Sir Anthony Seldon gave the Inaugural CIFE lecture on Monday 29th February 2016. Sir Anthony, Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University and former Master of Wellington College, is an effective champion of independent education, especially when it is accused of undermining state schools or dominating recruitment into high-flying professions.

Sir Anthony challenged the view that independent schools should somehow be levelled down, and pointed to lack of vision in government which fails to provide an effective twenty-first century education.

“Success at exams is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a good education system. Our policy-makers have become so drunk on exam tonic that they now believe that league tables are all education is. Study after study shows that the 21st century workplace does not just need those who excel at memory and exam skills – tasks that computers can do far better – but rather those human and entrepreneurial skills that the children at state schools are rarely taught and many will never learn.”

“A major reason why students from independent schools dominate so many of the major positions in national life is because they learn the “soft” skills of entrepreneurship, independent thinking, teamwork, leadership and character, which come from independent schools’ broad arts, sports and service programmes”

Sir Anthony went on to talk about the wellbeing course he introduced at Wellington to help students develop self-understanding and resilience as antidotes to anxiety, procrastination and envy. Those ‘happiness classes’ were much criticised at the time but proved very effective in helping students develop an engaged and balanced approach to life.

Concluding with Thoreau’s observation that “Most men and women lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their graves with their song inside them”, Sir Anthony first referred to the work of Howard Gardner (Multiple intelligences), Martin Seligman (Positive Psychology), Carol Dweck (Mindset), and Ken Robinson (TED Talks), urging students to forge their own path to the future and to welcome happiness into their own lives and those of others. Those in the room left with the task of writing a thank you letter, albeit belated, to a person who had had a positive influence on their life.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of national education policy might be, Sir Anthony’s excellent understanding of the challenges of modern education and how best to help students cope clearly made good sense to his audience, primarily sixth formers and their teachers. We look forward to next year’s CIFE lecture!






Sir Anthony with two Oxford International College students – Marcus Leong (left) and Abdullahi Babayo (right)