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Anything but a straight line

As Myddelton College opens its doors for the first time, Headmaster, Andy Howard, explains why it has been vital to get the school's ethos just right

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | October 01, 2016 | Teaching

When we had one of our start of year training days, one of the questions we spent some time discussing was the College ethos. As we are brand new, with new staff, new students and new routines, policies and procedures, it has been vital that we take time to get the ethos we want fully embedded in everything we do. To quote from my Head of 21st Century Technology, the College will have an ethos whether we want it to or not - it's important that we ensure it has the right ethos.

And that is the huge benefit of starting brand new. With 12 months to plan, prepare and lay the groundwork, we have developed a curriculum, a pedagogy and an ethos that is truly ground breaking and revolutionary. Based on all the latest research into what skills our young people will need when they leave education and go into the wider world, the Myddelton Pedagogy sets out a curriculum structure designed to embed these skills into the classroom. But also, with these 'soft' skills being so important, the need to ensure these skills are the very skills we exemplify in our everyday interactions is equally vital. The skills we are embedding are:  

  • Collaboration
  • Knowledge Construction
  • Self-regulation
  • Real world problem solving
  • Effective use of ICT
  • Skilled Communication  

So I looked for these in the staff as we were recruiting and now we are forming as a whole team, it is a huge delight to see that everyone is completely engaged with these skills. I have seen so many examples of all of these demonstrated by all the staff over the last week that I could not give justice to everyone by mentioning isolated examples. But the way, for example, that all staff came together when we had our internet connection severed, over the weekend, and not re-connected until mid-week is probably the best. One member of staff commented that we now consider the internet to be as vital in the modern world as we did only a few decades ago about electricity, where a power cut would result in significant inconvenience. 

With 12 months to plan, prepare and lay the groundwork, we have developed a curriculum, a pedagogy and an ethos that is truly ground breaking and revolutionary

They rallied, they collaborated to support each other, they built new, temporary systems to ensure the students continued to get the best education, they controlled their frustrations and they communicated, with each other and the students to ensure the curriculum was still delivered in an outstanding fashion!

But back to the ethos. During a training session, it was asked what the College motto meant to people. The College motto is:"More than just an education"

And is followed by the strap line of: "Being a great school requires more than just providing the best possible education; it requires a different view of what education is." 

The breath-taking answer of the day came from my Head of Maths, who came out with the following: "It means anything but a straight line."

He went on to explain that the obvious route between two points is a straight line, but with young people, providing the very best education to each individual, the straight line between starting High School and going to University is anything but a straight line. And this hit home, because it is so true. In so many ways. Successive governments, and not just in the UK, but throughout the West, basing education on factory models, make the fundamentally flawed assumption that all young people in a school will progress at a steady pace through the system, like widgets along a conveyor belt. Most systems of measuring school success, most league tables and certainly most inspection regimes start from this premise and this is why the educational system adopted by most of the western world needs serious reform. 

The best education, the best we can do for our young people, is to remember, every day, that the best route between two points is, in fact, seldom the straight line. 

About the author

Andy Howard is currently CEO & Executive Headmaster of Myddelton College, in Denbigh, North Wales. With over 26 years’ experience in education, working in all types of school around the country, Andy is now opening a brand new Co-educational Independent Boarding School, based on a completely re-written pedagogical framework, putting technology and 21st century ‘soft’ skills at the heart of the school. Andy is also a member of the Microsoft Education Advisory Board, providing advice to Microsoft on the development of their products for the educational market.   

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