“Students should be encouraged to take risks” Keith Budge in the TES

Posted on 14th March 2016

In its ‘leadership‘ series, the TES has featured an article by Keith Budge, Headmaster of Bedales, on learning from failure.

The article acknowledges the recent government push on developing “character, resilience and grit” in our young people, but questions whether schools – or rather our approach to schooling as a whole – also contributes to the problem of pupil stress and rising mental health issues.

The article quotes a recent Demos publication, “Mind Over Matter”, which found that pupils in the UK lose confidence and are less happy as they move through the school system, and are less likely to believe that their teachers think that they will be successful; a third of final-year pupils believe that their school is focused on preparing them to succeed only in exams, rather than in life.

Some believe that such exam stress is acceptable, and even desirable. In November, Nicky Morgan announced that seven-year-olds are to be subjected to more “robust and rigorous” tests, and that this should be considered a normal part of school life. Independent Schools Council chair Barnaby Lenon is of the view that the fear induced by exams is motivating and should, indeed, be considered a virtue.

Keith Budge argues that although some young people do thrive on the pressure of exams, others do not; the current direction of educational travel – with its focus on assessment by examination – is hardly likely to redress concerns around stress, and the fear of failure.

Keith Budge argues that sometimes we need to fail, and to understand why we have failed, in order to learn and grow. One of the problems with examinations, he states, is that we don’t always get to understand our failures, learn from them and, importantly, remedy them.

Keith believes that failing should underpin an educational approach rather than being a disparate activity: “At Bedales, we pursue an educational ethos that encourages students of all ages and all dispositions to take risks for their own sake. We encourage the view that getting things wrong is a necessary stepping stone to getting things right, and so it should not be feared. We also encourage students to find and pursue their own passions.”

He describes how the curriculum is designed explicitly to support this approach to education, specifically with the introduction of Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) to replace some non-core GCSEs. Designed by Bedales teachers, BACs give students more autonomy to explore their subjects, and report on what they have learned in appropriate ways. While terminal exams remain important, they are seen as just one of a range of assessment methods.

“The collaborative approach to learning that underpins them, characterised by students exercising significant decision-making power, results in good learning. It enhances motivation and independence; choice over study is linked to a sense of competence and engagement.”

To read the full article, visit the TES website.

Read Keith’s regular musings on his blog.