Exploring being human, be that real, digital, virtual or hybrid

The following blog arose from my attendance at the ISC Digital Strategy conference, on whose organising committee I sit and make a contribution. The 2019 Digital Strategy magazine can be found here, and my article on our school’s contribution can be found on pp27-30.

At the close of the 2019, Ian Yorston, Head of Digital Strategy at Radley College set a closing challenge in asking us to look at the purpose of education for humans, and how we should respond to the challenges posed by working in a ‘digital’ world, and then the ‘virtual’ world beyond. From the panel members, perhaps the firmest agreed response for educational direction to our children in our schools was that by Mark Anderson (@ICTevangelist) – “Above all, be kind”.

At my school we run a PSHE course through secondary, the focus being ‘Exploring being Human’, with 5 modules (Learning, Kindness, Relationships, Mindfulness and Resilience).  I suspect we wish the success criteria for all of these to be the same; that our students (and staff) get to learn to know what they think and do about each – in short, improving their meta-cognition and understanding meta-purpose.

Ian Yorston’s 3 Humans have already become 4 (the Hybrid), with the arrival of combination people/machines, though the spectacles, hearing aid and pacemaker have been joined by both robot and biological augmentations. Assisting our children through these ideas has always been one of the great purposes of literature, whether that be Aesop’s fables, Gulliver’s travels, Pinochio, ‘I Robot’ etc. You’ll recall that even at the dawn of writing as the first information technology, Socarates railed against it, ‘Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.”1

Through the focus of our Digital Strategy ideas and the locus of our 2019 conference, I think we have explored some of the key features and tensions in education, as well as showcased some of the possibilities for the future. This is the great ‘win’ in running a conference where thought leaders come together and think collectively in short rapid bursts. I did not attend the conference to be entertained but to learn, to become more aware and it has dawned on me ‘to be metacognitive about my next metapurpose’. To understand how AI is assisting humans just now, this article courtesy LinkedIn is worth a read:

Forbes continues their story on the Power of Purpose and Saqib Shaikh shares stories of people impacted by Seeing AI. (Part 2) https://lnkd.in/g9Jknbj

I know for certain why I won’t permit Year 11 and below pupils’ own small screens in use in my school; because the tendancy is for such screens to be always on and provide unfiltered and unfettered access to stimulants that engage and divert children’s attention. Adolescent addiction to screens is a major concern, because of the way they stimulate through dopamine release, though we know their digital tools can be of immense value. That’s why we provide wall-to-wall chromebooks at schools, so that access to the tools and data in the cloud is reliably available, within our ‘walled garden’ of @clairescourt.net of course 

Soldiers in conflict are now routinely provided with stimulants to ensure they are alert, more responsive and perceptive, and learn better in the same way we also medicate children with ADHD to gain similar improvements. We would not agree that all of our children should be medicated in this way because we know that running engaging and exciting lessons causes the same positive dopamine response, aiding learning without the need for chemical stimulant. Nor do we wish our students to suffer the raft of problems the soldiers post conflict now have to cope with, as indicated by the huge spike in PTSD in our veterans.  Correlation is not causation of course, but whatever we do we must aim to align positive educational outcomes with positive ways of working and, where possible, spot and block recommended solutions that encourage inappropriate endorphin release during the active learning cycle.2

At boarding school, I was caned relentlessly, and can’t and don’t speak of my alma mater with any affection at all. It was the arrival at university, where I encountered for the first time in 5 years a learning environment that was not built on fear and loathing, where I rediscovered my love for learning first gained at the prep school, where I now lead. Sir Anthony Seldon is surely right now in shining a light on the apparent peer-group requirement that University students should engage in social drug taking on entry to their first year.3  Seldon argues powerfully that these late adolescents are only emerging adults and need stronger pastoral care than currently on offer.  I feel we should keep our light shone fully on emerging technologies, specifically where they are suggested as lubricants for learning, not just because they could be ‘snake oil’ but because they will remove our students from the childhood they deserve to enjoy for a little longer. 

