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Steam Power (Head’s blog, October 2018)

Posted on 8 January 2019

HMC conferences like children have their own unique character. There’s the rather chaotic third child conference who’s disorganized, hasn’t done his homework and keeps losing his way; Or the sulky adolescent conference full of superiority and condescension, who just about shows up, but is unwilling to actually, you know, do anything. This year’s though was charming: a bright-eyed perky youngster of a conference, full of cheerful chatter and keen to learn.

Set right in the heart of a buzzing, booming Manchester, the conference hummed with practical purpose from the start. The Chair, Sean Fenton (Head of Reigate Grammar School) set the tone for a collaborative conference, where colleagues left competition at home and leaned in, rather than loftily leaning back in their chairs. And if in part this was a camaraderie forged by tough times, well ‘it’s an ill wind….’.

The public sessions this year though were the highlight. The UK’s Marketing Director of Google, Nishma Robb’s perspective struck me most forcibly. She asked us to take this back to our schools: ‘creativity is more important than coding.’ She said that STEM must become STEAM if our pupils are to succeed as we want them to in the workplace. I could not be prouder of the High School’s STEM record, against a national average of 30%, 52% of STAHS pupils take a STEM A level subject and at a time when male participation and progress still vastly exceeds that of women’s in science, engineering and maths it remains imperative to prove that physics and any other science you care to mention belong to women too –(Professor Strumia reminded us so forcibly that this work is not done). But Nishma Robb is right. The subject boxes of the Victorian educational model are inadequate and we need to think differently and dismantle traditional subject silos to fully embrace the power of steam.

Looking at the learning in the High School one can see how much inspirational energy is created when learning is cross-departmental. Trips increasingly belong to more than one subject or school; academic projects demand inter-disciplinary skills and almost any extra-curricular activity one can think of calls on talents that break subject boundaries. Our debating club opened the year with a pupils’ vs teachers debate on the relative merits on Arts vs. Sciences – timely indeed. Setting up and running a Tedex Talks, organising an itinerary for Malawi community service ; building teamwork in a lacrosse match; pulling together a house drama; song or dance production require the creativity and cross-subject perspective that matters so much to the kind of talent Google and others want to nurture.

So thank you HMC for reminding us of the power of STEAM and how it is in the forceful fusion of the arts and sciences that the future lies.

Jenny Brown

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