helps us make progress.
These life skills sit within the curriculum, pathing the way for independence in work, mind and thought so that critical thinking comes with much greater ease. Children are comfortable challenging each other, asking questions and developing their sense of agency.
Source: Dolphin School
“It would have been very easy to revert to type, but it wasn’t actually fit for purpose anymore,” says Kevin Doble, Principal of Northwood Schools. “The first and most significant change is that we now focus less on the performance of the teacher, and more on the impact of the learning. This has changed how we regard assessment. It’s no longer the process by which children can demonstrate their ability to recall or repeat, but rather, it’s the quality of the journey that they’ve travelled, and the difference in their mindset, attitude, knowledge, skills and motivation, which has beome significantly more important.”
Charlotte Baly, Director of Studies at The Roche School, which teaches philosophy for children concurs, “Children should not be defined by how well they’re doing in class, how many friends they’ve got, or how good they are at netball. We look at helping them move their own learning forward and giving them the kind of stimulus that sparks their curiosity and gets them talking. It’s also about the everyday interactions that feed into their self-esteem, praising their habits, as opposed to their outcomes, their efforts, as opposed to their grades. And although we aspire for them to be achieving the best they possibly can, we find that happens anyway, because when they’re given the tools to be self-reflective, and analytical, that transfers to their written work, test papers and everything else in between.”
In fact, education has been undergoing a transformation for years, but the pandemic “resulted in accelerated change not just in educators’ minds, but in the minds of parents too,” says Susan Brooks, Head of Northwood Senior. “We no longer have to convince parents that there is a different way of doing things because most want to reimagine a better education for their children, more in line with the modern world.”
|FROM DISAPPOINTMENT TO RESILIENCE|
|Every child experiences setbacks at some point. Regardless of how hard they work, or how much they want something, things don’t always go to plan. These moments feel horrible, but there is much learning available enabling parents to guide their child through the difficult moment.
First, we have to accept and manage our own feelings of disappointment on behalf of our child. This is often difficult for us as we hate to see our child upset. The next step is to help them acknowledge their disappointment by naming it, so they learn they can manage it, despite how uncomfortable it feels.
Responding to how our children feel and using empathy, rather than rushing to cheer them up or distract them, is how children develop the emotional intelligence and self-regulation that leads to resilience – the mental and emotional capacity to recover from disappointment and try again.
Source: The Parent Team
Parents too have a role to play in their child’s levels of curiosity and resilience.
“Parents nurture their child’s mental wellbeing each and every day by giving them positive attention and helping them understand their feelings,” explains Juliet Richards, co-founder of The Parent Team. She adds: “There are many opportunities in daily family life to boost children’s independent thinking and problem-solving skills which transfer to the classroom.”
In the classroom, metacognitive teaching helps students recognise their own cognitive abilities, direct their own learning, evaluate their performance, understand what causes their successes and failures and learn new strategies. “Children become the leaders in their education,” explains Northwood’s Doble. “Previously, it was almost exclusively teacher-led. Now, in a good classroom, you’re much more likely to see the teacher simply facilitating discussion among the pupils, rather than leading it.”
At Northwood Senior School students apply their knowledge, work in teams, and innovate through thematic learning, integrating subject areas together around macro themes, so students can relate basic academic skills to the real world. Pupils can study English Literature, History and Geography, and Theology, Philosophy and Religion (TPR) all wrapped into the theme of ‘London’, for example, looking at writers such as Samuel Pepys up to the contemporary, Monica Ali, and studying the history of Saxon England right through to the Windrush and modern-day migration and citizenship. “It’s not about teaching in isolation. It’s about drawing on interdisciplinary skills and connecting the information to as many things as possible,” says Brooks.
|THE IMPORTANCE OF SPEECH AND DRAMA|
|Speech and drama is an empowering way for young people to learn effective, clear communication skills that will serve them well in life and help them to increase their self-confidence. It encourages them to think outside the box, take risks and engage actively with peers. Drama helps develop linguistic and social skills in a meaningful and impactful way; it enables children to better understand the world around them, developing intelligence and empathy.
Einstein suggested, “imagination is even more important than knowledge.” Imagination makes it possible for children to picture a whole world inside their minds, to travel both into the past and the future. As children engage in drama and allow their imaginations to lead them when problem-solving, they will be inspired to imagine the impossible. We know that the creative power of imagination has a pivotal role in success in any field – it will open doors, hearts and minds and allows children to be their innovative best as they journey through life.
