Bootham A levels

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Quaker Schools Pupils Experience Success without Stress

22 August 2014

While the media reports A’ level and GCSE results with verve this week, students from Quaker Schools will have taken quite a different journey to achieve their academic success. There is an altogether less stressful approach to achievement at Quaker Schools where the focus is not purely on climbing the academic ladder, but on developing a personal love of learning so that achievement comes naturally. The results achieved in all of the Quaker Schools this week shows the impact of this approach with most schools in the group achieving A level pass rates of 98% -100%.

High grades were in abundance as well, with schools all reporting over 20% A*/A grades and Bootham School in York reporting a staggering 47% A*/A and 75% A*-B maintaining their ranking in the independent school top 100 league table. Despite their exceptional results headmaster Jonathan Taylor warned: “It is just worth remembering we’re all better than our exam results”. It is this challenging approach from the leadership in Quaker schools that influences the whole educational ethos.

This is reflected in Iain Kilpatrick’s perspective on the educational philosophy at Sidcot School in Somerset, where he is the Headmaster. He considered how Quakers believe in responding to the good in everyone and therefore the atmosphere of a Quaker school is one of nurturing the potential in each pupil.  He said: “This means that pupils become comfortable in their learning, prepared to learn from each other and confident to volunteer contributions in class.  Pupils in Quaker schools learn as much from each other as they do from their teachers and because they are in cosmopolitan, international learning environments, there is a rich opportunity to exchange views and ideas across continents and across cultures.”

Iain quoted a notable Quaker, Janet Gilbraith, who wrote in the mid-eighties that: "The two qualities which are most important to children of today are hope and imagination.  Hope to believe they can change the world they live in and imagination to find ways to do so."  

However, academic achievement is still important, Iain explained: “Although pupils learn without stress and Quaker schools are not hot-house exam factories, there is a rigour applied to learning and an anticipation that pupils will leave school, not just with a good set of exam passes that will be the passport to their future, but with an eagerness to make a difference in the world they live in.  Pupils from Quaker schools will have a global outlook based on the experiences they have had at school and are encouraged to challenge orthodoxy and stand firm in the values and beliefs they learned at school.”

He continued: “It’s our mission to capture the energy and optimism of our young people and use it as an overwhelming force for good in our complex, challenging, troubled but, ultimately amazing and awe-inspiring, world.

Headmaster of Sibford School in Oxfordshire, Michael Goodwin considered how we measure success. He believes that the endeavour of pupils and staff in Quaker schools can’t easily be measured by grades and league tables and said: “We want to equip young people to be ready for life, prepared to challenge, serve and ‘live adventurously’, which is a core Quaker creed. He outlined how important the central tenet of silent worship is in Quaker schools, which is practised daily through Meeting for Worship, when young people and staff sit together in reflective silence. This time for contemplation “is a practice that allows people living lives of commitment to the common good to be productive in unexpected, vital and strategic ways” (Daloz, Keen and Parks 1996)

Stephen Cary, an American Quaker and social activist, said that “We know that knowledge alone is not enough for survival in the modern complex world, and we actively promote well-being and balance, empathy for others. We strive to build community and trust, integrity and caring. Cultivating the optimism of the human spirit is more important that the imparting of knowledge.”

Michael Goodwin concluded: “An emphasis on openness, on being comfortable with disagreement, accepting of complexity and a preparedness to be critical and to have one’s ideas looked at critically, mean that students in Quaker schools are well equipped to deal with the inevitable tensions of the examination system. 

There are ten Quaker schools in the UK and Ireland, each with their own unique character, history and foundations. Operating independently from each other they share their common foundations of Quakerism and unite under the auspices of the Friends’ Schools’ Council, which facilitates a sharing of ideas and best practice through conferences and seminars.

The majority of pupils and families of Quakers schools are not formal Quakers but associate strongly with the convictions of a Quaker education, valuing individualism, personal and social development and citizenship in a global context.

To interview the Headteachers quoted here, or for more information, please contact FSC Press Contact: Fiona Carthy or 07854 707361.