Clifton College

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Clifton College's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Clifton College is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Dr Tim Greene, head of college
Cricket on the Close,
Clifton College
It is not possible to be part of Clifton College without being
aware of the place’s heritage and rich history. At the campus’s
heart stand the impressive Victorian buildings that make
up the original school, including the chapel, whose 150th
anniversary was celebrated last year, while the cloister is lined
with portraits of former headmasters.
Present headmaster Dr Tim Greene believes that at one level this connection to the
past provides a sense of continuity, of being part of something bigger than any
single generation – it means present pupils share a common experience with those
that have gone before, even at the simplest level of a shared vocabulary such as
“the pens” for the cross-country competition or “the grubber” for the school shop.
But the question Tim asks is whether the past has anything to advise us regarding
our preparation of today’s pupils, who leave school for a modern world. To answer
this, he believes one must look closely at the principles that guided those who
shaped the early years of Clifton College.
Percival’s world
Clifton’s pioneering headmaster, the Rev John Percival, was an innovator. In terms
of the curriculum, he went beyond the classical education that was the staple of
the time, placing the sciences on an equal footing. Clifton boasts the very first
purpose-built science laboratories for schools in the country, opened in 1867,
which employed teachers who went on to become fellows of the Royal Society.
Percival also sought to build a school with a broad constituency. From the outset
Clifton treated day and boarding pupils on an equal footing, and Percival was
instrumental in persuading Clifton’s council to open a boarding house that catered
»Head of college: Dr Tim Greene
»Founded in 1862
»Based in Clifton, Bristol
»Type of school: Co-educational
day and boarding school for
students aged 2 to 18
»No. of students: 723 in upper
school, 488 in preparatory
»No. of staff: 395
»The D-Day landings were
planned at Clifton College
Clifton College
Highlighting best practice
»The Stone Library, our dedicated science library, houses scientific
books from the 16th century to the present day, including a first
edition of Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton (1687).
»Alumni include: Lily Owsley MBE (GB hockey player and Olympic
gold medallist in Rio), John Cleese (actor, screenwriter and
comedian), Sir Michael Redgrave CBE (stage and film actor, director
and author), WO Bentley (English engineer and founder of Bentley
Motors), Sir John Hicks (British economist and winner of the Nobel
Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences), Sir Nevill Mott (English
physicist and Nobel Prize winner for physics), Field Marshal Douglas
Haig (commander-in-chief, British Expeditionary Force, 1915-18).
for Jewish pupils. Although this house
closed in 2005, former house pupils
formed an educational trust that
continues to support Jewish pupils at
the college today.
Percival’s vision was that Clifton
should provide a liberal education;
an education that was not narrowly
vocational. Education would not only
impart knowledge but also prepare
pupils for the complex, diverse and
rapidly changing world in which they
would find themselves in the second
half of the 19th century.
Our world
The parallels between the world of
Percival and that which our present
pupils face are much closer than one
might think.The first Clifton pupils
lived through an amazing time of
change, with innovation impacting the
world of work and with it the nature
of society. An explosion in newspaper
circulation and telegraph cables
linking continents gave rise to rapid
means of mass communication.We
could well consider technology and
the internet to be doing the same
thing today.
If the challenges of a rapidly changing
world are similar, is the way we
prepare our pupils for the future the
same? Most schools would view the
education of pupils as divided into
two parts; there being the teaching
of academic subjects assessed by
public exams on the one hand and
the development of so-called “softer
skills” on the other.
The softer skills
In many ways the opportunities to
develop some of the softer skills
remain unchanged. Encouragement
and support to take on leadership,
be that on the playing field or in the
cadets,the ability to grow in self-
confidence and the capacity to work
as a team through drama, sport, music
or debating are very similar. Other
areas have developed greatly, in line
with shifts in society generally, chief
among them being a greater focus on
teaching tolerance and understanding
of others. All minority groups at
Clifton feel able to come forward and
explain to others the challenges they
feel and the difficulties that society
puts in their path.It is without doubt
one of the delights of being involved
in a modern school to see how ready
pupils are to accept differences,
be they cultural, religious or sexual
orientation, in a way that certainly was
not the case many years ago.
Often one gets the impression that
the younger generation wonders
why we worry so much about this
aspect of society when they seem so
Cifton College science
laboratory, 1889
vision was
that Clifton
should provide
a liberal
much readier to accept each other’s
differences.There is also no doubt
that the pastoral care of pupils has
improved a great deal, with a much
greater appreciation of the challenges
young people face and the numbers
that struggle, not least in regards to
issues surrounding mental wellbeing.
In this area schools have built upon the
lessons of the past, and pupils of today
are undoubtedly better-trained in these
softer skills and provided with a more
caring and supportive environment
which, at its heart, is underpinned by a
greater understanding of what it is to
be a school-age student.
A changing world?
Regarding the other area in which
we aim to equip our pupils, namely
the academic sphere, there is no
doubt that teaching methods have
progressed in a way that has improved
levels of engagement for pupils of all
abilities. However, it is very noticeable
that to a large extent the curriculum
remains the same. In fact, it could
be argued that recent changes to A
levels have seen a return to exams
remarkably like those taken by
In the end, few teachers have
experience of the world of work
beyond academic life. For the large
majority of us, a love of our subject
has seen us move directly from school
to university to teaching. It is very
difficult therefore to make a first-hand
judgment on what is often stated –
that the workplace is changing more
rapidly than ever and many sectors
bear only a passing resemblance to
how they were 20 or 30 years ago. It
is then perhaps worth exploring why,
if the world of work has changed so
much, the subject content with which
we equip our pupils has remained the
same. The answer is that public exams
have remained identical and schools
are largely locked into spending
the majority of their classroom time
preparing for them. The chemistry
papers I prepare my students for now
are almost identical to those which I
sat over 30 years ago, and indeed not
much different from those taken by
my parents’ generation. Of course,
there are present initiatives such as
the new “T levels”, but this does not
really go far enough in addressing
the challenge. In the 1860s Clifton
took the bold step of promoting
science teaching, as it was needed
to equip pupils for a new industrial
age. We have to ask whether it’s
time for today’s educators to engage
much more directly with the modern
workplace and explore what bold
changes we need to make.
Is it time for
educators to
engage much
more directly
with the

