A productive learning environment.

Earlier this week, we announced our agreement with Quintin Kynaston in London, to deliver our successful programmes to their Year Seven pupils. Here, Tougher Minds Head of Education, Andrew Foster reflects on the excellent structures that already exist at the school and how these will support even greater learning and achievement.

“Friendly but firm”. One of those words in this oft-given advice to new teachers is plain wrong. And I hope in the next three hundred words or so to illustrate why.

What has struck me most of all in my observation of Quintin Kynaston pupils, in preparation for my delivery of the Tougher Minds programme, is the warmth of the relationships between staff and pupils. The tone of conversation, the readiness to listen, to correct things quickly where required – QK has a culture of caring.

QK also aspires to go beyond what any individual teacher does. A great deal of time and effort has gone into their development of their systems. Teachers make frequent reference to “The QK Way” and pupils understand not only what that is, but why it is, and how it benefits them.
Quintin Kynaston logo

The thought and work headteacher Alex Atherton and his team have and continue to put in to introduce, secure and develop these systems is vital to those good relations that staff and pupils enjoy. When there is a common understanding of objectives, expectations, motivations then conflict is minimised, resolution becomes more easily attained.

I find that accomplishments like these are often attributed to something ineffable, some “je ne sais quoi” that those responsible are fortunate to possess. But as so often, one looks more closely and realises it is a consequence of hard work and reflection. I thought it telling when Richard Flanagan, winner of the Man Booker Prize described himself as no great writer, but “a pretty good re-writer”. Scrutiny is difficult, self-scrutiny all the more so, but the most successful people and institutions are remorseless in this.

At QK there is a good understanding that we do disadvantaged young people no favours by lowering our expectations. A child from a challenging background may not have learned behaviour and habits that are commonplace for others. But that does not mean they cannot. QK not only provides a fantastic nurturing environment for all its pupils, it aspires to do this even more successfully, hence the partnership with Tougher Minds.

Going back to my opening assertion, which is the word that is wrong? Not “friendly”. Not “firm”.

It is “but” that does not belong. There is no contradiction. When we provide children with the structure they need, we do them a great service. And if that is married with an empathetic, personal approach then we have the foundations on which to build something special.

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