The Old Tudor Building and the Headmaster's Lawn

Hear from Principal, Matt Ford

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We have a saying in the UK that “one size does not fit all.” Clothes shops and shoe shops understand this, but many schools do not.

When the “food and clothing” education has become the past, the elite education makes the society unable to bear its heavy burden. In order to make the children don’t “lag behind”, the unexpected over education is gradually eating away the money, time and energy of each family, forming an “educational involution” in which the input and harvest are not proportional.

At this time, individualized education seems to be the only way to break the situation, opening up more possible tracks for “maybe destined to be ordinary” children. Personality education is easy to say, how to combine educational feelings and direction and imply them in the practice of running a school is very important.

“Pursuing student-centered individualized education” has always been the idea and educational practice direction of Matthew Ford, the British president of RGSG Nanjing. Today, he will explains to us how to break through the encirclement with individualized education in the era of educational involution with his education practises.

The problem is that schools are complicated places. They need to coordinate time, space, physical resources, children and teachers. That is not easy.Yet it is all too common in schools around the world to force teachers and students to follow rigorous systems that, whether by design or not, bring about a certain uniformity.

An element of uniformity is important; please do not misunderstand me. If members of a community cannot work together for the common good, displaying mutual respect and tolerance, you end up with anarchy. Anarchic schools are unlikely to be places where much learning is taking place.

So there has to be some sort of averaging within our schools. We need a “best-fit” model.Give that, what can we can do to recognise individuality within our schools?

One thing I am a firm believer in is letting teachers teach in the way that they want to teach. If they are getting good results, it does not matter how they do it. There is no right or wrong method to teaching if, ultimately, the students are making good progress. If teachers are allowed to teach in the manner they want, they generally feel more positive about a school and its leaders. They feel empowered and, most importantly, they can play to their strengths. Few perform at their best when doing something they are uncomfortable with or simply don’t believe in.

School inspections in my country, the U.K., used to be all about observing the teacher. These inspections were widely dreaded and despised. What is the teacher doing? How well is the teacher doing it? All eyes were on the teacher. And there were endless “approved” things that inspectors wanted to see the teacher doing in order to get a lesson rated as outstanding. Happily, the U.K. has moved away from this type of inspection now. It was becoming clear that it is quite possible to have a teacher ticking these boxes, and apparently delivering an outstanding lesson, whilst there were actually students in the room who were learning next to nothing, despite the appearance of “outstanding teaching”.

Educational theories developed by experts in universities were promoted by the government for urgent adoption in schools. Teachers were told that this method, or that method was the best way to teach children. Teachers received training and were told to do this in order to have their lessons rated as outstanding. However, the problem with theories, as any scientist will know, is that they are usually changed or, at worst, discredited completely. And so it was, and often is, with education. These theories came and went and teachers wondered what the point was in taking any notice of them at all.

So, inspections have moved towards watching (and talking to) the students in lessons. Are they actively engaged? Are the tasks suited to their own abilities? Are they aware of their own current level and what they need to be doing to improve? And are they making progress? If all of these things are true, it is irrelevant what the teacher is doing. And if they are not true, it does not matter what inspection boxes the teacher is ticking, or what grading he is getting for his teaching, because the students are not learning.

A good teacher needs to know his or her subject well enough to challenge and inspire the most able children, but also needs to know what it is like to struggle and to find something difficult. Whilst expecting high standards, discipline and courtesy, they need to enjoy the children who are a little bit naughty and challenging at times! A good teacher needs to communicate with clarity and to empathise with young people. A good teacher needs to be patient and kind. There are additional things a teacher can learn, and will pick up through experience, but without these key qualities, a teacher will never teach well. This is a very good reason why, for example, a Physics teacher with a doctorate from Harvard is not necessarily a good teacher. I have seen countless examples of teachers who are supremely well qualified on paper, but who never managed to inspire the young, and who are not able to teach them well. Equally, I have seen many teachers with rather mediocre academic qualifications who have the gift of teaching well, and whose students adore them and excel in their classes.

As for the students, I believe we must celebrate the individual. We must recognise the talents in each child. The quiet child at the back of the class… what does he or she really think? What does he or she really enjoy? Rather than children being forced to fit the mold of our schools, our programmes schools should, as far as possible, be flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the individual child.

The most outstanding talent, whether it be in business and finance, science and technology or music and the arts, very rarely comes from someone who was a “mainstream child” that neatly fitted the mold. There is often something about them that makes them different. They are sometimes the people who struggled at school and who could not adapt to the system. They may have been unhappy, unfulfilled, and their teachers probably did not expect them to achieve much. However, they went on to great things once free of the school system.

Let us take Albert Einstein as an example. He was an able student, but the disciplined style of his tuition at his Munich school did not suit him at all. He despised learning facts and he dropped out of school when he was 15. He failed the entrance exam for a polytechnic school because he was not interested in some of the subjects required for the entrance examination. In the end he was allowed in, but he struggled. He graduated, but only just, and with a poor degree. He went to work as a clerk in a patent office. Here was an education system that saw young Einstein as a mediocre student, and failed to recognise his extraordinary mind. There are numerous examples of exceptional people who were either seen as nothing special or, even worse, fell out of the school system because it did not suit them.

We are all different. Maths at Oxford University is right for some. Studying at catering school to become a chef is right for others. And if people end up on the university course or career that is right for them, that is a success.