Dare to be ambitious, personally and professionally

I talked a few weeks ago about the purpose of education and, with much media focus on exams and league tables in the past week, together with some persuasive reporting on what employers are looking for, I want to delve a little deeper into the question of what students can, and should, expect from their schooling and whether what they are offered is fit for purpose.

Current protocol dictates that our sixteen and eighteen year olds demonstrate how much they know about a raft of subjects grouped under arts, science, language categories and so on. Each subject is labelled and its boundaries clearly defined to ensure that students’ learning need cover nothing more or less than what is required by their final examinations. These examinations are the culmination for thirteen years of schooling, the sum total of around 533 weeks in school for every sixth form leaver.

Three or four crisp certificates at the end are the ultimate objective and, for many, these are seen as the major part of their ticket to a further three or more years of study. Is this really enough? Shouldn’t we be expecting more of, and for, our children from around 20,000 hours each of schooling? Surely the answer is yes we should. Education is not just about instilling knowledge, it’s about developing skills and character.

It’s about giving youngsters the broadest possible experiences and exposure to the widest global perspective, so that they can dare to be ambitious, personally and professionally. You may have seen reports about Wimbledon High School teaching children ‘how to fail’ as part of a ‘Failure Week’. Whilst I am uncomfortable with the terminology, we certainly do have a responsibility to teach them about taking risks and learning to bounce back from set-backs, to be determined and resilient. It’s about making and taking choices.

This is why we have wholeheartedly embraced the ethos of the International Baccalaureate (IB). Whilst we recognise that the qualification itself will not be for everyone, the IB promotes curiosity and independent exploration of concepts and ideas. It also cuts across the traditional subject boundaries, something we promote in numerous cross-curricular initiatives in both the Junior and Senior schools and something that comes naturally in early years. It encourages deep and lateral thinking, outside of subject specifics and in to issues of local and global significance. It breeds reflective risk-takers and entrepreneurial spirit.

Reading recent reports, the business community believes that our school leavers and university graduates are ill equipped in many ways for the workplace. This is because, for most children, school and the traditional examination system do not furnish them with the open-minded, collaborative, robust outlook and thinking skills that are prized by employers.

The IB ethos ticks all these boxes and more. But where does that leave the majority of sixth-formers who are studying A’Levels and not IB? All of our sixth form students follow the IB Theory of Knowledge (ToK) course, helping them to develop new ways of thinking and powers of critical analysis. ToK transcends and links academic subject areas, giving students a richer and more relevant learning experience, and skills with which to apply their knowledge with greater awareness and credibility. From conversation with students who have left the College, it is clear that ToK has not only proved to be extremely valuable for university and employment interviews, but throughout life!

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