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Is A Piece Of The ‘Learning’ Jigsaw Missing?

Most would agree that the purpose of the Curriculum in our amazing Prep Schools is to provide our children with a variety of incredible learning opportunities that push each one of them, beyond their personal comfort zone, both in the classroom and beyond; to develop the love of learning.

At Barfield it’s our Mission to …

To deliver a Curriculum which prides itself on balance: the children understand and respect the value of academic rigour, but equally the importance of being creative and the acquisition of skills that are learnt outside of the traditional classroom. 

Barfield website, 2024

A growth mindset is the root of our approach so that the acquisition of the skills and knowledge are embedded for our pupil’s future life. In other words, we want them to have begun the process of becoming British citizens who are able ‘to fulfil social and environmental responsibilities of society’. As with all independent school Curriculums, we at Barfield Prep School look to be progressive and innovative; employing new initiatives. Being independent by the very nature of the word, means we have ‘curricular freedom’ to think differently, to evaluate more often and to step outside the educational box! It is the ability to think differently and to question what parts of our jigsaw we are missing, if anything at all, here at Barfield. 

Foundations for Future Proofing within the Curriculum

It would be remiss not to begin with pupils, their attitudes to learning and to one another. A child’s willingness to learn and grow as an individual considerably depends on their relationships with their peers and their teachers. This development of emotional intelligence is going to be a key factor in our pupil’s prospects in the world as an adult. Fortunately, in our schools, most would agree that is an area of particular strength; one that puts our pupils on the right pathway for further success as they move from child to adult. Adulthood for our children will be different. Degradation of many career paths will be inevitable, but those requiring human decision making and evaluation will exist. The world in which they will thrive will require more analytical and leadership qualities (Forbes, 2024). 

As a consequence, at Barfield we aim to closely align the context of our Curriculum with a diverse range of subjects but also with the skills likely to be needed in the year 2030. The children will need to be exceptionally proficient using a variety of digital platforms. There is likely to be a demand for resilient problem solvers, as huge amounts of data will be the foundations that drive future businesses. As a Trust we promote Digital Learning emphatically and continually look for different ways to incorporate its benefits in our school, while also helping the pupils learn to read and write conventionally through the traditional academic subjects. At this point, it should be mentioned that research suggests that there is no reason to believe that a pen and paper is disappearing as skills involving fine motor control remain essential for the future.

The technological world will continue to gather speed and evolve at a fast pace. Our pupils will need to have initiative, be adaptable and flexible. They will need cognitive flexibility (Lukins, 2023) in particular. Providing opportunities to develop an ability to observe differences, recognise anomalies, think critically and to know how to analyse, will put our children at an advantage. The idea of collaboratively taking a project and creatively making it more efficient is going to be highly sought after competence. Bloom’s Taxonomy, used by many of us in education, encourages our young pupils to develop such learning skills like synthesising, evaluating and critical thinking. It represents a valuable tool that is applied throughout our pedagogy. 

We recognise the critical role that Artificial Intelligence will play in our pupil’s future and this is an area where we need to plan to increase our provision beyond the BeeBots and Marty Robots. It would be fantastic if we could, in the future, consider immersion in interactive content in a virtual reality or even a metaverse! 

The final skill suggested by 2030, mentioned by LinkedIn, is social responsibility and sustainable working, with each person playing their part in minimising waste, recycling and optimising green energy resources to reduce pollution and carbon emissions. A massive area for any Curriculum.

To provide a grounded approach to independent education: a Barfield Journey means that children leave us with an academic profile they can be proud of, as well as the skills and experiences they need in order to cope with the demands of the next chapter of their educational lives.

Barfield website, 2024

Never wanting to stand still, we would like to think we make a substantial contribution to the introduction and development of the skills listed. But do we?

The Quality of pupils' academic and other achievements.

3.4 The quality of pupils' academic and other achievements is excellent. 
ISI EQI Inspection Report, June 2023

Asking the Awkward Questions?

Upon closer scrutiny, and with time to reflect since our Inspection, we have begun to ask some daunting questions of our Curriculum - ‘Is our Curriculum and the National Curriculum properly and adequately addressing some of the major issues in the world, like climate change; a topic which is considered to be at critical levels? Whilst we are addressing the various aspects via some subjects, the education we deliver on climate change and sustainability is not fully joined up and it should be! It is not because we are lacking interest or that we lack desire; it comes down to our confidence, the security of our knowledge and the lack of concise guidance. 

