Friday, 8th September 2017
Children's capacity for play never ceases to amaze me. Playing is something they seem to do without anyone having to encourage them. They are, when given the chance to play, full of energy and enthusiasm, and know exactly what to do. This has been so obvious when watching the boys use the new playground equipment. Up the frame they climb; down they shoot, aware of where each other is, avoiding contact here, dodging sideways there. Meanwhile, over at the new goal, a ball appears. Teams form, the ball is passed, people join, people drop out – everything seems to regulate itself with little adult intervention and at all times people move, energy is expended and created.
I suspect at the heart of all this activity is something hardwired, namely that boys seem to enjoy play of some kind and it seems to me that in all aspects of school life we should try to create situations where boys enjoy everything that they become involved with and that their enjoyment will provide the energy and commitment which they need to succeed. Of course every decent school should look to find the activities which pupils particularly enjoy and encourage them in these but there is no question that if we can stimulate, through good teaching and through personal connections made between teachers and boys, pupils to engage fully with subjects or activities, then we will create the enjoyment which will lead to the commitment necessary for real success. Of course sometimes we need to lean on people in order to get them to complete necessary tasks but by far the best approach we can take to all aspects of pupils' lives, particularly their academic work, is to create the same conditions as those observable on the new play equipment, an atmosphere of joyous activity and commitment based upon love of learning and passion for activity. That ultimately will lead our pupils to achieve most both now and in the long term.
There seems an immensely positive atmosphere in the school at the moment. There is nothing more exciting than the beginning of a new school year. The first thing which I told the pupils at the beginning of term was that a school is an odd place during the holiday somehow wondering what to do with itself. As soon as the pupils come back it springs to life and seems immediately to know itself. Everywhere has a purpose – and indeed in our school every square inch of the place is used – literally everywhere has a purpose. To the pupils I described the school during the holidays as being like an arid plain which suddenly receives rain and comes to life, vegetation springing up in every part, colour spreading overnight across the landscape. And so it was on Wednesday when the pupils returned and the school knew itself again, full as it was with life and colour. From the point of view of a teacher it is that moment when one really does know why one has chosen the career one has.
In the few days before the beginning of term, the staff returned to prepare themselves, to receive training and to reflect upon the things that are done in the school and how they could be improved still further. We had an immensely helpful talk from the head of training at an organisation called Kidscape, which concerns itself with bullying and helping those who are the victims of this unacceptable behaviour. Whilst I think we have very few instances of unpleasant behaviour in the school, no school (or indeed any society or group of individuals) is ever completely immune from it or more accurately from the sort of behaviour which, if not dealt with swiftly and thoughtfully, can turn into bullying. I am convinced that the really important consideration is not whether pupils will ever treat each other badly – they will at some point – but what a school will do about it and how a school can create the sort of environment where harsh treatment of one another is very rare. Therefore the more help and reflection that we can have about such an important matter the better. Our trainer was an immensely impressive person with much practical advice. I was also struck though by the quality and thoughtfulness of the responses of the staff who were utterly engaged and also consummately professional and thoughtful in their approach.
Afterwards, our speaker said to me that she had been very impressed by what she had seen, and particularly by the atmosphere in the school, and passed the comment that ironically, she invariably visits schools which take the issue of bullying seriously and therefore deal with it well whereas she was rarely invited to places where there were the worst problems.
So another new year and another new beginning for the school - a time of possibility and of excitement. I look forward so much to seeing what everyone will achieve and look forward very much to seeing you all around the school and at our many functions and activities.
Happy New Year!