Headteacher column: The foundations of further studies

Woldgate School headteacher Jonathan Britton.
Woldgate School headteacher Jonathan Britton.

Recently, Year nine (third year) pupils and parents attended our Upper School Information Evening and Year 11 (fifth year) pupils joined a senior colleague to discuss their post-16 options.

Before the holiday our Year 11 also experienced a range of sixth form courses as part of our post-16 taster day. The common factor was ensuring that our young people have the information they need to make informed choices about their future studies. Whether in Year nine or Year 11, the choices that are made will lay the foundation for further studies, an apprenticeship or a career. The choices are, therefore, important and the decision is not an easy one.

It's unthinkable that computers didn't exist in the home when I was born.

It's unthinkable that computers didn't exist in the home when I was born.

In Year nine, maintaining a range of subjects beyond the ‘core’ provides an opportunity to specialise in subjects that provide greater breadth and thus ensure that education is broad and balanced and reflects the individual child’s talents and abilities.

At this age, as talents become apparent, it is important to remember that those additional subjects that may not be part of the core offer, not only provide greater breadth, but develop those ‘soft skills’ of creativity, team work, independence and which have through history underpinned our culture, developing an appreciation of art, food, music and of course, our love of sport.

Therefore, we need to be careful to ensure that we do not forget the importance of what a broad and balanced education can bring at this important time in a child’s life.

I know my love of painting was not apparent when I was in my third year of secondary school, but it was to become an important part of my life.

Neither would I argue in Year nine that I was any good at it then, or now for that matter, but often we forget that although knowledge may be accumulated relatively quickly, it takes years for the skills and abilities to develop in order for that knowledge to be applied correctly.

In a society that is often after the instant reward, we need to be reminded that sometimes it is resilience, perseverance and hard work that deliver true success and that success can come where you least expect it, if we are sufficiently driven; I can see that sometimes in my own teaching.

Skills such as drawing take time, and often a pupil’s judgement about whether they are able to succeed can be made in minutes, rather than years.

It often takes reassurance and encouragement to overcome such instant judgements, to believe that, whether or not those initial sketches are good, that with time you could and you will develop your skills and enjoy this activity later in life.

Of course, maintaining a broad curriculum is not just important in developing new skills and experiences. In my lifetime I have seen huge change already and listening to ‘Desert Island Discs’ this morning with Bill Gates as the guest, it seems nearly unthinkable that computers did not exist in the home when I was born. I remember with great excitement when the trolley rolled into our classroom with the first BBC computer and my frustration as it was rolled out an hour later, after we’d all had our allocated five minutes. It certainly didn’t stop me though; as I went in every lunch and stayed behind after school to gain access and to create programs.

The future will, therefore, for our children bring many challenges and as a school, it is our duty to provide a strong and broad foundation upon which our young people can develop their own individual talents and to prepare them for the challenges they will face in this rapidly changing world.