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Hothousing vs Broad Curriculum – the great debate

Is there still a place for the well-documented hothousing approach or can schools achieve the same academic success and still provide a broad, balanced and creative curriculum for their pupils? Sid Inglis, Headmaster of Elstree School looks at how schools are re-examining their approach to teaching and learning.

The experience of lockdown has accelerated a mind-shift in schools as they re-examine their approach to teaching and learning; the emphasis shifting from being results-driven to a much broader, more creative curriculum.  The ‘hot-housing vs broad curriculum’ debate has been reignited and school leaders are finding new priorities for education in the post-Covid world.  Employers seek young people who not only have strong academic credentials (schools should not shy away from robust preparation for exams), but who also possess the soft skills of empathy, communication, problem-solving, leadership, teamwork, initiative and adaptability.  They also want well-balanced individuals who add energy, creativity and positivity to the workplace.

A school that has the label ‘academic hot house’ can be seen as being pushy, over-demanding and full of competitive, sharp-elbowed parents who just want results and apparently no fun for their children; by contrast a ‘broad curriculum’ gives the impression of a lack of drive and ambition.

I suggest that schools can happily combine the two.  Just because a school offers a variety of additional subjects including Art, Music, DT, PE, Dance and Drama to complement the examined subjects does not mean that it cannot be rigorous and academically aspirational.  Indeed, a school with a thriving extra-curricular programme, with children who are engaged, enthusiastic and interested in the world beyond their school gates, as well as being mentally and physically fit and well, is providing a better platform for them for later life.

At Elstree, we expect our pupils to be academically ambitious for themselves and to understand the value of hard work, but we also want them to be able to empathise with others, to problem-solve and be creative, not to mention possess a sense of perspective, fun and humour. Above all, they need to have the ability to communicate effectively and engage others in interesting and meaningful conversation.  A broad curriculum allows for these skills to be developed and any school that simply seeks to hot-house its pupils to apparent success is neglecting its responsibility to provide a varied, purposeful and supportive environment in which they can thrive in an ever-complicated post Covid world.

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