Principal's Blog January 2017
Tuesday, 10 January 2017
Scholarship is an interesting word. The scholar acquires knowledge through study; a combination of talent and hard work. In the modern, materialistic, world we tend to think of a scholarship as financial reward for parents who have sired children with specific talent and watered it. But don’t all parents do that? These days, a scholarship is not just awarded for academic excellence of course. Some schools seem to collect students like philatelists grow their collections, or select those they consider to be of greater value like pieces on a chessboard:
• The Queen, the ever popular student who captains the first team, secures a place at Oxbridge, sings in the choir and plays a jolly good oboe
• The Bishop, ever the academic who can navigate any board with lateral thinking to any distance
• The Rook, whose brute strength knocks others over pieces on the sports field and ensures social success and accolades from all
• The Knight, like an Art or Music scholar, who moves in unexpected ways, popping up with skills which were less visible but are still hugely valuable
This is a system which suggests that the many of us who are pawns are somehow less valuable. Just as awarding scholarships suggests that skill sets don’t change: at 11 or 13 years old you are valued, told your value and that is what you are worth. Worst of all, this value is put into monetary terms and deducted from your education, as if somehow it costs less to teach those who have prodigious skill. Surely the reverse is true and we should be putting extra resource into the areas in which each individual excels. Even more importantly we need to remember that every pawn can reach the far side of the board and become a queen with the right attitude and drive. Pupils who have an artistic eye can learn to sharpen their skills if they are encouraged, like in the wonderful exercise of Austin’s butterfly, showing how constructive criticism offered and taken as it is intended can drive huge progress.
On one level, recent changes to the exam format in the UK have done to the currency of GCSE and A-level what Brexit has done to sterling - both have dramatically lost value against other currencies in the immediate term. We can’t see yet whether the changes which cause the devaluation will prove to be for good or ill, but the uncertainty clearly has an impact. In both, however, there is a chance to see a real opportunity. Now is the time to stop weighing children in the present and start seeking more of their future: now is the time to send the old world of financial rewards for pupils who show excellence on a specific day at a particular time to the history bin along with child chimney sweeps; we must value our children by what they can become and recognise that every child is beyond value in this regard. Let’s take the qualificational devaluation as a chance to start again and look to what we really value in children: self knowledge, resilience, trust of themselves and others, having a healthy relationship with change, celebrating failure as a key tool of learning to work towards success.
At Monkton, the Principal’s awards seek to recognise pupils whose achievements may not be easily catalogued against others but are marks of improvements in themselves. Pupils who heard their teachers or peers telling them how to reshape the butterfly’s wing and made the changes needed to be better students; better artists, musicians or sports players; better people.
We are at a junction in education: we can let the market dictate how we should respond to talent, awarding financial assistance to those who could afford the tuition to reach the highest level, or we can recognise that all schools will extend talent and support struggle in equal measure without finance coming into it. Children are not fixed assets from the Penny Black to the everyday second class stamp. How we see our children defines how we live our lives, and how they will; what do we want them to aspire to - a growth mindset with limitless horizons or one in which they are limited by whether they were born as a Rook, Knight or Queen leaving that to define what will happen through their lives. Perhaps it is time for this educational philately to be replaced with a scholastic philanthropy; not financial promotion of others, instead supporting the ambition, drive and vision of every child and ensuring the value they place on themselves develops with every day that they live and learn.