Back to the Future...

I'm crossing my fingers that at least some readers will recognise this reference to Robert Zemeckis' 1985 science fiction comedy, which I remember very well!
Back to the Future

In it, a teenaged Michael J. Fox is accidentally transported 30 years back in the past in a time-travelling DeLorean car invented by his 'mad scientist' friend played by the suitably hair-brained  Christopher Lloyd. Finding himself in his home town in 1955, Fox has to make sure that his then high-school-age parents meet in order to ensure his future existence!

Albeit unaided by a souped up 1980s supercar, two events of the last week felt a little like travelling back in my own past... in order to gain a glimpse of our – and other – students' futures!

Firstly, I had the privilege of spending last Tuesday with a group of twenty-two of our Year 10 and 12 students on an inspirational taster day in Oxford.

The day coincidentally started Oriel College, the fourth oldest of the University's thirty-seven colleges, and a quintessentially 'Oxford' setting where I was lucky enough to have studied History some 30 years ago!

Oriel College

The beautiful and quintessentially 'Oxford' front quad of Oriel College

It was wonderful that group was met for its tour by former Park House student, David Skuse who is now in his third year reading PPE - Politics, Philosophy and Economics. All were really grateful to David for his insights into College life - and what an inspirational role model he is to the next generation of our students.

Our work with Oriel to provide motivational 'taster' events in fact goes back to 2008, when we partnered with College staff to develop the 'Orielympics' concept. Students spent two days at College, working as if they were undergraduate students to produce their own presentations in response to initial stimulus lectures given by Tutors.  These were themed around the Olympics and Paralympics, but were deliberately inter-disciplinary and open-ended to encourage our students to think creatively and independently. Topics included the physics behind the 'blades' used by amputee athletes, the science of performance enhancing drugs and the political history of the Games from the infamous 'Nazi' Olympics in Berlin in 1936 through to the tit for tat Superpower Boycotts of the 1980s.

Among my own personal favourites was the study set up by the College's Classics Tutor, who challenged students to compare 'Sporting Heroes of the Ancient and Modern World.'

The following slide from one student's presentation brilliantly compared the superstar celebrity status of Ancient Greek Olympic wrestler Polydamas, who was deified in the Fifth Century BC for his sporting achievements, with that currently enjoyed by David Beckham! They discovered that his image was 'branded' on merchandise (like vases in this case), just as Beckham's is today! Brilliant!


Since 2011, and after three 'Orielympic' events, our formal Oxford Outreach links have moved to University College - the oldest in Oxford - as the Colleges have collectively looked to rationalise their partnership working with schools in particular geographical areas. 'Univ', as it is known, has been given the brief to work with schools in West Berkshire - and we have really benefitted from a close working relationship over the last two years.

University College Oxford

So after the tour of Oriel, we moved to Univ, in whose equally beautiful and iconic surroundings students enjoyed a series of briefings from College staff on approaches to 'super-curricular' learning - developing and deepening academic interest in school-based subjects - in order to enhance potential applications in the future; their futures.

My second of my personal journeys 'back to the future' last week revolved not around buildings but a person; none less than the legendary DJ and TV personality, Tony Blackburn! For younger readers Tony is probably best known as being a recent 'King of the Jungle', having been a popular winner of 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here'! However, for  those of my generation, Tony will be forever associated with the glory days of Radio 1 and the Thursday evening ritual of the 7pm chart countdown on 'Top of the Pops'.

Tony Blackburn

It was therefore in a spirit of teenage awe and reverence that I approached my interview with Tony on his show on Radio Berkshire on Wednesday morning!  I'd been invited to talk about our partnership programme with schools in Iraq.  In the context of my 'theme' this week, it was great to reflect with him on a programme which is shaping the futures of young people in a country with a challenging recent past. But Tony had also read the most recent copy of 'Personal Best' , featuring our iPad pilot in Year 7. He was fascinated by how this was impacting on learning and with a combination of great interviewing skill and genuine charm and interest moved our conversation on to a broader discussion of the future of schooling.

In doing so, and with perfect symmetry, our conversation encapsulated a week when I felt that I had both personally and professionally travelled 'back to the future'. And what a very exciting journey it was.