I am told that some secondary state sector colleagues are in a new frenzy around the curriculum because their regulator Ofsted are requiring them to gather the arts and technologies anew.  They no longer have the benefits of a ‘benign state’ providing them with one already prescribed. Many independent schools have this frenzy too, but they won’t shout the odds of course because “why, how and what we teach” has always been our responsibility. As cloud technology is now used though across the piece in our best schools, I suspect we have the courage to determine that children in our schools can enjoy their childhood with the support of this set of tools, not in spite of them, gathering all the benefits that biology, technology and hybridisation can bring. In the same way a ‘reveille’ can be a gentle shake or a trumpet blast, I feel the ISC Digital Strategy leaders can be ‘Heralds’ for 2020 too, optimistic for the future for all children in our schools’.

James Wilding, Claires Court, 29 November 2019




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All children are amazing, and different, and have time yet to grow.

One of the reason why the social media service Twitter suits professionals in Education is that you can trim your channel to include those other educators who also choose to post on social media on matters that interest you. I loved the ‘Parent evening’ board that ‘popped’ into my stream this week, which highlights the core drivers of those in education – those we teach are capable of amazing things, and where some don’t show that capability, it’s just that they can’t do it ‘YET’.

It’s that time of year again where at almost every level ‘Learners’ in education are starting to worry about forthcoming results. University applications have to be completed for selection for next Autumn, 11+ results and secondary schools entrance exams are under way, to sort ‘the chosen’ from the rest, and even at my own grandson’s age, application for nursery aged 1 has to be in (before conception perhaps) in order to secure the place for the toddler’s first shakey steps in a collective learning environment.

Claires Court has been pioneering a whole range of different ways of doing things for generations, and by different, I think I mean parent and learner friendly. Switching into a universal and timeless set of values has helped those of all faiths and none have greater trust in our philosophical approach to human development. Pioneering a skills & knowledge based approach to the curriculum has assisted us in ensuring that our children ‘can do’ irrespective of the challenges posed to them at each age and stage. Moving to cloud-based applications, services or resources made available to users on demand via the Internet wherever they are in the world has enabled a surefooted move into the use of mobile technologies for anytime, anywhere learning.

Many national governments have put all their faith in measuring secondary students performance by outcomes, most notable here in England via GCSEs and A levels. These 2 sets of secondary public exams both come at the end of 2 years of work for which the candidates are specifically prepared. The government has changed the style of these assessments three times since 2000, the most recent changes requiring the candidates to work smarter and harder than hitherto. The results are to be rationed, which means that if the entire cohort work harder then previously, actually their efforts won’t be rewarded with the results they hope for, because only 3%, 25%, 65% can gain the grade for which they strive.

I’m a great fan of Masterchef, mental chewing gum this time of year after a busy day at work. The wannabe chefs have to trust that the ingredients, machinery, ovens and recipes all work as expected, and where they get it wrong, ‘duck overcooked’ or ‘chilli taste too overpowering’ they know they’ve made the mistake and can learn from it. It’s true in education too; watching Commedia dell’Arte mask making on Arts afternoon with Year 9 yesterday, I was bowled over by the boys’ understanding of how their ‘new face’ will show the emotions needed for the part to be played – Animal Farm, Friday afternoon 14 February 2020 by the way, please contact me if you wish to attend.

Trust in what emotions look like goes hand in hand with effective group collaborative activity. Small gestures during rehearsals and final performances keeps events out of trouble and steers for final success. Plenty of opportunities ensures that practice not only makes perfect but makes permanent, so that as the steps get more demanding, so the footfall makes permanent. The author and performance consultant, Simon Sinek has attracted a worldwide following for his understanding on successful organisational cultures and what makes for great leadership, and I love his ‘graphical representation for the kind of people we might wish to develop – shown in my sketch below.

I guess we can all see that the individual we would wish in our team is Box 3, the High Performing / High Trust individual, and the one we want on our side is Box 1. What’s interesting is that the Box 2 person will always be disliked, whereas the Box 4 person not only can make a good contribution to the team, but can be coached and developed into the great team player you are looking for. Sinek’s experience (and mine it must be said) is that you can’t ever coach trustworthiness into a fully formed adult – inherently and repeatedly they will always let you down. The coloured arrows indicate what’s possible, the red indicating NOT. You can watch a short clip of Sinek’s ideas here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPDmNaEG8v4

The point of this blog is to highlight why setting work that is too hard and testing too often in schools at the expense of building trust and cooperation causes a failure of purpose. When the children know we are supporting them and trust that we will help them build the skills, then they will trust us and give of their best. That journey into trust along the ‘x’ axis is essential – inevitably they will then be able to take risks and build the skills they need, and move up to the position of High Performance and High Trust later on in life. In short, that’s how to ensure they ‘pop’ at the right time!

