There are few places better than Whitgift on a summer’s day, and watching the excellent win by our talented U13 cricketers in their national quarter final, under the calm guidance of Mr Litchfield, was a pleasant way to spend some of Saturday. Friday afternoon had been pretty special too, with the First Form Sports Day and the IB Group 4 projects.
Those projects struck a particular chord, since on Thursday evening I’d been invited to a discussion between university, school and business leaders on ‘how the school curriculum can help widen access to higher education’. Now, I don’t blame some younger readers for glazing over a bit at that title, but bear with me.
You see, a big national problem at the moment is that exam results are the passport to university, but often not great preparation for it. In themselves, that is, because I would, and did, robustly defend the importance of exam performance. Much of the talk at this occasion was on how the ability to work in teams, the cultivation of academic interests beyond the classroom, and the strong work ethic provided by a well-run school all help students cope at university. And how in some, less well-resourced schools, where the only target leaders can afford to concentrate on is exam results, these vital preparations can be lacking.
And then I went to see these projects. Perhaps you all know about them: every IB student completes a 2 day project, based on a set scientific theme, in a team, examining a problem they have set themselves, and coming up with solutions. This year’s theme was the World Cup and the questions examined included optimum ball pressure, ways of tracking the ball’s flight, stadium design, and the effects of various energy drinks on performance. The projects have to be completed and everyone has to play their part, but completion means passing: no grades or marks.
Now, not all school work can be like that. Much of life is individual and ‘graded’ and much of learning is, and should be. But not all. Getting into the habit of investigating or studying something without the aim of specific marks (and above all without a mark scheme to follow) is not only good preparation for university, it’s good learning. Which is why we are developing ways at Whitgift of doing this kind of thing lower down the School, so that we can continue to get great exam results (exam years being, well, pretty exam focused) but be braver and better academic learners. And to ensure that the tradition of scholarship, so rarely found these days, will continue to be alive and well here.
And by the way, the boys concerned said it was the most fun they’d had in ages, too.