What is Scholarship?


Mr Dan Addis, Head of Academic Scholarship at WHS, looks at our continuing Academic Scholarship programme and how you can get involved.

How often do you feel you really get to think? I mean, really think. To get your mind around a question, mull it over, think of a variety of angles, add variables, take away variables, introduce other protagonists who could affect the outcome, analyse experts’ views to see what suggestions they have, bring the idea down to the absolute minimum and build it back up.

In the day to day of modern existence, I would suggest this has been a rare occurrence until recently. I have no doubt you have seen umpteen articles on what being in lockdown has allowed people to do, but please forgive me one more example. With the time at my disposal, I decided to take on the burden of cooking ‘proper’ meals (as opposed to pasta and sauce) and the question that appeared to me was “What should I do with this cabbage?”. On the surface, I admit, this seems like a very banal question, not in keeping with the title of this post. However, I had the opportunity to run with it. I immediately ruled out just boiling it as a side, I wanted it as a key ingredient. I could not think of any recipes particularly that had cabbage as a key element, so I had to change my angle. Kimchee perhaps, exciting but not in the flavour spectrum I was looking for. I could add spices, herbs, perhaps a meat option. I ended up with a full roast meal in my head, but that seemed to complex, so I pared it back down. I asked my fiancée what she thought, what flavours she was hankering for. She suggested something hearty with gravy. Excellent call, but just cabbage and gravy? Not enough! I went to the internet, did some research on dishes involving cabbage. I mused on the topic for at least an hour. In the end, I made an Irish colcannon with an onion gravy, garnished with spring onions. It was exactly what I wanted.

I hope there are not too many of you who are looking at this and are exasperated. I was promised Scholarship and I have been given the culinary ravings of some idiot! But consider a different question I grappled with over lockdown. Do I have a philosophy of life? I started by thinking about what is important to me, considering the different aspects of my life that bring me joy or cause me distress. I asked my fiancée about her thoughts regarding what I find important and took on her feedback. I found a Blinkist (link below) page on personal philosophies and learnt the difference between Epicureanism, Daoism, contemporary Islam and more. I thought about it carefully for at least an hour. In the end I decided I am a modern Stoic. It fit my personality and priorities.

If I review the two questions I above, there is only one which many would consider to be worthy of scholarship. But if we look at the processes I went through in each instance, are they particularly different? Were there different skills evident in each instance? I would argue not and believe that the future of Scholarship lies in the broadening of our concept of what Scholarship is away from the traditional models and into more complex and interesting territory.

Above: WimTalks Session

There are two messages I would like to argue for in this blogpost:

  1. Anything can be Scholarship; and I mean anything;
  2. The interesting part of Scholarship is the similarities and connections between the lines of conventional subject knowledge.

To my first point, I would like to turn to Mary Beard. In the introduction to her book “Confronting the Classics” makes the case for the study of Classics not just for the benefit of the individual, but so we are certain that ‘someone’ is studying it. It does not really matter who that someone is, but it is vital that there are experts in the field to ensure knowledge is not lost and context is understood. Without these experts understanding the depth and complexity of a topic, we are bound to fall into clichés and incorrect retrieval of history used to divide us or perpetuate a damaging status quo (gestures at everything).

In the recent Black Lives Matter protests and movements, one of the appeals made towards white allies to the cause was that we educate ourselves. A huge amount of phenomenal material has been designated unworthy of scholarship because it does not fall into the prescribed canon. There have been innumerable posts across social media asking why people have not learnt about Black Wall Street, the true history of colonisation, that Alexandre Dumas was black, and many further examples. I would argue much of this is to do with what we consider worthy of learning.

When establishing the new National Curriculum, the government said they were firmly indebted to the work of E.D. Hirsch, who advocates for a Scholar Academic model in which there is a corpus of information that it is vital to know in order to succeed in our society and have a beneficial education. In this corpus, there are the usual suspects; Troy, British Empire, Holocaust, American Civil War etc. However, there is a distinct lack of inclusion about African history and culture, understanding of Chinese philosophy, Aboriginal oppression across the globe, and other key ideas and stories that are important if we want to build a more united world away from the bastion of the old white men’s club. The National Curriculum is doing a disservice to our children, and I believe the starting point of a shift away from this damaging perspective comes from an acknowledgement that anything can be scholarly. Everything is worthy of study so long as the person is interested and willing to look at the topic in an academic fashion from multiple angles. If we move to this understanding of scholarship, as opposed to a traditional model of what can be deemed scholarly, then we will create opportunities for our students to extend their learning beyond what is expected and have a generation of students who do not put a ranking on knowledge; who do not assume that certain facts, figures and stories have greater worth than others; and who can go into the world open minded and willing to explore without the weight of historical prejudice hanging onto them.

