Frensham Heights School is a modern and forward-thinking school with a distinct lack of British formality - and the new head master Rick Clarke fits right in. He's a progressive thinker with some interesting views on education.
Rick Clarke started at Frensham Heights in January 2019, having previously been Deputy Head at Warminster School in Wilts, and before that House Master at Wellington College in Berks. He’s a warm and charismatic guy, who believes strongly that kids should have the freedom to find their own individuality and be themselves.
He’s also got some very non-traditional views on education – we caught up to find out more.
Frensham School is quite unique and prides itself on offering a holistic education. How do you achieve this?
For a school like Frensham, education is about so much more than exam results. We acknowledge the importance of exams, and we ensure that we prepare our students as well as we can so that they reach their potential, but we make sure they understand that they are not defined by their exam results. I often talk about the importance of the wider life of the school and that as much can be learned outside the classroom as inside: on Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, on the stage, in the concert hall or on the sports field. Being a school that values the whole child, that is prepared to do things differently (for example, the whole of our Year 9 group are currently spending 2 weeks in Knoydart on the west coast of Scotland), we believe that we truly offer a holistic education.
You’re a strong believer in fostering individuality in children, aren’t you? Tell us more. Any tips on how to encourage a teenager to embrace their uniqueness when they’re so often just trying to blend in and not stand out.
I absolutely believe in the importance of allowing young people the opportunity to find out who they are, without the need to conform. We are fortunate at our school that our ethos allows that: children can dress as they want (within reason!) to express who they are. We are all on first name basis across the school. I am Rick, not Sir or Mr Clarke. This breaks down a significant barrier and allows for a different style of relationship between teachers and students; creating a community that allows more of each individual’s personality to come through. Being a teenager is hard enough, but knowing you can be at a school that allows you to be yourself is enormously liberating. The need to belong to a group is a powerful impulse, and one which all young people feel, but I always want young people to be prepared to stand up for themselves and not allow group dynamics to dictate their behaviour.
You’re not a big fan of the exam style assessment process at GSCE and even A-Levels? Why so? And would you consider scrapping it at Frensham?
I have certainly said before that I have serious concerns about GCSEs. As a system I can understand why they came into existence around 30 years ago, but that was at a time when children could leave school at 16. Now that they have to remain in education until 18, I worry about a system that forces children through two sets of significant exams in the space of two years. I am less concerned with A Levels – we do need a qualification of some kind when children leave school at 18, and one which can help them on to the next stage of their lives, whether that’s university, apprenticeship or the world of work. My solution to all of this would to introduce post-results university applications, which would be far more accurate and meaningful and would also then do away with the need for GCSEs.
Frensham has a strong focus on non-academic subjects – like outdoor education and the arts. Why are they important to a child’s education? Are these subjects as important as the typically academic subjects for life beyond school?
I really do believe in a balanced education. I also have strong views on what the word academic means. If one defines academic only as success in exams, then I have a problem with this. For me, being academic is so much more than simply success in a few chosen subject areas. Outdoor education, such as the amazing experiences our current Year 9s are having at a remote site in Scotland, are just as valuable as a traditional academic programme. Children are learning valuable life skills, in fact the sort of skills employers now say are more important than pure academic success: team work, resilience, emotional intelligence and creativity, to name a few. So yes, we do view the wider curriculum, such as that offered by involvement in things like the arts and outdoor education as a necessary and hugely valuable part of education.
Frensham Heights, Rowledge, Farnham, Surrey, GU10 4EA. Tel: 01252 792 561. frensham.org