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Interview: Bill Lucas, education adviser at Winchester Cathedral

15 February 2019

“You can have a good education without examinations”

I loved my school life, and I was lucky enough to win an exhibition to Oxford University. My father was headmaster of King’s School, Gloucester; so I’m not a stranger to cathedrals.

At the heart of an effective school is the highest quality of relationships. I had some significant relationships with my peers and my teachers — not universally, but enough. I had a real love of English literature and music boosted and bolstered by all of my schools.

We’ve made different choices of school for each of our three children. It’s not easy matching your child’s needs to the available schools.

Mine is a part-time research role at the university: no teaching. Developing the whole person, not just their knowledge and skills, is my special interest: the what and how of learning, and also a deeper understanding of the dispositions or habits of mind that we use as we go about our lives. For example, are you inquisitive and collaborative? Or do you tend to prefer answers and acting on your own?

I started my life as a teacher. I was deputy head of a large secondary school in London, and then started two national charities, ran a business, and co-authored, with Guy Claxton, Educating Ruby: What our children really need to learn [Crown House Publishing], which sums up what I believe about education, asking the question: “Is she — and Ruby stands for everyone, child, man, or woman — learning all the things that are important for her life, as well as key subjects such as science, history, and English?”

These days, if we’re healthy, we live for many more than the three score years and ten offered to us in the Old Testament; but school, for most people, lasts about 13 years — a small fraction of their life — and its agenda is largely defined by what appears on the timetable or in examinations.

Real-world learning is my near-synonym for lifelong learning. It’s about learning new things rather than studying a specific subject for a specific examination at school. Some examples might be: learning to drive a car, learning to care for someone with dementia, learning to persevere when you find something difficult — some of the infinite opportunities we have. Real-world learning isn’t bounded by a specific subject discipline. It’s often social. It’s often inspired by a practical need, or a task you wish to accomplish for which you don’t yet have the knowledge or skills.

Yes, you can have a good education without examinations. Educating Ruby invites people to join a conversation about how we can have a good education system based on the “7 Cs” — and we’ve launched the Expansive Education Network to invite schools to adopt practices which cultivate these “7 Cs” —confidence, curiosity, collaboration, communication, creativity, commitment, and craftsmanship.

I see cathedrals as offering a distinctively enriching role in education, not an alternative to the mainstream. And cathedrals’ working with their dioceses can also enhance the impact of what they can achieve.

I understand my contribution to Winchester Cathedral’s education work as being a critical friend, deeply supportive of the cathedral and having some expertise in how people learn to share. Anyone visiting the cathedral is a learner, although how much they learn will depend on many variables.

It’s early days, but I think there are likely to be three aspects to what I’m doing. First, I’ll be looking at the ways in which the cathedral engages with schools: what are the unique experiences a cathedral can offer, and how best can these be accessed? Then there’s a small adult-education programme which we want to look at with a view to attracting younger adults. Third, there’s the cathedral’s exciting new exhibition, “Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation”.

All cathedrals offer a learning programme related to the national curriculum and the teaching of RS, but “Kings and Scribes” is going to open up very lively ways of engaging with big issues, such as national identity. Cathedrals generally have impressively high standards in curating their material, and Winchester wants to engage all ages, formally and informally; so I’m sure this is going to be the most imaginative way to bring the treasures of the cathedral alive.

The Church, through dioceses, is actively involved more generally in the formation of Foundation Trusts, and I’m a trustee of the Church of England’s Foundation for Educational Leadership. The Church has a critical role, which it is developing through a team led by Nigel Genders. The Church’s vision for education is centrally important to the 4700 or so church schools, and has been written to resonate with all schools, of whatever hue.

The vision is founded on the idea of Jesus’s promise of “life in all its fullness”. The foundation runs leadership programmes and conferences, and is currently considering what kind of research is needed, looking at evidence from all over the world about effective Christian leadership in schools. We have a major interest in the development of character in schools. This year’s annual conference will focus on resilience: a timely theme, given concerns with young people’s mental health. There’s also a vibrant Cathedral’s Group of universities, which has Church of England, Roman Catholic, and Methodist foundations.

Other countries have different approaches. Australia, for example, is, I believe, heading in a good direction. I co-authored a report, The Capable Country, which was published recently. Australian politicians and educators see the value of framing the curriculum in terms of character, which they refer to as “capabilities”. A capability is another word for a disposition, a behaviour you are disposed to put into action in your life. So, for example, a child might have some knowledge about what it is to be kind, but, unless they actually are kind, their knowledge has not been translated into action in the real world. Critical thinking and creativity are important, too, along with personal and social learning,and ethical and intercultural understanding.

Great teachers are knowledgeable, love their subjects, and convey this passion. Most importantly, they communicate a strong set of values and act as a lifelong learning role-model to their students.

I first experienced God at home and school. My relationship with God continues to develop, and I’m very active in my local church, St Paul’s, Winchester, where I enjoy contributing to the music, the children’s work, and our ambitious campaign “Building for Life”, to transform the inside of the church for the benefit of our community and congregation.

When I’m not working I like walking, making music, reading, spending time with my family.

Unkindness and cruelty make me angry — man’s inhumanity to man, and our treatment of our fellow-creatures and the environment.

I’m deeply hopeful, deeply optimistic, because of all the many wonderful people I know and admire.

I pray when I am at church on Sundays, obviously, and whenever I’m meeting with certain friends. And erratically, especially whenever travelling, and often on waking up and coming to life for a new day.

I would have liked to have met Nelson Mandela. I had an enormous regard for him in every sense as a human being, and — if you want an example of Christlike forgiveness — his extraordinary forgiveness of his tormentors.

But, if I was locked in a church and could have anyone as my companion, I’d also like to be with someone I had the privilege of working with when I led a charity, Learning Through Landscapes: Sir David Attenborough. He has an extraordinary mind and instincts and knowledge. He’s a wonderful individual.

Professor Bill Lucas was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.




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