Results – The name of the game.
In the September edition of Surrey’s Elmbridge magazine – blazed across the cover was the headline ‘the Top Ten Independent Schools in your Area’. Because I’m passionate about improving our education system, I quickly thumbed to the article which was written by an Ofsted inspector. The article had a short overview of each school. Each piece on the schools followed the same structure. The first paragraph listed the A-level results and percentage of A* and A grades. The second paragraph listed the schools GCSE results and the percentage of pupils at A* and A grades. The third paragraph highlighted the school’s facilities and the final paragraph contained a few lines on the school’s ethos.
It struck me how wrong and misguided the Ofsted inspector was with her narrow definition of a successful school. Is it really all about the grades and facilities? I’m not suggesting that academic achievement is not important, only that there is another equally important measurement that needs to be included when parents choose a school. The emotional wellbeing of your child. I meet many head teachers and the biggest problem they are facing is mental health. These issues range from stress, outbursts, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, self-harm, anorexia and suicide attempts. Ironically, the greatest numbers of mental health issues are usually found in those schools with the ‘high’ academic achievements, because of the added pressure from parents and the school. One head teacher confided in me, that if he has to call child services for every pupil with mental health related issues he’d be on the phone the whole day from Monday to Friday.
I’m willing to bet that if these so-called top 10 independent schools got every pupil to take an independent mental health and wellbeing assessment many of the schools would fail to make the top 100 list. The problem is that parents are being encouraged to send their child to a top academic school that may have a very poor mental health record. Moreover, when a child displays mental health problems there is an element of blame and shame on the child and their parents. The school takes no responsibility for the cause and there is zero accountability. This is completely flawed as schools must take 100% responsibility for mental health of each child in their care. In saying this, parents must also ensure they own 100% of their responsibility.
Educating the ‘Whole’ Person
The narrow focus on academics creates children who become brains on sticks that lack the life skills to deal with the challenges that teenagers are facing. We need to redefine our measurement criteria of success so that it includes each pupil’s emotional wellbeing – Mental Health! I believe that we need to educate the whole person and that means mental health must be put at the forefront of the child’s education. After all, if a child is suffering from mental health issues their ability to learn is going to be adversely impacted. Our current method for dealing with mental health issues for teenagers is very reactive as it focuses at best on early identification and at worst treating the ‘symptoms’ and not the ‘cause’.
Emotional Wellbeing at the Centre
A new approach is needed whereby the emotional wellbeing of the pupil is at the centre of the education of the child. One 40-minute PHE lesson per week is hopelessly inadequate to prepare the young to cope with the challenges they face. The curriculum needs to be adjusted and measuring stick shifted. Schools must actively teach direct lessons and use integrated approaches throughout the school day to build life skills that result in the emotional wellbeing of the child. A teacher’s role must be enlarged to a mentor that proactively imparts a mindset and skillset that enables wellbeing. At a minimum, the academic success and emotional wellbeing of the child must be of equal status when assessing how ‘good’ a school is.
A New Dawn
I was pleased to see that 50% of the new criteria for inspection for independent schools by the Independent School’s Inspectorate (ISI) is focused on the personal development of the child. If schools are held accountable for pupil personal development and it is not just (ISI) lip service, many independent schools are going to find this a challenge because they’re talking a good game, but delivering little personal development. And, to a degree, this is expected because they’re mainly evaluated on their academic performance, therefore directing majority of their efforts in that area.
A Shining Light
An independent school bucking the trend is Finborough School in Suffolk with its visionary head teacher Steven Clarke and his inspiring staff. They’ve been teaching Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ to their staff and pupils for the last eight years with extraordinary results. The staff actively connect the 7 character habits to the learnability of the child. Pupils’ wellbeing and staff moral have soared, and academic results have improved. Finborough School were one of the first few schools to be inspected by (ISI) with its strong emphasis on the personal development of the child. Not surprisingly, they were awarded excellent in all areas.
If you have any feedback, personal stories or questions relational to this article, please email me on Cinton@unitededucationgroup.com
United Education Group