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What does the future hold for independent schools?

Paul Norton, Kings Monkton School Principal, looks at how thematic teaching and new technologies should inform teaching practices

Posted by Hannah Oakman | November 21, 2016 | Teaching

As independent schools, we are naturally at the forefront of educational advancements. Free from the often slow to evolve restraints of government reforms, we are able to adapt and respond to changes within the education system, and drive forward innovation in the sector. This flexibility is a luxury that allows us to create student-focused curriculums to suit our learners’ needs.

Looking ahead to 2017, independent schools should continue to lead from the front – being bolder in our decisions and even more innovative with our teaching methods. In particular, a clear progression in education in regards to teaching practice will be a further movement away from didactic teaching.

A didactic approach to teaching is teacher-centred, placing the teacher in the role of the primary agent in learning. Using this method, students take on a more passive role, effectively memorising information that is communicated to them from the teacher. The popularity of the method is most likely rooted in its effectiveness for producing results come exam time. Committing facts and figures to short-term certainly helps pupils pass exams – but the question must be asked: is this approach truly helping pupils develop their minds in the best possible way?

The problem is what is known as the washback effect – the influence of the test, assessment, examination on the way that students are taught. Given the highly competitive nature of league tables and exam results, it’s no surprise that the existence of exams influence course-material and curriculums. The important thing to consider is whether this is actually constructive to what students need to know about a subject. 

Independent schools should be pioneers in a move to more thematic teaching with emphasis on transferable skills linked to solid numeracy and literacy development. Within thematic teaching, pupils are afforded a higher level of autonomy, taking responsibility for their own learning and development while being granted the opportunity to learn more about the things that interest them the most. 

Hand in hand with this move towards thematic teaching should be an increased drive for Assessment for Learning; further utilising student-centred approaches to development by prioritising peer-assessment and self-assessment. As educators, we can only hope that we leave pupils with much more than an exam grade, instead actively striving to deliver a holistic educational experience that has a lasting positive impact on character and confidence, and provides valuable skills for going forth into adulthood. To this end, self-assessment can be tremendously valuable as it allows time to focus on one’s self as an individual and evaluate strengths and weaknesses in order to grow and trust their own judgement, while peer-assessment helps with communication, tolerance, inclusion and team-work.

Developments in technology in education will see the continued trend of iPad usage in classrooms, Google Classrooms and CTouch screens to bring interactivity into classrooms. We can expect to see Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) growing in popularity in order to support independent learning and to get the pupils focused on setting their own targets and areas for improvement – an initiative incorporated in Assessment for Learning.

Technology in education can be exciting, however it is not without its challenges. Techno-sceptics have concerns about the overwhelming abundance of information, the distractions and the negative effects technology has on memory. Another concern about this area is similar to concerns about the washback effect – that rather than learner-needs dictating the technology we use in classrooms, that the technology available will dictate what we teach in classrooms. It’ll be vital then, for school leaders to make considered decisions about uses of technology, ensuring that it’s used only to enhance the learning environment and support independent learning.

In order for independent schools to maintain momentum and be a driving force for positive changes in the world of education, 2017 should have a focus on thematic approaches that allow students to learn and discover through problem-solving, discussion, and project-based learning. 

These progressive techniques help build confidence and character while nurturing and opening minds – core aspirations of my school, Kings Monkton. These kinds of developments encourage independent thinking and ultimately create well-rounded young adults, while reaching all types of learners indiscriminately and ensuring education is accessible and achievable to all. 



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