This is an article from Independent Thinking Associates and NUSA headteacher Dave Harris in the local press. In a nutshell – develop attitude, don’t be bullied by business, don’t teach to the test, don’t simply focus on outcomes. Result – significant change not only in children but an entire community (and blow overachievement in test results!)

Attitude is the Answer

Whilst I have some sympathy for the views expressed by George Crowcher and Ian Greenaway in last Thursday’s Nottingham Post I feel they are in danger of missing the most obvious problem. In the UK we do not have a skills deficit but an attitude one. Generation after generation of young people are being brought up on a diet of instant gratification; they see lifelong wealth being obtained from lounging about in a TV house, or from showing a sliver of ability on one talent show or another. At the same time they also see headlines indicating the lack of jobs and criticising the standards of the examinations that society is training them to sit. Can we really be surprised if many of our young people have lost their way?

The implication within the article was that there is currently an error in our education system. The knee-jerk reaction to make schools accountable for all society’s ills becomes a little tedious. Whether the issue is alcohol, crime or diet, schools are the target for swift political intervention. It often feels that we are in the middle of a game with match officials not just moving the goalposts but changing the rules.

I am certainly not suggesting that schools should be exempt from involvement in social change; it is a key part of our being. However the drive for a target driven accountability in education has resulted in a system which is in danger of continually focusing on the latest craze. Schools are being forced to chase the latest table or OFSTED reward, in doing so often losing sight of the ‘whole child’. I think that education is sometimes guilty of trying too hard to dance to the latest tune, rather than confidently setting its own melody.

At NUSA we are transforming the outcomes for our young people, including their employability, and this has been done by focusing on developing the self belief and attitude of our students. They have developed a real sense of pride in who they are and of their place in the future. Where possible we try to engage our students in real world tasks for businesses and charity, helping them to understand that their school work is not a series of random activities forced on them by adults, but a real bridge to successful employment.

When employers say “school leavers are not matching our needs” what they really mean is “schools need to teach students to fit into our business”. However every company has its own precise needs; where one may require traditional mathematical skills another may expect advanced use of software. There is not a simple set of required skills that should be drilled into our school leavers, but there are some essential attitudes. Martha Graham, the famous choreographer, said that “great dancers are not great because of their skills but because of their passion”. This surely must be true in any line. Indeed a survey across a broad range of workplaces reported that colleagues attributed only 5% of the success of their top performers to skills, yet 95% to attitude. If this is even remotely close to the truth we do our young people potential harm by allowing them to focus solely on the acquirement of facts and skills, rather than on the development of a positive and healthy attitude towards their future.

Our young people now are entering a world that is changing at a pace never seen before; subjects that may be vital for business in 2025 may not even exist yet. How do we prepare our children just entering this system for such uncertain outcomes? Surely it is not by resorting to methods and methodologies of the past, but by equipping them with an attitude that embraces and understands change and gives them a clear view of how they can directly affect their own future.

Dave Harris

Principal of Nottingham University Samworth Academy (NUSA)

NUSA is an innovative (11-18) academy co-sponsored by local philanthropist Sir David Samworth and by The University of Nottingham. The academy is housed in a 24million pound building in Bilborough and was the most improved school in the area this summer