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Here we go again – United Kingdom to the Ballot Box – 12 December 2019

The first half of the Autumn Term at Claires Court has been all about settling in the new boys and girls, establishing more broadly for all what the objectives for the year are to be and then progress with the business of ensuring our school community gets on with its learning , the stretch of acquiring new skills, developing talents, rising to the many challenges that form part of the modern education landscape, whilst… recovering from the initial failure of our planning applications for a new campus whilst… buckling up our seatbelts, because of course UK PLC was due to leave Europe on the 31 October 2019.

Fair do’s, when all said and done, our 2 week half-term fits our educational ecosystem quite well. The school days are long, the diverse activities and commitments take their toll, and it’s nice to have a decent length of time in which to run a wide range of educational trips and give all those taking part a breather too. Blow me down, whilst school’s out, the Prime Minister has decided that ‘Divorce’ can wait a while longer; he’s going to the British public to seek a full mandate for his many and varied policies beyond Brexit. Well good luck to Boris, and he may very will swing the country behind his message, but I for one can’t really see past the ‘Leaving Europe’ bit, because in that major political decision lies the relative affluence of our country for the next 5 years or so.

Inevitably I spend almost all my working time with and around young people and their teachers. What’s been so frustrating for us all over the past 3 years is that whilst the political landscape has been in gridlock over the ‘Deal/No deal’ debate, the wider real world has been waking up to a range of regional and world wide calamities the like of which we have not seen before in my lifetime. If we can just take the UK-wide struggle we are having to ensure we have effective business, welfare, care and community structures which have had to face the brunt of austerity cuts and privatisations, it seems ludicrous for the country’s leadership to be ‘fiddling’ whilst the ‘house burns down’. Politically I have always been a radical liberal, enjoying that freedom to make my own choices because I have been able to rely on the wider society to be well ordered and serving of the public. Our public servants, be they teachers, medics, the police, local and government service or the armed forces can only work well if the funds and resources are there, and they have clearly diminished beyond the point of profit/loss.

It’s difficult to be anything other than horrified by the emerging outcomes from the Grenfell enquiry and all that means for all the other tower blocks in the land clad in similar clothing, and for the fire and emergency services that simply couldn’t cope that day. In terms of law and order, cutting so deep into the Police service has meant that personal, violent crime is more obviously affecting the young and crime more broadly in terms of trafficking people or drugs lights up our newspapers far too frequently. More broadly, cutting back on legal aid has permitted a dramatic erosion of civil liberties and opportunities to make challenge, with justice per se becoming the preserve of the rich or its lack becoming the friend of the criminal. The sight of politicians visiting schools and hospitals has always been seen as a win-win photo opportunity for the political candidates canvassing for our vote; not so any more, with so many existing institutions clearly starved of the funds they need to keep their bricks, mortar and softer services in good repair. It’s no surprise to see the professionals, patients and parents giving new meaning to the words ‘having a go’ on their celebrity guests for the hour or so.

Pulling out the focus further onto the international landscape, and it’s equally clear that the world is crying out and in pain. From the many and varied regional conflicts and aggressions to the whole climate change phenomenon, humanity seems hell bent on its own destruction, and there probably isn’t anything we can do about it personally. And right on cue, the latest BBC BioPic, ‘Seven worlds, One Planet’ has started on TV to remind us all how small we actually are compared with Mother Earth, but nevertheless our impact as a species has been to the utter detriment of all the others. TV shows, as with all data-streams are shown to entertain and inform, and in Sir David Attenborough as broadcaster, we all feel we have a narrator with integrity, who will ‘tell it right’ and guide us to behave in a less harmful way to the environment in which we live. Long live this national treasure!

