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Independence: is this the most important skill to ensure successful students?


The ultimate aim of any school is to ensure that students in our care are able to develop into adults capable of looking after themselves, thrive on the challenges that life throws at, experiment with risks and develop their own ways of doing things successfully. The problem of course is that the world is perceived to have become a much more dangerous place, as a result we are more reluctant to expose our children to risk, this inevitably leads to people who are less able to thrive in the challenging world we are preparing them for. This conflict is one that teachers and parents continue to battle with.

This is not to say that we should allow students to do what they want, but that as they get older we should build such skills as good decision-making; taking responsibility for their own needs, setting targets, being responsible for the choices they make and able to find the information they need in order to make such decisions. This cannot happen by accident, students need to be given choices, be allowed to make the wrong one and learn from the mistakes they make.

The teenage years are some of the most difficult, the increasing desire to take control of their own lives is a natural one that we have all experienced. The role of teachers and parents during these  years is to help students manage the risks involved in managing this process in order to ensure they become successful adults. The ‘Kevin’ video clip abve is a caricature of this process from the adult perspective, seemingly overnight a previously charming child becomes, the most difficult of teenagers. Of course from the teenagers perspective it is the adult who is being difficult, preventing them from exercising control over their own lives. The truth is inevitably somewhere in the middle of this.

At Catmose we believe in gradually increasing the responsibilities that our students experience, we risk assess our actions to ensure that students are kept safe but are never the less challenged, are given choices and are from time to time allowed to fail. To give some examples:

  • We do not have a long list of rules, but five expectations. If a students behaviour falls short of these expectations we involve them (and their) parents in the programme of support we offer to better manage their behaviour.
  • We do not ban face book (or other similar sites) but teach students how to use social networking sites sensibly, just as many parents do. these sites are a crucial part of the how our children communicate, banning them at school does not prevent students from using them.
  • We allow students access to classrooms and other resources during breaks and lunchtime. This gives them responsibility for their environment and the way in which they learn.
  • We continue to offer an extensive range of extra-curricular activities including our performing arts tour, the German exchange, field trips and from next year an outward bounds trip to the Alps. This programme exposes them to new challenges, encourages them to manage and take risks in a managed way.
  • We offer an extensive range of ‘electives’ giving students a free choice of activities on a Wednesday afternoon. These range from sporting, to craft and high academic such as courses in Latin. These expose students to activities outside of ones they might normally experience and encourages them to take on new challenges.
  • In Year 11 we offer a range of leadership experiences including in sport and dance, as students councillors, as prefects, as headboy and headgirl, and as student governors.
  • In Year 9 our students begin their GCSE studies taking courses in ICT, the Arts, in English and Mathematics. We believe that early exposure to external examinations better prepares them for the challenges of GCSEs, our students hold the national record for students completing the level 2 arts award.

We challenge all of our students to do their best, no excuses, believing that independent learners will ultimately become the most successful in the increasingly challenging work place. This is not the easiest route to take, it would be much easier for the College to lock classrooms, have extensive lists of rules, limit our curriculum to the purely academic but this ultimately would not be in the best interests of our students.


1 Comment

  1. […] have previously written about the importance of encouraging our students to become more independent in order that they are successful in later life, outlining how at Catmose we endeavour to do this. […]

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