Pupil Power – Colin Baty reflects on recent US events

In a blog for the Independent Schools’ Council, Colin Baty, Head of Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst, reflects on how teachers might make sense of their responsibilities to the young people in their care following the shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Were his staff required to carry guns, as has been proposed for teachers in the US, Colin says the game would be lost. Might it be the principal duty of educators, then, to help students to understand the political and institutional structures within which such issues are voiced and resolved?

The difficulty with this, he says, is that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students don’t appear to need anything much explaining to them by adults. He says: “The students’ organisation and mastery of media – both conventional and social – has been total, relentless and highly strategic. Is there is a politics teacher anywhere who would now presume to tell those students that he or she knows better when it comes to the exercise of power?”

Instead, he says, we need a school educational ethos and way of doing things that allows us to pick up on topics such as this one when they arise. Curricula must be flexible, adaptable, and high on student input. It must be mindful of the hopes, fears and interests of students, and it must never, ever presume to think that adults and institutions know best.

He concludes: “We must remember that the world is waiting for, and needs, our students at their very best. No less importantly, we must have our students’ backs – to protect them as they work out how to make their worlds, and not simply to maintain the one that we have handed to them”.

To read the full article, click here.

ISC | Colin Baty


Mental Health in Schools

Former preparatory school Headmaster Peter Tait has written in the Telegraph that ‘schools are largely to blame for rising mental health issues’ in young people.

Whether you agree with this, or believe it to be a combination of more complex social factors, it is not difficult to understand the point he is making. With maintained schools having the threat of published league tables and many independent schools being judged on the success of common entrance results or GSCE’s, it could be said that livelihoods depend on these factors.

Before entering education I was involved in elite swimming coaching and often a reason given for a ‘national failure’ at a senior level was that the coaching at a young age focused on winning rather than age appropriate development. It is not just swimming, take a visit to a Sunday morning football match for under 12’s and see if the main message from the coaches and parents on the side is winning, or a positive encouragement to play football in the right way. As Mr Tait suggests in his article, it is not the desire to win or be competitive that is the issue in sport or education, but the fear and anxiety that occurs when anything other than ‘winning’ occurs.

For many independent school pupils and parents, that line between success and failure is evident during the time of entrance tests or public exams. If the sole aim of the assessment is for a pupil to get into a particular school or gain a particular grade, anything other than that specific result could be seen as failure by the child, or a failure of the school to do their job.

Many Prep school websites lead with long lists of Common Entrance scholarship successes; it’s easy to measure and gives the impression of a successful school to the prospective parent. It is much harder to celebrate and quantify the school that excels in tackling the anxieties children face and promotes pupil wellbeing above all else.

Whilst Bedales Prep cannot change many of the external factors that Peter Tait suggests are affecting young people, such as social media and the cost of university tuition fees, we are making a commitment that we know will make a difference here. The school has employed trained counsellors for a number of years and they are fully embedded in the culture of the school and are well used by many pupils and staff. In addition, staff will now receive mandatory training on mental health, delivered in the same way schools have to provide child protection training, to ensure that the issue isn’t seen as a passing fad or a one-off INSET event. We do not do Common Entrance, nor have a curriculum of rigorous testing, and the Bedales approach to learning has always been proudly different, with pupils challenged to become more independent learners.

Alongside this, parents clearly have a role to play as well. When visiting prospective schools, looking beyond the headline exam success and really scrutinising their approach to mental health and wellbeing would be a start. Evidence suggests that a young person’s self-esteem, self-confidence and having a strong feeling of being understood are crucial in helping to prevent mental health issues arising. If schools are expected, and indeed challenged to evidence this aspect of education more than exam results and scholarships, we would certainly be doing our part in tackling this worrying trend.

By Nick Robinson, Deputy Head, Pastoral and Head of Blocks, Mental Health first aider

Creativity, confidence and corridors – pupil behaviour and the role of the headteacher

Dunhurst School

Speaking recently on Radio 4’s The Today programme on the subject of a new Ofsted report on disruption in classrooms, Sir Michael Wilshaw observed that teachers need the support of heads in tackling poor behaviour, and that the latter “need to get out of the office and into the corridors”.

Whilst Ofsted is right to observe that teachers need the support of their heads, long experience tells me that there is nothing more off-putting to a teaching team than a headteacher cruising the corridors looking for floundering lessons and errant pupils to extract from them. Rather, teachers need the right training and support to ensure that lessons are full of interest, to encourage pupils to engage and think, and to include a few surprises along the way. A head’s job is to help teachers keep things fresh, and to inspire their confidence in being creative with their teaching and taking risks, knowing that the head is there to advise, support and encourage. This, more than any amount of corridor-prowling, ensures that low-level poor behaviour is kept to a minimum.

The Ofsted report draws on a poll conducted by YouGov, in which some interesting statistics were revealed. Top of the list of the most common types of disruption experienced by teachers in the classroom was ‘disturbing other children’ (38%), followed by ‘calling out’ (35%) and ‘not getting on with work’ (31%). However, I would argue that if the work is interesting then pupils will engage, although it should be said that many schools are hampered by an assessment and exam driven system that does not allow for crucial pupil and teacher creativity and independence.  A head’s focus, then, should be on training teachers to build high-paced lessons that include opportunities from the outset for pupil interaction, including discussion and debate, and encouraging positive relationships between teacher and pupil. Children feeling they are liked and valued are very powerful in developing the right classroom environment.

Again, however, this seems to swim against Michael Wilshaw’s vision of teacher as rigid disciplinarian. He observed: “I see too many schools where head teachers are blurring the lines between friendliness and familiarity – and losing respect along the way”. This risks losing sight of the fact that our children are real people who wish to connect with their teachers, and have interesting days and enjoyable experiences. With this in mind, I believe a headteacher’s priority should be to cultivate a community within school that is built around mutual respect between all – pupils and teachers alike. In this scenario, the headteacher is there to support their team and, rather than being ‘in the corridors’, able to sit in on as many lessons as possible and to enjoy and celebrate the great work so many of our wonderful teachers are doing with our young people.

Jane Grubb

Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst

Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.