A Wisdom School and a Good Character curriculum

berrian1 My son is obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons at the moment, which I like because this was my favourite game as a child. We were playing today and education was on my mind. The game’s character sheet defines each personality with scores including Intelligence and Wisdom. This got me thinking about the difference between these two things, and whether grammar schools are intelligence schools, but secondary moderns might find a role as wisdom schools.

Intelligence is clearly about cleverness in its traditional sense. It can be trained through study in an academic environment with knowledge tested by exams. I think a grammar school is an Intelligence School.

Wisdom is experience, understanding, common sense, and good insights. It is knowledge felt and experienced, not necessarily knowledge analysed. Wisdom can be learned through practical experiences, strength of character and overcoming challenges. It might be tested by the handling of a situation, or finding a solution to a problem.  And isn’t wisdom something society needs just much as  an understanding of logarithms?

We don’t expect the less academic in society to do well at cleverness, but I see no reason why they couldn’t be taught to be wise. So I propose secondary moderns fostering wisdom through experience and challenge, instead of fostering intelligence through learning and interpreting facts.

The problem with secondary moderns is that they try to offer pupils who are not academic a mostly academic environment. We know these pupils are unlikely to excel at exams but the schools are still about exams. We give these children no real chance to excel at anything. We set them up with a fail in an eleven plus, and then teach them they are merely average with a bunch of GCSEs grade C. My daughter was telling me her friends don’t care about exams because they know they won’t do well.

I have a friend who is a secondary modern teacher, he asked his pupils what they liked about their school. Most pupils mentioned that the school was near KFC and finished half an hour earlier than other schools. Secondary moderns are boring to pupils because they’re offering intelligence training, but the pupils are not good at that and our Ofsted grade and performance table mean we push it more than ever. I’d like secondary moderns to become Wisdom Schools so children are stretched to gain skills that are achievable and valuable too.

And I would go further, I want wisdom to be valued as much as intelligence. I want a grade A for a challenge that tests strength of character to be valued just as much as an A in some maths exam that tests intelligence. If a child got an A in something that proved hard work and dedication, isn’t that as valuable in the world as an A in Geography?

We do take a step towards this kind of teaching in secondary moderns with practical learning through vocational education. My local school has two options, beauty school or a mechanics workshop. But this focus is far too narrow, and the kind of children who take these subjects are mostly given them as a last resort. The mechanics class teaches children to put bolt A with bolt B in a specific situation. The aim is to produce mechanics. We will end up with a lot of applications when the local garage has a job.

If we look at this in a broader way we might say that wisdom is gained by knowledge used to meet a practical challenge. So my Wisdom School curriculum might have a ‘Practical Projects’ lesson, but children can tackle any project that interests them and gives them the opportunity to aquire specialist knowledge. And this wouldn’t be a remedial subject because they could use it for a highly ambitious project that involves many hours work outside school. They might want to fix a car, but they might also create a new lighting effects rig, build a coffee table, make a robot, design a computer program, create a garden or sew a dress. Or they might move from one thing to another to explore many different practical tasks. Perhaps suitable mentors from the community can be paid to help.

Here’s more on the curriculum at the Wisdom School.

Good judgement

We offer opportunities for debates, discussions and reasoned argument. I would encourage children to explore local issues and consider politics. This is nothing to do with IQ, our non academic types should be given opportunity to think for themselves and make good decisions.


We might prefer all our children to study geography or history, but in curiosity lessons I’d encourage a child to study anything they have enthusiasm for. Wise people are curious and like learning for learnings sake. This class  teaches children to look at a bigger world beyond their experience, it teaches the joy of knowledge gathering.


Life experience is a big part of wisdom. So my school would offer community service opportunities. The children would gain hands on experience with things like helping in nursing homes, or in local projects to benefit the community.  Clear evidence of going above and beyond the expected work gains you a good grade, as does demonstrating an understanding of problems, or showing initiative to meet a community need.


Art, story writing, performance and other creative pursuits should be valued in a school like this. Effort and ability in these things should gain a good grade.  This school might be creating our crafts people and makers of the future.


An obvious one, but more time and encouragement should be given to this, and those who show an aptitude for it should be encouraged to excel.  Sport teaches ambition, confidence and team work. Good marks in this are for effort and ability too.

Life Experience

My Wisdom School will offer  many visits to interesting places and opportunities to meet different people. This might be anything from exploring how a lighthouse works to camping in the woods.  We know disadvantaged children are more likely to go to secondary moderns so expanding their horizons this way gives them opportunity to experience life and see a wider world. Grades will be given for showing evidence of learning from these experiences.


This is another thing that has nothing to do with IQ and should be prioritised at Wisdom School. We should encourage the ability to get things done and make things happen. These classes will teach resourcefulness, hard work and smart thinking. It should encourage its pupils to push themselves and look for opportunities to take initiative.


This lesson covers any impossible project. Ask a child to find something they can’t achieve, give them an opportunity to try and succeed. It doesn’t matter whether they fail or not, the important thing is how hard they try and achieve it. Wisdom School will always gives good marks for character and resilience.

Practical Projects

Any hands on learning. Willingness to learn and try things, striving for excellence gets the A grade.

Wisdom School is about life lessons and growth through experience. I like to think if a wise child (from my new secondary modern) meets an intelligent child (from the old fashioned grammar) the wise child wouldn’t possibly feel inferior. My wise child might have climbed a mountain, won a sports trophy, organised a community event, built a bench, set up a school shop, campaigned to save a local field from being built on, and helped an elderly lady. The intelligent child will only have passed a few exams.

Of course this is much more thought experiment than serious plan. I would be the first to campaign about too many differences between the two types of school. But I would love to find a way to turn a bog standard secondary modern into a positive and interesting place. Maybe schools could be places that reward good character as well as book learning? I think we need to define excellence in a different way in a less academic environment.

But for now I will get back to my Dungeons and Dragons game, my son needs to slay an orc…


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