by Diane Browne
Characteristics of Adcote School are:
- We are proudly non-selective (don’t believe in “writing children off”, understanding that some blossom later, for many different reasons)
- We are proudly “glocal” as a reflection of all students’ likely future work environments
- Above all, we are proudly all girls
Our last bullet point is at the heart of everything we do at Adcote. We specialise in girls.
In education, previous attempts to gain equality for women have focused on giving them the same opportunities as boys, treating the same in curriculum content and the delivery of lessons. It was a well-intentioned move to secure equality for women but not designed to get the best out of them so that they could excel and show the world their full capabilities.
In my conversations with parents, I often ask them if they would go to their local Indian restaurant for sweet and sour chicken. Why not? The local Chinese and the local Indian are both restaurants and they both specialise in food both with fantastic results. But the point is that they both specialise in different types of food, recognising but possibly not fully understanding the kitchen of the other restaurant. Parents quickly see the meaning of my analogy.
As an all-girls school we understand what it is to be a girl. Their interests and how they learn; the difficulties they face physically and emotionally when maturing into young women; the challenges they will face in their futures including juggling life-defining decisions such as career sensitivities balanced with having children; battling societal expectations and preconceptions.
In understanding all this, as a specialist school we can tailor everything we do towards tackling these issues, and from our analysis of what girls want and need, we devised our CLEAR learning character building.
All schools will claim to educate the whole child but when asked what that actually means and how they do it, responses can quickly become vague and ambiguous. Exactly what parts of the whole child do you educate? How specifically do you do it? It is too woolly to say, “the whole child”, to be all things to all people is too imprecise. At Adcote, we believe it is better to be explicit in key areas, specifically targeted as core values, knowing that if these issues are right, other related character traits will follow.
At Adcote, using our understanding of girls and what they will need in their futures to be successful, and, crucially happy, we narrowed our character-building programme down to 5 key areas: confidence, leadership, engagement, achievement and resilience. It is just a coincidence that they form an acronym and their position in the acronym is not an indication of their priority of importance. Except perhaps the first word.
A common trait in young girls and women is a lack of confidence, especially once they reach puberty. Women are often plagued by self-doubt, even when success is achieved with “imposter syndrome” being a common barrier to further progress. Our educational programmes and our pastoral system were all evaluated and adjusted so that everything we do is designed to instil confidence in our girls so that self-belief is nurtured, with checks and balances in place to ensure that confidence does not grow to be arrogance or recklessness.
Leadership skills can be learned. Women, naturally disposed to be carers and pleasers, can have a “no, no, after you” attitude which can dampen assertiveness. We teach our girls that, listening to others, empowering them while working towards a collective goal is great leadership and can play to their strength. But you must also be able to stand firm, give directions, take responsibility at all times and hold people to account when needed, and we teach them that too.
Engagement comes in many forms. We have a no mobile phones policy during the school day to encourage girls to engage with each other. We have measures in place to make sure that girls are actively engaging with their learning. We also have measure to make sure that girls engage with the local community and indeed engage with national and international issues, including processes to fund raise.
We are open with the girls that, in part, the A in achievement stands for exam success. We live in the real world and would be doing them a disservice if we told them that good examination results did not count. We have overhauled our curriculum to deliver more success in examination results. We are now the top value-added school in Shropshire and in the top 50 nationally. However, we also point out that achievement comes in many forms, including conquering something that has previously been a difficulty for them. We also teach them the exhilaration of winning in a competitive arena, especially in national competitions.
We teach the girls that without this, the other key skills will struggle to be attained and have strategies in place throughout the school to instil this in them so that they “bounce” and don’t break as life will not always be a “primrose path”.
Across all of the key skills in the CLEAR learning programme, we make use of the same aspects of the curriculum that exist in many schools (for example sport, music, drama). However, when they are taking part in activities, we articulate the CLEAR values so that there is a conscious understanding in the girls of why they are taking part in an activity: “well done, this is really building your confidence”, “well done you’re showing real resilience, keep going”.
CLEAR awards are made in assembly to celebrate girls who have shown real strength in a particular area.
However, we did also make adjustments to our curriculum to deliver the programme efficiently. For example, to develop leadership skills in older girls we deliver the Chartered Management Institute Level 3 Award in Leadership and Management.
Other adjustments were made too but the initiative that has had the most success and popularity with our students of all ages has been the introduction of our Challenge Days.
Challenge Days happen every term. The timetable is collapsed for the day and a comprehensive schedule of activities is organised. The tasks set are wide ranging and unusual to deliberately place the girls in situations they would not usually experience. All girls take part in all activities, but no girl is made to do what she cannot bear. Follow up steps are taken, however, when this happens.
All activities take place in mixed age groups in order to encourage collegiality but also so that younger students can learn from older students. Following evaluation, we evolved the groupings so that teams were House based as this gave a competitive edge to assignments which encouraged more leadership from the girls.
Cross phase collaboration is encouraged but there are some activities which are designed for younger or older students only. For example, an activity where girls had to build a Lego structure following instructions from a diagram communicated to them via walkie talkie from another group in a different classroom was for Prep School girls only. Some activities requiring the strength and agility of more mature frames are for older students only, for example, a tyre tower construction.
The tasks are designed to be enjoyable but demanding as students should extend their skills. Some activities are created with particular girls in mind to build confidence in in them in facing down specific anxieties. For example, an animal expert was employed to tackle some girls’ fears of spiders and snakes, and we had two students with a particular loathing of heights and so a tree climbing activity using ropes and safety harnesses was arranged (both girls succeeded even though it took one of them 20 minutes to gather the courage to climb to the first stage).
All assignments are designed to address at least one element of the CLEAR learning programme. For example, orienteering activities develop resilience, escape rooms foster confidence, engagement and leadership. Success engenders the exhilaration of achievement.
Several activities test mental agility, holding nerve under pressure. For example, a “bomb disposal” mission (a computer designed activity against the clock) required clues to be
solved to deactivate the device, or a “minefield” activity where items had to be retrieved without triggering a “mine”.
Challenge Days also contain activities which deliver career ideas. We have worked closely with the army who provided the assault course with coaching on its completion and the RAF who sent a helicopter with a female team who explained the mechanics of the machine where girls were able to “operate” key elements before going into a flight simulator to attempt to land an aircraft.
Girls who enjoy sport and physical activity tend to relish these types of activity. To challenge them, therefore, there are other activities they might not find so comfortable. For example, in one activity, one team was required to write a book in a morning and another team had to create a marketing campaign for it in the afternoon, whilst another team turned it into a play script.
Girls love our Challenge Days, though they approach them with some trepidation, just as we would wish, and speculation about their content begins long before the days themselves. During lockdown when our lessons were delivered remotely, we still managed to hold a Virtual Challenge Day with activities adapted to be completed in the girls’ own homes, including those overseas. Tasks were still completed in House teams and were enthusiastically enjoyed, with the whole school eagerly joining together online at the end to reveal the final points allocations.
Whilst the girls love these days, pure enjoyment of them is not their purpose and our students know that. The days are pivotal in securing substantial and lasting personal development in all our students, providing experiences that deliver transferable skills. The enthusiastic testimonials from our parents provide evidence that our systems are having an extremely positive impact.
We are so proud of our CLEAR learning programme and as it has been running for a couple of years now, we are really beginning to see its impact on the development of your young students. We have many examples where we could cite our CLEAR learning making a difference to girls but perhaps my favourite was from a girl in Year 4 who said, on the way home from a screening of “A Dog’s Way Home” at the cinema where most students had cried heartily, “the best thing about that film was the dog showed real resilience in getting back home”!Categories: Head's Blog