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Announcements > Our ethos > From the Headmaster

From the Headmaster

15 Jun 2019
Our ethos

Message from the Headmaster

There are only seven Quaker schools in England. Independent, non-selective and unique, they are founded on the Quaker principles of equality, truth and respect. We have successfully lived and taught by this philosophy since 1801, yet there is limited awareness of our approach within the wider education sector.

Quaker schools research project

To determine whether there is any quantifiable correlation between the Quaker principles we embed and our students’ engagement and success with learning, we recently took part in a research project by the University of Bristol’s Nigel Newton: Schools for Wellbeing – the Educational Significance of Quaker School Culture.
The findings of this research revealed that our Quaker values have an impact on learning. They result in students who are more likely to develop a love for learning, use deep learning approaches and achieve academically – while suffering from much less stress and anxiety.

So what are the learnings here for educational professionals outside of a Quaker school? Well, the study had some very interesting and perhaps surprising findings. Quaker schools, like the majority of schools across the UK, are non-selective, yet counter-intuitively our students perform very well in exams – consistently out-performing national averages at all levels.

These strong academic achievements are not because we take the cream but, as the research found, is down to the Quaker culture within our schools. The research attributes the open, respectful relationships our students have with teachers, who they feel are "on their side", with them taking increased responsibility for their own learning.

Interestingly, the research also found a clear link between school culture and the Quaker practice of silence in our weekly Meeting for Worship. As teachers, we appreciate the impact of an entire school sitting in silence, which the research showed contributed to the unique atmosphere at our schools. In these sessions everyone is equal and anyone can speak should they wish and students saw this as the personification of the culture in real terms. They feel they can be themselves and speak freely in whatever forum and are more likely to be enquiring and open to exploring concepts without fear of ridicule – which in turn deepens their learning. These periods of silence are also very calming and allow time for personal reflection. It’s incredibly powerful and my favourite part of the school week.

Teachers also took part in the research and although most are not Quakers, which is the same for the majority of students in Quaker schools, they value the holistic approach which gives them a sense of freedom to teach students as individuals. They don’t feel pressured by evaluations of their roles based exclusively on students’ exam performance.

I will be the first to champion raising academic achievement in schools. However, as the study suggests, it’s time to ditch the exam factory model and empower learners through the creation of a climate of mutual trust and respect. After all, children don’t grow taller by measuring.

Iain Kilpatrick is the Headmaster at Sidcot School 

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