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Welcome to my blog

Posted on: 02 Dec 2014 by CEO

Welcome to my first blog, where I hope to share a little bit about my thoughts on education, tell you about some Bellevue initiatives and activities that might be of interest, and set out what I believe are our priorities in this ever-changing world of education.

Educating children is a huge privilege and an incredible opportunity, but it also presents many challenges. The workplace our pupils and students will enter is unrecognisable from that of 25 years ago. Many of the most sought after jobs today didn’t exist ten years ago and the idea of having a job for life will be absolutely alien to our young people.  By setting out my thoughts here I hope to stimulate debate, share some best practice and generally get us all thinking about how to continually make the education and experience at our schools as good as it can possibly be. 

Bellevue Schools place a great deal of emphasis on independent learning: I firmly believe that a good education is one that creates a love of learning; that teaches children how to research, formulate arguments and present their thoughts effectively. And one of the key planks of this is critical thinking - developing in children and young adults the confidence and desire to know not just “what”, but “how” and “why”.

Debates regarding the best teaching techniques are in abundance, but one thing is clear: providing pupils and students with the opportunity for philosophical and independent thinking, and having the expectation that they can reason at this level can never be underestimated; the term ‘answeritis’ is all too familiar in education and society – wanting the answer, but not realising the importance of the process to get there. Equally, learning large numbers of facts on its own does not achieve very much at all; it is the application of those facts that demonstrates understanding and knowledge. By developing a critical thought process, not only do pupils experience a greater understanding of what they are learning, they can bring valuable points of view to all aspects of their life.

For it to be truly effective, however, critical thinking has to be more than just an after-school club or lesson once a week. It can’t happen in isolation, or in specific subjects, but instead needs to permeate the whole curriculum.  For example, when asking a class a question, do they need to remember a fact to answer correctly, or can they use reasoned judgements to reach an answer, which may be different to that of their peers? By re-thinking the way in which questions are asked and enabling the latter, pupils engage in a much deeper and more meaningful learning experience.

There are some great examples of how to embed critical thinking at many of our schools. At Norfolk House School, for instance, the staff have developed a range of questioning techniques which encourage discussion and wider thinking in every lesson. Lessons on topics such as Philosophical Thinking promote this beyond the standard timetable and require the children to debate a range of topics – from the Hot Air Balloon Debate, through to the third runway at Heathrow Airport (see a video of the children debating the proposal, here). Seeing children excited about voting and having the opportunity to put across their argument demonstrates just how effective it can be in engaging pupils in their learning.

School Councils which hold regular debates are also an excellent way for pupils to develop and present their viewpoint, whilst also demonstrating to all pupils just how beneficial it is to have an opinion.

Of course, the ability to think critically becomes even more important as children grow up. At Surval Montreux, a key part of the Liberal Arts programme involves the girls regularly debating a range of topics. “Books versus Computers” was a particularly interesting one, where the girls, and even a few teachers, had some very insightful contributions. Last week I was delighted to be a Dragon during their Liberal Arts girls' Dragons Den competition, an activity which helps the girls learn how to argue their viewpoint and present their ideas confidently.

Enabling pupils to think critically at every stage of their learning not only encourages open-mindedness, but it also gives pupils the confidence and ability to question and challenge the status quo – skills which are so highly regarded and sought after by employers in today’s world. It also makes lessons much more interesting for everyone involved. Which is a pretty good reason for introducing it, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Mark Malley - CEO of Bellevue Education

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