“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”
I often use that quotation when I am talking about education. When I was at school in north west London in the early 1990s, my mind was lit up by English Literature, and particularly poetry. My teachers were skilful and knowledgeable enough to feed that fire, which led me to studying English Language and Literature at university. The flame continued to burn brightly as I trained to teach English, and has been the torch that has guided me throughout my career. There is no greater pleasure than passing on that spark to somebody else, and seeing them get as excited as you do about your subject.
For me it was English. For others it’s Mathematics, or hockey, or cooking, or chemistry, or painting, dance, textiles, the saxophone…
Where our students have already found their passion, we do our best as a school to nurture it. But one of the most important things adults can do for young people is introduce them to as many new subjects, skills and experiences as possible. Every time we do, we open up possibilities. This could be the thing that really lights their fire.
Another important thing that we must do is help the next generation see that they don’t always have to do things the way that they have always been done. We have to help them see past stereotyping in subjects, jobs, and careers. We try hard to help our students challenge stereotypes and do things differently. We named the Athene Donald Building after the first woman to be made a professor in any of the physical sciences in Cambridge to show that women and girls have just as much of a future in scientific careers as men and boys.
This week we built on that tradition with our Skirting Science event, welcoming girls from nine different schools to Churchill to get experiences of possible futures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, by hearing from women in those fields. Also this week we invited Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton to open the new food rooms to show that a career in the kitchen is not defined by gender but by skill, passion and enthusiasm.
The vision for our school is “to set no limits on what we can achieve.” If we are serious about this, it means that we need to challenge the limits that other people’s expectations place on us. We aim to kindle the flame that sustains the skills, talents, passions and enthusiasms of our young people, whether they pursue them within school or beyond.