Future of Education Conference

On Monday 14th January, senior leaders from many of our feeder schools gathered in Waterloo Hall for our Future of Education Conference, the primary topic for discussion being the changing attitudes to Common Entrance. We were delighted to welcome Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia, CBE who addressed delegates about the skills needed for success in the workplace, before Matt Oakman, Deputy Head (Academic) at Wellington and Helen Brice, Deputy Head at Eagle House gave us the senior and prep school perspectives.

Since we announced our decision to remove the Common Entrance exam from our admissions process last October, we have sought opportunities for more meaningful collaboration with our feeder schools, and the conference provided an excellent springboard for further discussion and debate.

In explaining the rationale behind the change, Julian Thomas commented, ‘At Wellington, we are committed to helping students achieve the best possible grades, but we also recognise the importance of choice, of independence, and enrichment beyond the syllabus. All these things are important to us. So, when an opportunity presents itself to allow greater freedom, greater creativity, we are ready to explore it. By removing the Common Entrance exam from our admissions process, we hope to pass this same freedom and creativity to our feeder schools’.

Dame Jayne-Anne spoke persuasively about the attributes she prizes most in her colleagues. Telling the story of how she left Norwich Union, where she had worked for six years, to found Virgin Direct, Dame Jayne-Anne explained how she selected a team of people to take with her. Her choices were surprising to some and, when asked why she had chosen certain individuals, her answer was simple: ‘they were the trouble-makers’. She went on to emphasise the importance of diversity in the workplace, the power of disruptive thinking, and her belief that the ‘people who can challenge the process’ are the ones that make a difference. Jayne-Anne finished her speech with a triplet of binary opposites: ‘backroom, not boardroom’, ‘diversity, not group-think’ and ‘challenge, not conformity’.

The Common Entrance exam was introduced in1904. It is a part of the Public-School admissions process that has remained largely unchanged, despite numerous challenges and calls for reform, and despite significant changes to other parts of the process. By challenging the system, we have at least reignited the debate.

As Julian Thomas said, ‘Of all the factors that contribute to finding the right school for a child, the relationship between the feeder school and the senior school is paramount. If our decision to remove the Common Entrance from our admissions process has helped to generate more meaningful discussion, and if that discussion leads us to refine our thinking about the best way to prepare children for the transition to senior school and beyond, then that, surely, is another step in the right direction’.

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