Why expert speakers open young eyes and minds

Recently, Glenalmond College was lucky enough to welcome visiting lecturer Dr Clare Jackson, Director of Studies in History at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and expert in Stuart History.  Dr Jackson gave a lecture at the school to our William Bright Society, a group of pupils with the common bond of wishing to push themselves intellectually in a range of areas beyond the normal curriculum.

Pupils who might not necessarily study History at GCSE or A Level joined Sixth Form historians who have been studying the reigns of the Stuart monarchs. There can be no doubt that all the pupils there, experts or not, benefitted from this lecture.

Visiting experts are a key part of the enrichment programme at Glenalmond. Theoretical mathematician Dr Jonathan Fraser of St Andrews University has spoken about pattern calculation in nature; Fiona Burnet, Solicitor at the Scottish Government Legal Directorate, has explored the issue of Heavenly Laws which transcend laws defined by different socio-political values and Commander Duncan McClement, a Royal Navy officer, has discussed the difficulties of submersed nuclear engineering, being just a few of the recent speakers.

Dr Jackson's lecture on Charles II was stimulating for all. For the historians this was a valuable insight into the life of the 'Star King', giving them a view of the period beyond the boundaries of the curriculum which finishes in 1660. It was also inspiring for pupils to hear a talk delivered with such passion about one of the subjects they have chosen to focus on in their A Level studies.

Dr Jackson's book, ‘The Star King’, challenges perceptions about the 'merry monarch' and will have given the pupil historians much to mull over. Fascinating insights into the monarch’s character – the fact that he shook hundreds of thousands of hands in his role as ‘earthly messiah’, his colourful sexual proclivity (no less than 14 illegitimate children were recorded), his eventful 43 days on the run and legendary immortalisation in the many pubs entitled ‘The Royal Oak’ after his hiding in a tree after the Battle of Worcestershire - all brought the subject to memorable life.

These lectures give depth and richness to the curriculum as well as, on a more practical note, giving additional insights on a given topic which aid analysis and evaluation in written work. Hearing an expert talk about their field is of course not just for those pupils who study the subject. For the non-historians in the room there was much to gain.

Firstly, the intellectual challenge of engaging with a, perhaps hitherto wholly unfamiliar, topic will push pupils out of the comfort zone of their chosen subjects. Dr Jackson's talk was pitched high forcing pupils to engage in areas with which they were unaccustomed. The developmental benefits of this type of academic discourse are many.

Secondly, the topic engendered an intrinsic interest in many of the pupils who had perhaps rejected the study of this particular subject as a GCSE or A Level choice.

Too often pupils can be pigeon-holed into 'scientific' or 'arty' boxes which can be counter-productive. Visiting lecturers can inspire pupils to pick up, for example, history or physics textbooks when previously that subject had been rejected or try a new skill that they might have already decided was not for them. This enrichment is fundamentally a positive spin-off from these lectures.

Thirdly, it is right that a variety of active and collaborative learning approaches are utilised in our classrooms, however many pupils will be heading off to university within the next two years where the ability to sit quietly and listen intently to a lecturer for an hour can be a skill which many struggle with in their first year. To hear the delivery of a lecture like Dr Jackson's will hopefully prepare them, even excite them, onto their next step.

By Elaine Logan, Warden, Glenalmond College