4 ways to shake up your child’s education
Amidst countless stories of anxious children and stressed teachers, is it time to rethink how we school our kids? The head of Swanbourne Prep School in Bucks thinks so!
Jane Thorpe is the current head of Swanbourne House School in Buckinghamshire, having previously been a Family Court Judge. One of only two local prep school heads I know with no prior teaching experience (David Faber at Summer Field Oxford being the other) but with a work ethic and passion for education that’s positively turbo-charged, Thorpe’s ‘outsider’ perspective has given her bold views on education that are refreshing/controversial, depending which side of the fence you sit. So what do you think? Let me know if in the comment box below!
1. Current teaching is dead (or should be)
Schools need to move with the times – too many teachers are still standing at the front of the class, speaking in monologue, with the children in rows listening, who then churn it out again for exams. We have to make teaching and learning a much more exciting, collaborative process. There are a lot of very frustrated teachers who want to be more inspirational but are constrained by the curriculum and antiquated methods of formal assessment.
All teaching still has to include core knowledge of course, but we also need to prioritise creativity, relevance, core skills, leadership, communication, collaboration – allow the children to review their own work, think about what they’re producing and take an active role in their learning. To do that at Swanbourne we are moving away from the Common Entrance exam [the exams traditionally taken when children move up to Senior Schools] which is purely knowledge-based towards the Pre-Senior Baccalaureate (‘PSB’), which also takes skills into account.
I’m determined to move away from a model where ‘success’ is purely based on memory tests. We need to celebrate the whole child. That’s not to say that they don’t still need core knowledge in the main academic subjects, but this new assessment at Swanbourne will allow the Arts, DT, Sport, debating and leadership to all be seen as equal components and to be assessed in a multitude of different ways. I think it will unlock passion, self-confidence and self-esteem in children who might otherwise feel they’ve somehow ‘failed’ at prep school.
2. Embrace technology
There’s a fear among our generation in general about how far technology in teaching should go, but the right technology enhances teaching and captures children’s imagination. A case in point is our Maths teacher who is an ‘apple distinguished educator’, meaning he’s trained in mac and ipad learning. He is almost entirely paperless when he teaches, using interactive e-books, augmented reality, pictures and video, and the kids love and embrace it. They’re learning robotics, AI and even engineering through their maths. It also helps with teacher/pupil interactions – the interactive ipads mean the kids can review their work, chat with their teachers, follow live marking and respond, so that learning happens in the here and now. It’s never technology for its own sake (which as parents we all dislike), it’s all about making learning better.
3. Break with ‘prep’ tradition
There’s still a place for the English prep tradition, and we’re definitely strong here on traditional values. However, where we are moving ahead at Swanbourne is recognising that education and learning is a mutual process, that everyone at Swanbourne is in this together. We give everyone a voice here as individuals, and make sure there is mutual respect regardless of the job they do or the age they are. So there’s less entitlement, more inclusiveness and an understanding that everyone at Swanbourne plays their part as a collective force for good.
4. Release the entrepreneurs!
All children will have to have this quality in the modern world. There’s less certainty for jobs – the idea of a job for life is so outdated even for our generation. So as teachers we don’t know what we’re educating children towards in many ways, but we do know what skills they will need – resilience, belief, attitude, risk taking, independent thought, the confidence to come up with a weird and wacky idea that might have global relevance in a few years’ time. Our response to the challenge is our new mini Swanbourne ‘MBA’ to encourage this independent thought – teaching the kids how to do an (albeit basic!) business plan, think about the culture of the business they want to create, who they’d want to work there, what they could offer that’s different. We’re also offering a Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for a 13 year old school leaver. The business ideas that children have, albeit in outline, are amazing and deserve to be heard. It’s their future, we should encourage them to seize it!
Swanbourne House School, Swanbourne, Milton Keynes Bucks MK17 0HZ Tel: 01296 720264.