Author Archives: Philip

Learning to live with tension

Category : Blogs , Uncategorized

So we’ve recently concluded our latest Inquiry-based Learning initiative (see Rachel’s previous Facebook Note on this); an inquiry where we focused on the environment for five 4-hour sessions.

If you’ve been following our educational journey on Facebook, via our website, or in person, you’ll know that the experiences, moments, and observations of children is our ‘fuel’. As facilitators of learning, we record everything – through a process we call ‘documentation’ – and use this to provoke, launch, and, relaunch child led-inquiries. Without these audio recordings, photographs, or written notes – alongside the time to review, reflect, and respond to them as a staff team – I can’t imagine how we’d facilitate a child-led culture of learning.

So when, our current group of co-learners fed back that one of their key learning points from the last five weeks was the “ups and downs” of working together as a team, I took note. My facilitative sensors were triggered; because, although the focus of our time together in July/August was ‘the environment’ – a trajectory that originated from a previous child-led observation that: “chemicals like plastics are bad & therefore kill the earth” and “adults aren’t doing enough” (03/06/2019) – this latest gathering of children didn’t collaborate in the same way they had previously. That there were Ups and Downs was a valid learning point to raise.

The very beginning of what would, in time, become known as: ‘The Time Machine’ (May 20 2019).

When asked what the children thought the difference might be this time – verses last time, when the children chosen to ‘go on an adventure’ into history, which involved constructing a time machine (right) – a few children felt that they had brought their own resources from home this time, rather than been provided with resources, last time.


“For the time machine we got given resources; this is the first time sharing resources.”



In July / August’s inquiry, our children decided they wanted to address some of the problems created by plastics by building a litter-picker-upper (above); although, as early as the second session they suspected it might not help, in fact it might make matters worse they thought, since it might make people litter more; “Is this going to make people lazy?” (July 22 2019).

As I reflect on the ‘Ups and Downs’ of our time together, I think the children are correct in recognising how we treat resources we own vs. shared-resources that we have in common.

The Franciscan Community of Casa San Salvador in Brookland, Washington DC

Rachel and I have very fond memories of staying at Casa San Salvador, an intentional community in Washington DC, last year (May). As we traveled around the world, researching education, between April and June 2018, we intentionally chose to stay in lots of different places, where we met and were hosted by lots of incredible people, but I remember worrying about what it would be like living with others, before arriving in DC.

As it turned out, the fact that no one living in the house owned it, and all the resources were in common / pooled, meant that it was a real life tangible example of no one claiming, ‘…that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had’ (Acts 4:32). It was actually one of the most liberating experiences of living with others I’ve ever had. Very different to when I’ve stayed in someone else’s house, or when we’ve hosted people in ours.

The difference in children’s collaboration in May/June 2019 vs. July/August 2019, was not that the children were constructing a time machine vs. a litter-picker-upper; it was that the children had been encouraged / decided to bring their own (reusable) resources from home.


“Some people got jealous with what we brought.”


“I can’t read – I’m still learning (July 29 2019). “He can read!” (August 5 2019).

As I reflected on this, the morning after our latest feedback session, I suppose it was inevitable that I would begin by asking myself whether we had ‘failed’ this time around. Whilst its true that I was both surprised and delighted by how the children had relished the opportunity to stretch other skills – foundational literacy, for example (right) – I still couldn’t stop myself from focusing on how creative problem solving, communication, and collaboration didn’t flow in the same ways that it did before.

Thankfully, I wasn’t down for long; I ‘happened’ to come across an article on Facebook from IDEO – one of the top design firms that I often quote – which began with: ‘Not all tension is bad.’ What? Really! It was both timely and interesting.

In IDEO’s experience – when it comes to cultivating creative collaboration – ‘tension’ around i). ideas, ii). team dynamics, and iii). one to one feedback, is absolutely essential. They agree / argue that tension is ‘a critical element for fueling creative thinking on teams’ (IDEO 2019).

And so, the next time we gather children, I wonder if we ought to provoke an inquiry into teamwork, welcoming tension, or being intentional about sharing resources as a community?


Category : Uncategorized

Our ethos is driven by i). our vision of an equal and integrated South Africa, which we believe begins with its citizens – children, their educators, parents-carers, and the wider community – learning how to live together, through the provision of high quality, diverse and accessible education…

and ii). our image of a self-giving, social, and unified God – who values, receives, honours, collaborates, and makes room for the other.

As God’s image bearers we seek out, welcome, and respect one another’s culture, faith, and socio-economic backgrounds, people who share different beliefs, experiences, and viewpoints from our own (McLaren 2012:130).

We celebrate, encourage, and support one another in our differences; we grow more, go further, and change more when we are together. We see ourselves, and the children and parent-carers in our schools, as ‘agents of change’ (Tennent 2010:479), with a mandate to re-imagine, create, and co-construct justice and peace in the teeth of society’s structures (Bosch 1991:179).

Richard Neave

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Richard (pictured left) spent 31 years at Durban Preparatory High School, where he started as Head of Department in 1982 and was privileged to serve as Headmaster from 1988 to 2013.

As a boy he enjoyed an adventurous and happy primary schooling education at Tweefontein Primary ( Ogies ), a very rewarding and enriching high schooling as a boarder at Pretoria Boys High School, enlightened training as a teacher at Natal Teachers Training College, Pietermaritzburg, and a solid grounding as a teacher at Merchiston Preparatory School from 1969 and Head of Department 1977 to 1981.

