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Headmaster's Blog - The primacy of the classroom

Headmaster's Blog - The primacy of the classroom

This term has offered innumerable highlights including performances in the Tom Stoppard Theatre, fabulous costumes on World Book Day, the wonderful achievements of our Mathematicians in the UK Maths Challenge, my inaugural experience of Lectern Society, superb sporting events and a plethora of house competitions. Also worthy of note are the wonderful relations that exist amongst all in our community and the pride our pupils display at being a Pocklington pupil.

Often when we think of school, we become nostalgic for the playground, sports fixtures, trips on coaches with friends and even the food! We often neglect to remember that the vast majority of our time is spent in lessons. A typical pupil at Pocklington School will spend over eighty-five percent of their working week in academic lessons and I have been enormously privileged, over the past few weeks, to have witnessed superb teaching and learning in a wide range of subjects. 

Great teaching and learning involves pupils who are active in lessons, a variety of different activities, pupil debate and discussion, intelligent and productive use of technology, pupil leadership and independence, opportunities for extension, differentiation, failure and risk amongst a myriad of other features. Including all of this in one lesson would be a challenge for all and I would argue that a full day with every lesson including every one of these aspects would probably flatten even the most resilient of learners.

Our goal at Pocklington is to instil into our pupils a genuine and life-long love of learning. We do this by nurturing our core values of “Courage, Truth and Trust”. These three concepts give our teachers the means and focus to craft lessons that stimulate our pupils, give them the chance to gain the knowledge they need for success but simultaneously develop the skills that will empower them in school and beyond. These include aspiration, resilience, integrity, enquiry, creativity, reflection, collaboration, compassion and commitment.

These read like long words that mean little. Let me give you some examples of how they drive our wonderful teaching and learning.

Some of our youngest Senior School learners began the lesson by looking at a picture of a frozen scene in Svalbard. Their first task was to ask questions about the picture. Where is this? How do people live there? Is it easy to get food? Are guns allowed? Is depression more common here? Where and how do children go to school? Might a polar bear eat me? This theme of questioning drove the remainder of the lesson and instilled into our pupils that vital skill of critical enquiry. We agreed Svalbard would be a tough place to live.

Pupils began the lesson by scrutinising a text providing them with information answering the question “What is a planet?”  They then used this knowledge to answer the question “Is Pluto a planet?” Scientists have argued and debated this for years; certainly when I was at school Pluto was definitely seen as a planet – not anymore! Our young investigators arrived at evidence-based judgements, overwhelmingly deciding that Pluto no longer warranted this status. Reflection and integrity in action sadly condemned Pluto to the has-been pile.

A small group of our oldest pupils debated a key “A” level topic using “Harkness” methodology, developed at Phillips Exeter Academy in North-West America, to excellent effect. Using this technique, the teacher takes a back seat, allowing pupils to debate and discuss the particular topic. In this instance, the teacher said perhaps 20 words in a lesson of 40 minutes. Pupil collaboration at its best and a great example of active revision.

At a time when teacher recruitment and retention is a national crisis, having the chance to observe, reflect on and celebrate such high quality pedagogy reminds you why being a teacher is one of the greatest jobs in the world.