‘Learning should end in tangible action’ so says Jonathan Parsons, Head of St Edward’s Prep. ‘We need to help children understand why they are learning something and what they can use it for. What skills are going to help them achieve and empower them to take control of their learning journey, to enjoy building these skills and to ultimately become successful’.
Walking the talk is an ethos that sits well with Jonathan Parsons. After four years at his first school (of which more later), he upped sticks and moved to Kenya, taking a position at Hillcrest International School in Nairobi.
‘I fancied an adventure,’ he says, ‘I’d always wanted to go to East Africa and experience a real adventurous, out-in-the-wild life’.
A two-year stint was what he had in mind; two years experiencing a new world. The adventure was all he had hoped for and more; camping with lions, exploring tropical beaches, travelling the length of the continent. Two years turned into seven. He loved the work too, and his career quickly progressed. From Hillcrest, Jonathan moved to Kenton College Prep School, an elite international school, serving the children of politicians, diplomats and NGO workers, with outstanding facilities and high-level sport. A keen hockey player, it was through the game that Jonathan met his wife, a hockey coach at the school and Captain of the Kenyan Hockey Team, no less.
Ultimately, it took an adventure of another sort to bring them back to the UK, in the form of the British educational system, and St Edward’s Prep. Much as Jonathan had enjoyed his Kenyan career, the educational format there is very traditional and so he returned to the UK to further develop his academic and pastoral experience.
Jonathan says his four years as Deputy Head at St Edward’s Prep have been a real time of learning. ‘I believe in a holistic approach and how academic, community and pastoral care come together to provide an excellent education. How staff well-being, and a positive work environment feed into the quality of the education here. I’ve had time to grow leadership skills; both my own, but also our staff and pupils’.
Jonathan has worn a number of hats during his time here, from digital lead to safeguarding, along with academic and pastoral development.
‘We have to recognise that emotional intelligence is as vital as academic intelligence. We have a school full of high-ability boys, and sometimes that academic ability outstrips their maturity. So, we have to find ways to help them access even higher-level concepts. We need to cultivate learners who really enjoy the learning process, so we talk a lot about ‘how would you do it?’ and ‘how do you see it?’ and foster skills of thinking and communicating’.
We can also thank Jonathan for the enormous development of the school’s IT provision. His first teaching job was at a Microsoft Showcase primary school in Devon, which used a high level of technology as part of their enquiry-based learning, This experience informed Jonathan’s position on the role of technology in education. At St Edward’s Prep, he has developed a system in which technology supports learning in a positive way, a strategy that has been cascaded down to other schools in the Wishford Group. Circling back to that focus on purposeful learning, boys have been encouraged to apply STEAM skills to create a solution to real-life challenges. It has seen the boys learning coding skills and then using them to create functional apps covering everything from weather forecasting to earthquake sensors, fitness and well-being. All ideas are the boys’ own; the solutions too.
Looking ahead, Jonathan is planning on continuing to develop existing projects that have unfolded over the last two years but also to develop the school’s academic focus and senior school preparation. Part of that will be a focus on the parental curriculum, a specially designed programme to support parents as they decide what senior school will best suit their children, and prepare for senior school exams. Unsurprisingly, Jonathan’s love of sport is undiminished, and he looks forward to ensuring that St Edward’s Prep boys continue to bat well above their average in all sports.
Jonathan is still a fan of adventures, although the arrival of a son has slightly changed their scope. 2 years ago, he cycled from Land’s End to John O’ Groats to raise money for cystic fibrosis, the Three Peaks Challenge is currently on hold. Does he miss camping with lions?
‘I’ve taken this time to get back in touch with education and that’s why I chose this path,’ he says. ‘I am really excited with what we’re doing here, and everything I do outside school, courses, research and becoming a governor at another local school. All this is to really invest in education and to make a difference’.