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Early Thoughts from the Hall

We had the opportunity last weekend to show over thirty colleagues from Radnor House the new site at Kneller Hall, which has consequently triggered much excitement and discussion, all of which has gone way beyond the more obvious motives behind a visit, such as a grab for the office with the best view – because I’ve already reserved that for myself.

Those with good spatial awareness and plenty of imagination probably found it easiest to see how it might all operate in the future, while others whose brains are wired differently may have to wait a while before they can picture the future.  I am firmly in the latter camp, with a non-verbal reasoning score in the lowest five per cent of those who take such tests, and I can still barely find my way round Pope’s Villa, let alone something so much bigger.

Alongside the physical challenges of working out where everything will go and how best to utilise the significant extra space we will be afforded, there is also the mental challenge of designing the right curriculum and deciding where best to focus our efforts.  As an experienced Head once told me when I was starting out in the role, ‘If everything is a priority, then nothing will be.’

A couple of weeks ago, I referenced the monologue from Ted Lasso in Apple TV programme of the same name, in which he urged people to be curious and not judgemental.  According to Google Translate, this would be ‘Curiosus Esse Non Iudicium’ in Latin, so that is looking good for the motto of the new school, if such a thing is required.

Our new strapline of ‘Great Teaching, Genuine Values’ is growing on me, and my early thought would be to build on the core values at Radnor House by combining ‘Courage’ and ‘Perseverance’ into ‘Resilience’, or perhaps being ‘Resilient’.  ‘Respect’ is too important in the world we are trying to build, but if we are going with adjectives instead of nouns then we need ‘Respectful’.  Much as ‘Excellence’ works well as a value, it always needs a little explanation because otherwise it can be misinterpreted as trying to be the best at everything, which is neither possible nor desirable.  Therefore I think ‘Rigorous’ might work nicely to sum up the approach we need to tackle life’s challenges effectively.

This would allow a concept of ‘Reimagining the 3Rs’ as ‘Resilient, Respectful and Rigorous’, which might be interesting.  I have always struggled with the original 3Rs because ‘Reading, Writing and Arithmetic’ are, of course, 1R, 1W and 1A.  Given that they are supposed to be the bedrock upon which previous generations built the education of their children, they seem long overdue for an update.

As part of our strategic planning at Radnor House, we have a spider diagram that highlights twelve different areas where we are seeking to provide educational opportunities for all our pupils.  We have had more success in some areas than others, not helped by the pandemic of course, for example where we have been unable to engage more widely with the local community as we used to do with our ‘Make a Difference Day’.

It is already clear that the new site will be able to provide better facilities, and therefore better opportunities, particularly with regard to creative subjects, sport and entrepreneurial activities.  This has allowed the original areas of focus to be fine-tuned and categorised into four groups – ‘Thinking’, ‘Performing’, ‘Developing’ and ‘Preparing’.  Another circle like our ‘Values Wheel’ might become a bit confusing, so I thought a square might be better.  It then occurred to me that you could make the dividing lines on the square look like a window, leading to a eureka moment of the ‘Window of Opportunities’.

In the ‘Thinking’ quadrant, the areas of focus are ‘Formal, Active & Experiential Learning’ – the best teaching and learning experiences we can provide; ‘Intellectual Curiosity & Critical Thinking’ – encouraging all pupils to become robust learners who embrace new ideas with relish; and ‘Digital Learning & Communication Skills' – helping our so-called digital natives to hone their skills and express themselves effectively.

Under the ‘Performing’ heading, we start with ‘Service & Charity’ – making sure we think of others less fortunate than ourselves and have the humility to help where we can; then we have ‘Creativity & Performing Arts’ – not just music and drama, but art, design and being as imaginative as possible in all areas; and ‘Physical Fitness & Healthy Lifestyle' – ensuring participation for all, promoting excellence and ensuring we know how to live long and healthy lives.

‘Developing’ is where we will help pupils to understand the importance of ‘Values, Empathy & Mutual Respect’, create effective opportunities for ‘Teamwork & Leadership’ both inside and outside the classroom; and explore in depth how we can help the growth of ‘Emotional Intelligence & Self-Awareness’, qualities that everyone will need in the years ahead.  Those who can build their lives around this development will surely be the leaders of the future, as we increasingly reject the win-at-all-costs mentality that causes so many more problems than it solves.

The final quadrant builds on this theme of ‘Preparing’ for the future, with a strong focus on ‘Global Awareness, Eco-Literacy and Sustainability’, without which everyone’s lives will become increasingly difficult; ‘Entrepreneurship & Money Management’ will help pupils to organise their personal finances and promote skills they can bring to whichever businesses they join; and ‘Careers Education & Awareness’ will allow us to highlight the myriad opportunities that may come their way – at least in as far as we are able to know that, with the speed of change that affects all our lives.

None of this is set in stone, nor will it ever be, because these are ideas that need to evolve as circumstances change.  Anyone who thinks they have a monopoly on wisdom is almost certainly deluded, and all the best ideas are made better with further collaboration.  As I said at the start of term, the work of Rutger Bregman reminds us that teaching that focuses on values creates adults who know what is important and who will consequently create a better world, which seems like something worth working towards, both now and in the years ahead when our new site will undoubtedly give us more chances to do so.  What a very exciting project this is going to be!             

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