A different approach to pupil development

Jody Wells, headmaster at Forres Sandle Manor School, explains how its development framework helps prep school children transition more easily to senior school

Albert Einstein famously said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” Yet here we are, in a world where exam results still play such an influential role on our pupils’ futures.

The World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children entering primary education will eventually have jobs that do not exist yet. So, how can the exams of today prepare them for their futures?

Forres Sandle Manor School (FSM) in Hampshire is a preparatory school for 3–13-year-olds which is leading a different approach to pupil development; it has embedded PSB (Pre Senior Baccalaureate) skills across the curriculum.

FSM – using the PSB framework – focus on developing the six ‘learning powers’ of independence, collaboration, communication, grit, reflection and risk-taking throughout the school concurrently whilst learning traditional subject material.

From designing independent and collaborative learning activities to constantly discussing with children and encouraging their use of learning powers in what they are doing, teachers embed the skills of learning both implicitly and explicitly in the classroom.

FSM is a preparatory school for 3–13-year-olds

Children are given independent or collaborative tasks, opportunities to listen to others’ thoughts and ideas and to communicate their own, whether during formalised debates or through more spontaneous conversations, pupils are encouraged to stretch themselves, to take risks and get outside their comfort zones.

Whilst the use of these learning powers is both formally and informally assessed, the children are also encouraged to recognise these traits in themselves and each other. For example, they could be asked to predict which learning powers they are going to need in a task or to reflect on how they have used them. They record evidence of their use of these learning powers in their personal journal while others write reflective blogs on how they have used them during the week.

PSB is a philosophical shift on what is important in education. Due to the unknowns, uncertainties and complexities of our children’s futures in the 21st century, we believe we need to prepare children by focusing not just on the ‘what’ of learning but also on the ‘how’.

Children need to acquire knowledge but also to learn how to learn: a synthesis of knowledge and skills. In addition to the traditional acquisition and development of subject-specific knowledge, a PSB school is one which also values, promotes and develops the character traits of successful learners, such as independence, leadership, collaboration and communication.

Skills to thrive

FSM believe that a curriculum that places as much value on learning skills as it does on acquisition of knowledge means that children not only learn what they need to learn to pass exams, they also develop character traits which enable them to be mentally flexible, resilient and open-minded – traits which will help them not just survive but also thrive in life academically, socially and professionally.

In years 7 and 8, pupils have three larger projects to complete. This work is sent to the pupils’ future senior schools alongside a pupil profile, enabling teachers to learn invaluable insights into their incoming students before they even sit in their first lesson.

In March 2019, FSM invited representatives from the senior schools to hear pupils present their reflections on their experiences. The 10 senior school representatives were overwhelmingly impressed by the eloquence of the pupils and understanding of their growth in learning.

Toby Smith, head of English at King’s College, Taunton, said: “The confidence shown by the speakers, the structure to their content, and the clarity of their delivery, all showed a professionalism that I hope they will be able to sustain through their work in senior school and into the world of careers, where these qualities will continue to be essential.

This work is sent to the pupils’ future senior schools alongside a pupil profile, enabling teachers to learn invaluable insights into their incoming students

“The sort of enquiries they were undertaking will be of real benefit when, in senior school, they come to the planning of extended essays, academic presentations, working on Extended Project Qualifications and writing university prize essays.”

Matthew Harris, head of theology, philosophy and ethics at Cheltenham College, said: “PSB at FSM prepares pupils for the challenge of lifelong learning by providing the framework for them to learn how to learn. In an ever-changing world, this is a valuable skill to have.”

Chris Barnes, assistant head (pupil progress), said: “It was a privilege to have the opportunity to visit FSM to listen to the pupils’ presentations as part of their PSB. I was struck by the confidence and enthusiasm the pupils exhibited, as well as their ability to reflect on their own learning in such a mature and insightful manner.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the pupils develop a skillset through this project that will stand them in strong stead when they reach their senior schools and allow them to begin the next stage of their education confident in the knowledge that they have the skills and experience to succeed.”

Leadership Day at FSM

So, what will be done differently in 2020? As with any good practice, FSM are looking to keep evolving what they are doing. While teachers will continue to foster learning powers in lessons, examples of best practice will be highlighted more formally and consistently, and progression and target setting will become a far more specific aspect of tutor sessions.

They will also be encouraging pupils to take on the responsibility of recording their own learning powers in action.

This type of initiative can surely only produce world-ready young people.

Pupils who have had a skills-based education at prep school are already thinking and learning in appropriate ways and do not find the transition to senior school to be so alien or need such care and attention that traditionally educated arrivals do.

You might also like: Interview: Jody Wells, Forres Sandle Manor

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