The importance of a balanced educational environment
PUBLISHED: 09:23 04 February 2014 | UPDATED: 09:23 04 February 2014
Ash Mills 2013
Education is about the provision of a rich academic, intellectual and culturally diverse programme, both within and outside the classroom.
Academically independent schools lead the way. Yet while exam results and league tables are a feature of independent school life, they are only one driver. Education is about the provision of a rich academic, intellectual and culturally diverse programme, both within and outside the classroom.
As Canford’s Headmaster Ben Vessey comments:
“Important as the academic side of life is, the co-curricular programme is undoubtedly one half of the educational whole. Alongside the river of exam success runs a strong stream of rich academic and cultural experiences which are off syllabus and beyond the classroom.”
Independent schools offer opportunities for every pupil to unearth their passions and wider potential in a huge range of areas. They are fortunate to benefit from excellent sporting and arts facilities and a broad choice of activities. For example, at Canford, pupils can learn Real Tennis on one of the few original school courts in the country, ascend Mont Blanc with the CCF Army corps, leap from great heights on the school climbing tower, take to the stage in dramatic or musical roles, or indulge a passion for beekeeping. There is a lively cultural enrichment programme, with visiting lecturers and inspirational trips designed to encourage pupils to debate and challenge perceived wisdom and broaden their intellectual and cultural horizons. As the school says:
‘One can not tell whether balls or greasepaint or water or bees will fire the imagination but the opportunities and encouragement are there.’
Young people need a range of varied and challenging choices at all stages of their education and the ‘soft skills’ developed by the co-curricular programme are as important as the academic skills when it comes to life beyond formal education.
Over the past year, the sentiment has been echoed in the national press, with one newspaper quoting that “GCSEs and A Levels will not be enough for those entering a fiercely competitive globalised jobs market. Too many youngsters emerge from school lacking the soft skills such as communication, time-keeping and teamwork that employers say are just as important as academic grades.”
Independent schools have a fine reputation for work within the community, which, as part of the co-curricular programme, is important in engaging pupils in the wider world. At Canford there is a strong programme of community service. Each week pupils take part in a variety of projects including working in primary schools, visiting the elderly, taking groups of inner city pupils on trips to the beach and outdoor activity centres and helping maintain hedgerows and green spaces in the local area. These activities are not confined to the local area. Each year a group of Sixth Formers raise money themselves and visit orphanages and village communities in India, Tanzania and Argentina to help improve the lives of those living there - assisting with building projects, teaching and playing with the children. These experiences have such a profound effect that some pupils choose to return to further their work in the orphanages after they leave Canford.
When talking to Sixth Form leavers about highlights of their schooldays, you are unlikely to find many conversations where exams feature! However, at Canford what they do regularly mention are the different passions they have developed, opening their eyes to new possibilities, conquering fears and achieving goals beyond what they felt were their personal limits.
As Ben Vessey says:
“A rich academic education is vital, yes, but the co-curricular exposure is important too. Independent schools should strive to achieve on both fronts.”