This article was sponsored by Clifton College. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng.

Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng

This year’s Parliamentary Review reflects on a tumultuous and extraordinary year, globally and nationally. As well as being an MP, I am a keen student of history, and I am conscious that 2020 would mark the end of an era. It will be remembered as the year in which we concluded Brexit negotiations and finally left the European Union. Above all, it will be remembered as the year of Covid-19.

In our fight against the pandemic, I am delighted that our vaccination programme is beginning to turn the tide – and I pay tribute to the British businesses, scientists and all those who have helped us to achieve this. But the virus has dealt enormous damage, and we now have a duty to rebuild our economy.

We must ensure that businesses are protected. We have made more than £350 billion available to that end, with grants, business rates relief and our furlough scheme supporting more than 11 million people and jobs in every corner of the country, maintaining livelihoods while easing the pressure on employers. The next step is to work with business to build back better and greener, putting the net zero carbon challenge at the heart of our recovery. This is a complex undertaking, but one which I hope will be recognised as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Through the prime minister’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, we can level up every region of the UK, supporting 250,000 green jobs while we accelerate our progress towards net zero carbon emissions.

With our commitment to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP and the creation of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency, we are empowering our fantastic researchers to take on groundbreaking research, delivering funding with flexibility and speed. With this approach, innovators will be able to work with our traditional industrial heartlands to explore new technologies, and design and manufacture the products on which the future will be built – ready for export around the globe.

And I believe trade will flourish. We are a leading nation in the fight against climate change. As the host of COP26 this year, we have an incredible opportunity to market our low-carbon products and expertise. Our departure from the EU gives us the chance to be a champion of truly global free trade; we have already signed trade deals with more than 60 countries around the world.

As we turn the page and leave 2020 behind, I am excited about the new chapter which Britain is now writing for itself, and for the opportunities which lie ahead of us.
Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy