As Head of this wonderful school, where parents trust me to successfully lay those valuable first foundation stones for a boy’s successful learning journey, I am ever conscious of the responsibility of myself and my staff to ensure a boy’s development is not solely focused on and measured by academic success. We recently welcomed leading educationalist, James Shone, to our school to deliver a parent talk on “Raising children beyond pure academics”, and it prompted me to share a few thoughts of my own on this area.
“How can I help my child?”
During my 18 years in education, one of the most frequent question parents ask me is “How can I help my child at home?” Often there is an expectation of extra reading, extra Maths or the dreaded extra English. This is a question which has no correct or incorrect answer but one that I usually stand on a soap-box and bang on about. In London, and in particular West London, I find that families are so caught up with their schedules and, in particular, their children’s schedules, that the children often come to school simply exhausted on a Monday morning. They tend to be shunted from one activity or birthday party to the next without stopping for breath. As a Headmaster, I ask myself “is all of this necessary? Do they need to be busy every minute of the weekend or holiday? Is this what is expected by our children or do they in fact actually want to be so constantly busy? Why do parents feel so much pressure or that they are never doing enough for their children? Who will judge them if their children have a Saturday afternoon completely activity free?”
I feel that it is perfectly fine and necessary for a child to be bored at times. It is a good idea be allowed to do “nothing” for a period of time. During this period of “nothing” some of the most creative play takes place and this type of play is exceptionally important. My mind wanders back to the games my brothers and I would invent during our “go outside and play” afternoons my parents would often insist upon. Given the right tools, toys and boundaries, children are very inventive and creative. The children who will have the best memories are the ones who have had time to play, had time to relax and the time to be a little bit bored/creative.
Say what you feel
At the Falcons Pre-Prep, we are constantly working with our families to help them to give their boys the tools to not only become independent thinkers, but also for them to build their repertoire of life skills with their mental health being the driving force behind this. We have a comprehensive “Learning for Life Curriculum” which we have interwoven with British Fundamental Values and recently combined the exceptional skills of Performance and Wellbeing Coach and Trainer Rachela Leonella, who specialises in schools and is also a duly qualified psychotherapist and counselled registered with the UKCP. Rachela has devised a personal development and life-skills training course called ‘The Other Subject’ which helps pupils be happier, healthier and more productive. She came into school during our Staff Inset days to introduce her eight week course to our staff (part of which involved having all staff doing role-playing in the sand!). Our staff will now be working hard to roll this out across every year group in our school, including Nursery, over the coming academic year. The tools, activities and exercises contained in these courses can be used by our staff to help support pupils both on a group basis but also individually which not only adds an extra layer of support for pupils but will also enable us, as a school, intercept, action and/or prevent wellbeing concerns earlier so that they do not become an issue later on in life.
My staff and I were enthralled with our training as we feel that this is an area which education in the UK is crying out for. So many schools, as they should, are pushing academics and are driven by exam results but often the life skills and mental wellbeing of the child is in the peripheral. For too long the “keep calm and carry on”, attitude has been adopted by young adults and they have not been given the tools or the confidence to talk about how they are really feeling. I believe that, especially in the EYFS, we have an enormous amount of responsibility to start working on what I call “the inner voice in the mirror”. When we talk to ourselves, which we all do, is it a positive voice which we use or is it a negative one? I know as an adult I only began using a positive inner voice in my mid-thirties after engaging with a life coach. If we can impart these skills to our children at an early age then surely they will be better for in terms of being equipped to deal with life’s challenges.
There is life beyond the 7+ and exams
The pressures of the exam driven entry points into various schools cause a major amount of anxiety for children and parents alike. The 7+, 11+ and Common Entrance seem to be such a big focus for families in London. Yes, they are important, but we must not forget that there is so much more to education than just exams. At the Falcons Pre-Prep in Chiswick and the Falcons Prep in Richmond, we offer families many choices as we know that boys are not only very different to girls but to each other as well. They mature at different rates and have their own individual educational peaks and troughs. Education is NOT a race, some boys just need more time to mature than others. If they are not ready to sit the 7+ then they’ll be ready at 11 or 13. There are such a vast array of schools out there and matching their academic abilities as well as their pastoral needs is paramount. A culture of a school is equally as important as the destinations of their leavers. If a child is highly academic and in a school where he/she is not happy then he will be certain to struggle to reach his academic potential and/or will end up with a bruised self-esteem or low self-confidence.
Andrew Forbes (October 2018)