This blog is part of a series in the spirit of ‘Cranleigh Thinking’, intended to provoke thought and debate and raise questions. The arguments are born out of observation and experience and I make no apology for holes and gaps for readers to fill and question.

This particular series raises questions about the nature of curriculum, national policy and why Cranleigh has chosen the ‘Cranleigh Thinking’ approach.

For a fuller context, please refer to the blogs Running with a purpose, The curriculum beast, Getting Back on Track with a Purpose and Unleashing a Beast.

In the blogs, Running with a purpose, and the Can Old Ways be Pathways?, I argued that the purpose of a curriculum was ‘to provide a programme of learning and activities that promotes individual and societal flourishing‘ and that successful schools choose a curriculum which is right for their situation.

In each there has been an assumption that for individuals to flourish, the curriculum must encourage them to consider their own purpose or meaning, and in doing so look outside of themselves. Lives of purpose and meaning are surely more substantial than ‘happy lives’ as young find a sense of vocation. Therefore we cannot ignore likely futures.

In 2016, The World Economic Forum identified the top 10 skills which would be required for 2020. These are: complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, co-ordinating with others, emotional intelligence (which now has a subset to include cultural intelligence), judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation, cognitive flexibility – or the ability to think around something. 

These are all about learning and being, knowing how to and knowing why rather than just knowing.

So much of the Cranleigh ethos puts us in a strong position to meet the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ as a broad, holistic, cultural education is at the heart of what we are as a school. And we are a boarding school, so time and people are the essence of the place so what we have been working on since 2014 has been building on that foundation, putting together a cohesive programme under the principles of what we now term Cranleigh Thinking:

The term Cranleigh Thinking evolved out of a deliberate strategic intent to develop our teaching and learning.

Problem solving, critical thinking and creativity cannot be achieved without time, so our first action was to increase the length of lessons to 50 minutes, training teachers to use the time for more interaction with increased opportunity for dialogue and collaboration rather than more instruction. Time with adults is a central benefit of a boarding education and with three on duty every night in the boarding house, the opportunity for informal conversation, debate, questioning in addition to the more humorous interaction builds those softer skills.

We also revised the curriculum in the Fourth Form (the first year of Cranleigh) to introduce an element of choice and to encourage expertise. Alongside the core subjects of Maths, English, Science, History, Geography and RS we introduced digital literacy (computing, coding etc) gave a free choice of language (French, Spanish, German) a choice of Latin, Gratin (Greek and Latin combined) or Classical Civilization, and then a choice of three from five of Art, Design, Music, Drama and French. What this has enabled is more time for those who wish to develop their interest in the creative and performing arts, or indeed languages and the classics, all of which are shortage subjects.

A simultaneous step was to modernise the curriculum to ensure pupils were gaining experience of new technologies. In Art, we have introduced digital media, photography and film making and encouraged mixed media. Design and Technology became Design Engineering with the introduction of more computer aided design, robotics and electronics. In January 2018, we introduced iPads for all students as tools for working, and we continue to work out together how we use them most effectively for learning – we have to model discovery through risk taking. A Cranleigh Thinking approach is prepared for some false starts for that is how we discover and reflect. For more detail, please read Mr David Futcher’s (Director of IT) article in Cranleigh Matters.

Increasing the range of what we do in the creative arts has enabled us to move towards a desire that each pupil should find his or her own voice, essential for both creativity and the sense of purpose or meaning that leads to human flourishing and vital in a modern democracy. In the performing arts we have added more contemporary music to complement an already excellent classical programme and continued to challenge our actors and stage management teams with a broad repertoire of performance. School and prefect councils are much more prominent, as are surveys, focus groups and pupils have a greater say in their learning and on their teachers. This is very much a journey on which we have taken initial but vital steps along this important pathway for pupils to find their voice and use it wisely.

Whilst we know that facilities are not as important as teachers for pupil learning, if we can give teachers the right space and environment to hone their craft it does make a difference. We are in the process of creating a new academic heart to the school, with brand new facilities for English, History, Geography, Business and Economics, opposite the facilities for Science, Maths and Languages with the staff Common Room in the centre. Classrooms are bright flexible spaces to enable a variety of activity and collaboration.

This word is so important and in the midst of all our teaching facilities are social spaces, whether it is the atrium of the Emms Centre for Science, or the cafe and Sixth Form centre in the new Van Hasselt Centre for humanities and English or indeed the staff common room. Social spaces which mirror the world of work and reinforce an ethos based on relationships are vital. These are multi-use spaces so that art exhibitions, concerts, lectures, debates, round-table discussions can all take place mirroring the Enlightenment Café (something the Royal Society of Arts is also developing) and the salons of the past.

More significant however, is not the utility of these spaces but the relationships they encourage. We invested in improving the dining hall because it is good for people to sit and eat together. At the heart of the School is the Chapel. We do not pretend that all are or will be people of faith, but it is important that we do not deny young people the opportunity to question and reflect on their purpose. Making the Chapel as comfortable and as inspiring as possible was therefore central to our 150th celebrations and it is why we still meet and worship and reflect together three times a week. At Cranleigh we want spaces to feed the spirit, spaces to feed the mind and places for meeting and living and playing games, the place for the body: echoes of the old monastic way of approaching architecture.

Of course, accompanying this is a deep commitment to the training of teachers, which is why we employed a trainer three days a week for 18 months in advance of implementing iPads, and why we now hold conferences to share good practice and why our Assistant Head, Teaching, Learning and Innovation has no line-management responsibility so that teachers can be supported to make changes to their practice without fear of failure. Conferences on independent research, teenage mental health etc. are all designed to share with others.

Cranleigh’s motto, Ex Cultu Robur, ‘from culture comes strength’, was envisioned at its foundation in 1865 at a time when Gradgrind’s ‘facts’ were supreme in the thinking of policy makers. Today such principles are applied just as forcefully. I think that at the very heart of the word culture is a human narrative – the story of individuals and societies grappling with the essential personal questions of identity and purpose as part of their complex interactions with other human beings and the world in which they live. Those questions find expression in literature, music, art, theatre, the agony of physical endeavour and challenge; informed or perhaps misinformed by religion; advanced and challenged by scientific experiment and discovery; shaped by nationality and experience; a manifestation of a shared spirit which is curious and wants to imagine and create and challenge and refuse to accept. In essence, this is what guides our thinking at Cranleigh.

Yet there is one word that must not be neglected and that is ‘fun’. Sometimes we can think too much, compete too fiercely, practise too purposefully and forget that a life well lived needs a hearty dose of laughter. It is why I love a boarding school – for whenever life gets a little too serious, there is always someone doing something a little silly and simply for the fun of it!