Kew House School Headmaster Will Williams discusses the ways in which the GCSE diet can be enriched with a holistic and interconnected learning approach

‘Holistic education’, where do we start? The concept has ancient roots in Greek pedagogy, was championed in the early 20th century by Jan Smuts in Holism and Evolution and carried forward by the writings of Abraham Maslow with the concept of ‘self-actualization’ in the latter part of the century.

The idea of a broader, fuller, interconnected treatment of a young person’s educational pathway is a striking counterpoint to the linear, subject-silo, test-of-recall basis of the Victorian Education system that we in England are yearning to adapt, change or just throw away. The momentum of educational discussions during Covid, exemplified by the Education Commission convened by The Times, has stalled. 

For now, we are stuck with GCSEs, but we are not alone in testing young people at this age. Cambridge University research reveals that only seven countries globally with comparable excellence in national education, do not externally assess 16-year-olds. The focus on examination assessment is one strand of the deeper discussion regarding the efficacy of our education system in preparing our children for their world.

“It is a strength of independent education that we can innovate and move in the direction that we feel is best for our pupils”

The response to the challenge at national level is stymied in the vested interests of exam boards and mired in the political cycle, with education a football, rather than a jewel in the eyes of the political classes. This has left independent schools to go it alone in creating innovative curricula to broaden, deepen and, most importantly, interconnect the strands of their pupils’ learning. Bedales School, from its origins was innovative, but not alone, in creating its own curriculum, with its Bedales Assessed Courses (BAC). More recently many other schools have attempted to create innovative, holistic diets for their pupils.

These attempts have not been made, to avoid the glare of GCSE result performance, they have been created to provide the best education for their pupils, despite a lack of evolution – or even revolution – within the public examination framework. At Kew House School, we have our own Gardener Award (GA) scheme. By mapping the content of the core curriculum, coalescing around five themes; enterprise, perspectives, wellbeing, community and creativity, our pupils gain a coherent insight into topics as they meet them across subjects either simultaneously or as part of their spiral curriculum. In this way, they are still prepared for their subject GCSE exams, but gain a greater interrelation understanding of the issues.

Kew House School on delivering interconnected learning
Kew House School Head Will Williams says that enriching GCSEs is about helping pupils to make connections and develop skills, values and knowledge beyond the curriculum

We are not content to rest there, we add curriculum time in the ‘GA’ strand to deliver statutory elements, but also teach skills and values in the context of the areas they are meeting in their core curriculum. Finally, we bring this all together with the students using an online platform to register their own additional engagements and successes: volunteering, music exams, extracurricular activities.

At each Key Stage, the GA teacher moderates the full range of the pupils’ achievements, with various forms of assessment, including presentations, interviews, group tasks and competitions. We then award a GA qualification at the appropriate level. It is a strength of independent education that we can innovate and move swiftly when we are not being lead at the national scale, and in the direction that we feel is best for our pupils.

Kew House School

Further reading: Are exams fit for purpose?