Headmaster's Blog - The Power of Education
It's been a busy few weeks, with a whistle-stop, 48-hour trip to Hong Kong - somehow - squeezed in. As well as meeting-up with a really charming bunch of OBs (thank you again, Aron, for your wonderful hospitality), I used the opportunity to visit the British Council, and meet with a number of teachers from Hong Kong Schools. It was a fascinating experience and a rare chance to see, first-hand, another education system in operation.
The main differences I noticed were the class sizes, which are much larger than the UK’s independent system; and the style of teaching, which does not give as much focus to tailored or individualised learning, as in the UK.
Whilst very different, it is a system which, on one level, is clearly working. International league tables have their flaws, but there is no doubt that Hong Kong frequently finds itself amongst the top ranks. According to the latest Programme for International Student Assessment, which tests 15 year olds on their abilities in the core subjects, the UK ranked 20th (for maths and science); Hong Kong came in second. Indeed, in the last round of assessments, completed in 2015, Asian countries dominated the top five. The UK was positioned amongst the better performing European countries and ahead of America, which was 28th.
But are these tables a relevant measure of success? Do they demonstrate a country’s ability to prepare its young people to meet the challenges of the future? Certainly, I have some sympathy for the Director General of the CBI, who last week called on policymakers to make education in England about more than results and rote learning, and prioritise teaching that encourages thoughts, questions, creativity and teamworking. In a speech to the Association of School and College Leaders in Birmingham, he said that education’s power is to give people not just what they need to operate in today’s workplace, but the spirit of enquiry that allows them to shape tomorrow’s too.
These comments struck a chord with me; they chime with Bloxham’s ethos and ambition for its students. Here, we tailor our approach, to help every one of our students achieve their best possible academic outcome. Yet we regard that as just one aspect of their education, and so we also help them to develop a wider set of skills, using our broader curriculum of sport, the creative arts and service, to teach them resilience, risk-taking, communication and team working.
It is this blend of education which is attracting many affluent and aspirational Asian families to the UK for their child’s education. During my trip, I met several families who wanted to break away from Hong Kong’s linear system to give their child a more creative and enriching experience. I hope we will be able to recruit a handful to Bloxham. Unlike many of our competitors, we currently have very few students from overseas at Bloxham – around five percent, which is very low. I believe that is to the detriment to our students and to their preparation for the future. Along with fine academic results and excellent transferable skills, confidence in working alongside people from all manner of backgrounds is another quality our students will need to master. If we can build a more culturally and socially diverse community at Bloxham, we will give our students the best chance of building successful careers, and happy worthwhile lives, in the future.