The need to produce well-rounded individuals
The competition for places at top universities has reached an all-time high. It is not just Oxbridge – where some applicants are now partaking in pricey weekends of specially tailored tuition and guidance to prepare them for their interviews – but across the board. Since the Duke of Edinburgh award was founded by the Duke himself in 1956, it has become one of the most common extra-curricular activities to be cited on students’ university applications. All good schools have a wide range of sports available, a few choirs, leadership opportunities, and it is likely they offer other more niche activities, such as pupil-run magazines.
But what else can schools offer to increase their pupils’ chances of receiving an offer from their top choice of university? University places aside, what can they do to provide their students with core skills that are not developed by pure academic study? How can schools make sure that they are not merely becoming an academic hothouse, but are fostering key attributes, such as creativity, problem solving abilities, critical thinking skills and teamwork? These are the characteristics which employers are looking for, not just a string of grades. It is essential that schools think outside the box to stretch their pupils and provide them with every opportunity to turn into well-rounded individuals through the development of a broad skillset.
Sevenoaks School’s Middle School Diploma
Sevenoaks School in Kent seems to have the answer. They decided that the GCSE curriculum fails to offer the breadth of education needed to prepare pupils for sixth-form and beyond, for university and employment. In September 2017, Sevenoaks introduced the Middle School Diploma, which acts as a record of learning experiences gained throughout the middle school, and encourages the development of a broad skillset to create well-rounded individuals. These activities are categorised into eight areas for accreditation:
- Making and Performing – to encourage creativity through pursuits such as Theatre Production
- Service – cultivating philanthropy and social responsibility via voluntary service and charity activity
- Physical and Outdoor education – recognising dedication to sporting activity including the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme
- Academic engagement – achieved through commitment to study and personal reflective comments on assignments and progress
- Core courses – awarded for student participation and excellence in ‘Critical Perspectives’ and ‘Ten ideas that changed the world’ to cultivate global awareness
- Entrepreneurship – the development of business skills through participation in workshops, attending guest speaker events and entering schemes such as the school’s Business Plan competition
- A research project – exploring an area of personal interest and developing independent study and research skills
- Tutor recommendation – acknowledging any other activities where a student’s tutor has identified outstanding contribution such as leadership of group activity
Throughout the diploma, students are encouraged to reflect and use the process to become aware of individual strengths, areas to develop and set goals and create targets in order to progress. This reflection and self-understanding is key for their futures, in terms of further education but also the workplace.
This isn’t the first time that Sevenoaks have been ahead of the game. The diploma will work in conjunction with the other qualifications offered by the school – IGCSEs and GCSEs, of course, but also the Sevenoaks School Certificates (SSC). The SSC is their own equivalent qualifications for GCSE-level study; it is marked externally and the qualification is recognised by UCAS. Pioneered in 2010 to offer a broader and more stimulating education than the GCSE curriculum, Sevenoaks originally introduced the SSC for English Literature. Following its success, the school has since introduced the SSC in five other subjects including Art, Drama, Music, Technology (Robotics) and Technology (Visual Communications).
Tim Jones, Deputy Head at Sevenoaks School, said: “The Middle School Diploma is a statement of our belief that education can be ambitious, broad, inclusive and exciting. The Diploma sits alongside our Sevenoaks School Certificates, and focuses on the development of skills and attributes that our students will need for success in the future.’’