Just over a week ago, I had the opportunity to visit Barfield School near Farnham to facilitate training and familiarisation with Education for Social Responsibility (ESR). I met an incredibly engaged and enthusiastic staff team, who exemplify the unique blend of knowledge, experience and diversity of views found independent schools. This was the first time that we have been able to present ESR to a whole school and so the feedback is both insightful and valuable, allowing us to recognise more precisely what ESR can mean.
Two key questions arose which are important to reflect upon as we share experiences across IAPS. It was exhilarating to be able to debate and discuss deeper issues about the purpose of education and it only serves to clarify the purpose of ESR.
What is “new” about ESR?
The strapline to the presentation on ESR is “one day they’ll call it education”. Because what we do, everyday in our interactions with the young people at our schools is all about this incredibly important, incredibly divisive concept of “education”. So what ESR is built on is a legacy of and continual research into what makes education effective in preparing future citizens. What is new is the opportunity to hold a dialogue within our schools and across our association about the purpose of education, it’s relevance and efficacy for children facing a rapidly changing world. Of course, there is inherent danger in naming any initiative as our tendency is to categorise, sort, label and compare. So a core purpose of ESR is to enable us to recognise just what our core purpose is.
How is this different from what I have done for years?
Excellent practice and pastoral care is immutable. There are, as was pointed out in discussion, ways of enabling children to develop and learn that have not and will not change: good relationships, effective language, reliable pastoral care, the involvement of parents, and so on. What is different is that schools are being asked to consider the function of the organisation in its entirety; to engage in an approach to systems thinking that draws together the curriculum, resource management and activity beyond the classroom in the context of the social, environmental and economic challenges ahead. The benefits of years of experience can be brought together with contemporary, innovative approaches, resulting in a stronger and more effective preparation for children and young people.
Its no small thing and I would like to thank the Headmaster, Robin Davies, and Staff at Barfield for their time, their candour and their wealth of knowledge. Education for Social Responsibility is stronger and more focused because of their input.