I spent yesterday at the Quinta Christian Centre in NW Shropshire with 45 year 6 children and the teachers and leaders that accompanied them. There was lots to see and to learn – it is always fantastic to be with children and adults well away from the constrictions that school places on them, and yesterday was one of the best. Trying to sum it all up is hard, but the overriding impression is of a group of children learning in all sorts of unexpected ways provided by new opportunities, and adults demonstrating exceptional degrees of skill in leading, managing and serving the children they had taken to Quinta. I saw so much evidence from teachers and support staff of selflessness, encouragement, kindness, clear direction and coaching and mentoring that it made me feel like a spare part. There was a genuinely sacrificial aspect to the work of these adults that was humbling to be near.
Inspectors like to see evidence of learning within a lesson, and this is one of the best things that they do for schools – to reflect our own desire (not drive it, as so many seem to think) that children learn the ways that they are learning and pay attention to the factors that hinder that or help it. Yesterday was a day where you could see children growing in confidence, in leadership, in new skills – very often skills that had been unrecognised because of lack of opportunity – in a social understanding and ability to take on new roles and, always, to grow in maturity. Some cameos, then, seen over 8 hours of close observation:
- A boy who had never before held a foil in his hand turning out to have the agility, sense of balance, courage and eye-hand coordination (quite unsuspected, this last one!) to overcome his instructor in fencing after 75 minutes of training.
- A child who through the requirements of looking after younger siblings at home took clear and unexpected responsibility for the leadership of another boy whose general lack of personal awareness was hindering him from learning anything.
- Children who in class often come across as relatively careless taking complete care and precision in rock climbing.
- A girl who had not seen herself as an achiever scaling and coming down the cliff shown above, all within 42 seconds….
- A willingness by many children to accept poor weather as the milieu in which they were working and to succeed despite it.
- The cooperation needed to rescue children whose raft building skills had led them to an early bath…
- The willingness in play of children to entertain themselves, create new games, enjoy each other’s company and celebrate food without any recourse to an electrical piece of equipment.
- The use of restorative language to maintain and develop relationships, not only initiated by staff, but by children.
- The complete joy of seeing children not in school uniform, expressing themselves freely and as children, away from the badge of restriction that we sometimes think helps children learn.
Learning generally takes place in that area where you can use what you have already acquired, within a zone of some uncertainty, in order to acquire new skills or knowledge. The old adage is that you have to go out on a limb to where the fruit grows, and to see so many children on precarious limbs, bearing or gathering fruit (depending on your metaphor) was for me another reaffirmation of the nature of schooling – social, not just individual, for life and for joy, not just for productivity – that somehow, somehow, we must strive to put back into the organic life of what have become our fairly inorganic institutions of education.
I will be talking to some Year 6 children this morning, as I will be doing to all the constituencies that make up Christ the Sower, about the nature and characteristics of learning. That we have a unified narrative of learning is a central requirement of building a successful curriculum. The experiences of their Y6 classmates, through video and photograph, will generate some interesting responses, and force them and thus all of us to find out what about learning is it that we most treasure and value.