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A man walks into a design studio and tells the team he wants a bridge from A to B and they have 34 seconds to get some initial thoughts on paper. What does the studio do? Begin by scribbling the initial concept or by asking why the man wants the bridge? A team from IBM were with us on Wednesday afternoon to lead a ‘Design Thinking’ brainstorming session with staff and students on creating a design for an area within school. The first task we were given was to ask ourselves ‘why?’ – the jumping off point for the design process. 

The session was engaging, entertaining and educational in every respect. The break out groups were all a mixture of staff and students and it was fantastic to see our students take a lead and feedback on the various tasks we were set. There was a quiet confidence, a thoughtful engagement, as they facilitated. I could not have been prouder.

These characteristics were evident at our open morning on Thursday; student ambassadors happily engaging with prospective parents and staff in a collaboration that typifies all we do. You see these traits on field trips, in sporting fixtures and the likes of STE@M week. It is just the way we do things around here.

You might recall the story told about William Paley’s musings on how the world came to be. Looking out at nature he recognised a system that was regulated and organised. He saw creatures adapted for their environment and postulated that this could not have happened by chance. It would be, in his view, ridiculous to suggest that something as complex and intricate as a human being could simply be the result of chance. Modern physics as opposed to the classical mechanics of a Newtonian world might well question this. Paley was suggesting that something cannot come from nothing and in a chain of causality the existence of the world and things had to have some sort of moment of creation. It could not exist ex nihilo and, more than that, there must therefore be a designing hand. His example is that of going for a walk in the countryside and finding a watch.

For Paley, this watch was a complex mechanism of interlocking springs and wheels finely balanced and carefully wound. It would be inconceivable that the watch was created by an accident. The complexity of the instrument and the nature of the design meant there must be a designer. There are a series of arguments one might put to Paley and I will leave you to do that reader in the quiet time you may have over the weekend.

Does the existence of a design necessarily imply a designer? Could the argument from evolution suggest that there is in fact no designer and the mechanism of the world is in the process of creating itself? But perhaps there is something in what he is saying. Paley was not alone in this line of thought. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle informed Aquinas’ view of this and he went on to set it out as a proof for the existence of God. My purposes are much more modest than his teleology.

Our ‘why’ of the design question is about our purpose as a school. In every aspect of what we do, we are in the process of realising that design. It concerns itself with academically ambitious and curious children who want to learn and to build a store of knowledge that allows them to understand the world and their place in it, and the potential they have to shape it.

Our design concerns itself with creating a belief within children that allows them to be comfortable in their own skin, to be content that there will be subjects with which they need to work harder at than others and that there are difficult concepts to master, but that this can be achieved by hard work, collaboration and resilience.

Our design concerns itself with a direct and proud distinction from much of the self-regarding cares of the world by looking out to others and being compassionate in responding to needs that are not ours. These three aspects of our design make us ideal. This does not mean perfect, because we are all human beings and prone to mistakes but then they are often the best opportunities for learning and growth.

Perfection at a human level does not exist and I may be bending language to suit my purpose when I say that we can be ideal, a place designed to allow children to grow, to be ambitious with belief in themselves and compassion for others. The huge increase in interest, numbers attending our open mornings and the uptake of places we are seeing suggests how appealing this design is.

Cliff Canning, Headmaster, Embley (@HeadmasterHCS

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