Reconciling ‘Independent Learning’ With Our Safeguarding Responsibilities

One of the reasons we, as educators, are so enthusiastic about the IB is because it encourages independent, as well as lifelong, learning. ‘Independent learning’ is one of those phrases that has recently entered the fashionable educational lexicon, along with – for example – ‘child-centred’ and ‘personalised’ learning. Yet it is sufficiently difficult to define that it allows some schools to promote its virtues while at the same time indulging in practices, for example spoon-feeding students to ensure they pass their public exams, that undermine its fulfilment.

But IB schools really have no option here, as independent learning is embedded in the philosophy of the IB, as well as the requirements of each of the IB programmes. To take but one example, all IB Diploma students have to complete a 4000 word Extended Essay on a subject of their choice. Although provided a supervisor, they have to research and write the essay themselves. What better preparation for university life, for which independent learning is such as integral part, could there be?

Some would identify a potential conflict between the need for IB schools to instil the habit of independent learning in their students and that to ensure they fulfil their responsibilities for their safety and security. Yet it is not impossible to reconcile the two, as I hope the example of Southbank confirms.

The last thing we would want is to pamper or mollycoddle our students, partly because they would – understandably – resent it, but also because it would conflict with everything we believe in educationally. Yet, at the same time, we recognise that their parents entrust us not only with their education but another, immense, responsibility: to ensure, as much as we can, that they are safe whilst in our care.

To that end, we have certain statutory obligations to fulfil. By not doing so, we would fall short of the very high standards of UK law, as well as our responsibilities towards the students and their parents. Over the last six months the school has come under closer scrutiny by external agencies than at any other time in its history over its compliance policies and procedures. In fact, as the recently published QC’s final report confirms, our work in this area had begun well before April of this year.

By early 2013 a full review of all our policies and procedures had been undertaken. It is one thing, of course, to write policies, quite another to implement them, which is why extensive staff training has taken place since. And following the publication of the QC’s interim report in July this year, we have undertaken an even closer review of our safeguarding, and educational trips, policies and procedures. Drafted as they were with meticulous attention to detail, and after wide consultation with professional experts from outside the school, we hope and believe they are exemplars of good practice. As the recent Ofsted report recommended, we are now applying ourselves to monitoring the effective implementation of these policies.

Meanwhile, we remain fully committed to the promotion and growth of independence in our students. Such development can take many forms, and is not confined to academic activities. In the multitude of trips the school offers, students are placed in environments where they may not be able to rely on the teacher to guide them to the next step. They have to think ‘independently’ – as well take responsibility for their own actions.

That, of course, does not mean that we should fall short of our other duty towards them – to ensure they are learning such skills in as safe and secure an environment as possible. However much recent events may have focused our energies and thoughts even more on our safeguarding responsibilities, it has not been at the cost of our commitment to help develop ‘independent learners’. Indeed, this remains at the heart of our educational mission.

Graham Lacey