Why schools should not restrict adventure and ambition

Schools need to manage risks and push the boundaries of experience, says Patrick Wenham, Headteacher at Bickley Park

I applaud the sentiment expressed in the article by Amanda Spielman, who wrote about children being denied the chance to develop resilience. In my 30 years in education, I have seen the gap between the skills set schools are seeking to develop and the skills required in the real world widen. The ability to take managed risks and push the boundaries of experience are key ingredients in developing character.

Experts who comment on how society and the workplace will change in the future indicate that those who will be most successful and fulfilled will be the creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, who can do what the robots can’t. Those who are encouraged to experiment and be at ease with challenge and risk will be those who have the best chance of making the most of their future lives.

At Bickley Park, the curriculum is delivered through four quadrants of learning, one of which promotes outdoor education as a key component. This quadrant aims to promote leadership and team skills, alongside developing resilience and the ability to manage risk. It took Edison a thousand attempts to invent the light bulb, which required resilience, belief, risk and the willingness to accept setbacks as part of the creative process of evolving an idea that, ultimately, changed the world.

Whilst risk needs to be managed, it should also be seen as something that is an essential part of learning to deal with, and make the most of, the world in which we live.

Pupils at the school are challenged from as young as three years old through an outdoor programme that includes Forest School, in which children participate in a range of activities in a woodland setting in all weathers. 8-13 year boys love Adventure School which involves applying survival skills in challenging outdoor environments during residential field trips.

This includes anything from constructing bivouacs from natural resources, then sleeping in them, to walking 176 miles along Offa’s Dyke. The activities are challenging for boys who live and attend school in a suburban setting, but they leave the school with a confidence and mindset that is not fazed by challenge.

 Alongside challenges undertaken through the outdoor quadrant, the school takes advantage of being on the doorstep of London: one of the most interesting cities of the world, with a wide range of challenging, interesting trips, in spite of the risks posed by such things as travelling on the tube and contending with the threat of terrorism. Pupils are involved in understanding how to manage the risk by doing such things as planning the routes to be taken and learning the skills of reading an underground map, even from a young age. They love this opportunity to take on responsibility.

The school also is committed to maintaining a rich and varied programme of overseas visits, with sports tours to Italy and Portugal; music tours to Venice and Verona, Paris and Ground Zero in New York; ski trips; French and History trips to France and Spanish and Art trips to Barcelona. Whilst risk needs to be managed, it should also be seen as something that is an essential part of learning to deal with, and make the most of, the world in which we live.

Trips don’t necessarily need to be expensive or even off-site for a hands-on experience. We don’t want a system that restricts the ambition, aspiration, and adventure that every child should be entitled to.  We only have one shot at an education, let’s continue to make it exciting.

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