My second point connects prominently to our STEAM+ ideology, now towering in a beautiful physical manifestation at the centre of our school. Within the hierarchy of knowledge, which I discussed earlier, is a rather Victorian perspective on education; that knowledge can be chopped up and distributed to the students in easily differentiated chunks. However, this means that links are missed, the core elements that combine the different subjects are thrust apart. By encouraging the students to focus on whatever they find interesting, whether it is in official curricula or not, we can encourage students to attack a problem from multiple angles, playing with the blurred lines between the subjects, and discovering links that were hidden to them before. Quite apart from the fact that this lateral thinking is a skill that will benefit them in whatever avenue they wish to pursue in later life, it is also fun and rewarding. One of my greatest delights as a teacher is seeing a student’s awe-filled expression when they discover a link between subjects. (My favourite is explaining the connection between the Latin ambulare – to walk, and the modern day ambulance and how it comes from the fact that wounded soldiers on historical battlefields used to be carried away by people walking with a stretcher).

Scholarship should be fun and exciting, and the links students discover are what make it so. It becomes complex, rich and akin to discovery, when traditional learning can be staid, bland and akin to commuting. We need to encourage our students to find the fun of scholarship as that is the greatest gift we can give them.

I shall finish this blog by outlining how we plan to do this in our Academic scholarship programme, which is open to all students who wish to engage with it. Our intention is to encourage individuality. Scholars will be having 1 on 1 meetings with myself each half term to talk with them about their own areas of interest, from football to Hamlet. Whatever takes their fancy, we encourage them to do their own research, explore the topic in detail from a variety of perspectives, and then create something. Over lockdown, several of our KS3 students created short videos on areas of interest, from prized pets to quantum computing (which you can find here), as an example.

The idea is to allow them freedom in their study, away from the traditional academic models. To give them inspiration we also have a variety of different academic opportunities they can engage with. We have the Rosewell lecture programme, which will be done virtually, with speakers due to be announced soon. We will have the Explore programme, where our teachers will delve into topics that are interesting and engaging beyond the set curriculum. Tea and T’inking, a club where students can discuss and analyse topics as random as synaesthesia to meme culture, will be a safe environment where no question is unacceptable and help students stretch themselves intellectually. We also will have the Masterclasses, as mentioned in the co-curricular programme. And more than any of this, I would be delighted to hear from any student who has an area of interest and would like to pursue it. Whether it is writing an article for WimLearn, submitting an essay for a competition, or just discovering something new and wanting to discuss it. Scholarship is for everyone and should be free and open to run in any direction. We are here to help students follow that interest and passion; who knows where it may end up!

I would like to finish this article by returning to my cabbage. I will admit that I did use a particularly ridiculous example to make my point (a classic reductio ad absurdum!). However, did you know that cabbage has been cultivated for over 6000 years, almost longer than any other vegetable? That eating cabbage helps keratin production which leads to healthier hair, skin and nails? That raw cabbage juice is used as headache relief? That cabbage used to be an elixir for baldness? See, even the humble cabbage can be interesting and scholarly!


https://www.blinkist.com/ – website/app that condenses non-fiction books into easily readable chunks or 15-minute podcasts.

Beard, M. (2014) Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations, Profile Books Ltd

Hirsch, E.D. (1988) Cultural Literacy: What every American needs to know, Random House USA

McInerney, L. (2012)  Things to know about ED Hirsch and the ‘Common Cultural Literacy’ idea, https://cfey.org/2012/10/things-to-know-about-ed-hirsch-and-the-common-cultural-literacy-idea/

Pigliucci, M., Cleary, S., Kaufman, D., (2020) How to live a good life: A guide to choosing your personal philosophy; Penguin-Random house.

Is this the end for experts?

Wimbledon Wonderers logo

Ms Mari Nicholas, Head of Academic Scholarship at WHS, looks at how WHS is scholarly and why we should be lifelong learners.

