When a new student joins the school they are allocated an academic tutor who helps them design their learning programme. Younger students are encouraged to try every subject and activity on offer and over a number of months to make decisions about their future learning schedule. Older students usually have a clear idea about what they would like to study in the school and sit between 6 and 9 GCSEs over a 3 year period.
The rationale behind encouraging children to make choices about what they study is based on a belief that children are often powerless and voiceless in other schools and as such are often disengaged and passive learners. When children choose what to study then they arrive in class in quite a different and active state of mind and accept the challenges of learning with confidence and resilience.
It also seems a fundamental human right that we should listen to children and respect their voices. Some children know what they want to learn and what subjects they really don’t need to study yet. Our future careers are often so randomly arrived at and have so much more to do with unpredictable and unexpected events, with our state of mind and an ability to be open to opportunity, than the homogenised package of learning we receive at most schools, that it seems foolhardy to put every child through the same programme of study hoping that at the end individuals will surface. Better to teach children how to make wise choices relative to their own needs and interests.
As a result, we encourage children to be active in their choices while still remaining alert to common sense, namely that they should leave school literate, numerate and with a broad knowledge of the sciences, arts and humanities, even if they acquire that understanding outside conventional classes.
Learning can be a lifelong activity, but not if school has destroyed one’s desire to learn or destroyed one’s confidence. Of course, children don’t always make wise choices but then neither do adults. So the academic tutors meets regularly with their tutees to renew those choices and to help children set realistic and sensible goals for their studies.
As a result, classes are full of positive students who eventually face the challenges of GCSEs at 16 and 17 and move on to college or into work with real life skills and an awareness of not just what they’ve studied, but why.