Source: Eveline Day School
John Preston, MD at Mathnasium UK, agrees “What is the point in learning by rote? If someone asks you something slightly more abstract, you can’t answer that question because you don’t have underlying mathematical knowledge.” Everything in maths is connected and it’s by working out those connections that students can problem solve, and those skills are transferable to other areas such as reading and comprehension too. “But it’s also about customising the work for the students,” explains Preston. “Too easy and they won’t be engaged; too hard and it’s demoralising. It’s a fine balance.”
|Enterprise is not a subject you typically find within a prep school, but it is one of the most popular subjects on offer here. Using all their subjects to effectively plan, budget, design, pitch and execute a business plan, children love coming up with their own ideas to make money for the school charity.
Enterprise comprises the essentials of modern day working – working collaboratively, putting forward different ideas, financial planning and gaining a confidence to stand up and pitch ideas – and we believe that teaching this from an early age is the key to success in business. We have found children are so enthralled by these lessons that more and more are taking what they have learnt out of the classroom to set up small enterprises such as mini-coffee shops, art prints and jewellery brands.
An entrepreneurial spirit is one to foster and we keep challenging our children to come up with the next big idea. Podcasts are coming soon – watch this space!
Source: The White House Prep School
“It is all about preparing students with skills for the workplace, such as how to innovate, solve complex, multi-faceted problems, engage collaboratively and empathetically, while looking at solutions from different angles,” says Suzie Longstaff, Headmistress at Putney High School, which has a bespoke Design Thinking curriculum in Year 9 spanning product design, computer science and entrepreneurship to encourage creative and original thinking. Inspiring girls to love STEM is a way of life at Putney High and the new Innovation Centre is a central hub for the school’s focus on robotics and AI.
Jane Lunnon, Head of Alleyn’s School says, “According to the World Economic Forum the shelf life of professional skills
is approximately five years. Therefore, the most critical attributes for young people entering the workplace alongside creativity and problem solving are resilience, self-efficacy and flexibility. The ability to move across projects and teams, and to respond to a rapidly changing workplace all come into how we ought to be educating our children.”
A large part of this is the Alleyn’s Learner Programme (ALP), developing those all-important metacognitive skills. From gardening and mindfulness courses, to cookery, touch typing, Zumba, parkour and Model United Nations, opportunities are plentiful to learn new skills. “The bottom line is that we’re not educating exam robots,” continues Lunnon. “We are developing interesting, motivated, successful people who will flourish and will contribute to powerfully shaping the world in years to come.”
|MODERN SCHOLARSHIP – MAKING EDUCATION RELEVANT|
|Having an entrepreneurial mindset is very much encouraged, and not only in the Sixth Form boardroom.
A culture of Modern Scholarship makes learning exciting and, most importantly, relevant. Pupils of all ages learn to ‘think differently’, exploring diverse technologies and developing their problem-solving skills in the classroom and with myriad co-curricular opportunities.
Design thinking is now a timetabled lesson, with students making connections between physics,
Beyond the curriculum, pupils are intrepid, relishing the Year 7 Badge Challenge, Year 8 BAFTAs, and later, lessons in PPE and Sixth Form Hot Topics, all part of the bespoke AthenaProgramme designed to expand minds and perspectives in preparation for entrance to top universities and the world of work.
Source: Putney High School GDST
Touch typing is an essential life skill in the increasingly digital world we live in.
“Being able to touch type liberates the brain to concentrate on content and quality of writing and allows pupils to show their full potential,” says Clare and Philippa of Qwertykids.
A rich, co-curricular life in school is embedded in the ethos at Sydenham High School GDST, explains Antonia Geldeard, incoming head this month. ”It cultivates enquiring minds through enrichment and extension both within the classroom and beyond, at all ages. Our girls should be ambitious in their endeavours, develop their higher order thinking skills and be confident to speak up, stand out, think creatively, and reach for opportunities.”
At Emanuel School, as well as independent study coaching, the Years 6s and 7s take Philosophy, thinking through ethical dilemmas and learning political literacy. “We are really proud of our academic results, but there’s more to life that our students need to be prepared for,” says Rebecca Brown, Assistant Head, Academic. “So, rhetoric and debate are important as well as getting them to express their point of view clearly, give support and evidence for it, listen to other people’s views and be able to ask questions and engage.” The students are regularly encouraged to think about the world outside of school and take on leadership opportunities through mentoring younger peers or teaching local primary school students each week, part of the school’s Primary Ambitions community outreach programme.
Relationships are currently a big focus at Whitgift School. “During lockdown our students gained a lot of soft skills such as independent learning and resilience, but what they missed out on was interacting face-to-face with people,” says Kate Goldberg, Assistant Head, Learning and Innovation. Students are given the tools to work on their own relationships, such as mastering the art of listening to words, facial expressions and body language and in debate, the boys learn to be inclusive and mindful about their language. “The Blacks Lives Matter and Everyone’s Invited movement really highlighted the need for inclusion and empathy and the need to strengthen relationships so that everyone feels they can take part in the conversation,” explains Goldberg.
