The Bridge from School to University

Barker College

Barker College is an Anglican day and boarding school known for its exceptional academics. Established in 1890 and located on Sydney’s North Shore, the elite institution is a bulwark of tradition. Yet the school has simultaneously been at the leading edge of emerging educational philosophies for nearly half a century…

Barker College’s success in applying an innovative approach to learning is demonstrated through the fact that around 95 per cent of its graduates go on to study at university or other tertiary institutions. In fact, preparing the school’s 2,000 students for higher learning is a core Barker College goal. “One of our slogans is ‘The Bridge from School to University,’” Headmaster Dr Roderic Kefford points out.

In the mid-1990s, the administration actively sought an approach to learning that would speak to students – and bring results. After extensive research, the team found an exciting new educational framework called Teaching for Understanding. The teaching method, developed by researchers at Harvard Graduate School of Education, cultivates a “thinking culture” to help students deepen their understanding and better apply their knowledge to the real world. Teaching for Understanding is not a “recipe” or series of steps that an educator must follow, Dr Kefford explains. “It simply brings together the best of what we know to be best practice in classroom teaching.” The framework is so effective, in fact, that it quickly became core to Barker College’s educational approach.

Before the introduction of Teaching for Understanding, typical educational methods yielded little more than mimicry, Dr Kefford recalls. “They taught students simply to regurgitate what their teachers knew.” Students weren’t analysing information or applying their knowledge. “All they had to do was repeat what the teacher had just told them.” Teaching for Understanding, on the other hand, does not expect “simple regurgitation or recitation by rote,” and this is particularly evident during testing. “The kids have to demonstrate that they can apply their new knowledge or their new skills in a different situation. So an assessment task becomes not a test of memory, but a performance of understanding which requires them to apply their knowledge in a new, or innovative, or different way.”

Teaching for Understanding also requires students at Barker College to take responsibility for their own education. “They are expected to participate more in the process of their own learning,” Dr Kefford says. In fact, at the senior school level, Barker College teachers resemble university tutors in the Cambridge or Oxford style more than traditional secondary school lecturers. “The teacher has ceased to be the dominant source of knowledge in the classroom, but rather a facilitator of the students developing, and discovering, and representing their own knowledge,” Dr Kefford explains. “Our phrase is that teachers ceased to be the ‘sage on the stage’ and they became the ‘guide on the side.’ So teachers work side by side with students as they take control of their own learning.” This approach encourages the kind of analytical skills, responsibility, and active participation that universities require. As a result, Barker College graduates are well prepared to excel at tertiary learning.

Barker College’s pastoral and academic care structures are also designed to prepare students for life after graduation. “The model, again, is the relationship of a university tutor, in an Oxford or Cambridge sense,” Dr Kefford explains. “The Oxford tutor or the Cambridge tutor who is working with his junior undergraduates takes the role not only of being a teacher, but also being a mentor, a critical friend, a guide – a person who can help the student work through issues that he or she might be having and come to a good solution.” Barker College’s approach to pastoral care therefore, is to support students as they work through their own ideas and resolutions. “We try to help them learn to make good decisions,” Dr Kefford says. “Which, of course, at the University level is a very important skill for young people to have.”

Coeducational learning is another key part of Barker College’s educational approach. The school teaches only boys through the ninth grade, while years ten through twelve include both boys and girls. “We strongly believe that coeducation is a more natural way for boys and girls of that age to learn,” Dr Kefford explains. “[We] believe that it is right for boys to be just boys until the end of middle school,” but that, in senior school, coeducation helps prepare students for the road ahead. “They are going to a coeducational university. The world of work is coeducational. The world is coeducational. And there was something artificial, we feel, about separating 17 and 18 year olds by gender just because schools always have.”

Encouraging understanding and responsibility and having a coeducational senior school all help to make young people better prepared for their lives outside the classroom, Dr Kefford says. “We have a different approach to teaching and learning, we have a different approach to pastoral care, and we are co-ed. [It] is a unique structure and we believe it provides a very solid foundation for our young people to make a more confident transition from school to university because they have already become used to being treated like young adults, which is, of course, how universities treat them.”

The benefits can be seen beyond university as well. Barker College’s approach to learning helps students develop “all the standard qualities that you would expect a successful young executive manager in a firm to have under his or her belt before he or she enters the workplace,” Dr Kefford insists. “We are very consciously preparing young people to be leaders, executives, and managers in their workplace and in their community when they leave school.”

Barker College applies its unique approach to learning to all grades, not just senior students. In fact, the school just opened a new, state of the art primary school building specially designed to facilitate Teaching for Understanding. “It is the culmination of a 15 year project in which the school has replaced or refurbished every single teaching space,” Dr Kefford reports. “We have built a number of new buildings specifically around Teaching for Understanding. The architecture has been inspired by what sort of classroom space one needs for Teaching for Understanding to be effective.”

These facilities boast the latest technology as well as spacious classrooms where students can easily break down into small, interactive groups and participate in creative, hands-on assignments. This setup prepares students both for university and for their careers that will come afterward. “The new primary school classrooms have been deliberately designed to facilitate the sorts of approaches that we are conscious of now in the corporate sector,” Dr Kefford explains. “Boys can go and form a small group and have a discussion and then bring their findings back to the larger group spaces where they can execute their projects.”

Indeed, Barker College offers the most advanced, up to date approaches to learning. “We are using Teaching for Understanding from our youngest boys in kindergarten right through to year 12.” The school is also one of only 18 New South Wales schools to be involved in the 2010 Australian Curriculum Trial. “We’ve have tried to get ahead of the game,” Dr Kefford explains. As a result, Barker College students are well prepared for university – and the world beyond.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 9:22 AM AEDT