The joy­ful years

Cathy Braith­waite, re­cently ap­pointed as head of Gre­sham’s prep school in Holt, ex­plains her pas­sion for prep ed­u­ca­tion

EDP Norfolk - - EDUCATION -

Ihave the ut­most re­spect for early years teach­ers who play such a vi­tal role in nur­tur­ing the youngest pupils as they de­velop ba­sic skills and be­hav­iours, tak­ing cru­cial steps in their for­mal learn­ing. Equally, I have great ad­mi­ra­tion for col­leagues who teach GCSE, IB and A Level cour­ses, with the as­so­ci­ated pres­sures of pub­lic ex­am­i­na­tions and league ta­bles.

I be­lieve that the years in be­tween are for­ma­tive and mag­i­cal, mak­ing this the most joy­ful pe­riod in ed­u­ca­tion. Prep and ju­nior schools wel­come chil­dren aged seven into Year 3, who are likely to have come from a pre-prep or in­fant school where the em­pha­sis has been on play-led learn­ing.

A key dif­fer­ence be­tween prep schools and ju­nior schools is the length of time chil­dren have dur­ing this next phase of their ed­u­ca­tion – ju­nior and pri­mary schools send chil­dren on to se­condary ed­u­ca­tion at the end of Year 6 (aged 11), but most prep schools cater for chil­dren

‘We can­not be sure pre­cisely what hur­dles to­day’s chil­dren will face as a re­sult of the fast pace of tech­no­log­i­cal change’

up to the age of 13. We be­lieve that these ad­di­tional two years of­fer a pre­cious op­por­tu­nity for 11, 12 and 13-year-olds to re­main as chil­dren for a lit­tle longer – happy to play, away from many of the pres­sures as­so­ci­ated with se­condary ed­u­ca­tion.

We are able to pro­vide a broader and more flex­i­ble of­fer­ing in a six-year time frame. We have cho­sen to build our own rig­or­ous cur­ric­u­lar and assess­ment pro­grammes which fo­cus on op­por­tu­ni­ties to equip pupils with the knowl­edge, skills and ex­pe­ri­ences re­quired to be­come adapt­able, com­pe­tent and re­source­ful adults.

We can­not be sure pre­cisely what hur­dles to­day’s chil­dren will face as a re­sult of the fast pace of tech­no­log­i­cal change.

In fact, a re­cent re­port high­lighted that many young prac­ti­tion­ers en­ter­ing the sur­gi­cal pro­fes­sion no longer have the re­quired level of man­ual dex­ter­ity, be­cause of a na­tional de­cline in young peo­ple us­ing their hands in ac­tiv­i­ties which de­velop tac­tile gen­eral knowl­edge. Ide­ally, ed­u­ca­tors must in­spire chil­dren to be in­quis­i­tive and to de­velop skills for the fu­ture, but we must also strive to pre­serve more tra­di­tional com­pe­ten­cies too, for ex­am­ple with prac­ti­cal, hands-on skills.

Our pupils en­joy tak­ing things apart to un­der­stand how they work; in de­sign and tech­nol­ogy les­sons they tweak, tinker, or to­tally turn some­thing on its head in or­der to fix or im­prove it, or to make a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive. Pupils learn a dif­fer­ent for­eign lan­guage in the first four years at prep school be­fore choos­ing two to study in depth dur­ing Years 7 and 8; our in­ten­tion is to in­spire con­fi­dence and adapt­abil­ity in our young lin­guists in readi­ness for a global mar­ket­place.

With 14 sub­jects on our core cur­ricu­lum, we cer­tainly pro­mote breadth across pupils’ learn­ing, but it is im­por­tant to em­power chil­dren with a de­gree of con­trol over their learn­ing, in­ter­ests and ac­tiv­i­ties. Prepa­ra­tion for GCSE op­tion de­ci­sions be­gins with sim­ple choices of hob­bies and I am re­ally ex­cited about plans we are ex­plor­ing to cre­ate fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ties for pupils to choose cer­tain el­e­ments of their cur­ricu­lum.

To let chil­dren re­ally be chil­dren, while mak­ing sure they are be­ing equipped for a fu­ture that be­comes less and less pre­dictable, a prep ed­u­ca­tion of­fers a unique space for them to be­come prob­lem solvers, out of the box thinkers, and global ci­ti­zens of the fu­ture – whilst rev­el­ling in the joy of child­hood. gre­shams.com

ABOVE: Cathy Braith­waite, head of Gre­sham’s prep

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