Back To School!



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Back To School

Preparations are well under way in our house for the new academic year. This year we’ve not been selecting new pencil cases or arguing over what is an acceptable school skirt length, no, the schooling decisions for our children have just got a little bigger.

Our eldest daughter is starting her second year at secondary school and after much discussion with my wife (and with anyone else that would listen) we have decided to allow her to walk to and from school without one of us.

Even though in my first year at secondary school I had to get on a tube to school I’m still nervous about letting my eldest walk the 10 minutes home from school, after all there is an alleyway! In the past seven years of schooling decisions this one has generated more debate than selecting a school itself.

In our general decision making we’ve tried to pay attention to the individual differences between our two girls and have always tried to encouraged the things that are distinctive to them and not treat them the same. In selecting schools we’ve tried to ignore the OFSTED grading of each school (although this is a very difficult thing to do, if not impossible) but instead read the reports to see if the schools are achieving well in the areas that would particularly benefit our girls.

I’m really happy with the schools our children go to. Our eldest, who is 12, goes to RES and our youngest, 9, attends Burhill Primary School. When I was 10 I clearly remember selecting what secondary school I went to and that decision wasn’t base on OFSTED grades or the percentages of students receiving A* to C grades. Then, my school was selected on an even more important criteria; what school were my mates going to.

It’s natural to be obsessed with final grades, I’m a Programme Director of a Design course at a University and my students are exactly the same. At the end of each module students tend to ignore their written feedback, on how they can improve, but go straight to the grades. To combat this, students on the course are required to read their feedback first before grades are released to them.

If OFSTED removed the grading band and just released the school report I am sure parents would be able to make a more informed choice for their children that would not be clouded by a generic overall grade.

Our eldest started her formative years a Burhill Infant School then went on to Cleves, where she developed really well, and is now at RES where she is exceeding our expectations. Not only is she doing well academically but is developing the much needed skills of common sense and forming relationships.

For our youngest we’ve taken a slightly different route. We opted not to send her to Cleves but to stay on at the new Burhill Primary School. This was not because we were unhappy with Cleves, but we were impressed with Sally Talyor’s ‘nurture’ approach to education. From what we have experienced, Burhill has offered our youngest, a humane and personalized form of education, which has suited her. The school is putting creativity at the heart of education.

Creativity is generally put in the silo of the arts; music, dance, and painting every other subject are thought of as the ‘proper’ stuff of education. There are misconceptions about creativity, it isn’t just about drawing and throwing paint about, you can be creative in mathematics and English too. I believe if you want students to read and write well you need to engage their imagination and teach them creatively.

I was recently was asked to give a talk in China to 4000 students at an art college about what it was like to study Design in London. Prior to the talk I spoke with a smaller number of students and I asked them all what they wanted to do when they left college. One girl surprised me when she said that she wanted to go into business and I asked her how she thought drawing and going to art school would help her in Business?

“It will allow me to approach problems in business in a different way” was her brilliant reply. In any area where our intelligence is being used there’s an opportunity for creative thinking and achievement.

Selecting schools is tough, but there are ways of navigating your way through the decision-making process. However when it comes to giving your children independence you’re left hoping that they have the skills to make correct decisions and I wish they were as easy as choosing between purchasing a Hello Kitty pencil case or a Minions one.

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Mark Gower

Mark is married and has two daughters, his eldest studies at Rydens Enterprise School and his youngest attends Burhill Community School in Hersham.
He is currently Programme Director at Regent’s University London and graduated from the Royal College of Art (RCA) in 1999 with an MA in Architecture and Interiors and formerly attended Kingston University.
Mark was the Labour Party candidate for Hersham South in the local council elections of 2015.
The Mark Gower Studio was founded in 2008 (www.markgower.co.uk) which creates unique contemporary pieces of Art.

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