Prioritising social and emotional connections has been a huge part of Wimbledon High’s work recently. They have increased playtime, unstructured time together, team building exercises and residential trips, and the new ‘playground in the sky’ is due to be completed this month (Sept 2022). “We want it to be a totemic space for us to celebrate childhood and play,” explains Head of Junior School, Claire Boyd. “Through play children strengthen their schema building, develop a better sense of themselves and therefore can process the world and people around them better. As they get older, we really need to protect that.”
Alderbrook Primary School has taken a school-wide approach to positive wellbeing and mental health, explains Carly Tremblin, Deputy Head. “This includes emotion coaching training for all staff, parent workshops, a dedicated sanctuary space in the school, daily mindfulness for every class and a bespoke cognition curriculum that excites children to learn more about how their brains work.
“Our headteacher Pete Weal says, ‘a rounded approach has enabled children to develop the language needed to understand and share their state of wellbeing.’ ”
|DEVELOPING A POSITIVE ATTITUDE TO MATHS|
|“Children don’t hate maths. What they hate is being confused, intimidated and embarrassed by maths.”
So said Larry Martinek, founder of the Mathnasium Method. As a parent, you can help build positive foundations for maths without sitting down and battling with worksheets. Look for maths in the everyday – when shopping, travelling or cooking. Focus on concepts and processes, not just the answers. Ask your child how they solved a problem or encourage them to teach you something. Search for numbers and patterns in the world around you and engage older children in discussions about the maths behind a report or headline. Play games – those involving logic and critical thinking as well as numbers.
Finally, and most importantly, however you feel about the subject keep a positive attitude and encourage a ‘have a go’ approach to replace the fear or the concern about right or wrong.
Meanwhile at Dolphin School, students start the day with Relationship Time each morning to reflect. “Love for one another comes from a place of respect and tolerance – a place where we celebrate differences in our backgrounds, beliefs, identities and moral compass,” says Sam Godsen, Headteacher at Dolphin School.
“Respecting someone else’s differences to discover friendship is truly exciting.” Group work helps children to redefine themselves using higher emotional intelligence, and termly sessions with the positivity coach help children understand the power of their thoughts to stimulate change.
It’s all about learning powers for the little ones at Broomwood Hall Lower School – confidence, communication, curiosity, independence and resilience – and the most recent addition, ‘the power of the yeti’ as in ‘I can’t do it YET, but I will’. “It’s about growth mindset,” says Caron Mackay, Deputy Head. “We just give the children the tools to use their powers independently.”
Since the re-opening of schools, there has been a strong government drive to support mental wellbeing as part of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education too. “Lots of parents are worried about learning gaps. However, as a teacher, what I have really noticed is the mental health impact of Covid; the children seem immature and less resilient than in the past. Even primary-aged children are suffering from depression and anxiety. Lockdown was challenging but the real work starts now for teachers and parents,” says Adam D’Souza, Founder of The Commons Education.
“When pupils are faced with difficult situations in their adolescence, we help them to face up to and overcome those challenges, leading to greater independence and resilience,” says David Adkins, Deputy Head at Thames Christian School. “We aim to support and challenge pupils whether academically or in their personal development. At Thames, pupils spend at least one hour a week on our wellbeing curriculum plus Life Skills lessons in Year 9 and Critical Thinking in Year 11. The skills gained within these sessions are reinforced further by teachers and pupils in all classes.”
It’s precisely because of this that schools like Alleyn’s have invested in a new Well Centre, where pupils can see counsellors or connect with each other and with nature; Putney High’s award-winning biophilic classroom design improves both mental wellbeing and academic performance; and Emanuel’s biodiversity garden offers a place of calm and tranquillity.
When it comes to the 11+ exams, independent schools are equally looking at applicants more holistically and seeking a wide variety of diverse thinkers. Mary Lonsdale, founder of the tutoring company, Mentor Education, has seen a shift with the ISEB exam adopted by many independent schools in lockdown. “There’s more of an emphasis on getting to know the child better at the interview stage,” says Lonsdale. “This is a positive change. Children are given a bit more time and attention, so they have an opportunity to shine and show who they really are.”
“The pandemic really opened parents’ eyes to their children’s education,” says Tash Rosin, founder of Teatime Tutors.
“A great deal of my work now revolves around helping parents decide what kind of schooling they want for their child, and in what kind of culture their child would thrive. Many schools are taking on the learnings from the pandemic and are growing and adapting, so there is a plethora of differing options out there.” Metacognitive teaching doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and a seismic shift in mindset from a results-driven society to one focused on learning for everyone. In fact, “the most impactful, effective and valuable teachers are the ones who are the greatest learners,” says Northwood’s Doble. It’s a learning journey that schools are taking collectively with their student and parent communities, together fostering our global leaders of the future.