Innovation In Education

By Kevin Stannard, Director of Innovation and Learning, GDST

The Girls' Day School Trust is a network of schools that values tradition but recognises that if we are to maintain excellence in a rapidly changing world, we can't stand still.

Innovation in education doesn't imply change for change's sake. It means constantly reviewing everything about the school - not just the quality of teaching and the curriculum subjects available, but the design of learning spaces, the IT infrastructure, the tutorial system, extra-curricular activities, even school rules (for example about the use of mobiles) - to make sure that they help to promote our wider educational aims.

This involves using (and indeed commissioning) research on the effectiveness of particular strategies - whether it be (for example) around the teaching of maths in junior school, the transition from junior to senior school, or investigative and collaborative project work at KS3. We undertake a lot of research into what makes girls-only classrooms such powerful learning environments. A lot of it comes down to the way that teachers encourage girls to take intellectual risks and try things out, learning from failure as well as success.

We recognise that the distinction between formal learning in the classroom or lab, and informal learning outside is breaking down under the influence of digital technology. So we have been proactive in ensuring that teaching and learning is supported by an effective, seamless virtual learning environment.

Some things don't change - our commitment to quality and excellence, and our objective of providing a broad and balanced education, promoting the development of happy and confident girls as well as helping them towards the best possible exam results. Our vision of what we want our pupils to be, and be able to do, remains, as always, focused on qualities captured by the '4Cs' - 'confident, courageous, composed and committed'. These core principles have stood the test of time.

Getting the best exam results is crucial to helping pupils on their way to university and beyond. Knowledge and subject skills are vital in this regard. But the qualities and dispositions that stay with you long after school, and which often prove vital to longer-term success, depend not just on what is taught, but on how it is taught.

In recent research in several GDST schools conducted by Cambridge University, we found that parents are quick to identify the benefits of this holistic approach to learning. Responses were typically along the lines of, "I like the person my daughter has become and is becoming"; "The school produces well-rounded people with diverse and healthy interests"; "It's a place of learning and enjoyment"; "In this school it is cool to be bright"; "The school succeeds in stretching her without stressing her".

A visiting parent is likely to recognise a lot that is familiar - the quality of teaching, the constructive and supportive relationship between teachers and pupils, the purposeful atmosphere. But there will be a great deal that's new - including the range of subjects offered, the focus on investigation and enquiry, the use of digital technology not just to make teaching more snazzy, but to create completely new learning opportunities. It is all these elements combined that allows the member schools of the GDST to be uniquely at the forefront of Innovation in Education.

To read 'The difference between exams and education' in the Telegraph, click here.

To read 'The need for changes to the way we see our sixth forms' in the TES, click here.