Judith Butler, Science Philosopher
Judith Butler, Science Philosopher

From Thales of Miletus, Zarathustra and Confucius to Nancy Cartwright, Kwame Anthony Appiah and Judith Butler, over the centuries, philosophers have debated and cogitated the big questions. According to the University of Oxford, the study of Philosophy develops analytical rigour and the ability to criticise and reason logically. These skills can be applied to questions ranging from how we acquire knowledge and form moral judgements to central questions in the philosophy of religion. (Ox.ac.uk, 2019)

An expert is a person who is knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area. Being scholarly means having or showing knowledge, learning, or devotion to academic pursuits. One could argue, therefore, that one does not need to be a philosopher in order to be an expert or indeed scholarly. We can all develop knowledge, become skilful and devote ourselves to academic pursuits without having to give up the day job!

Work hard, pass exams and get a job?

There are myriad benefits of lifelong learning, not least the joy of discovering something new. Every day is a school day, perhaps more for teachers than most, as rarely a day goes by when one does not learn something new from the girls we are fortunate enough to educate.

Major advantages of continued learning include improving our mental and physical health: it fosters a sense of identity, an ability to cope and a sense of purpose. Studies have shown that learning leads to a greater sense of wellbeing and continued education in life contributes to a ‘cognitive footprint’, which may delay the onset of dementia. Physical health is also improved and longitudinal studies have shown a lower risk of coronary heart disease, higher probability of cervical screening and improved nutrition. In fact, learning as a whole has an impact on mortality, although one can attribute this evidence to both early as well as adult education.

Adult learning has a positive effect on your employability, raising aspirations, increasing earnings and improving job satisfaction.  Adult learning fosters a capacity to be assertive and to collaborate with others in the workplace (Billett, 2014). It is beneficial for your employer too, increasing productivity, employee commitment and resulting in a slower turnover of staff.

Community learning and vocational training are associated with improved community engagement, local involvement and volunteering (Bosche and Brady, 2013; Feinstein et al., 2008). In particular, adult literacy and numeracy have a positive impact on communities, leading to greater tolerance of others and increased trust in people of different nationalities and religions. Finally, adults who participate in learning themselves are more likely to engage in their children’s education, improving outcomes. Where levels of inequality are high, this effect is particularly pronounced (OECD, 2016).

What does Scholarship look like at WHS?

Wimbledon Wonderers logo Alongside high-quality provision in lessons, the academic stretch programme challenges our learners throughout the school.

Girls in Years 7 and 8 attend Wonderers sessions where departments take their education beyond the curriculum and enjoy learning for its own sake. This academic year, a diverse range of subjects has been covered, from Classics “The link between myth, poetry and art”; Product Design “Principles behind designing and the utility of products” and Maths “The Maths behind knitting”.

Tea and T’inking is an informal discussion group where older students come together to hash out the big ideas. Topics covered so far this year include: politics “what we might consider as an ideal political system and the deficiencies in our system”; general knowledge “what do we mean by general knowledge, how is it useful and how might it be applied?”; modern linguistic and visual culture “Why are young people attracted to memes, what do they mean and what is their importance?”.

Rosewell Lecture logoOur robust Explore and Rosewell lecture series welcomes external speakers to challenge and provoke those girls in Years 9 to 13 to think more deeply both within and without their subject specialism. Parents, teachers and partner schools are welcome at these lectures. Our external speakers have included: Janet Henry, Chief Global Economist for HSBC, “Diverging fortunes”; “In conversation with” Gillian Clark, poet, playwright, Explore logoeditor, broadcaster; Prof Vicky Neale, Whitehead lecturer at the Mathematical Institute, “Closing the Gap, the quest to understand prime numbers”; Dr Guy Sutton, “Mind and brain in the 21st Century”.

An integral part of being a member of staff at WHS is continual study and the development of expertise in their field. Regular training from Trust or external providers to in-house Twilight sessions cover a range of topics from “How to become a Head of Department” to “Giving feedback on exams, tests and assessments” and allow staff to develop professionally, leading to benefits for themselves, the students and the school.

Brain books

In addition, a group of staff from across the school make up a professional reading group, Brain Books. Every half term they discuss books in education that relate to their role within the school. These discussions inform their teaching, feed into departmental discussions and might eventually change the way we teach and learn at WHS. “Teaching Backwards” by Andy Griffith will be the next book to challenge preconceived notions of how excellent teaching and learning should look.