Richard is very happily married to Lyn. He has two working daughters living in Auckland, New Zealand; Amy is a film and animation producer and Zoe is in marketing and business. Richard also has two step sons, Warren and Brett.

He has a special interest in art, movies, motor cars, fishing, golf, rugby and sport in general. He is passionate about unlocking curiosity and talent, within children, teachers, leaders and teams.

The wonder within the curriculum

Category : Blogs , Uncategorized

I wonder what you think of when you hear the phrase ‘life skills’?

My understanding of life skills, as a subject that forms part of the South African school curriculum, has been based on explanations people have shared of it helping children to form their identity, sense of worth, or to understand their emotions, and of it supporting students to make good choices. Living and working in KwaZulu-Natal, a region with the highest HIV rate in the country – where over a quarter of the population is living with the disease – it is perhaps understandable that most of the faith-based non profit organisations we’ve worked with over the last 12 years include sex education (for older children) within life skills.

Since living and working in South Africa I have linked these descriptions (above) to my own experience and knowledge of working as a teacher in England; so I have considered Life Skills to be similar to PSHE (Personal, Social, Health Education), or SEAL (Social, Emotional Aspects of Literacy) – both of which have been part of the curriculum in England.

But in exploring the South African Life Skills curriculum for Grade R to Grade 3 learners (5 to 9 year-olds), as part of the preparation for launching our quality, diverse and accessible school in KwaZulu-Natal, I have been surprised by the content. Surprised…in a good way!

As I expected, the Life Skills curriculum does include aspects of social and emotional development, i.e. self-awareness, self-confidence, expressing and managing feelings and behaviour, and physical development; health and self-care, but it goes so much further…

The Life Skills curriculum is actually incredibly rich with themes that provoke children – alongside their teachers – to explore people and communities (the home, family, school, community, jobs, etc.), and the world (seasons, food, animals, plants, the weather, the environment etc.). In addition, all of the ‘content’ can be explored through the creative arts, where children have opportunities to use a variety of mediums, media, and materials to create in 2 and 3 Dimensions, and use their imagination as they express their ideas and thoughts via music and dance; all whilst developing foundational literacies.

Since the Life Skills curriculum outlines the themes – but doesn’t go in to great detail with a lot of specifics – it means, as a school, we can link children’s interests to areas in the Life Skills curriculum, using these as provocations to go deeper in to areas which the children are naturally curious and intrigued by. We can encourage children to explore and express ideas, thoughts, learning creatively and imaginatively, through one or more of their 100 languages.

In utilising themes from the South African Life Skills curriculum to provoke learning, carefully selecting areas which relate to children’s interests, and documenting children’s learning along the way, rather than assessing against predefined outcomes, we believe the tension of making room for ‘meaning making’ within / alongside a curriculum can be balanced. Dahlberg et al. explain pedagogical documentation is:

‘…about trying to see and understand what is going on in the pedagogical work and what the child is capable of without any predetermined framework of expectations and norms’.

Dahlberg, Moss and Pence (2007: 146)

Documentation – notes of the children’s actions, comments, and conversations during their work, alongside photographs which capture these ‘…ordinary moments and everyday experiences in the classroom’ (Kashin 2014) – enables teachers to enter into dialogue with children and fellow staff members, to consider different perspectives, critically reflect, and relaunch learning. Working in this way, teachers will be listening for the unknown, expectant for surprises – meaning making will be paramount.


Dahlberg, G., Moss, P. and Pence, A. (2007) Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care, Oxon: Routledge.

Department of Basic Education (2011) Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement Grade R to 3 Life Skills, South Africa: Government Printing Works.

Human Sciences Research Council (2017) South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey.

Kashin, D. (2014) Progettazione: Reggio-inspired Teaching in Dialogue with the Learning Processes of Children [online]. Accessed June 2019.


Always willing to help, join in, and / or lend a hand, the most common phrases you’re likely to hear from B s either ‘Can I help you?’ ‘Who would like..?’ or ‘I have made this for you’. B is confident, compassionate, loves reaching out to people, and loves to share resources. He is an initiator, a leader of learning; others often follow, take his ideas on board, and go further.


I is ‘thinker’. He listens intently, takes in all that going on / being said, before sharing his ideas, reflections and thoughts in ways that are often incisive, profound, and provoking. I makes significant connections with people, between lines of thought, and different practical activities. He loves to help, join in, and work alongside others; and is equally comfortable to work alone. He demonstrates serious levels of determination, patience, and perseverance / grit, in order to get his point across effectively. 


S is incredibly adaptable, shows initiative, and demonstrates natural leadership qualities. He loves to draw alongside, join and work alongside others – whether that is in pairs, small groups, or the whole class. He is equally at home working independently. S is always up for an adventure, he loves to question, and finds deep joy in discovering the answers that lie buried beneath.


H is an adventurer, a designer, and an innovator of note. He enjoys the freedom, space, and time to observe, think, and work independently, whilst accepting the contribution, feedback, and insight from others. He has an affinity with construction, his environment and animals; he brings all of these to his learning, reflecting and relaxing.  H always shows great persistence / grit, ingenuity and creativity when he puts his mind to it.


Inside H is an ‘agent of change’ waiting to unleash himself on the world. Every now and again you catch a glimpse; it’s exciting, mesmerizing and potentially game-changing.