The importance of a 3D education
Times are changing at Ofsted. Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of Schools, wants the focus of school inspections to shift away from public exam results and onto the quality of education delivered. There is a recognition that good exam results are not necessarily the same as a good education, and that an unbalanced focus on teaching for the test can get in the way of wider learning. I support the Chief Inspector in her efforts to broaden the definition of a good education.
To try and improve the accuracy of public exam assessment, GCSE and A level mark schemes have become increasingly prescriptive. Whilst formulaic marking can reduce the scope for errant examining, it does lead to an approved exam board approach that creates a contrived feel to subject learning. In such a situation being creative or original can be risky, whilst sticking to “in conclusion to evaluate” tried and tested responses is a safe way to gain marks. But subjects evolve because boundaries are broken and existing paradigms are challenged. Academic progress is fuelled by free thinking not by sticking within exam board parameters.
It is good that Ofsted are recognising that there is more to academic attainment than exam success. But there is also far more to education than academic work alone. At the Perse we require all of our teachers to be ‘3D’ by which we mean they work in the academic, pastoral and extra-curricular dimensions so that pupils receive a well rounded education to prepare them for happy and successful adult lives.
The academic dimension is the teaching of classroom subjects to promote intellectual curiosity and scholarship, and then in the run up to GCSE and A levels the perfection of examination technique so that high grades can be attained.
The pastoral dimension requires all teachers to work as pastoral tutors, caring for a group of students. Such pastoral work ensures teachers remember that pupils are not mere academic vessels waiting to be filled with subject knowledge and skills, but young people with all of the challenges, uncertainties and anxieties that come with growing up. Children will make mistakes and get things wrong, that is part and parcel of being a child. The role of the pastoral tutor is to provide support and help so children make better decisions in the future. Good pastoral care flows from relationships based on trust, kindness, consideration, honesty and respect. It encourages children to be reflective, to recognise their strengths and weaknesses, to see other viewpoints, to keep a sense of perspective and be open to support and advice. As such good pastoral care facilitates emotional wellbeing and helps children become more emotionally intelligent. This increases the chances of them being good friends, partners and employees, able to live happy and successful adult lives where a balance is struck between looking after themselves and others.
The extra curricular dimension is a strength of independent schools where significant time and resources are invested in the wider learning that occurs through clubs and societies, music, drama, sport, school trips and outdoor pursuits. Employer surveys have documented concerns about school leavers who are lacking in essential life skills such as: resilience, problem solving, collaboration, creativity, empathy, team work, critical thinking, confidence, cross cultural competency, curiosity and imagination, and commercial acumen. Some of these essential skills can be taught and practised in academic lessons, but in many cases the best place to learn and perfect them is outside the classroom. At the Perse one of our most enduring and successful extra curricular activities is the Perse Exploration Society (PES). Hundreds of children belong to PES and revel in a range of outdoor activities that enable them to have fun and acquire key life skills.
Planning an overseas expedition to Bolivia requires lots of cross cultural competency and commercial acumen to keep costs down. Any group expedition whether to the Andes or Wandlebury will involve problem solving, team work and collaboration, critical thinking, empathy and if the weather closes in, resilience. Its successful completion will be a source of confidence and pride, even more so if the participants have been mentally and physically challenged in a safe manner. The importance of the third dimension to education is clear, and applies equally to the life lessons that can be learnt in sport, the performing arts, and clubs and societies.
So my message to Ofsted is this. I’m pleased the School Inspectorate recognises that an academic education is far more than a collection of exam results. But please see that education is 3D not 1D. To give children the best start in life they need an academic education, but they also need excellent pastoral care to develop their emotional intelligence and wellbeing, and great extra curricular opportunities to learn and practice key life skills outside the classroom.