Preparing for Life: Viewpoints
Attain asked the Heads of three prep (Birchfield, The Downs and Summer Fields) and three senior schools (Roedean, RGS Newcastle, and Shiplake) to share their views on how best to prepare children for life.
It is vitally important to ensure that children leave school ? both prep and senior ? fully prepared for later life. They need to gain the necessary skills of independence, self-reliance and responsibility that are vital for future success.
At the transition age of 11 or 13, they will often be faced with new challenges and will need to adapt from the more comforting environment of the prep school to the more daunting challenges of the senior. Later, as they leave senior school, they need to draw on these skills further to cope with university life and the greater need for independent study. Preparing children for life should be central to any school?s ethos.
Attain asked six Heads to share their views on how best to prepare children for later life. We also asked them to comment on whether we are increasingly witnessing a generation of children who have difficulty coping with the possibility of failure. Their comments represent a cross-section of schools ? three from prep and three from senior ? but also in terms of single sex/co-educational as well as both boarding and day.
As much as qualifications are the judge of us all, life and people skills are just as important; after all it is people that make the world go around. I take great pride in preparing our boys for the life and world ahead of them. I want them to have the tools to grasp the opportunities that life presents and to face the challenge that inevitably will be there. I am looking not to produce the leaders of tomorrow but the leaders of leaders.
We achieve this through a three pronged approach. Firstly, the Birchfield Award; this is based on the Duke of Edinburgh Award. In Years 7 and 8 we devised an age appropriate scheme which replicates that of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, but with one additional category, culture. I want my boys to be aware of the classical, serious theatre, opera, ballet etc.
In Year 8, post CE, an enrichment programme entitled Leavers Experience is detailed. The boys learn the principles of banking, heart start and drugs awareness, amongst other skills. We link with senior schools and provide opportunities in new sports such as fives and rowing. We also expose the boys to new foreign languages, in order that they may make informed choices. We act as hosts to the American Ambassador programme and have fun learning practical new skills such as brick laying or water divining.
The third strand lies in weekly boarding for all our local boys. Here they learn to be self reliant, establish independence and to share with those they may not be naturally drawn to. Additionally they learn to manage their space, their time and their belongings.
Annually I have started to provide, and I make no apologies for this, copies of Rudyard Kipling?s poem ?If? to our 13+ leavers. It is so inspirational and motivational; a set of principles to live life by, particularly as one enters the testing adolescent years of puberty and allows their young souls to be fed. Within lies the two most emphatic of lines: ?If you can meet with triumph and disaster; And treat those two imposters just the same?.
Why do I present the poem? Simply because I believe it provides a balanced response in a world where all too often the eggs are placed only in one of those baskets, each at the expense of the other. The whole poem encourages self-development and expression, the most appropriate of behaviour and a real sense of personal integrity. It should be compulsory for all youngsters to read and inwardly reflect upon. One has to fall off one?s bike to learn the mistake, get back on, be the stronger and wiser and hence a significant and valuable contributor to society and not just to oneself.
R P Merriman is the Headmaster of Birchfield School, a co-educational boarding and day school for pupils aged 4 to 13.
Preparing pupils for their move to senior school needs to be a careful balance between allowing pupils time for childhood and yet giving them the skills necessary to set them up for the more adult style of life to which they are going. At The Downs, Malvern College Prep, Year 8 is the key time when we start to remove one or two ?safety nets? and encourage the pupils to take on responsibilities and to set an example to the younger pupils. We develop self confidence through a series of activities and experiences that allow an insight into the life that they will experience at senior school.
Lunch with the Headmaster at ?top table? helps develop conversational skills and break down the barriers that can appear to be present between pupils and senior staff. Respect and formality play their part but should not stifle self expression and the ability to laugh alongside an adult. Much emphasis is put on the concept of ?the right time and the right place?. I maintain that we seldom see bad behaviour but frequently see badly timed behaviour. For the Year 8 moving to senior school, it is crucial that they are able to recognise an appropriate time for fun and relaxation whilst also knowing when to step back into a more formal routine.
Confidence is also developed through a range of experiences outside the classroom and opportunities to perform in the widest sense of the word. Science lectures, concerts, plays, public speaking, sports fixtures, outdoor pursuits, driving steam railway engines, leadership courses and the post CE leavers experience are just a few of the opportunities that arise to allow pupils to publicly demonstrate a proficiency which allows them to feel a sense of worth and expertise.
In a world that is increasingly nervous about allowing children to fail, it is vital that prep schools allow pupils the opportunity to experience disappointment in a controlled way and it is our experience that pupils will take on challenges and deal with disappointment if they have developed the confidence and skills to keep these in proportion and can look to other successes to balance them.
Alastair Ramsay is the Headmaster of The Downs, Malvern College Preparatory School, a co-educational boarding and day school for pupils aged 2 to 13 years.
By definition, a Preparatory school prepares children for senior school. If they have been prepared properly, it is our hope that they will go on to build on what they have achieved in a variety of different areas, not least of which will have been success at Common Entrance (CE).
Many senior schools now ask prospective children to take pre-CE Entrance exams at 10 or 11. It is much easier to prepare boys for an exam than a pre-test, which involves assessing their IQs. We cannot make them more intelligent, but we can prepare them by giving them skills which will help develop their abilities to learn and to understand. We expect a lot from them, and do what we can to foster a ?can do? attitude. They are taught well by subject specialists and they learn ? a lot, but it is also hugely important that they aim for what will be the right school for them, and much time is spent liaising with parents to ensure that this happens.
