Overturning a false dichotomy: Academic versus ‘whole-child’ approaches to education

There is a common perception among child-centred educationalists that the focus on academic performance in English secondary schools marginalises the application of ‘whole-child’ approaches to education in secondary schools. This is an issue for child-centred educationalists because they believe that global 21st Century developments require a ‘whole-child’ approach to education which can enhance the academic as well as the personal development of pupils.
Contrary to the common perception that there is little room for a ‘whole-child’ approach in secondary schools, the findings from a qualitative study undertaken at a top performing grammar school in West Yorkshire suggest that ‘whole-child’ approaches can and do thrive within high performing secondary schools. There are two reasons for this. First, pupils in high performing schools are used to and are able to follow fast-paced sessions which means teachers have more time to develop strong professional relationships with pupils. As the pupils move faster through the subject content, teachers have more time to spend with pupils outside the formal teaching hours. Second, this research has shown that, in schools were both teachers and pupils are determined that the school will perform well academically, strong professional relationships are formed between them. This leads to fewer behavioural issues and to an improved school environment within which ‘whole-child’ approaches to education can be fostered. Positive professional relationships between teachers and pupils have also been shown to be contributing to the formation of a school community ethos that enhances the wellbeing of pupils, helping them to cope with the challenges and pressures of their academic life.
The findings of this case study have shown that high performance cultures in secondary schools can act as an enabler to ‘whole-child’ approaches to education. Is this a ‘one off’ qualitative study or has it exposed a false dichotomy in contemporary educational thinking?