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Well, it has been an interesting couple of weeks hasn’t it? Just over a week ago, eager eyed children were looking at snow covered fields, the South lawn was shrouded in a blanket of white and Tim our Head Chef was on his way, on foot from Romsey to cook breakfast for the boarders. I think he may prefer that I left that out, but his commitment and dedication illustrates the approach my colleagues take to the children in our care and is worthy of public note. It’s how we go about our business.

I was returning from a late trip to pick up some coffee when I heard an interesting story on the radio. Keith, a billionaire, was in the company of some business reporters. They asked him about strategy and how he achieved such a level of success. He had begun with a car wash in Texas, he set out with the goal of targeting every car in the world, this shrunk to every car in the county and quickly trimmed back to every car in a two-mile radius. The business still contracted, this wasn’t working. Then one night he had a flash of genius. He added a coffee bar, a convenience store and a beauty parlour. His realisation was that he was not in the car cleaning business, he was in the pleasure business. He never looked back.

So, what has that got to do with us? Last week I have had a number of conversations with parents about what we do at Embley. On Wednesday we hosted a visit from a Head of School in Surrey, we have led sessions at the national conference for the Society of Heads and we have been visited by journalists and recently had material published about our approach. We are hosting a national teaching event in June and will be featuring in the national education press in three issues. What is going on? I can illustrate with this example. The nub of the conversations with the parent group was about subjects and choices. In an education world, which is seeing subject choice shrink and where we are seeing the increasingly utilitarian approach to education predicated on what industry needs, I am very proud to stand against that tide of cuts. Like ‘Car-wash Keith’, I know our business.

In the debate about languages, where I encounter the old story of you don’t need a language, everyone speaks English; I am delighted to explain that one doesn’t learn an additional language to find the train station, the price of bread or the directions to the hotel. Though knowing the phrases is useful, Google translate will do much of that without fuss, Google maps will take you to the destination and a currency converter will help with all your bread purchasing solutions. We learn a language to understand the culture of a community of individuals who have a different perspective on the world than we do. We learn a language for the same reason that we learn the widest possible curriculum for the longest period of time – because it makes us more thoughtful, informed and enlightened. It makes us more human.

In recent conversations about our digital strategy, parent groups heard about the possibilities of technology to enhance learning, to develop understanding and to encourage sophisticated and thoughtful enquiry. They heard very little about the device. The online Digital Learning Spaces we are introducing from September will allow students to extend their learning, and opens them up to understanding far beyond what it says in the syllabus. As most schools spool along to Science Week, we are ramping up to a two-week STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts & Maths) festival, which you will see alongside this piece. The team have excelled themselves. You will see us partnering with universities and industry to provide our students with the most comprehensive, widest and jaw droppingly fascinating opportunities to learn, challenge themselves and grow. Our first Mini MBA Experience completed last month to great approval from Year 12s. The Nightingale Lecture Series continues to be fascinating, informative and richly entertaining. Our next guest is a former student – Dr Georgia Cole, a University of Oxford Joyce Pearce Research Fellow who is a specialist in refugee and migration studies. Our careers evenings continue to light fires of inspiration under students and the STEM event on Thursday,15th March, is set to be no different.

My compatriot WB Yeats is alleged to have said that education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire. Whether he said it or not, it remains true. As others in this education climate retreat to narrow examination preparation at all costs, as they pinch at the corners of provision because of the supposed demand of industry, we are lighting fires of inspiration and ambition: I know what our business is.

Cliff Canning, Headmaster, Embley

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