The Knowledge Schools Trust aims to provide children with a classical liberal education, regardless of background or ability.
Key Characteristics of the Trust's Schools
- High aspirations, with a firm emphasis on academic attainment
- A classical academic curriculum
- Strong discipline
- A competitive atmosphere, particularly when it comes to Games
- Outstanding pastoral care
- Active parental and community involvement
- Specialising in Music
- A broad range of extra-curricular activities
- Encourage all children to be confident, hard-working and ambitious, regardless of background
- Transmit a core body of knowledge to all pupils
- Encourage every pupil to complete their education and do a sufficiently demanding course of Sixth Form study to progress to a good university
- Attract and retain outstanding teachers
- Instill a lifelong love of learning
A Classical Liberal Education
By a classical liberal education we mean a rigorous and extensive knowledge-based education that draws its material and methods from the best and most important work in both the humanities and the sciences.
The aim of such an education is not primarily to prepare pupils for a job or career. It is more to transform their minds so that they are able to make reasonable and informed judgments and engage fruitfully in conversation and debate – not just about contemporary issues, but also about the universal questions that have been troubling mankind throughout history. We want children to leave our school with the confidence that comes from possessing a store of essential knowledge and the skills to use it. We believe that independence of mind, not compliance with socio-economic expectations, is the goal of a good education.
Data from the last thirty years lead to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable
This sort of education requires children to be given information. But it is a mistake to imagine that the passing on of factual knowledge – often caricatured as “rote learning” – impedes the development of children’s ability to think. Factual knowledge and critical thinking are complementary. Daniel T. Willingham, a cognitive scientist at the University of Virginia, summarises the evidence:
Data from the last thirty years lead to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts and that’s true not just because you need something to think about. The very processes that teachers care about most – critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving – are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).
Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher, made the same point 100 years earlier in his famous essay on education:
“It is, of course, possible to impart information in ways that do not train the intelligence; it is not only possible, but easy, and frequently done. But I do not believe it is possible to train intelligence without imparting information [our italics], or at any rate causing knowledge to be acquired.”
Common sense, as well as research evidence, tells us that children cannot be taught to think without at the same time being asked to commit a substantial store of facts to their long-term memories.
But that doesn’t help us when it comes to deciding what facts to teach. Why the “best and most important work in both the humanities and the sciences”? And who is to say what the “best” or “most important” is? Doesn’t this involve making contentious value judgements?
When it comes to the sciences, the answer is fairly straightforward. The “best” and “most important” simply mean those facts and theories that are at present verified by evidence and by our current state of knowledge, and demonstrably exert an influence on our lives and the world around us. Why teach, in our science curriculum, the Theory of Evolution and not Creationism? Because we have good scientific reasons for thinking it is true and important. On the other hand, in some other part of our curriculum, we should inform children that there are people who believe in Creationism, for that is also a demonstrable and important fact about the world and our society.
A classical liberal education should not confine itself to the Western canon, but should embrace other cultures and traditions.
The humanities are more controversial. Why teach Jane Austen and not Alice Walker or any number of other first-rate authors? Why devote more time to studying the Bible than the Koran? Why prioritize the history of the British Isles? To a large extent, these are not either/or questions. A classical liberal education should not confine itself to the Western canon, but should embrace other cultures and traditions. Nevertheless, the guiding principle should be to teach children that sub-set of knowledge – and the accompanying vocabulary – that will maximize their chances of leading rich and fulfilling lives. What that sub-set includes will be subject to review, but will always be closely connected to the history and the present nature of the society in which we live, including our international connections.
We believe the main focus of our curriculum should be on that common body of knowledge that, until recently, all schools were expected to teach. This is the background knowledge taken for granted by writers who address the intellectually engaged layman – the shared frames of reference for public discourse in modern liberal democracies. Sometimes referred to as “intellectual capital”, at other times as “cultural literacy”, this storehouse of general knowledge will enable all our pupils to grow to their full stature. Passing on this knowledge, as well as the ability to use it wisely, is what we mean by a classical liberal education.