This weekend I was in Edinburgh meeting Old Perseans at our Scottish reunion. It is always fascinating to discover where a Perse education has taken alumni, and the Scottish OPs included a shepherd, a consultant in nano medicine, a world leader in submarine technology, a lecturer in English literature, and a mountain guide. With such a varied body covering at least 50 years of Perse history, I was surprised by the uniformity of responses to my question ‘What elements of a Perse education have been most useful?’
Conversations with alumni are an essential part of curriculum planning because they highlight the durable, life long aspects of an education. Unsurprisingly former Perse students struggle to remember the finer details of their ‘O’ and ‘A’ level courses. Such exams are an important passport to university and first jobs, but thereafter their worth fades.
What past pupils do value is the high levels of literacy and numeracy they acquired at The Perse. Great ideas are only realised through precise communication, including the ability to spell and punctuate accurately and express arguments in a concise, clear and logical fashion.
Last week a report from the charity National Numeracy revealed that nearly 50% of British adults have numeracy skills no better than those expected of an eleven year old. This is a shocking situation, and one that will hold back individuals and the UK as a whole. The confidence and ability to use numbers accurately, to analyse data critically, to identify trends, patterns, and solutions is something from which Perse pupils past and present benefit.
Alumni also highlight the enduring value of interpersonal qualities. Just as in the 1960s so today pupil presentations develop communication abilities, sport promotes team skills, CCF and PES foster leadership, organisation and resilience, whilst the collective high expectations of the school both encourage ambition and introduce pupils to failure. Failure was perhaps too common a presence in the classrooms of the past, but in moderation it has its value today. Students are not prepared for the real world until they have learnt how to manage difficulties and learn from mistakes.
The most enduring element of a Perse education then and now is the twinkle of intellectual curiosity that sparkles in a Perse eye. The ability to find interest in everything, the thirst for knowledge, the concern for reason, and the questioning mind are hallmarks of a Perse education. They are priceless gifts that last a lifetime.