Tony Little and Anthony Seldon: How to fit our pupils for the 21 century

30 June 2015
Posted by Heidi Salmons
At the end of the summer term, two of the most prominent school leaders of recent times, Tony Little, Headmaster of Eton College and Sir Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College, are stepping down.

They spoke to Insight about the urgent need for schools to transform teaching and learning, prepare pupils for adult life and improve transition to university.

Tony Little (Eton College)

What is at the top of your mind as you prepare for your final term?

I am determined to have our new Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning (CIRL) up and running in the heart of the school to promote a wide range of ways to think about how we learn. The urgency of addressing the gap between current teaching methods and those which will fit all pupils for life in the 21st century has grown on me in the last  couple of years and it is fuelled when I see really interesting new developments.

With the current pace of change and the way in which young people are accessing knowledge, we could soon discover the way we teach may seem irrelevant. Imagine a generation of 16-year olds saying: “What is going on here? This doesn’t mean anything to me.”

We are on the cusp of something quite extraordinary in terms of understanding learning but the way things are structured in the UK is mitigating against us taking advantage of it.

Tony Little will become Chief Education Officer of Dubai-based school chain Gems on 1 September 2015.

Anthony Seldon (Wellington College)

What do you think the role of parents should be?

Parents need to be partners from the beginning. The expression “helicopter parents” is an excuse for schools to push them away. We need to educate parents about good parenting and work together to educate the child. Preparing for exams is about 25% of what schools are for and the other 75% is helping young people develop intellectually, emotionally, psychologically and artistically, and we need parents to understand their role in that. Too many parents don’t have a clue what it is to be a good parent. Government and schools need to be clearer about what good parenting means.

A poor parent damages their child, doesn’t let them become independent and wants their children to become a mini-me. They shout at the touchlines, they spend all their time at the school play videoing rather than watching the performance. This is a form of parental narcissism. Rather than letting the child be what they want to be they atrophy their child’s sense of development and autonomy.

If I was Prime Minister I would make everybody vote and all Heads would be able to insist all parents come to parent evenings. I tend to be quite strong with parents.

They must respect the school and its teachers and are not permitted to speak to them in certain ways. On the school’s side, all children need to be respected, especially the naughty ones.

Anthony Seldon will become Vice Chancellor, University of Buckingham on 1 September 2015.

To read more, see issue 4 of HMC's Insight magazine.