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Headmaster's Blog: Academic-prepping: a topic for debateGood questioners are not only good learners, they naturally want to push boundaries

Date published: Mon 19 Nov 2018  

Our Act of Remembrance at Whitgift was especially moving this year, as equivalent ceremonies must have been everywhere. The CCF party was impeccable, as ever, under Mr Docherty’s training eye, and earlier in the day Mr Smith had led a moving and respectful tribute in two assemblies. Especially eye-opening were the statistics about troops from places beyond Europe, not often quoted, and OW Colonel Mike Cornwell spoke vividly about what this all means to us today. Thanks to all.

Jolting me very much into the present was a debate I took part in at the Independent Schools Show the following day. I was invited to talk about selection, interestingly pitched ‘against’ the Deputy Head from Harrow! Actually much of what we both said was the same. One argument against academic selection in schools is that the students end up in a rarefied atmosphere, only ever meeting people like themselves. That’s not true of Whitgift, because our mission has always been one of social mix, and our boys though united in being bright, come from all social and ethnic groups. In fact, of course, they are all individuals, they don’t represent groups, but that can be another blog …

I also railed a bit against the tutoring industry – over-preparing (and stressing) youngsters by cramming them for an 11+ exam. I was picked up on this by a representative of a tutoring organisation, and a parent who said it was naïve to expect boys to come ‘cold’ to an exam, and that is of course a fair point.

There’s another point, which is that an obsession with ‘giving your child an edge’ at too young an age, is surely wrong. But my main point is that a certain type of tutoring (the bad kind, the kind that just practises the test) may make you good at answering questions. But we want boys who are good at asking them.

I know that may sound glib. But good questioners are not only good learners, they naturally want to push boundaries. That’s true in drama, music, sport, art … think of Messi, or Maxine Peake, or even Hockney. Boundaries are not pushed by answerers.

As the rain pounded on the roof of the venue (literally drowning my colleagues’ and my words) I felt a bit like an Old Testament prophet. But I’ll keep saying it!

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