We believe fundamentally that "Today Matters". We react against the idea that school is too often a bit of a grind with the implication that one day it will pay off when you get qualifications. We believe that young people can produce work of real value to the world today. That philosophy of joy, respect, curiosity, kindness is at the heart of our culture. 

There are many things done in schools - from assemblies to parents' evenings - that need a rethink if we truly believe in the growth and development of the whole child. That is why we put oracy, (speaking) at the heart of all of our practices so that students can find their voice and articulate their ideas. Each of our practices reflect a deep respect and a kindness to others. 

Rethinking... assemblies

Assemblies are the engine of School 21’s culture. Rather than lining children up in rows to listen to a lengthy homily, assemblies at School 21 are the chance to involve pupils in building our culture. Assemblies last for 50 minutes in secondary, 20 minutes in primary and can be seen as giant lessons serving many purposes:

  • They act as CPD because the techniques can be adopted by the teachers who are part of the assembly.

  • They are a chance to develop a range of oracy techniques and get pupils regularly speaking confidently in front of big audiences.

  • They help to showcase big well-being ideas that are then followed up in the classroom or coaching time.

  • They are used to praise and celebrate achievement.

  • They are used to check that there is consistency of approach within year groups.

  • They are used to explore moral issues through the use of drama and oracy techniques.

Rethinking... parents’ evening

Parents’ evenings can be useful but they are often a waste of time. 

In secondary, pupils traditionally sit passively, receiving similar comments from 10 or 12 different teachers. In primary, they are usually not even in the room, not owning their learning, not given the chance to make their case and talk about their learning.

So for at least some of our parents’ evenings we put the pupil in the driving seat.

They present their story of learning, a presentation lasting up to 10 minutes, a warts and all description of their achievements that term but also the areas they know they need to develop. The presentation happens in front of the classroom teacher or coach, parents, and often a governor or external participant – something that heightens the sense of occasion. The panel then quiz the pupil on their learning, proving how they can do even better next term. 

This way of doing parents’ evening is empowering for the pupil, enhances their oracy skills, develops their well being and is often very moving for parents who sometimes see their child in a fresh light.

The importance of exhibition

If there is one practice that lifts the ceiling on classroom practice it is exhibition. Exhibitions usually happen at the end of term and involve pupils showcasing the beautiful work they have created that term in front of an authentic audience.

These events transform the school into a bustling hub of activity in which products and learning journeys from every year group are displayed: music, drama, sculpture, collections of writings, art, science and maths all have their place. Often beautiful work can be displayed outside of school because the authentic audience is in an authentic setting: a theatre, art gallery, community setting, business.

Exhibitions serve many purposes:

  • Pupils have the chance to reflect on their story of learning and use their oracy skills.

  • Pupils are made accountable for their efforts and are exposed if there is little to show for their term’s work.

  • Pupils and teachers are inspired by the healthy competition of seeing others’ work.

  • Pupils learn that in the real world people create work of real value.

  • Pupils learn the value of working in teams to meet deadlines.