The Mead School is a successful, happy and high-achieving nursery and prep school in Tunbridge Wells.
The school’s curriculum is broad and imaginative, with strength in the core subjects, exciting extra-curricular activities, and excellent facilities. The Mead has a warm and nurturing environment, in which staff proactively support and encourage pupils to develop a growth mindset, creating opportunities for children to experience success in all areas of learning.
With the over-arching aim of enabling every child to feel success, Headmaster Mr Andrew Webster is constantly striving to provide exemplary, forward-thinking and relevant teaching to all of its pupils. Here, he discusses how The Mead is working hard to ensure all girls and boys at the school experience ‘real learning’:
At The Mead providing the highest quality learning is always at the top of our agenda and we have established ourselves as an institution of educational excellence over the past 30 years.
Currently, we’ve been continuing our exploration of the cognitive science behind learning, although this subject is nothing if not topical and complex.
A teacher’s thought process used to be a fairly simple one. What will the children do today? Textbooks were handed out. Worksheets were stuck in. The teacher introduced the activity and the children then got on with their work. Yet, changing the question by a single word, what will the children learn today, sees Pandora leave her box and lay waste to the educational establishment.
The system that exclusively educated the readers (and writer) of this blog remains relatively unchanged since its inception around the time of the British empire. Back then, the burgeoning network of schools served one united purpose, to educate the imperial machine. Imagine ruling over a fifth of the world’s territory (and high seas) with no phones, email, internet or vehicles?! To attempt this undertaking, the British government needed to train a generation of administrators with such rigorous uniformity that an accountant logging cargo in Cape Town would operate with the same meticulously high standards as a consulate secretary in Calcutta. As such, schools became brutal Darwinian environments where only the fittest survived as children learned by rote and rod in classes of up to 100. The rod may have long gone, but teaching to the test is still highly prevalent as we systematically streamline children at 11, 13 and 16 (even 7 in some circles!).
Over the past 20 years, progressive thinkers have attempted to move education away from its imperial past. Multiple intelligences; learning styles; brain hemispheres; pupil led learning; modern pedagogical theory has seen a generation of trainee teachers entering the profession with a righteous but now sadly debunked body of research. In truth, the learning process is a fairly simple one and our Victorian forebearers weren’t far off the fundamentals. Learners don’t need interactive whiteboards or kinesthetic activities. They don’t need to reenact the Battle of Hastings to understand why the Normans won (indeed, ask any child what they did at school following a Hastings reenactment and they will almost certainly say ‘I had a sword fight with Charlie’ and they will almost certainly not say, ‘I learned that William’s order to stage a fake retreat was a key turning point in the battle as it broke the Saxon’s hitherto unbreakable elevated position!’). What learners need is purpose and expertise.
The Victorians had purpose and expertise. Illiterate children needed to read, write and add up if they were to avoid the mine shafts and secure a job with an improved mortality rate. This is as good a purpose as any. They also had a sufficient amount of expertise in that Victorian teachers had to know how to read, write and add up! What the Victorians lacked though was an understanding of what learning looks like. Victorian classrooms were ruthless environments where you either got it in the morning or else played truant in the afternoon if only to temporarily avoid the cane. We now know what learning looks like and, reassuringly, cognitive science is beginning to feature heavily on most teacher training programmes.
We are setting ourselves a reflective challenge at The Mead. Firstly, what is it, exactly, that I would like them to know or be able to do by the end of this lesson and how do I ensure that at least 80% have achieved this and then, what can I do for the remaining 20%.
Learning is a powerful drug. Even those of us with the longest of teeth can still engage with a memory of real learning taking place such as our first unaided strokes in the deep end or the moment the stabilizers were successfully removed on our BMX. Ultimately, real learning is the type of learning that is robust (you don’t forget how to ride a bike), automatic (as adults, we don’t need to think about how we swim to stay afloat) and flexible (I can remember how to spell words in any given moment and not because I have been rote learning them that week). If we can give children a taste of this real learning in the classroom then they will be hooked.
To put it another way, real learning is knowing the answers to a pub quiz section on the Battle of Hastings (whilst you’re sat with friends in The Dog and Hound on a Friday night in your late 30s) knowing that the last time you explored the drama of Harold v William was in a year 4 History lesson. Man alive! That was one awesome teacher!
Andrew Webster, Headmaster, The Mead School
This is a collaborative post.