The Curriculum at Brockwood
Brockwood's staff members have come to the School because they recognise in Krishnamurti's teaching a unique clarity about the value of life and education. Out of these teachings have come the intentions for the School and the curriculum we design and continue to develop.
Brockwood is deeply concerned with a sense of excellence which comes from a depth and breadth of understanding of ourselves and the world around us. This sense of excellence permeates all aspects of our daily life: academic studies, non-academic activities and conduct; hence the study programme here is not a "soft option" it supports and demands sustained attention, inquiry and diligence.
A vibrant curriculum is one that provides a rich terrain for learning. By uncovering rather than covering the syllabus, it is possible to learn with breadth and depth, and to perceive the necessity but also the limitations of acquiring knowledge and skills. While learning can be deadened by merely following a syllabus to deliver knowledge and skills from teacher to pupil; instead learning can be brought alive by attention and inquiry. The curriculum at Brockwood provides occasions for this attention and inquiry.
In what way does an environment inhibit or nurture learning? Does the environment "tell" the student to come in, sit down, and wait for the teacher; or does the environment itself invite initiative and participation? What is the position of the teacher and the student in these scenarios? Is it possible to dislodge the teacher's central position and the students' roles as passive recipients of knowledge and skills? The learning environment and curriculum at Brockwood provide possibilities for initiative, rich participation, independent study, student collaboration, and teacher-to-teacher collaboration. The environment and the curriculum provide opportunities for students and teachers to learn together. The natural beauty of the school campus the gardens and grounds, and the care for the earth program, provide an abundance of resources for outdoor learning.
At Brockwood the process of learning is seen as an end in itself, in and out of the classroom. The academic curriculum is based on the view that the subject matter itself can foster an understanding about learning and about the actualities of our daily lives. Through the study of maths we learn about order; through the sciences we engage with and learn from the world around us, and we can see the place for precise observation and thinking. We learn about ourselves and our values through the study of history. Courses are not limited by disciplinary boundaries and specialties but are integrated within broad areas for the humanities, science and mathematics, arts, social and environmental studies, etc. This allows for the discovery and exploration of questions, themes and projects within and across disciplinary boundaries.
The students' study programme is intended to nurture an integrated human being with breadth and depth of understanding. Conversations are held with each student at the beginning and throughout the year to discover particular needs, interests, and talents, and to work out a balanced programme of study. Classes have an average student teacher ratio of 9:1.
Exam preparation is fully supported and done with a view toward excellence for its own sake. Doing well on an exam can itself be seen as a project by figuring out ways to 'crack' the test so to speak. Thus, exams skills and preparation are given their due importance without conflating them with the breadth and depth of learning that we wish to nurture. Moreover, when there is an ongoing sense of excellence and learning, exam performance is also enhanced.
Each school year brings a new curriculum with new questions, projects, activities and opportunities. The list of possible topics, themes and courses varies somewhat each year, according to interests and available resources: not everything may be available in a given year; on the other hand, more things may be offered than are listed.
Throughout the year friends and visitors will enrich the school with workshops and other events. Examples of such workshops are as follows: Bee-keeping, Street Theatre, Concerts, Exhibitions, Open Dialogue, Body Awareness, Business & Human Values, Problem Solving, African Drumming, Language Trips in Europe, Health & Nutrition, Electronic Music, Chinese Cooking, Songwriting, Shakespeare, Creative Writing, Web/Graphic Design, Sound Engineering and much, much more.
Along with an increasing number of UK schools, Brockwood has questioned the usefulness of the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) examinations. GCSEs are not particularly well designed to prepare students for work at AS and A-level. Many of our non-UK students do not need GCSEs, even if they decide to apply to UK universities. If they do need UK qualifications before returning to their own countries then the higher level AS and A-level examinations will be widely recognised. We also feel that the focus on testing at this age inhibits the development of a young person's natural curiosity and interest in learning, creating unnecessary stress and also limiting our ability to respond to the individual student’s needs and interests.
AS and A-Level Examinations, Projects and Portfolios
University entrance examinations, recognised by most European countries, are offered on the understanding that they have practical and personal significance for some students but may not be suitable or necessary for all students. In general, the older a student is, the more freedom they are given to determine their own courses of studies and to focus on their own interests and strengths. This may result in their doing examinations, or they may prefer a course of independent study, designing their own projects and portfolios with the help of their academic adviser. They are also able to choose from a range of non-exam options offered by the curriculum.
We do not oblige or encourage students to do exams, but if they choose to do so we will support them to the best of our resources so that they perform excellently, without the wrong kind of pressures and fear. Brockwood offers the standard AS and A Level examinations in most well-known subjects and sometimes in some lesser-known, such as Photography and Drama and Graphic Communication. Exam classes present the challenge of bringing Krishnamurti’s educational philosophy and the intentions of the school into a class that has a given syllabus.
What we hope for students is that they approach courses (exam and non-exam) with a sense of rigour, exploration, and excellence. An exam course should only differ from a non-exam course in that there is an exam at the end. The decision to take an exam or not is taken through consultation between the student and the teacher.
Students going on to tertiary education are given support with their applications: help with the application procedure, written recommendations including an explanation of Brockwood's particular circumstances, and contact with individual institutions where appropriate. See the following chapter of the handbook for further details.Students who wish to prepare for the SAT exams for entry to US colleges can usually be given extra time to do so through self-study.
We generally teach the AS syllabuses over a period of one to two years (the exam is usually taken in May/June). In this way there is more time to engage with material for students from diverse backgrounds, and there is still time to enrich the course material from different perspectives. Thus we can ask questions "around" the syllabus, that do not constitute examinable material but do enhance the quality of the course, making it more relevant to the students and leading to deeper, more fundamental questions. We believe that for most students it is best not to specialise too much too early. Most of our students do not need the full A-level, and we encourage them to take a broad-based programme of AS courses. Students who need A-levels to get into a specific university course are supported in a partly self-directed programme of study.
This policy framework guides our approach to students taking exams. We do, however, look at every case individually and will be flexible where appropriate.
We aim to
- Give every student the chance to leave the school with the qualifications they need
- Allow students the opportunity to take an examination if it supports their learning and development
Criteria for students being allowed to take an exam
- Students who are not properly prepared will not be encouraged to take exams, unless they are in their last year and it is their last chance to get some sort of qualification
- Students who have not attended enough classes or not done enough homework may not be allowed to take an exam
- Students in their first year are encouraged not to take the exams so they may fully immerse themselves into the life of the school, grow in self-motivation and explore the academic subjects with breadth and depth
- Younger students in their first year will normally not take exams as we feel they need time to develop an understanding of learning, motivation, and excellence through studying without the pressure of exams