Lord Wandsworth Leaderboard

Don't let single-sex schools dominate the debate

Published on isbi School News dated Saturday 29th of May 2010

Paul Herbert interviews new Cheltenham College Head

'Co-educational schools should take the initiative and not allow 'propaganda' from single-sex schools to dominate the debate about the best way to educate boys and girls. That is the view of Dr Alex Peterken, who takes over as Headmaster of co-educational Cheltenham College in September this year.

Interviewed for the isbi e-newsletter, Dr Peterken said: 'I am just a passionate believer in co-education. There is nothing more normal than boys and girls being educated together: it's a preparation for life.

'In co-educational schools we have been guilty in the past of simply fire-fighting the strong propaganda coming from the single-sex schools. Research suggests single-sex education by itself is not a massive factor in people doing better there are many other factors. In fact, both types of schools have their niche. It's a question of us [the co-educational schools] being a little bit clearer about what is so good about co-education.'

Eton-educated Dr Peterken has been Cheltenham College's Deputy Headmaster since 2008, having come to theGloucestershire boarding school after spending 11 years at Charterhouse, where he held several posts including Head of Theology, Head of Higher Education and Careers Guidance and Housemaster.

He further cautioned that, whether co-educational or single-sex, independent schools should not assume that simply by providing a sound academic education they are doing enough to prepare pupils for life.

'We have been noting with interest the increasing discussion in the media about school-leavers not being prepared for business, not knowing about being on time, how to dress for interviews and so on. It would be na�ve to look at what business is saying to schools and to think that none of it applies to our sector. People have got to come out of schools like this with a sense that they have to contribute to the world of work and to the community.'

To engage with this issue, the College will in September introduce a compulsory life skills course for the Lower Sixth based on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, by Sean Covey, son of Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

'The aim of this is to develop the pupils' sense of leadership and responsibility and to turn out young adults who are better at leading both other people and themselves. We have thought that such matters are important at Cheltenham College for a long time, and this is a new way of reinforcing it. We have already had phenomenal feedback from parents about how excited they are about it.'

Independent schools, a global brand of excellence

Speaking before the General Election, Dr Peterken said he hoped that, after the recent hiatus, the Charity Commission would include a broad range of activities within the public benefit test, rather than restricting it narrowly to the level of bursaries offered by a school. There were, he said, great opportunities for independent schools to help with areas such as science and maths teaching and for teachers across the two s ectors to learn from each other. 'If the Charity Commission looks positively on these things, the schools are far more likely to embrace them. The main parties are concerned not to be seen to be too close to the independent sector but I hope both will understand how significant the contribution is that this sectormakes not just to the British education system but also internationally. We are a global brand of excellence bringing in hundreds of millions of pounds to the economy and boosting our higher education sector.'

Cheltenham College attracted attention earlier this year for announcing what are believed to be the lowest fee increases nationally for a school of its kind: 0% in the junior school and 1% for the seniors. 'Affordability has a major effect in planning school finance. The market can only stand a certain level of fee increase,' said Dr Peterken. 'I am not sure we are ever going to go back to the golden era where there was a feeling that large building projects were standard and where investing regularly through fee surplus was standard procedure.'

The College has an 'exciting' development plan - Phase I involves creating a new library and social learning centre - but is adopting a financially prudent approach to its delivery. 'We have been very proactive in managing our costs and have a flexible timescale to rolling out the plan' said Dr Peterken. 'It is not something we are entering into lightly - it is firmly at the centre of our plans for the next few years.

We are keen to build up our capacity to deliver scholarships and bursaries and we see the enhanced learning environment planned in the new library as a key part in making sure our pupils are able to get the most out of their time here. It's really important that young people at school encounter all the electronic and more traditional resources possible to help them develop their independent research skills, thereby learning 'smarter' and in more detail.'

The use of technology and indeed social media in school is something Dr Peterken is keen to include rather than exclude. 'We have to really embrace the idea of educating the children in terms of e-safety and using the internet for research purposes. Facebook is a fantastic resource, which, for example, we have used to set up a learning group for A-level Economics. The real crux of the matter is in teaching pupils not only to use the internet wisely and appropriately but to teach them to apply their judgement to information found.'

Paul Herbert is a Director of Edge Media, which specialises on providing PR services to independent schools. He is also the principal contributor to the School news section of isbi e-newsletter and a regular speaker at isbi cluster group training days. If you have a news story that you want to share with other schools do please get in touch with Paul at info@edge-media.co.uk
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