Integrity is something that seems to have been in as short supply as money as the various governments of the past 10 years have sought to steer us as a nation through the choppy economic landscape brought about by the banking crash of 2007/8. Promises seem easier to make and harder to keep than ever, be they cheap ones such as ‘We are leaving on the 31st’ or big number ones such as ‘We send £350 million to EU a week, let’s fund our NHS instead’. Leadership seems to me to so much more than just winning an election, and yet this is exactly what we are faced with in 6 weeks time. We are required to choose a party member to represent our interests in Parliament; in making that cross on the ballot box, we then keep our fingers crossed too that the party they stand for will win sufficient seats to be the leading party in the House of Commons and thus become the governing party of the country.

Whatever my politics, I am a democrat, so I will indeed trust in the ballot box and mark my card accordingly. If Theresa May, our local MP, had won the last Brexit round in March, then I have no doubt I would have been free to vote on all the other policy stand points I have itemised above, and the political parties would have been presenting a balanced beauty parade in my view. Sadly Brexit still looms largest, and it will dominate. I’d clearly love to see it swept from the table in one blow, so that we could indeed use the otherwise-to-be-wasted cash on supporting the obvious spending increase on public services to come, whoever we elect. If the young people I work with are to be listened to, they really want the Extinction Rebellion to grow, that global environmental movement which aims to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse.

From my time at university where I studied the Biological sciences and ‘discovered’ Ecology, I’ve understood the very careful balance that humanity needs to walk to keep its impact in check. We genuinely have all those balancing mechanisms in play now, and the rest of the world remains full of admiration for our country’s way of working. Whilst we can’t see it because of the ‘fog of political war’, the institutions that make our country great are all still there, and genuinely just need a spell of true leadership to permit them all to be nourished back to good health. Perhaps a slight tweak on our school values will indeed help us all with how we place our vote, for if we can fill parliament with 650 members who abide by these, whatever their politics, our government will thrive:

” Responsibility for ourselves, Respect for others (who may have different views and needs), Loyalty to our country (above party) and Integrity above all (we promise not to lie)”.

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In our shared backyard…

Claires Court’s senior school prize giving was held on Thursday, our annual celebration of the last academic year’s main achievements, scholastic, social, spiritual, sporting and service. If you’d like to watch the event, you can see that here on the school’s YouTube channel – https://youtu.be/bwPOS5-jOho – fyi, our Principal guest was Dr Peter Woodroffe, former pupil and now Deputy CEO of the Independent Schools Association (ISA).

Given our long term commitment to RBWM, we invite all the leaders of the local community with whom we engage, including all of our elected council members and important council employees. Our local ‘relations’ so to speak stretch across the sports clubs we partner with, such as Maidenhead Rowing club and Phoenix Rugby Club, major social welfare organisations such as Lions and Rotary, through to the Chamber of Commerce and local newspaper editors. It was with great pleasure we welcomed Simon Dudley, just recently stepped down as leader of the council and as our local member for Riverside, in which the Senior Boys school sits. We’ll be having a by-election soon for his replacement, and it will be interesting to see who get’s elected in his place. I copy below Simon Dudley’s tweet from the event, great affirmation from a person of such influence.

Cllr Dudley’s support for our own school’s planning application to consolidate onto one site did us little good it seems, with so many of the local planning counsellors speaking against our proposals. More broadly, it’s fair to say the borough’s entire planning management seems in complete disarray, what with RBWM Planning manager Jeni Jackson now resigning and the Mayor calling an extraordinary general meeting of the RBWM Council for 23 October, at which the Borough Local Plan BLP) submitted version will be reopened or as likely, withdrawn.

The problem with the BLP is that it seems it was submitted prematurely, before so much of the detailed consultations and evidence gathering had been completed. As one example of many, the BLP included a plot of open green belt land near our Junior school, just the other side of the Railway bridge on Cannon Lane, known as plot HA22, despite the fact that it sits as a ‘bale-out’ area for planes taking off from White Waltham aerodrome! In her most recent letter to the National Inspector of the RBWM BLPsv, Louise Phillips. Ms jackson writes “Further thought has been given to the proposed allocation of the site for housing in the light of the agreed safeguarding position with the Airfield. The Council intends to consult on a recommended proposed change to remove this as a housing site allocation from the Borough Local Plan. This would resolve the conflict with the Neighbourhood Plan designation as Local Green Space and respond to the Regulation 20 representation from the owners and operators of the Airfield”.

