Holistic education

A note from our Chair of Council

Most of you will have noticed the Tagore Festival which happened at Dartington Hall. Tagore was India's greatest writer and artist, as well as being a thinker, educator and spiritual leader. He was a close friend of Leonard Elmhirst, the founder of the Dartington Hall Trust, and the school that was so central to Dartington for many decades was strongly influenced by the educational models Tagore was offering on his own estate in India. It was therefore not surprising that a number of the talks were about the role of education.

I attended one given by Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College and widely considered the most famous head teacher in the country. (Most recently he has become known as one of the co-founders of Action for Happiness, an organisation which aims to shift society from its fixation on increasing incomes to thinking about what actually makes people feel happy.) I was very struck by how much what he described as the essentials of a good school – as opposed to an “exam factory” - is being practised at Park.

He began his talk by inviting everyone to sit in silence for a short while, and then explained how important it is for children to learn to collect themselves and be still, something our children become well acquainted with during their circle time. He went on to talk about the need for a holistic approach to education which encompasses the intellectual, physical and spiritual. There are many kinds of intelligence and all 8 of these aptitudes need to be developed in order to produce a well-rounded individual: the logical and linguistic; the personal and the social; the creative and the physical; the moral and the spiritual. Only the first two are “testable” by exams and they are where conventional education puts most of its efforts.

It was inspiring to hear this formidable intellectual spend so much of his time talking about how important it is to cultivate other parts of our children than just their academic ability – art, gardening, the ability to think for themselves and to get on with others. Sound familiar? I've heard it before in alternative and artistic circles, but it was fantastic to hear it from someone from such a traditional background. Unfortunately, he had to dash off right after his talk, otherwise I would have scooped him up and taken him to visit Park to see somewhere that models so much of what he was talking about. It gave me hope that our message is beginning to get out into the educational mainstream. I hope so, for the sake of future generations of children.