Ensuring pupils are real-world ready

The finest education is one which prepares students for any eventuality, says Dr Michael Gray, headmaster at Hereford Cathedral School

Retirement seems a long way off for most adolescents and that’s very understandable, of course, with most of our pupils not stopping work until some point in the 2080s. Given the accelerated pace of change that we have witnessed in the last two years, it is impossible to know what employment will be like several decades from now.

Yet while we cannot predict the future for our young people, we do need to be preparing them and equipping each one to thrive amidst the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly changing world.

The education that we provide needs to ensure that they can address the headwinds of environmental degradation, geopolitical upheaval and technological transformation. This is not to say that the prospects for adolescents are bleak; every generation will experience unimagined possibilities and a world of constant innovation provides no shortage of hope and optimism.

It is neither necessary nor helpful for us to try and predict the trends of the future; we could scarcely have expected our own schooling to have trained us on the etiquette of online meetings or the epidemiological benefits of mask-wearing.

Instead, the best preparation and the finest education is one which prepares for any eventuality – which enables each learner to have the aptitudes, characteristics, qualities and dispositions that are required to combat the difficulties and seize the opportunities. This is ultimately what it means to be real-world ready, and this is at the very heart and fabric of what we seek to provide at Hereford Cathedral School.

Culture and curriculum

There are two foundational principles which underpin our work in making sure that every pupil leaves the school real-world ready. These are our culture and our curriculum. Culture can best be defined as ‘the way we do things round here’ and in our beautiful cathedral city in the heart of rural Herefordshire, we prioritise values.

For the past 1,300 years, Hereford Cathedral School has taken the Christian faith and our cathedral foundation very seriously. All pupils, including those of all faiths and none, understand their purpose and significance within God’s world and are outward-facing, philanthropically motivated, and compassionate individuals.

Appreciating their role and purpose within life enables them to develop the resilience, integrity and strength of character which grounds them amidst the uncertainty and changeability of modern society.

Another key component of our culture is an unstinting commitment to holistic education which emphasises breadth of opportunity. From debating society to dissection, from coding club to chamber choir, there really is something for everyone and the chance for each pupil to find an area in which they can excel and thrive, step out of their comfort zone, and try something new and exciting.

By the curriculum, we mean far more than just the schemes of work that are taught in the classroom; it also includes the opportunities for pupils to sing alongside professional musicians, to address the whole school in cathedral services and to play competitive sport.

To be real-world ready there are certain literacies which are needed. One of these is digital literacy, of course, and countless jobs in the modern world require not only a familiarity with Microsoft Office, but also technological versatility and an ability to code.

The introduction of personal devices in the classroom, the use of virtual reality headsets and the teaching of coding at an early age in our 3–18 whole-school provision are all indicative of this.

Yet to be real-world ready, pupils need to appreciate how this works in reality and how their learning is relevant in the world of work. A few weeks ago, a technology firm brought a robot into school and pupils learnt about how these have transformed certain sectors and had the opportunity to write the code for the robot to perform certain functions.

Real-world readiness also means helping pupils to understand interdisciplinarity and that solving problems involves a breadth of understanding and working across the narrow subject disciplines. While qualifications require lessons to be taught within discrete subject areas, we encourage opportunities to make connections and links.

An illustrative example from this past week is a talk from an associate publisher at Macmillan who spoke about the journey of a book from idea to the shelf; pupils had their eyes opened to the complexity and multifaceted nature of the process from contractual arrangements to global supply chains.

Similarly, our termly Academic Super Saturday events take an important multi-disciplinary theme and explore it from a number of different angles.

The school’s futures department works with pupils of all ages to help them understand the range of careers available


Last term’s Super Saturday was on leadership, which included an address and question-and-answer session with political and diplomatic colossus Sir David Manning, which was then applied in a simulated geopolitical negotiation. Providing opportunities for, and emphasis on, leadership and service are central to our culture and curriculum.

Both are about being a force for good within society and I am always impressed by the number of pupils who volunteer within the community, supporting local organisations such as Street Pastors.

Others serve through paid employment, working in shops, restaurants and on farms. There are few things more effective in developing real-world readiness than getting a job, where young people quickly learn the importance of punctuality, the value of money and the diplomacy required when they face a challenging customer.

Developing a diploma

At Hereford Cathedral School we are providing a framework for all of this in the form of the HCS Diploma, which is a sixth form programme starting in September 2022. At the heart of it will be elective courses to supplement pupils’ A-levels, focusing on the skills and attributes needed for the modern world.

This will include courses ranging from coding to cooking, from financial literacy to video editing and web design. Alongside this will be a requirement to engage with the community and to demonstrate how each pupil has been an active force for good within society. This might involve regular visits to an old people’s home, helping primary school children with their reading or volunteering in a charity shop.

Sixth form pupils are also exposed to a wide range of post-18 opportunities. For some, the traditional UK university route might be the preferred option, for others, a degree apprenticeship might be better, where they work and study simultaneously, leaving debt-free and with a job at the end of it. Others still might think about universities in North America or Europe.

Whatever their aspirations, the futures department enables them to be guided through the processes and to make informed choices.

This support doesn’t just begin in the sixth form. Our futures department works throughout our age 3–18 provision, developing aspiration and understanding about the incredible range of exciting opportunities on offer for our young people from careers in cybersecurity to space exploration.

Pupils will not leave school real-world ready by accident; as educators we must make conscious choices in ensuring that our values and vision, our culture and curriculum enable this to happen. There is no shortage of global challenges ahead, and it will be the responsibility of our young people to address them. It is our duty to make sure that they are equipped to be able to do this.

1 Comment
  • Ann Marie Christian FRSA

    Digital literacy also means teaching the positives and negatives of online connections and remembering the three C’s on KCSIE 2021. Conduct, Content and Conduct. We have a duty of care in keeping children safe and must teach it through the curriculum and to parents and carers too.

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