Ian Munro: School pupils should be allowed to fail too

Within the exam system, pupils are very rarely encouraged to think laterally, as the answer is all too often binary. Theres no middle ground, which isnt the case in life
Within the exam system, pupils are very rarely encouraged to think laterally, as the answer is all too often binary. Theres no middle ground, which isnt the case in life
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There’s a mantra in Silicon Valley: “Fail fast, fail often.” It’s good enough for some of the world’s most innovative and powerful companies, but it’s not deemed as appropriate for pupils in UK schools.

In the current seemingly assessment-obsessed education system, there’s a ubiquitous fear of failure and pupils are terrified to make mistakes.

Our education system has not evolved and adapted enough to keep up to the pace with which the real world is moving. Is it because of the cost of change or fear of failure that the UK’s education system doesn’t deliver for all pupils in a time of rapid technological development and global uncertainty?

Steve Jobs was fired before returning to lead Apple to become one of the world’s most successful and omnipresent brands, and Jeff Bezos had numerous failed businesses before he hit on Amazon. Mistakes are part of the journey and should be what a young person’s formative years are all about.

Within the exam system, pupils are very rarely encouraged to think laterally, as the answer is all too often binary. There’s no middle ground, which isn’t the case in real life, and that’s exactly what a pupil’s school years should be preparing them for. Young people must have scope to learn how to pivot.

For some careers, it’s entirely necessary to learn the skill of passing exams, but education is not one-size-fits-all and our high stakes exam system is perhaps the enemy of creativity. I’m not convinced the required skillset and the related pressure of an assessment-heavy system is of real benefit to our young people.

The solution to this will take time, and I believe there’s good intention behind all the system’s foibles. Preparing pupils for the world they live in is as much a part of my job as ensuring pupils excel in their Highers. While searching for the answer on how Kelvinside could better prepare its pupils for the real world, I came across an example of a school in America which is facing this challenge head on.

Boston’s NuVu is the world’s leading innovation school. Its method is based on the architectural studio model. Rather than classrooms and subjects, pupils work on multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects. Through this system, pupils get to grips with the creative process and all its challenges, under the guidance of designers and experts from the likes of Harvard and MIT.

Crucially, mistakes are encouraged as pupils navigate open-ended problems which promote peer to peer teaching. Pupils could be asked to be hands-on and tackle any number of challenges from designing a robot to hacking a drone.

This summer, we managed to secure an exclusive partnership to bring NuVu to Kelvinside Academy. While I don’t think our education system is fundamentally broken, it’s time to take a step back and assess alternative models, such as NuVu, with an open mind. Part of why I am so passionate about teaching is because pupils are all so wonderfully different; that’s why we can’t set out to pigeon-hole them.

Ian Munro is rector of Kelvinside Academy (http://www.kelvinsideacademy.org.uk). He tweets @KA_Rector