The political landscape of Maidenhead has been completely redrawn by the emergence of ‘The Borough First’ party, formed from previously affiliated councillors of the Conservative party, angry at the railroading through of the BLP without sufficient local discussion. One major iconic piece of land, that of Maidenhead Golf club, has been included, the proposal including the building of 2000 houses and a secondary school on the 150 acres of mature woodland, with views that stretch across the Thames Valley to Windsor Castle. With the local council completely redrawn, it will be fascinating to see how what the new shape of Maidenhead will look like in 2020.

As this is our shared back yard with Maidenhead, here our my thoughts on the adjustments needed, both to the wider Borough plan, to include the missing strategic infrastructure Mrs Phillips has recognised are absent from the BLP, as well as our own movement to a one site solution for the school. For Maidenhead to hit its required housing solution by 2033, some 13,000 houses must be built. Whilst local planning continues to suggest it only has to find 7000 dwellings/houses in the remaining 10 years, in reality it is so far behind in the release of new housing that actually double those numbers are needed. Moreover, as it has planned none of the additional infrastructure required, it’s hasn’t yet placed a new sewage plant nor roadways to serve the new housing estates. One of the unique features of the plan is that it envisages half the housing load being built in our existing gardens, and that for half the other half, the flood plain will serve as a suitable place to build. The latter has the Environment agency ‘frothing’ so to speak, for with the change in our weather climate, when the ‘wets’ come they’ll be coming in typhoons, so using higher land out of the flood plain is their alternative solution for RBWM.

For our town, with the high ground to the west and north west in the ‘green belt’, the solution can only be to reopen the consultation on its usage, and the Mayor has already suggested that has to happen, by calling an extraordinary meeting of the Brough council for Wednesday 23 October. The major additional road infrastructure needed to help carry the load of the North-South traffic as it passes around Maidenhead are additional roads to the Braywick Road (A308), running from the A404 at Bisham south through the town to Bray and Windsor. The obvious solution is to upgrade the B3024 and adjacent Drift Road which run parallel to the A308, around the south west of Holyport from Oakley Green and Ascot through to White Waltham and Twyford. The final link from White Waltham to the A4 would be completed by adopting the road along the edge of the aerodrome, connecting it the major road over the railway at Westacott Way, before joining the A4 at Maidenhead Thicket. Whether national and local government will find the funds for that relief road improvement yet is for others to decide, but for sure, until that happens, the pressure on the local roads around Woodlands Park, Holyport, Bray and Maidenhead by the Railway station cannot be relieved.

As for the school, inside that great geographical arc around Maidenhead I have described by way of road infrastructures, the land involved has only 4 ‘owners’, RBWM, the National Trust, the Copas Family (Farms) and the Prior family (Summerleaze gravel), apart from that which we own, 60 acres on Cannon Lane. Given the ‘locked-in’ nature of the other land, the only destination that we can target is our edge of settlement-land where Claires Court Junior Boys sits. The compelling ‘very special circumstances’ case remains, and it needs to be heard fully, either through re-application to the RBWM Borough wide planning committee or by appeal to the Secretary of State. You can read that case here – link – and our closing letter to RBWM planning here. Please do give me direct feedback if you wish on these ideas, for Claires Court is a major education provider and employer in our own back yard, and we have every intention of serving Maidenhead for generations to come.

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Inspired anew – how adversity brings out the best in us!

Followers of Claires Court school and its enthusiasm to develop a new campus for its pupils, staff and families will know by now that the RBWM planning committee on Wednesday night (28.8.2019) rejected our enabling applications for the school, our new playing fields with our partner Maidenhead Hockey club, together with the housing that would in part fund the new development.

It’s probably true that most planning applications of this nature are refused at this hurdle; for ‘us’ applicants who feel (as we do) that ours has ‘great weight’, we have the rights to make appeal against this decision to the national inspectorate. Pleasingly in principle, we may proceed to the next stage, for which there is no additional fee. Since wednesday, the ‘team’ is considering its various options, of course, and will take steps accordingly.

