Product reviews for A School Built on Ethos

Claire Birkenshaw, Lecturer in Childhood and Education, Leeds Beckett University, and former head teacher

An external view may deem the purpose of a school as a relatively straightforward endeavour - to educate children. On the other hand, educators would rightfully posit that a school is a much complex ecosystem especially when the philosophical concept of a school's 'ethos' is considered. Arguably, established schools have taken years in which to refine their idiosyncratic 'ethos' that sets them apart from others. But what of a new school on the block? How does a newly created school establish quickly a learning ethos that others have had years in which to perfect? That was the challenge presented to Head Teacher James  Handscombe and his Senior Leadership Team when they accepted their posts at the newly established Harris Westminster Sixth Form when it opened its doors to students for the first time in 2014.

This book charts brilliantly the establishment of a school's ethos through the use of assemblies, as James Handscombe shares assembly content, purpose and reflections with the reader as thoughtful learning orientations. Harris Westminster's assemblies provide collective space for the orator to draw upon their intellectual interests to inspire, provoke, encourage and pique the curiosities of the audience that are situated at the threshold of adulthood. This collection of assemblies is bold, at times brave, and is grounded in a collective humanity which seeks to encourage and unite in a common scholarly purpose - that of human flourishing. If Ofsted's notion of 'cultural capital' is to equip children and young people with 'the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement' then I am certain this assemblage of content achieves this benchmark. I think the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, often associated with the concept of 'cultural capital', would have approved too. Having said that, this is not a book whose purpose is to satisfy Ofsted nor, as James opines, one that offers some sort of educational elixir for those that seek to transpose its content word for word in the hope they too can replicate the outcomes of Westminster Harris. If anything, this book gives permission for educators to share not only their knowledge and love of learning but to connect enquiring intellects to the brilliance of humanity. Finally, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato held the view that children should not be exposed to "chance stories" fashioned by "chance teachers", fearing that such offerings would leave a questionable and indelible imprint on a young mind. However, Harris Westminster's success is because they did, and do, take a chance. For this is their ethos. And it is one we can all learn from.

Guest | 16/02/2021 00:00
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