"Students are capable of producing brilliant work right now. Not in 20 years' time," insists Joe Pardoe, a history teacher at School 21.
This public, London-based, combined primary and secondary school earned a 2015 Character Award from the U.K. Department of Education in recognition of their work to promote student grit and resilience. By focusing on students' social-emotional needs and enabling them to create relevant, impactful work, School 21 is embedding the skills that their students need to perform well academically. In 2016, they outperformed the surrounding local schools in primary-level reading, writing, and math.
But the school's concerns go far beyond doing well on exams. Their wider focus is fostering self-aware global citizens who can use their voice to leave a mark on the world. "Our students can change the world right now," emphasizes Pardoe. "That's the vision of this school."
School 21 leaders are committed to manifesting this vision by integrating three tightly-integrated pedagogies into their curriculum:
- Wellbeing: meeting students’ social and emotional needs
- Oracy: teaching students how to speak well
- Project-based learning (PBL): using inquiry to create a product for an authentic audience
"The purpose of School 21 is for students to create beautiful work that makes a difference to the world," says Oli de Botton, a head teacher and School 21 co-founder. "When we take a step back, we think, 'How does one create beautiful work?' Well, you need confidence, resilience, and wellbeing, which is why wellbeing is such an important strand of what we do here. You need an authentic voice, so when you’re explaining your work, you can do it with panache. That’s why we have an oracy curriculum. And to create beautiful work, you need a high ambition for extraordinary end products, which is why we have project-based learning. Beautiful work that makes a difference to the world is suffused through every element of our school pedagogy."
What Is Wellbeing at School 21?
Wellbeing caters to students' social and emotional needs, building their inner resources, resilience, and self-awareness. School 21 teaches wellbeing at both the primary level (see Wellbeing: Developing Empathy, Emotional Awareness, and Agency) and secondary level (see Wellbeing: Fostering Self-Awareness and Empathy With Grounding Texts).
"Wellbeing is linked to oracy," explains Amy Gaunt, a Year 3 teacher. "It’s an opportunity where children get to speak about their feelings, their thoughts, and negotiate their attitudes and views on the world. And through giving pupils an opportunity to discuss how they feel about different things, it makes them more capable of explaining the barriers to their learning. If they can identify, 'I'm not able to do this because this is happening,' that means that they can access that learning."
What Is Oracy at School 21?
The oracy curriculum at School 21 builds students' confidence and speaking skills starting in primary at age four (see Oracy in the Classroom: Strategies for Effective Talk), where beginning students learn skills like starting a sentence and making eye contact when listening to someone else speak. In secondary, they learn to speak in a variety of settings and to a variety of audiences, ranging from an informal speech in front of classmates to a presentation for 50 potential employers (see Public Speaking: Oracy Skills for the Real World). The oracy framework -- linguistic, cognitive, social-emotional, and physical awareness -- is embedded in every classroom.
What Is Project-Based Learning at School 21?
Project-based learning enables students to create a product that solves a question or problem for a real-world audience. School 21 teaches PBL as a co-curricular, arts integrated course each term. An arts teacher (drama or music) will pair with an academic teacher (history or math).
"We are passionate here about crafting work until it is at an incredible standard," emphasizes Peter Hyman, executive head teacher and one of School 21's co-founders. "My rule of thumb for the products that we create here is, 'Are you surprised that a student that age has done them?'"
What Does Student Work Look Like?
Integrating wellbeing, oracy, and project-based learning creates capable, self-aware students who can drive their own learning, create exceptional work, and be confident in navigating the real world. "Our students are producing work of a really high standard that makes them feel proud about themselves," says Hyman.
In Year 9, 13- and 14-year-old students wrote plays about the French and Russian Revolutions and performed immersive theater to a public audience of over 200 people, including members of their local history association and immersive theater actors and producers.
In Year 8, 12-year old students created public campaigns to promote human rights issues, from protesting poor working conditions in China to the imprisonment of an innocent man in Guantanamo Bay.
Year 7 students traveled to an East London museum and gave tours to the public, "demonstrating that an 11-year-old can do something exceptional," points out de Botton. "Once you've crafted something beautiful for the first time," adds Hyman, "you never look back. You know the heights you can reach now."