Brains aren't everything, says boarding chief

3rd May 2013 at 01:00

Top boarding schools risk turning their feeder schools into exam factories because they are too focused on the results of intelligence tests, a leading principal has warned.

Christian Heinrich, chairman of the Boarding Schools' Association (BSA) in the UK, said that many top boarding schools professed to believe in the importance of well-rounded students but the way they selected students did little to reflect that.

Mr Heinrich, headmaster of Cumnor House preparatory school in Sussex, for children aged 4-13, told the BSA's annual principals' conference that many senior schools were "too narrowly focused on the results of tests on cognitive processing".

"While senior boarding schools avow the same beliefs as preps ... about a roundedness that develops the person and their character as well as the individual elements of mind, body and spirit, it is so much more practical to have an entrance exam that excludes firstly on cognitive ability, secondly on a presumed potential and thirdly on the character and all-round performance," he said.

Mr Heinrich added that the focus on intelligence testing meant that students who were "good all-rounders" were "being defeated in the entry process by that first hurdle".

"If you senior schools wish to turn us into exam factories, that can happen, but it does go against the grain of what we do," he said. "And it goes against the grain of what you say you want us to do."

His comments came after a select group of prep schools prepared to launch the new "Prep Bac" as an alternative to the highly academic Common Entrance exam, which is widely used in the admissions process at private senior schools in the UK. Launching in September, it rewards students for academic, sporting and musical accomplishments.

Mr Heinrich encouraged his colleagues to remember the importance of childhood and taking risks in one's formative years. "I exhort children at my school: 'Climb trees. Cook your own lunch. Drive a go-kart around the car park (cordoned off). Even play poker.' There's more to school than classrooms and exams. Make mistakes while the consequences can be managed and the lessons learned."

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