Once a year, Heads of HMC schools get together at the annual conference, this year in Belfast. ‘What do you do?’ asked my taxi driver on my way there. Good question. Hear some speakers to make us think about wider and bigger issues, for a start, of course. Exchange ideas and advice. Attend seminars on developments we all need to know about.
Of all these things, for me the key importance each year is the being forced to look outside our day-to-day issues. One challenging talk was on the development of what you might coyly call ‘alternatives to traditional schools’, reported in some of the press inevitably as ‘robots taking over the classroom’. With millions across the world still unable to get any education at all, ran the argument of this session (think India, Africa…), we should all be thinking creatively about how to get children the best start in life. And since technology can do lots now which humans used to have to, why not capitalise?
Well, if you think pupils will all be taught by robots in a few years’ time, you may be right. I don’t personally think things will be that extreme, though some tasks are of course automated in all organisations even now. But here, we are already thinking about how we can use technology more smartly and to better effect, and that seems to me to be exactly the right mindset.
At the same time, learning, like teaching, is a human process. At Whitgift, as at all great schools, we have always known that it’s the connection between the learner and the teacher at a human level which most often lights the spark. You could, it’s true, pick up a decent amount of Chinese or Physics or Politics from MOOCs and websites, but deep thinking and deep learning come from personal engagement. And of course we also know instinctively that teachers who engage with pupils outside the classroom build relationships quicker and more strongly.
So do expect Whitgift to continue to investigate and trial technologies and learning platforms. But don’t imagine we will ever not have our teachers coach sport, tutor, put on plays and concerts, and so on, ad, literally, infinitum.