Lazy Teachers Handbook A discussion of “The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook” by Jim Smith drew the following comments:

  • His ideas cover a variety of pedagogical areas i.e. differentiation, lesson structure, plenaries, assessment, planning and pupil self-esteem.
  • It is good to dip into and provides inspiration for different ways of doing something.
  • One suggestion that I used today with some success is the think-pair-square-share idea for sharing ideas within the class. It doesn’t involve any pre-planning or moving of furniture and develops a range of skills for pupils.
  • I read the book in its entirety and was entertained; I picked up lots of useful strategies. It lacked a rigorous evidence base and that was a sticking point for me as his own particular style dominated. Having said that, in the past couple of weeks I have utilised a number of things and have made note of more. I use continuums or opinion lines in lessons at all levels to help students develop arguments and have experimented with his suggestions of mixing up different points of view in different ways to get individuals differentiating their interpretations in a more nuanced way.


Independent Thinking“Independent Thinking” by Ian Gilbert elicited the following:

  • Great for dipping into: the very structure of this book is creative and anti-linear, juxtaposing the author’s observations, ‘thunks’, witticisms, poems, stories, mini-essays, all to spark the reader’s own ‘out of the box’ thought processes.
  • His short observations or perceived wisdoms could work really well to spark interdisciplinary debate and to develop flexible growth mind-sets although ‘profound’ wisdoms slip into cliché and become a bit grating.
  • The book was unscientific, presenting anecdotal evidence as fact; not only that, but at times it seemed to be anti-science, evidenced in the chapter ‘How to know whether you’re a humanist or a scientist’ which lists a series of damning indictments on scientists.
  • The emphasis on building a child’s positive self-image was great – nurturing a feeling of ‘can do’, even if not ‘yet’.
  • It is not immediately relevant to my classroom teaching, but pastorally and more widely the ideas he had about creating opportunities to engage intellectually with the work of charities as well as support them with action were valuable.
  • “30 things exams don’t test” works very well with my ‘being human in an AI age’ agenda. It had a “Good school checklist” – are we walking the walk with our vision and values? Perhaps leave the poetry to other people?
  • It has made me reflect on my teaching and question, ‘How am I preparing today’s children for life in tomorrow’s world?’ Are my actions helping the girls in my class or school to in the future, have a positive effect on the world?
  • I would like to think that a copy of this book was given to all those who work at the Department of Education!

In summary, is it the end for experts? No. Lifelong learning has a huge impact on our health, wealth and happiness. I believe we should be scholarly and become experts despite what others may think.


Billett, S., 2014. Learning in the circumstances of practice. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 33(5), pp. 674-693.

Bosche, B. and Brady, B., 2013. Benefits des community learning: Ergebnisse aus Irland, in Benefits of lifelong learning. DIE Journal for Adult Education, 1, pp. 30-34.

Feinstein, L., Budge, D., Vorhaus, J. and Duckworth, K., 2008. The social and personal benefits of learning: A summary of key research findings, London: Institute of Education, University of London.

OECD, 2016. The productivity-inclusiveness nexus. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/globalforum-productivity/library/The-Productivity-Inclusiveness-Nexus-Preliminary.pdf

Ox.ac.uk. (2019). Philosophy and Theology | University of Oxford. [online] Available at: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/courses-listing/philosophy-and-theology?wssl=1  [Accessed 13 Mar. 2019].




A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Daniel Addis, Teacher of Classics here at WHS, offers an insight into the need for breadth in students and teachers’ education and how they can acquire it.

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. If we consider the Dunning-Kruger effect (demonstrated on the diagram to the right) we might agree. The principle is that ‘knowledge without sufficient experience can lead to an overestimation of ability’. It is no surprise that Donald Trump has been nicknamed the ‘Dunning-Kruger President’ in articles by the New York Times, Bloomberg, and the Independent. I recall an interview where he tries to explain uranium to his audience:

“You know what uranium is, right? This thing called nuclear weapons like lots of things are done with uranium including some bad things.”

The ignorance is palpable. One cannot help but feel that he has learnt a lot of this information in the very recent past. He has absorbed so little of it that he has become overly confident with his knowledge of the subject. I hope I am not alone in feeling thoroughly worried by this man and his proximity to the proverbial big red button. A little knowledge is truly a dangerous thing.

In the face of this, we should surely adopt a Socratic approach; “the only thing I know is that I know nothing.” By acknowledging our own ignorance, we do not risk the negatives of living beyond our intellectual means; the embarrassing demonstration of knowledge half-baked, the pub quiz question we definitely know the answer to being wrong, or a lack of understanding in the political climate leading to nuclear war. ‘Ignorance is bliss’, or is it?

As teachers, we have progressed to the far end of the Dunning-Kruger graph. We have the experience to move beyond the initial confidence level, through the trough of timidity to the position of expert in our subject. We are authorities on the syllabus and all is known to us. Hurrah!

