What should children learn?

The importance to the next generation of high quality education is undisputed. However, the substance of a good education is often less discussed. A half-day conference on 1 November debated this and more, challenging delegates to think about what and how children should learn.

Delegates were challenged to think about what children should be learning from our expert speakers:

  • Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham.
  • Tim Oates CBE, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment.
  • Andy Wolfe, Deputy Chief Education Officer at the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership.
  • Professor Anna Vignoles, College Fellow, Professor of Education and Director of Research at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge.
  • Margaret White (1979), Deputy Head Academic at St Faith's School, Cambridge and author of A Good Education (Routledge).

Questions posed and discussed, included: on what principles should a good curriculum be determined for a nation? How can a values-based approach underpin a good curriculum in school chains and trusts? How can we ensure the best curriculum for all pupils in practice within a school?

Professor Vignoles opened with great insight into some areas of consensus on what makes a good education— it should be broad and holistic, build excellence and character, foster engagement and wellbeing, and drive social mobility— but she challenged us to think about how we can construct healthier relationships between all involved in an education. She said of the conference: “This was a very useful forum in which to debate what we want from our education system and how we reconcile the potentially conflicting things we ask of our schools".

Margaret White commented: "I was delighted with the enthusiastic support for the conference which shows how important this question is. Holistic education, underpinned by a secure and rigorous framework of thinking, emerged as common themes in helping to ensure provision which supports the flourishing of every child."

The conference was live-streamed and a video of the talks is available on Youtube. It was well-attended by stakeholders from across the education system, both at primary and secondary levels, including schools from across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Dr Julian Huppert, Director of the Intellectual Forum, reflected: “It was great to have so many different perspectives presented, and I was delighted that the attendees included academics and researcher, but also practicing teachers. Any discussion of this topic must involve those who interact daily with pupils".

The day was kindly supported by the Lund Trust, St Faith's School, the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education and the Intellectual Forum.