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Bespoke learning at Tavistock and Summerhill School

PUBLISHED: 12:25 23 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:17 20 February 2013

Bespoke learning at Tavistock and Summerhill School

Bespoke learning at Tavistock and Summerhill School

A revolution in education is going on in Lindfield. New head Andy Giles is pioneering a bespoke system of learning at Tavistock and Summerhill School. Here he tells Simon Irwin about his plans

Remember being told off by your Mum for doing your homework to the accompaniment of your favourite band?


Something along the lines of Turn that row off, you should be working.


Sounds familiar? Well Andy Giles, the new head of Tavistock and Summerhill School in Lindfield, says mum might have been wrong. Providing, of course that you were actually doing your homework! Mr Giles comments: We are obsessed in this country with sitting children on a hard chair for six hours a day and making them copy from a blackboard.


Mr Giles believes that we all learn in different ways and that children get the best out of education if it is delivered in a way that suits their learning style. This fits in the with the schools maxim that we put learning at the heart of everything we do.


The school is analysing all its pupils learning styles and discussing the results with their parents. Previous experience shows that in some cases parents and indeed teachers realise that their own style of learning differs from that of their offspring or pupils which is why sometimes there can be conflict.


Mr Giles said: At Tavistock and Summerhill our children complete a fun online assessment which produces a profile of how they like to learn which can include things such as, do they like to learn on their own or in groups? Do they like dim light, do they like background music? In my case this would be Black Sabbath as revealed in a previous Sussex Life article. Do they learn by listening or speaking? There are all sorts of ways that children learn.


What we do with that information is to talk to parents and design an individual learning plan for each child. After we explain their childs profile, parents realise they are arguing with their children because they have a different learning style. Tavistock and Summerhill is the only school in the South of England to use such learning style profiles to assist in its teaching.


The learning style profiles do not just include the youngsters either; Mr Giles is looking at the teaching styles of his staff who have engaged with the process wholeheartedly. It is nothing too radical. Its very much tweaking what they are doing, bearing in mind that not every child can learn by just copying from a blackboard or by watching you do the experiment. Some would rather do the experiment themselves and would learn better that way.


Mr Giles says that the main things that attracted him to the school were its happy positive ethos and the opportunities its deliberately small class sizes, offer which allow it to cater for the pupils individual learning styles.


The way the children interact is special. You will often find a reception boy of five years old playing football with a Year 5 who is 10 years old.


The feedback we already receive from secondary schools is that you can spot a Tavistock child because they are polite, responsible and confident.


Children start in the nursery with a beautiful walled garden although the schools friendly atmosphere makes transition easy at any time. After nursery, children move seamlessly to the main school. From Year 4, children start to move from lesson to lesson, rather than being educated in one classroom, to prepare them for the move to secondary education. Mr Giles is also introducing new initiatives for Years 6 to 8.


We are looking at the top end of the school where I think children need a very vigorous, robust curriculum which involves outdoor education. It includes lots of sport, a young enterprise programme which will encourage awareness of what is going on around them in terms of industry and current affairs.


I think children need life skills, debating all those things that make them responsible, resilient learners. Its about assuming responsibility, once done they are prepared and ready to go on to bigger things.


Andy Giles is an acknowledged expert in learning styles. He joined Tavistock and Summerhill after a headship at Lathallan School in Aberdeenshire, one of Scotlands top independent schools, where the first cohort of children he took on as headmaster went on last year to achieve some of the best academic results in the country.

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