My brother Hugh, Dave Taylor from the Hockey club, Andy Black from PRP (our planning advisor) and Elkie Russell (Berkeley Homes) spoke with passion and focus; despite the very short time we had available (Dave and I had to share 180 seconds on our playing field proposals for example), all of our supporting speakers gave of their absolute best, and I am deeply proud that we were able to present our case so coherently.

Two other supporters deserve especial mention this morning, those being Charlie Stay and Gabby Lindley. Charlie had agreed to speak to committee on her experiences as a student with us; during the day, whilst working in our summer camp she ‘lost’ her voice, so her good friend Gabby stood in on the evening with 5 minutes notice and gave her speech for her. I print below Charlie’s speech (the 1 minute version), for wider audience review:

My name is Charlie Stay, and I have just completed my degree at Reading University, gaining a 2/1 in English Literature. 

I entered a local secondary school in Year 7 in 2007; I have special educational needs, now identified as Dyslexia, that were not recognised and a growing health issue of anxiety, leading to school refusal. My father was a trooper in the Household cavalry, serving in Bosnia and Afghanistan, my mother a nursery teacher; my parents no longer recognised my 12 year old self as their daughter and felt they had no option other than to find a school in which my learning needs could be identified and met, and I joined Claires Court into Year 8 in September 2008.

The school’s whole provision enabled me to flourish academically, because they recognised my learning needs and met them. I grew in confidence, socially because I loved taking part in the arts, dance, dama, sport and many other extra curricular activities the school offers. My peer group of girls did just as well, and now include Olympians, GB Hockey players, fellow graduates from Uni and through my life in the Sixth Form I have made many lifelong friends, boys and girls.  

The school is an amazing place, with its inclusive ethos of providing for special needs children and weaving them into every element of school life, I felt then as I do now, that my learning is different not difficult; my strengths as a graduate lie not just in writing and the analysis of literature, but also in the ability to understand end create in film and media, key requirements in the new economies in which UK PLC leads the world. 

I urge members to consider my story, one so similar to many others within Claires Court, a school that utterly deserves to modernise its facilities and bring the boys and girls together onto one campus, thus securing its long term future.

Watchers on the big screen upstairs saw that when Gabby delivered these words last night, they report that for the first time the panel members paid full attention to our case, and it was nice for her to receive such positive mention from councillors at the time, even though they utterly disagreed with our proposition shortly thereafter. Well done Gabby and Charlie indeed.

I am so proud of my teaching staff and of the pupils who have benefited so positively whilst in our case and subsequently whilst at Uni and/or work. If failing at this hurdle was going to daunt me, Charlie’s spoken words by Gabby inspired me instead. School returns from Monday, and the phony war of planning argument will be replaced by the challenge once more of running and working in an outstanding school alongside so many amazing people, young and old alike.

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Interesting times in the RBWM Planning office…

They have been at this since 2013, and despite the RBWM planners ‘ protestations that the draft Borough Local Plan submitted version is the working solution, national planning inspector, many local pressure groups and neighbouring local authorities have begged to differ. And yesterday we learned the Mayor has called this Extraordinary full council meeting for the 23 October to restart the consultation process…

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Claires Court, the Equality act and our new campus…

Since the passing by parliament of the Equality Act in 2010, society in general, and education in particular has had to adjust its steering more than somewhat. Here’s the starter for 10 from the Government’s own website:

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act, making the law easier to understand and strengthening protection in some situations. It sets out the different ways in which it’s unlawful to treat someone. Find out more about who is protected from discrimination, the types of discrimination under the law and what action you can take if you feel you’ve been unfairly discriminated against.

The act came into service in 2011, and had an immediate impact within education: It has three main elements; in carrying out their functions, public bodies are required to have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate discrimination and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act,
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it,
  • foster good relations across all characteristics – between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.

There is so much more that I could write here, but in reality, when the the Court of Appeal in October 2017 held that complete segregation of girls and boys in a mixed-sex school is discriminatory on grounds of sex, per se the separation by gender caused detriment. Most of the diamond* schools in the country (circa 20) share the same campus and during breaktimes etc. the girls and boys can socially interact. In lessons and during other times of segregation, whilst the genders may be separated, at least the facilities are identical, so no discrimination through provision arises.

