Three things a school can do to prepare children for the 21st century

By 29/09/2017 No Comments

by Sarah Partridge
Early Childhood Leader, International School of London in Surrey

High on a prospective parent’s checklist is often a school’s Ofsted rating, but with over 80% of schools in the UK being judged as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ what other factor>s should be considered in choosing an education for your child? Key questions to ask are: how are schools preparing students for the 21st century and how are they developing the skills our children need to be ready for life beyond the school gates?
ISL London

As an educator and a parent of two teenagers, I would like my children to develop as confident, tolerant, well-balanced citizens who have critical thinking and problem solving skills, plus the resilience necessary to succeed in a challenging world. This article outlines three ways in which schools can develop these attributes in their students: use of the outdoors, service learning/community engagement and a well-being focus.

Outdoor Learning

The physical benefits of time spent outdoors are well known, however, there are other positive impacts that being in a natural environment can have on children. For example, I recently observed a group of primary children in the school’s forest working together to figure out the best way to erect a tarpaulin, despite wet weather and limited resources. To be successful, the children needed to demonstrate
resilience and use problem solving skills in a way that would have been difficult to replicate in the classroom. These skills link with the following OFSTED statement: “When planned and implemented well, Learning Outside the Classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.”

Learning Outside the Classroom – How far should you go?
OFSTED report 2008.

Service Learning/Community Engagement

An emphasis on real life learning opportunities allows students to connect what they are learning with taking action. At the same time, this plays an important role in developing their understanding of the positive impact they can have on the world around them. A four year old in my school, who was initially nervous about an upcoming visit to an elderly care home, came back bursting with enthusiasm to tell me he had made a ‘new friend’ there. This now confident young student then explained to me, step by step, how he had taught this new friend to play a ladybird game and asked when he could go back. These real-life experiences allow our children to develop the skills to become well-balanced, responsible and tolerant individuals; skills so important in these uneasy times. This is echoed by a quote from the Kellogg Foundation: “Educators are drawn to service-learning because they believe it produces important educational results for students, schools and communities. In individual interviews, they can clearly articulate their observations of the effects. They give many examples of students becoming more altruistic and caring, growing more concerned about their community and community issues, and learning more in specific content areas.”

The Impacts of Service-Learning on Youth, Schools and Communities,
W.K. Kellogg Foundation


According to global rankings on student well-being published by PISA in 2017, UK pupils are amongst the unhappiest in the world. The study found that one in six of its students are unhappy, ranking the UK 38th out of 48 countries in its happiness study. It also reported that UK students were more anxious about testing than students in other countries. The high stakes testing culture in UK schools seems to be affecting the well-being of our children. Schools need to find a way to respond to this. Well-being should be given a central place in a school’s programme and not just be seen as an add-on. Mindfulness programmes, therapy dogs and opportunities for exercise are just some of the things that schools can do to support good mental health. But schools can also take action by not over-emphasising to children the importance of testing. Education is not just about examination results, as highlighted in the following report: “It is widely recognised that a child’s emotional health and well-being influences their cognitive development and learning, as well as their physical and social health and their mental wellbeing in adulthood.”

Promoting children and young
people’s emotional health and wellbeing – Public Health England report 2015

My own children are coming to the end of their time in school and I am fortunate that they attended schools that placed importance on all of the areas outlined above, as well as many more aspects of what I regard as a well-rounded education. I
urge any parent looking for a school to take a moment to reflect on what they really want for their child and how the school they choose can prepare them for this.

ISL Surrey is an independent primary school in Woking, for children aged 2 – 11. The school provides an outstanding education, with a curriculum based on the principles of the International Primary Curriculum (IPC).
There is in addition extensive wrap-around care and a focus on student well-being.