Meet the head of Malvern College who is preparing his pupils for a rapidly changing global landscape

When Keith Metcalfe took over as headteacher of Malvern College in 2019, he introduced a pupil-led super-curriculum to develop transferable skills to stand them in good stead for later life. He tells us about the challenges and opportunities youngsters face in an evolving tech-based world.

By Emma Luther  |  Published
Headteacher Keith Metcalfe enjoys celebrating pupils' achievements and efforts at weekly brunch groups.

In today's ambitious world, teachers are seeing pupils with a huge fear of failure and a sense of feeling the need to live up to dazzling expectations. 

SoGlos speaks to Malvern College headteacher Keith Metcalfe about the challenge of finding the perfect balance of inspiring motivation without piling on the pressure in a world of constant change.

What attracted you to become headteacher at Malvern College?

I always wanted to work in a school I believe in, and the sort of school I wanted my children to attend. I admired the strong academic core as well as a focus on broadening intellectual stretch beyond the confines of exam criteria.

I also liked the fact the school has opportunities for every child to find their niche and passions. Malvern College is somewhere each child is known and supported as an individual and not just focused on exam grades or achievements, which is important.

What do you most enjoy about being head at Malvern College?

I love the constant variety and challenge of the role, and especially working with high calibre people.

It's great looking for ways to innovate teaching and develop the intellectual growth of our pupils, I thoroughly enjoy the teaching I do. It's also rewarding to see pupils enjoying theatre, concerts and sports.

What impresses you about your pupils?

Our pupils have a willingness to make the most of opportunities, or create their own opportunities and are inspired by each other.

I was incredibly impressed by their resilience through the pandemic, but also on a day to day basis they do brilliantly. A day of lessons can leave you exhausted, but our pupils go on to sports practices, music or drama clubs, do their homework and are still creative and curious.

What do you see as the biggest challenges that young people face in the current global climate?

When it comes to social media and technology there are strong temptations and pupils can be cleverly exploited and dragged into unhelpful areas where they waste huge amounts of time. The real challenge is how to safely grasp the opportunities, because there are some incredible benefits to be had in technology, as we prepare our children to thrive in a tech-based world.

So much is made of results - there is a very great fear of failure and a sense of needing to live up to sometimes unrealistic expectations, so the main challenge is how to find the perfect balance of inspiring motivation and enjoying doing your best in each area, without piling on the pressure. 

We aim to create opportunities for pupils to direct their own path with positive motivation techniques, so they have ownership of their own goals.

How do you go about developing the skills, resilience and initiative for pupils to flourish in a rapidly changing global landscape? 

We intentionally create opportunities for transferable skills, confidence building and leadership initiative through our super-curriculum and co-curriculum.

Super-curricular pupil-led societies mean pupils choose the subject areas and activities they are interested in, so the impetus comes from them. They then have to think of the logistics, plan events or meetings, advertise it, compere it, invite speakers, research and prepare presentations. When it goes well, they get satisfaction of a job well done and when it doesn't go to plan, they have a support team to help them redesign and review, so they can see a way to improve it for the next time.

In the co-curricular sports, music and drama there are lots of opportunities to organise and lead. With outdoor pursuits, it is all about taking initiative, learning to take on challenges and building resilience and collaboration.

Most people learn best by balancing learning with taking action - many of us don't really learn until we do it, and then we are in a better position to receive and apply support and guidance. 

Your slogan is ‘transform their world’ – what does this mean to you?

It is about transforming pupils through their time at the school. They arrive as children, become teenagers and leave as adults with the skills and confidence to go out and transform their wider world and have a positive impact.

You aim to develop specific qualities in pupils including resilience, self-awareness, collaboration, curiosity, integrity, and humility. Why do you consider these so important?

Academic qualifications are important - they help us get our foot in the door as we look to the next rung on the educational or career ladder but the skills that help us be successful and find fulfillment are down to the ability to do something and do it well.

We have lots of qualities to reflect the fact pupils change dramatically during their time at school. Whilst, at any one time, we may struggle to develop more than a couple of these, once these are mastered, there are many other qualities we could be working on attaining the following term or year.

You have Malvern College Tokyo and Malvern College Barbados due to open later this year - how important are international links?

International links are really valuable to us as a school that prepares its pupils for a globalised world where cultural intelligence and the ability to recognise the value of learning from other perspectives is key.

Across the school hierarchy we have collaboration groups to ensure our pupils and staff are benefitting from the global family, whether that is the heads of the geography departments co-ordinating a cross-school project; our collaboration and innovation committee organising a cross-family debating competition; or the academic directors joining together to add weight to a discussion with the International Baccalaureate.

You have some very notable famous alumni have any of them inspired recent students?

We do have some famous alumni and it is wonderful when they revisit the college, but only if it is for the value of our pupils. I am not impressed by celebrity and have found the Old Malvernians who have really inspired our pupils have been those who really resonate with them, who are authentic and are focused on making a positive difference. We are celebrating 30 years of co-education this year and have invited back inspirational females.

What are you most proud about at Malvern College?

The best part of my role is celebrating what our pupils have achieved or tried to do each week as I read out notices in assembly, hand out prizes at speech day or have a weekly brunch for groups from each year group or house.

As I regularly tell our pupils, heads (and staff) are just the caretakers and facilitators of these great schools. We ride on the back of the efforts and achievements of our pupils, and we are never short of stories to tell about the many ways our pupils make us proud.

But, out of all the things we celebrate, the most important is the value the school puts on looking after and supporting each individual person, and Malvern gets that right. I am biased, but there is no other school I have worked in, visited or inspected that I would want my children to attend above Malvern.

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