When selecting a school for their children, parents should prioritise a broad curriculum in order to see soft skills flourish for the workplace of the future, says Director of Queen’s Gate Junior School, James Denchfield
The workplace of tomorrow is a far cry from the one for which we were prepared during our own schooldays. The average professional of the future will embark upon eight or nine different vocations throughout their career—the second may bear little resemblance to the first; the ninth could well be as far removed from it as lion taming is from accountancy. Artificial intelligence will colonise many traditional professions but it will also produce limitless new ones. Those who succeed will do so in the territories where computers will not be able to navigate by using creativity, adaptability and communication. How are the best schools preparing their pupils for this change?
A decade ago, educators believed that, along with examination results, the most important way to future-proof their pupils was to ensure that they became tech-savvy and understood new media. What has become clear since then is that the years which lie between junior school and work are aeons, in tech terms. How can we predict what kind of tech skills our pupils will need in ten or twenty years’ time? Will there even be any benefit in becoming proficient in the use of technology when it becomes autonomous and, as the phrase goes, intelligent? And, significantly, will examination results still be a credible symbol of worth?
The real skills that are needed for the future are not new and they do not have built-in obsolescence: resilience, creativity, critical thinking, debating, collaboration, independence. As parents, when choosing a school for your children, you should feel confident that the curriculum nurtures these skills, not just by paying lip-service in optional clubs provision, but through the variety of subjects taught, the style of teaching and the ethos of the school.
As the Director of Queen’s Gate Junior School, I assess our curriculum frequently. It can be a complicated balancing act: the core subjects will always remain our first priority, but there must be enough space for new explorations that push pupils out of their comfort zones and demand that they ask questions of their own learning. Our Junior School girls do very well in Maths and English; but they also study Design and Technology, Science and STEAM, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin and German, all taught by specialist staff who teach their subjects up to A Level; timetabled Enrichment lessons expose our pupils to topics as diverse as philosophy and entrepreneurship.
In the same way that the traditional office is fast becoming an anachronism, the classroom must evolve and become a dynamic workspace. The ‘Computer Suite’ will, in all likelihood, give way to less static models. Our STEAM Room is a multi-purpose, flexible learning zone where portable technology allows pupils to explore links between art, engineering, music, coding and any number of inter-related disciplines. Our three science laboratories allow pupils from 4 to 18 to take a hands-on approach to practical, living science (they are also home to our stick insects and chicks!). We are not an exams factory; we are a creative thinking hub.
When the London 11+ Consortium (of which Queen’s Gate School is a part) changed its entrance examination procedure last year, I was delighted. Gone were the flabby two-and-a-half hour English and Maths papers which required ten-year-olds (and, often, eight and nine-year-olds—for some schools begin exam prep ridiculously early) to rehearse past papers endlessly. In its place, a snappy 70-minute cognitive ability test—almost completely tutor-proof—and a greater emphasis on character and thinking skills, demonstrated at interview. Skills for the future, in other words.
The new assessment procedures not only allow teachers to spend more classroom time ensuring that their pupils’ education offers opportunities to develop ‘soft skills’, they positively insist upon it—and this is welcome news for schools like ours where breadth of experience in education has always been central to our academic vision.
Director of Queen’s Gate Junior School
Queen’s Gate is an independent girls’ school in South Kensington for 4-18-year-olds.