On April 21st, the DfE published its education strategy for England on sustainability and climate change. This envisions that, by 2030, “the United Kingdom is the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change”

Climate Change and Education, November 2023

With world disasters costing billions of pounds to the economy, and being attributed to climate change - it is hard to understand how there are no urgent Government directives for Education now. 

Oxfordshire January 2024

It could be argued that climate change is one issue requiring immediate education over and above many of the traditional subjects taught within the UK Education system and yet our Government offers a rather limp approach to how it is disseminated in schools. Some progress has been made at a political level but it is slow. The research and recommendations cited by the University of Bristol, provide interesting background reading but do lack substance, purpose and ultimately - action. Educators mostly agree that they need specifics and that climate change and sustainability need to be a standalone subject; not taught as a topic closeted within Science, Geography and PSHE. Furthermore, without investing in the views of the professionals working in this sector, adequate CPD, clarity on the political structure and the evaluation of research, effective policy is likely to be inadequate (University of Bristol, November 2023). It should be noted that all of this is possible with other countries like Singapore and Costa Rica have in operation within their Education system.

The National Curriculum in England first makes a direct reference to climate change in Science and Geography at Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14 years), but does not consider the broader impacts of climate change on the environment, economy and society, or issues of social justice. In contrast, the Curriculum in Singapore requires children to be introduced to global warming when at primary school. In Costa Rica, the National Curriculum emphasises social transformation and the need to empower “each student, in each age group and in all educational environments, for the transformation of themselves and the society where they live; strengthening the transition towards green economies and societies with sustainable lifestyles…”. The MECCE Project is publishing profiles of countries revealing progress on climate change education, to allow more detailed comparison across countries. 

Climate Change and Education, November 2023

Schools feel that time is of the essence and that action is needed now as this clip from weather events in 2023 shows in this video Climate Change - 2023

One such local independent senior school has taken the ‘bull by the horns’ - sick of waiting, and has developed its own approach. Holme Grange in Wokingham, Berkshire feel incredibly strongly about  the importance of educating their pupils in sustainability and climate change, and have made it an integral embedded part of their Curriculum. As a result, many of their systems and processes have been developed to become sustainable. Our visits (myself and Miss Liz Trevett, Head of Humanities) were inspiring! The pupils we met were totally invested in taking action and doing what they can for the planet. There was a real sense of collaboration and an enthusiasm for change. There had been contact by pupils with large corporations, with visits to London to discuss with CFO and CEOs how large corporations are making their own sustainable contribution. It felt like sustainability was in the fabric of school life.

Pupils are encouraged as part of their daily routine, to actively participate and create more ways to reuse, recycle and reduce.  All the staff were expected to achieve a pass in the United Nations Climate Change course which provided them with more ‘information’ and to feel more confident with the topic. Their commitment is such that every December they host a COP23 with invitations extended to local schools. More information can be found here at this site.

Having seen the journey that Holme Grange continues to be on and the appreciation of the world by their pupils; we felt an enormous responsibility and empowerment to act. Our trip back to Barfield was full of excitement and anticipation of what might be possible; how we could ‘take the bull by the horns’ to make a difference for our children. Fashion shows from recycling, food waste competitions, repurposing our recycling and educating our children creatively were just a few of the ideas.

The Missing Piece of the Barfield Jigsaw

Despite the lack of official direction from the Government, for the 2024/25 academic year, we will allocate dedicated time in our timetable from Years 1 - 6 to make our children aware of the global challenges and the need for them to become socially responsible citizens. Our plan was further ratified by our LAG Committee and we are now gradually introducing Sustainability, Climate Change to the staff with a view to implementing it into the Curriculum permanently. Our Outdoor Learning Programme of Study will be renamed as Outdoor Learning and Sustainability, and the Sustainable Development Goals will be delivered and incentivised through this subject. As the Government recommends, we are also looking to deliver some elements with cross curricular links in Humanities, Science, PSHE and Life Skills. It is hoped that we can build a Programme of Study that enthuses and informs the pupils about this global issue in an age appropriate and optimistic way, to help them understand their role and the impact of their actions, and to become socially responsible British citizens.  

In summary, despite the lack of guidance and some potential for uncertainty within the independent sector, we are excited for September. We are enthused to make a sustainable difference. At the time of writing, It is regrettable that there is not a consolidated united approach to educating all the young people in schools throughout the United Kingdom. However, it is important to be brave and optimistic about taking the initiative and not being scared to confront the unknown. Like Holme Grange, we want to do what is right and it is right for our children to be prepared for the world in which they are going to grow up in. 

In the words of Kofi Annan, ‘knowledge is power’. 


Christina Tupper, Deputy Head, Barfield Prep School

Tagged  Teaching