The Perse School

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by The Perse School'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 The Perse School 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

Headteacher Ed Elliott
Students on an 18-day
expedition to Ladakh, India,
where they climbed the
Gulap glacier
The Perse School, a Cambridge-based academically
selective independent school, is dedicated to excellence
– excellence, that is, of the whole person and not just
in terms of examination results. Founded in 1615, the Perse
has a long history of producing some of the country’s most
eminent people. Central to this success are a set of values which
headteacher Ed Elliott tells
The Parliamentary Review
Intellectual curiosity and scholarship
At the Perse, we focus on giving children intellectual skills that will last a lifetime.
Our emphasis is on long-term learning and not teaching for tests. One of these
skills is the ability to communicate clearly, eloquently and succinctly in both
the written and the spoken word. “Maximum meaning from minimum words,
beautifully expressed” is our aim. Other essential intellectual qualities include the
ability to construct and deconstruct arguments, to see both the big picture and
the small detail, to develop a sense of perspective, to ask and answer challenging
questions, to be creative and think outside the box, to be digitally and numerically
proficient, and to conduct research – these are vital skills that all young people
need whether at university or in employment.
Too often the public exam tail can wag the educational dog and assessment can
compromise learning. In schools, we should prioritise the acquisition of essential
intellectual skills, and only when these have been mastered should we turn
to grade chasing and exam preparation. Grades are important outcomes and
they matter for university entry and employment, but they must not dictate the
»Headteacher: Ed Elliott
»Founded in 1615
»Location: Cambridge
»Type of School: Independent
day school for girls and boys
aged 3-18
»No. of students: 1,180 in
Upper School; 280 in Prep
School, 150 in Pelican School
»Over £1.1 million is spent on
bursary places each year
The Perse School
Highlighting best practice
educational process, which should
have wider and deeper objectives. It is
very much a case of education first and
exams second.
Breadth and balance
We want our offering to be both broad
and balanced. In other words, we want
to educate young people for life and
provide them with a whole range of
soft skills and competencies, such as
emotional intelligence, that are key to
living happy and successful lives. The
ability to empathise and understand
other people is crucial, especially for
those who will lead, manage or work
with others. As children spend more
time interacting screen to screen rather
than face to face, opportunities for
acquiring and practising emotional
intelligence become more important.
Emotional intelligence and other life
skills can be acquired through sports
teams, music and drama productions,
outdoor pursuits, and school trips.
These activities encourage – indeed,
demand – teamwork, organisation,
resilience and communication. Through
them, young people will develop
confidence, which leads to a sense
of self-worth and wellbeing. We’re
lucky enough to be well resourced,
meaning we can invest significantly in
schemes of this kind (we have 100-
plus extracurricular activities), and the
difference it makes to pupils at school
and in later life is obvious.
We are preparing children for a
future world which is evolving rapidly.
Artificial intelligence is one example of
how this landscape will change. Even
quintessentially cerebral occupations
like medicine will be commandeered by
machine learning. As AI processes data
with ever greater accuracy and speed,
the role of the human rote learner is
diminished. In future hospitals, AI may
process medical information and make
diagnoses, while doctors will need
to manage patients’ emotions and
wellbeing. The workplace of the future
may put more value on human skills,
such as emotional intelligence, which
computers cannot easily replicate,
rather than knowledge retrieval and
processing, which will be digitised.
Today’s education needs to prepare
pupils for tomorrow’s world.
Try hard, but know one’s
Parents and schools can put a lot of
emphasis on children doing their best.
This is a tried-and-tested approach, but
it’s one that needs to be tempered.
Excellence is excellent, but the
unqualified demand for excellence
can be a destructive force. As children
grow up, their worlds become more
complex, with competing demands.
At some point, there will simply be too
many balls to juggle at once. It’s at this
stage that young people need to learn
that one cannot be good at all things
all of the time and that mistakes and
failures are an inevitable part of life.
Knowing one’s self, knowing how to
prioritise and knowing how to keep a
sense of perspective are essential parts
of self-development.
Actors performing
Billy Elliott the Musical
in the new Peter Hall
Performing Arts Centre
We should
prioritise the
acquisition of
skills, and only
when these
have been
should we
turn to grade
chasing and
This is especially important at
university, when young people away
from home for the first time can face
academic and personal challenges,
which impact on their work and
wellbeing. But students who have
been appropriately challenged at
school, who realise the destructive
impossibility of perfectionism and who
have developed healthy emotional
wellbeing and resilience techniques will
be much better prepared for the ups
and downs of university, and later life.
One who does things for
others does them for oneself
Another central value is teaching
children to balance the selfish and
the selfless. In too great a measure,
either of the two can be harmful. We
want children to behave towards one
another, as well as with the rest of the
world, in a manner that is both kind
and considerate. As an independent
school and charity, we have a duty to
provide public benefit. It’s therefore
incumbent upon us to give back to
society, which is why we engage in
a number of outreach projects, from
“digistart” IT lessons for the elderly to
support for primary school pupils.
The primary school outreach
programme responds to requests for
assistance from local primary heads
whose schools may lack particular
resources. If a primary school
needs to teach French but has no
appropriately skilled teacher, we will
try to find a student or teacher with
the necessary linguistic expertise;
if primary schools need access to
specialist IT equipment, we will loan
it where appropriate. More than 20
local primary schools have been in
receipt of this help. But in helping
primary pupils, the Perse helps its own
students, who, by working in partner
schools, gain in humility, confidence,
patience, and communication and
Facing the world and the
Looking to the future, the Perse will
continue to blend the old with the new
– keeping what works and removing
what doesn’t. We benefit from a
400-year perspective and a stability
that comes from being independent
and sheltered from changing
government policies. Our goal is to
create independent, ethical learners
who have the knowledge, skills and
qualities to cope with anything that a
future world may throw at them. And
when I say world, I mean it literally, as
we are looking to expand the Perse
overseas so that children elsewhere
can benefit from our educational
values and experience. This should
bring economic, political and cultural
benefits to the UK and allow us to
expand our outreach programmes,
which are funded by the Perse purse
and not the public purse.
We are preparing
children for a
future world
which is evolving
rapidly. Artificial
intelligence is
one example of
how this
landscape will
Science subjects are
popular at The Perse