The bedrock of academic achievement is a happy school life and to provide one for every child has to be the main aim of any prep school. Confidence is the key to success and the opportunities that boarding life provides give boys the chance to succeed outside of the classroom as well as within. Senior schools expect certain academic standards, but their housemasters want children to have involved themselves in a variety of different activities whether it is camping, team or individual sports, playing the bagpipes or taking part in the creative arts. Why are they looking for this? Because these children will have begun to discover their strengths as well as their weaknesses, and the confidence they derive from success will help them tackle what they find difficult.
All we can expect is that children are asked to give of their best. There is no disgrace in having given something your best shot but failed. What is important is to have the opportunity to fail as well as to succeed and to begin to develop a sense of self-esteem that is founded on realism. If a prep school has done its job well, it will have given a child an appetite to ?have a go and see?.
Robin Badham-Thornhill is the Headmaster of Summer Fields School, a single-sex boarding school for boys aged 7 to 13.
Dr Bernard Trafford
?Education for life?. Schools claim to provide it. But do they really? Nowadays pupils are chasing top grades to win places on high-status courses at prestigious universities, and teachers are expected to get them there. How can schools hope to do any more than hot-house them to A Level (or one of the alternative qualifications), squeezing in a spot of sport as a safety valve to relieve that unrelenting pressure? Junior schools are not immune either: the imperative to gain a place at the senior school of choice is probably as strong at 11 or 13 as the university scramble is at age 18.
Actually, good schools do, nonetheless, prepare their pupils for life. They are realistic and honest about the pressures but steadfastly, almost ruthlessly, refuse to allow the academic drive to spill over into the rest of the school (and the student?s) life. Time and again enlightened heads remind children (and their anxious parents) that the qualities they develop in sport, outdoor pursuits and cultural activities ? team work, commitment, tenacity, loyalty ? are not only invaluable life skills in themselves but also contribute to success in the classroom.
There is a further peril from the pressure to succeed, a potential down-side of the ?teaching to the test? that can be so effective in delivering the required grades. It is sometimes suggested that independent school pupils become so dependent on being spoon-fed elements of the syllabus that they later struggle at university when required to work on their own. Moreover, it is said, after so much carefully packaged success they are ill-equipped to deal with failure, with the first smack in the face that life brings them. Again, good schools are aware of this danger: the exponential growth in outdoor education, for example, reflects an appreciation of the need to allow children to take risks ? to fail, indeed. The best schools have the confidence to ensure that personal, independent research and genuine intellectual risk-taking occur in the classroom too so that children learn from tripping up, not merely from scoring ten out of ten. When choosing schools, parents would do well to test that claim of ?preparation for life? against some of these yardsticks. The best schools will pass with flying colours.
Dr Bernard Trafford is Headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a co-educational day school for pupils aged 7 to 18. He is the Chairman of the Headmasters? and Headmistresses? Conference (HMC). The views expressed are personal.
It has been suggested that for 11 year olds entering school this year 80% of the jobs that they will be doing in the future have yet to be invented. Link this fact with the shifting sands of the global economic and political order over recent months and preparation for the future starts to become a more significant challenge than it used to be.
These changing times have pushed many people to reconsider their central values and reassess their importance. At Roedean our starting point in preparing girls for the future is to ensure that we establish the central principles which guide our life together today. Our stated values include fairness, honesty, respect and forgiveness and, as a school, we try to live by these. The focus on forgiveness I believe to be essential not only for teenagers but for all of us as we recognize that to make mistakes is human: it is how we deal with these that form the learning experience.
Roedean has encapsulated in its aims many challenging aspirations for our students: to be able to work as a team, to be able to make informed decisions, to be intellectually curious, to appreciate cultural diversity and to enjoy learning. Such aims are in keeping with developing the wider skills to face an uncertain future; together staff and girls draw up programmes for activities both inside and outside the classroom to meet these. Indeed, often it is the programme that a young person follows outside the classroom that can provide the most powerful learning experience.
Debate can rage over the advantages of boarding against day, single sex versus co-education, A Level versus IB as the best preparation for life. The central aspect to any school, surely, is to offer an environment which is challenging, stimulating, secure and enriching and from which a young person can emerge feeling sufficiently self confident that they can meet the challenges that will face them with determination and integrity.
Frances King is the Headmistress of Roedean, a single sex boarding school for girls aged 11 to 18.
My housemaster at school once told my mother that good appearance and good manners would get a boy at least as far as good A Levels. I firmly believe that strong exam results are extremely important, but their use is limited if young people do not have the confidence and integrity to go with them.
In a good school a rich and inspiringly-taught curriculum will create an environment where personal values and a strong work ethic can develop. For pupils to benefit from such a curriculum it must be underpinned by the finest pastoral care. In addition, participation in a sports team, musical ensemble, drama production or community service is as vital for personal development as classroom-based teaching. Without this all-round focus it is harder for pupils to do well outside the classroom walls.
Too many schools centre on a narrow and confined curriculum with passing exams the only goal and the only criteria of success. Often, inter-personal skills and a regard for others is lost with this approach. Pupils leave for university with an arrogant outlook rather than a confident one. It is no wonder then that many students are ill-prepared for life beyond the school gate, both in terms of personal drive and vision and the skills and qualities that they possess.
Employers need young men and women who are well-educated and willing to tackle with determination the challenges that come their way. If the recent economic crisis has taught us anything it is that the modern student needs to be flexible in his or her thinking and approach to his work. Businesses need employees who can approach the unknown with confidence and enthusiasm. Those with the best social and ?people? skills will survive. Focussing on instilling solid academic foundations whilst educating pupils in the wider sense results in young adults who are ready for the future.