Understanding our ‘Learning Tree’ Philosophy
At the heart of an excellent education is the ability to prepare pupils well for a future world whose exact nature cannot be known. Whilst the pace of socio-economic change is accelerating, and as a consequence forward visibility is declining, the past remains the key to the future. I always value meeting alumni and finding out from them what elements of their Perse education were most useful professionally and personally in their later lives. These conversations, together with a review of educational research and discussions amongst staff, shaped our 3-18 learning philosophy as depicted in the Learning Tree.
(please click on the Learning Tree to view it in full)
The tree is ‘rooted’ in durable intellectual skills which are timeless and taught/experienced across the Perse curricular and extra curricular provision.
All pupils benefit from good literacy and communication, and in particular the ability to speak and write clearly and well, so that the maximum meaning can be achieved from the minimum number of words to the greatest effect. Numeracy and data manipulation are essential in a world where figures shape much of what we do, and where we cannot always rely on others to objectively and accurately interpret data for us. (Listen to BBC Radio 4’s More or Less for some interesting examples of lies, damned lies and statistics).
One of the biggest failings of the UK education system is its focus on exams which by definition are solitary challenges, when life is a team activity. It is vital that around public exams, we create lots of opportunities for pupils to collaborate and develop their team working skills which are essential for successful employment and happy personal lives. This can happen in class through 1:1 work, practical projects and team presentations, or in extra curricular activities. The sports teams, music ensembles, drama groups and crews and outdoor pursuits sections.
Learning and cognition refer to the importance of self awareness so that pupils understand their strengths and weaknesses and how they learn. Being honest about yourself is central to academic success and emotional contentment. Students need to know when to ask for help and what kind of help is most likely to work for them.
Self awareness is also part of our emotional intelligence and wellbeing programme. We have introduced emotional wellbeing lessons into the Year 7–9 curriculum to help pupils better understand themselves and others, and to help them manage challenging situations. Life is not straightforward and challenging situations can arise at any time. Ambitious pupils are likely to face many challenges because they set themselves high and frequent hurdles to clear in the pursuit of their goals. Sooner or later a fall is inevitable so it is important that in the supportive school environment pupils develop the resilience skills and self confidence needed to cope with life’s disappointments. With the right mental attitude every failure can be seen as a learning opportunity, and a chance to improve self awareness and hone skills.
However to successfully manage disappointments pupils need to be well motivated, therefore the support and encouragement of parents and staff are vital. Children with a positive mind-set think they can achieve at high levels and will push themselves forward. With good teaching and support they are generally successful.
Excessive perfectionism can be a problem and it is important that children realise nobody is perfect, that we all get things wrong and that we are all innately valuable irrespective of our achievements. Whatever children score in tests or homework they are valued members of the school community and their family. Busy pupils also need to realise that occasional corner cutting and regular prioritisation are essential life skills. Saying no to a request or leaving out a question can be very sensible time management strategies and not a weakness.
The industrial revolution has given way to the digital revolution, and the world is becoming ever more digitised. Artificial intelligence will change all forms of employment, including the professions. It is essential that pupils are digitally proficient so they can thrive in a digital world. They must also be prepared for those roles that are less likely to be digitised and where future employment opportunities may lie. In this regard creativity is an essential attribute and practice whether that be in the creative arts, which benefit from the Peter Hall Performing Arts Centre, or creative design in art and technology. The queue at platform 9¾ in King’s Cross station is a constant reminder of the importance of creativity in people’s lives and the UK economy.
Children don’t just learn from their teachers they learn from each other. As such, one of the key strengths of The Perse is its multi cultural nature with pupils from a wide range of nationalities, cultures and backgrounds working together. This means that pupils become culturally intelligent, and recognise there may be different but equally legitimate views on a topic. Such cultural sensitivity will be excellent preparation for multi-cultural employment, and is enhanced at The Perse by our programme of pupil exchanges with schools in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.
Children often feel that they are on the receiving end of an education that others (politicians, civil servants, exam boards and teachers) have designed for them. It is thus wonderfully empowering, and good preparation for university and employment, for children to have the chance to carry out their own research on topics they have chosen. This research will often take pupils more deeply into a subject and across subject boundaries. Such depth and breadth of learning are good for intellectual development. Studies have shown that children with greater prior knowledge have a higher rate of learning, whilst making links between topics and ideas can stimulate cognitive development.
The final ‘branch’ of the Perse learning tree is arguably the most important – the social, moral and spiritual compass that should be part of a good education. Many of our students will go on to be leaders in their chosen fields. As such, they must lead by example acting with integrity, kindness and decency. We hope that all our pupils will value one another and their environment, and balance the selfish with the selfless. Whilst we are all ‘hard-wired’ to think of ourselves, we must also prioritise others if we are to be good citizens, partners and parents.