Welcome back to everyone after the half term break. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed the holiday and have returned feeling refreshed and full of energy for the rest of the term. As we start the second half of the term, I would like to reflect on the annual HMC conference that I attended in the UK just before half term and what impressions I came away with this year.
At the Autumn Conference 2019 – ‘HMC 150’, I had a chance to meet with friends old and new, hear some inspiring speakers and consider a little about the leadership journey I am on, and how best I can serve my school. A theme that ran through the conference is the political challenge that UK independent schools currently face; inevitably we considered the ways that we could tell our story more clearly, and engage with a British public that might, at times, be sceptical about the value of schools which are attended by such a small sector of children (about 7%) and are seen as elite and privileged.
Alongside this, also at the same time, I have started a new learning journey myself, as I embark a upon a master’s course from the University of Birmingham, in character education. Character is something that is perhaps an intangible thing, hard to describe and put one’s finger on, but at the same time, very clear and evident in those who have it. Over recent years the development of character and the importance of particular character traits – such as integrity, honesty, resilience and determination – have come to the forefront of the minds of educators. Indeed, our own Lion Learning programme encapsulates some of these habits in the classroom and, I hope, will help our children to develop their character alongside their academic skills in everything that they do at school – academic and otherwise.
It struck me, as I started to work through some of my research materials on the train travelling home, that the development of character, habits and attributes that we see so clearly in our children is one of the things that marks out the true value of an independent school education. Perhaps this should be the unique selling point (USP) that we should be most proud of in this sector. On my course I am starting to consider whether (and perhaps how) character can be taught… I must say that I am quite sceptical that it can be taught, but I absolutely agree that it can be acquired and further developed through the right curriculum and enrichment activities, and that these are things that must remain key in our educational provision.
Sadly many state-funded UK schools are under such intense pressure to deliver good academic results in the national public exams that the development of softer skills and the enrichment of the curriculum (for example through sport and music) have sometimes had to take a back seat. This reduces the opportunities that some children have to participate in those activities and events which will help them to develop their character, and sadly they may end up less confident in those soft skills and good habits which we know make them so attractive to universities and employers when they leave school.
We are so lucky at St. Paul’s to have such a rich and varied programme of enrichment activities, great trips and facilities to support every pupil in developing their character and a committed and talented staff team to support them. These traits and habits bring enormous benefits in the classroom and we should embrace and celebrate them and help our children to take every opportunity they are offered.