The future of education at Clayesmore Prep – by the Head of Prep
In this extract from his speech at prize-giving on 30 June 2018, Head of the Prep School William Dunlop reflects on the future of education at Clayesmore Prep School, the achievements of our Year 8 pupils and the possibilities for the future.
The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create people who are capable of doing new things.” Those are the words of Jean Piaget, a pioneering Swiss psychologist, who lived from 1896 to 1980. I think Piaget was quite right when he wrote that in the middle of the 20th century, and now in the 21st century he is even more right. If we are to prepare our children for the future we are morally bound to make them “people who are capable of doing new things”. Let me prove that point. Imagine the world as it was 63 years ago, in 1955. It was the year that James Dean died, that Elvis Presley first appeared on television; the year of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”, as L P Hartley wrote at the time. There has been a huge change between the world then and the world now. People have had to learn a huge number of unexpected “new things”, as Piaget put it, in the intervening 63 years. Now let’s try going the same distance forward to 2081. What will the world be like? What challenges will humanity face between now and then? What new things will people have to learn? I ask you to imagine that world, but actually it’s almost impossible. One thing is for certain: the inhabitants of that world are going to have to be “people who are capable of doing new things”. They are our children; 2081 is the year that our youngest pupils are expected to retire (though by the time they get there they will probably be going into the 22nd century). The good news is that great things come from small beginnings. I think I can assert quite comfortably that every pupil has developed their ability to do new things this year.
So if we are to be “people who are capable of doing new things”, what do we need to learn at school? Is it just knowledge, or is there more?
Knowledge is important, certainly. There are some things you need to know. But there are also some things you need to be able to do. By far the most important of these is that you need to be able to think for yourself, to think critically. All the knowledge in the world is of no use if you accept it blindly. Thinking critically is a skill, and there are other skills that you need for life. And then there’s something deeper than that: your attitudes. Attitudes might change over time, but I believe firmly that they are formed in education. To summarise, if we are to “create people who are capable of doing new things” we have to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes.
That’s what we want from our education. How are we at Clayesmore Prep School going to achieve it in practice? Our goal is an inspiring, modern curriculum that explicitly develops flexible and adaptable intelligence. Over the next development cycle we will continue to review and develop our schemes of work so that they foster breadth, application and a love of learning. We will develop our assessment system, so that we are better able to understand each individual and to help them understand themselves. We will further refine our tutoring system to encourage directed reflection on learning. We will focus the professional development of our staff on teaching methods that encourage independent thought. Our commitment to personalised learning has been described as “the Clayesmore magic”, but it is not magic at all: it is the product of a deliberate effort. We will continue to focus that effort, bringing the methods by which we achieve our overall vision right up to date. We will also invest in our facilities, starting with a complete refurbishment of the computer room and the studio this summer, as well as the renovation of dormitories and bathrooms in the boarding house.
Among us today we have 54 people who are about to move on into the next stage of their lives, our Year 8 leavers. They have been a highly successful year group in so many contexts. Their exam results were outstanding. They have achieved 21 scholarships between them; they have been county champions in sport; national champions in music; they have entertained us on the stage; most important of all, they have been kind, supportive and inspiring to those who will follow them. Year 8: keep on learning! Everything I have seen of you suggests that you are “people who are capable of doing new things”. The future may be uncertain, but that’s what makes it an adventure. You have the knowledge, the skills and the attitudes to tackle that adventure with confidence.
Just look at what those who have gone before you have achieved. Theo, who six years ago was sitting where you are now, is about to go to Cambridge to study Modern and Mediaeval Languages. Abi already has two musical diplomas and is going to King’s College, London, as is Asia who is going to study International Development, a fascinating modern course. Caitlin has won a place to study Theatre Management at the Bristol Old Vic, one of the world’s foremost drama colleges. George Maddison is studying for a Master’s degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. Julia Sullivan has just achieved a First in her Master’s in Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Birmingham. Lewis McManus is just about to step out of the pavilion at Lord’s to play for Hampshire in the final of Royal London One Day Cup. Dr Gus Casely-Heyford is an internationally-recognised curator, historian and broadcaster who has just been awarded the OBE.
Year 8, your future is just as interesting and probably more varied. I would simply like to say on behalf of all the staff that teaching you has been a pleasure, and that when you leave us next week you will do so with our very best wishes.