This article was sponsored by The Perse School. 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 Elizabeth Truss.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss

Even by the standards of the day –this has been one of the most exciting and unpredictable years in British politics.

The leadership election we’ve just seen marks a huge moment in our country’s history. This government is taking a decisive new direction, embracing the opportunities of Brexit and preparing our country to flourish outside the EU.

As international trade secretary, I’ll be driving forward work on the free trade agreements that are going to be a priority for the government. Free trade isn’t just an abstract concept bandied around by technocrats. It is crucial for a strong economy and for the ability of families to make ends meet. Free trade benefits people in every part of our country, as British firms export to new markets and people doing the weekly shop have access to a wider choice of goods at lower prices.

The essence of free trade is in the title: freedom. It’s about giving people the power to exchange their goods without heavy government taxation or interference. Commerce and free exchange are the engine room of prosperity and social mobility. I’m determined to tackle the forces who want to hold that back.

One of my priorities is agreeing an exciting new free trade deal with the US, building on the great relationship between our two countries and the Prime Minister and US President. But I’ll also be talking to other partners including New Zealand, Australia and fast-growing Asian markets.

And with the EU too, we want a friendly and constructive relationship, as constitutional equals, and as friends and partners in facing the challenges that lie ahead – a relationship based on a deep free trade agreement. Our country produces some of the world’s most successful exports, and the opportunity to bring these to the rest of the world should make us all excited about the future. It is this excitement, optimism and ambition which I believe will come to define this government.

For too long now, we have been told Britain isn’t big or important enough to survive outside the EU – that we have to accept a deal that reflects our reduced circumstances. I say that’s rubbish. With the right policies in place, we can be the most competitive, free-thinking, prosperous nation on Earth exporting to the world and leading in new developments like AI. To do that, we’ll give the brilliant next generation of entrepreneurs the tools they need to succeed. Since 2015, there has been a staggering 85 per cent rise in the number of businesses set up by 18 to 24 year olds – twice the level set up by the same age group in France and Germany. We’ll help them flourish by championing enterprise, cutting taxes and making regulation flexible and responsive to their needs.

As we do that, we’ll level up and unite all parts of the UK with great transport links, fibre broadband in every home and proper school funding, so everyone shares in our country’s success.

2019 has been the year of brewing economic and political revolution. 2020 will be the year when a revitalised Conservative government turbo charges the economy, boosts prospects for people across the country, and catapults Britain back to the forefront of the world stage.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss
Secretary of State for International Development