Claires Court was a boys’ school when in 1993 it acquired the Girls’ school, and saved the latter from closure. 26 years later, both boys and girls’sections are thriving, but the demand for girls places is circa 50% of boys because there are simply so many other independent girls schools around sharing the same catchment area. The school has carefully planned over the years how to ‘balance’ the differences in provision, and as the latest GCSE results indicate, there is little to separate the boys from the girls – both circa 90% 5 or more 4-9 Gcses a head. In their most recent inspection in January 2017, the Independent Schools Inspectorate gave us an excellent rating, and I hope they would today. Except of course the landscape has changed. Here is the Deputy Director of the Department for Education, Peter Swift, writing last month to us:

“However it is critically important that there is no discrimination in the way this provision is organised and delivered. As well as boys and girls having to have an equally wide range of subject choices, it is important too that the teaching is of the same quality and also that the facilities they have access to are equally good. Where a diamond school operates on a single site, this last point is not likely to be a problem because boys and girls will be using the same facilities — the gym, the IT suite, the chemistry labs, etc. But for a school that operates on separate sites this can present a prodigious problem. To comply with the law it would be necessary to ensure that neither site had facilities that were superior — or inferior — to the other. This is likely to be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. There is a theoretical alternative of moving the children from site to site so that they only ever use the same facilities, at either site (eg a gym at one site and an IT suite at the other, etc). But, depending on the distance between sites, this may present insuperable operational problems as well as being wasteful in terms of time, money and transport costs, as well as all the additional transport being deleterious to the environment.
Consequently it is likely that a diamond school that has traditionally operated from separate boys and girls sites may conclude that the only way that it will be possible to comply with the law will be to re-engineer their buildings so that provision for boys and girls is co-located in the same premises. “ You can read the whole letter here – http://schl.cc/5P

Right from the start of planning our new campus back in 2013, we were crucially aware of the existential threat arising from this legislation; whilst the AL Hijrah judgement forced everyone’s hands 2 years ago, reinforced of course by the DfE’s clear guidance from June 2018 that segregation per se caused detriment in schools, the writing has long been on the walls. The Independent Schools Standards Regulations demand that schools meet a whole raft of curricular, pastoral care, welfare, accommodation and leadership standards, and we’ve got to provide equality of opportunity and provision for our children at comparable ages. Wiser counsel than me have studied the form; here’s Kevin McDaniel, Director of Children’s Services on the matter in July:

“While the local authority does not have a duty to ensure that independent schools
comply with this guidance, in this context, I appreciate your point of view, that the
proposed consolidation of the Claires Courts School sites onto a single location is a
sensible way to comply with the guidance whilst still maintaining the chosen diamond model of education. I should however note that it is not the only way to achieve compliance with the guidance.”

Kevin McDaniel is right in suggesting other routes are open to us; for example we could apply to upgrade our sites to meet the mutual requirements of all, or we could move away from our single sex model from age 5 to 16 and go fully co-ed. Trouble is, since 1990, RBWM planning advice has directed against any further major development on the Senior Boys site, so there exists no option here to add Art textiles, food, or additional music facilities for senior boys, nor swimming pool, playing fields and the like. There are lots more examples, and not just for seniors but juniors too. All our arguments are fully rehearsed in our submission to the planning authority, and their judgement just published agrees with ours:

With regard to the above, evidence has been provided on the shortcomings of the existing school buildings and the challenges this puts in place for sustaining and improving educational standards in addition to complying with the Equality Act 2010. There is also evidence to demonstrate that alternatives in relation to addressing the shortcomings of the school buildings on the existing sites would present difficult challenges in terms of the practicalities and financially,
and there are no suitable or reasonably available sites that are sequentially preferable than the proposed site. Therefore, it is considered that the proposal would maintain choice in school places that may otherwise be lost. In accordance with paragraph 94 of the NPPF this should be given great weight to support the proposal and as part of the case for VSC which is assessed below.
” see here page 96, para 9.149

With only days to go until the planning meeting, it seems we are still having to explain and justify our reasons for bringing the school together onto one site; primary legislation has changed the educational landscape as it does from time to time. Over a SIX year period, we’ve consulted and cooperated through the planning process, and next Wednesday sees us able to have our application heard.
Go to clairescourt-newcampus.com to get involved.

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