CEO Blog: Introducing our focus for 2022/23: Human Flourishing

26 September 2022

Each year at Challenge Partners our programme of ‘knowledge exchange’ between the schools and trusts in our network has a different focus. In 2020/21, we focused on excellence and equity; in 2021/22 we focused on curriculum, diversity and disadvantage; and in 2022/23 we’ll be exploring human flourishing.
This is a topic we’ll be examining through the National Network Meetings and Sharing Leading Practice events taking place throughout the year. In this blog, our CEO, Dr Kate Chhatwal OBE, shares the inspiration behind the theme.

There are a few answers to the questions ‘why human flourishing?’ and ‘why now?’.

First, and most important, one of the things that unites the practitioners in our partnership is their broad view of education and interest in holistic development - human flourishing very clearly speaks to this. As a proudly practitioner-led partnership, our decisions are always guided by them. Our focus on human flourishing links very strongly to our mission of improving not just outcomes, but life chances, and particularly for the most vulnerable.

Second, having lived through two years where sometimes it has felt all any of us could do is simply get through, we are optimistic that this year we can again lift our eyes to the horizon and fully re-engage with the full breadth of what an excellent and equitable education can offer, from first-rate academic learning; to encouragement of creativity and curiosity; engagement with the arts, music and sport; with community, charity and activism - all those things that enrich our time here on earth.

Human flourishing is an ideal so significant that there are whole departments dedicated to its study at Harvard and Nottingham University. It is also embedded in the OECD’s Learning Framework 2030, where they relate it to thinking about what sets humans apart in a world of AI. They emphasise the need for advanced cognitive skills; ethical education; an aesthetic dimension - all the things AI can’t (yet) do.

I will acknowledge here that mention of the OECD and their focus on skills can sometimes be a red-rag to the bull of those favouring knowledge rich curricula (especially on twitter). At CP we don’t promote a particular approach to curriculum, just as we don’t favour any pedagogical approach - what our reviews and programmes explore is how effective whatever approach a school or trust is taking is in delivering excellence and equity for its pupils. There is great strength in embracing this diversity within our partnership, and opportunities it presents for innovation and challenge (and far more nuanced dialogue than is possible on twitter).

I would certainly argue that any concept of human flourishing that doesn’t give prominence to academic flourishing is seriously lacking. This is a view shaped for me personally by working as Deputy Secretary to Sir Mike Tomlinson’s Working Group on 14-19 Reform way back in 2004. ‘Flourishing’ was a term Mike often used, and he held deep convictions as a former HMCI about the value of scholarship and academic flourishing, but always alongside that broader development of skills and attributes and range of experiences.

As a lover of language and one-time lexicographer, I also love the concept of flourishing, because it conjures images of lives lived in technicolour, the senses stimulated and passions ignited and fulfilled.

As we move into the year ahead, we will be exploring human flourishing from different angles - considering how play, sport, music and the arts all contribute. We’re also interested in how the adult humans in our schools flourish and will be exploring that too.

We’d love to hear from you about what human flourishing means to you, how it manifests in your schools and any aspects of human flourishing you’d like to share or explore more.


The image features amazing artwork produce by talented students at Gifford Primary School, Heartlands High School and Aylesbury High School. Thank you to them for sharing their fantastic work