But is there a danger that we could be elsewhere in the Dunning-Kruger graph? If we consider the graph to concern the sum of human knowledge rather than just the knowledge of our own subject, surely the specialisation in our own area of expertise, to the detriment of other knowledge, means that the level of overall experience is low. We do not have the breadth of knowledge required to move beyond the initial peak of overconfidence. And we have seen the danger of that…

It is important in our role as teachers that we continue to broaden our horizons, to learn more about the wider world beyond our subject and our specialty. By advocating our individual areas, we can damage the overall learning of the student. Naturally, we want to promote our subject, the bastion of our intellectual development. There is a reason we have attached ourselves to these monikers of learning, such as an inspiring teacher or a book that had us gripped from cover to cover. Particularly for the 6th Form or for options lower down the school, we want to sell our subject, to show students how our subject can pique their interest. We have to be incredibly passionate, otherwise our subject may be disregarded and all that knowledge remains unutilised and undiscovered.

We are particularly fervent in the Classics department for this very reason. I can guarantee every Classics teacher has memorised the ‘why learning Classics is still relevant and important’ speech due to how often we have to spout it. This breeds an element of competition in teachers, who feel they must defend their subject against the onslaught of other options. We are in a fight to keep our relevance and our numbers high. This has engendered an ‘Ivory Towers’ model of teaching, where each subject is in opposition to the others rather than collaborating to gain the best results for students.

Whilst the British system of subjects is fantastic for producing a depth of knowledge in those students who study them, we as teachers need to be advocating a far broader array of knowledge. What is an education that only focuses on one area? How can we truly learn Shakespeare without understanding Greek Theatre? How can we truly learn physical Geography without an understanding of the scientific elements that fabricate our world? How can we truly learn French without knowledge of the history of the Europe?

It is our responsibility as teachers to keep learning, expanding our horizons, and putting our subject in context with others. The ‘Ivory Towers’ model is not only defunct, it is damaging and we must try to move beyond it. Students will be learning the same skills in a variety of classes. Understanding of major concepts such as justice and morality can happen in History just as much as R.S. Analysis of literature is not just the preserve of English, but of MFL and Classics as well. Logical processing and methodology occurs in Maths, Sciences, Geography, Languages, History, and more. The similarities are much more prominent than the differences.

I will stop at suggesting a thorough re-examination of our entire curriculum. I think our subject-based system allows students to study what they are interested in with a depth and insight that other models of teaching do not allow them. However, they need to be exposed to a wider array of material in order to develop the cultural capital needed to be high functioning members of our society. Unfortunately, it does not happen naturally. The percentage of students who decide for themselves to delve beyond the syllabus is disappointingly low. We, as teachers, need to be the examples for them to follow. The syllabus is a base point but we must indicate what else is out there for them to discover.

I appreciate this sounds an awful lot like hard work. Not only learning your specification but what others are teaching as well?! The job of a maniac! However, there is an easy solution… Explore and Rosewell lectures. Sit and listen about the wider world. From brain surgery to rainforests; classical myths to Chinese politics; just sit and listen. Enhancing our own learning can only help our students and demonstrate to them the benefits of the holistic education. By developing the breadth of our own learning, we build the level of scholarship throughout the school. We tear down those ‘Ivory Towers’. We create a love of learning beyond the minimum required. Moreover, we can show that it is worth the time. Unfortunately, we are time poor as a profession. However, demonstrating that it is worth that hour to listen to a lecture will increase its value for everyone; students, staff, friends, parents etc. The more people we can have attending these lectures, the more our collective intellectualism will grow and flourish. If we consider the methodology of our recent visitor Guy Claxton, we should be facilitating and encouraging learning by the students and allowing them to do the majority of the research and discovery. What better way to embody this ideology than to show support for extra-curricular and cross-curricular learning by an expert in the field.

There is a famous expression ‘Jack of all trades and Master of none.’ What a negative ideology, I have been tarred many times with this linguistic brush. “Why would you want to try many things when you could be really good at one thing?” “Why would you do something if you are not the best at it?” It creates a culture of fearing the unknown, of deriding those who are not experts but are enthused. No one wants to be a Jack, but people rarely finish the expression. In full:

‘Jack of all trades, Master of none, but better than a Master of one.’ 

Let’s stop being Masters and be Jacks. Let’s broaden our knowledge of the entirety of what the world has to offer. Let’s Explore. You never know what you might learn.

Twitter: @AcademicSch_WHS