Finding the balance

Annie Gent, deputy head (pastoral) at Sherborne Preparatory School, says getting the balance correct in schools is vital for children to thrive

Schools are constantly weighing up the balance: academic lessons versus art and drama; sport versus music; how many maths lessons each week versus English and science; rules or values. The list goes on and I doubt it will ever be resolved completely.

And why are schools having this constant debate?

It is because we, the staff in our community, care. Getting the balance correct in schools is vital for children to thrive. Children should not feel compromised by choice or in a predicament where they over or under commit. In schools today children benefit from the offering of a myriad of opportunities.

In our community at Sherborne Prep, and in independent schools as a whole, where we are blessed with a wealth of expertise and endless energy, this is what they get. We pride ourselves upon being a happy, buoyant and progressive school that embraces the broad spectrum of education and allows children to direct their learning, taking ownership of their progress.

Allowing children to feel in control of achieving a sense of balance is perhaps a lesson for life, the constant juggle of priorities, commitments, opportunities and challenges is one that we must all navigate and our role as educators is to instil confidence to do so, in our children.

The early years provision is child-led and children are nurtured to have enquiring minds – why should this stop as children enter the more formal years of their education?

Balance: do we enforce a curriculum with no meandering, no discussion, or do we let our children ask, to find their own inspiration and nurture a desire to learn? Surely, the second method is preferable and will not only instil a lifelong love of learning but support emotional wellness in the children we educate.

We have a responsibility to be the balance in our children’s lives, to support them when they inevitably get it wrong (as we all do, most days!) and to help them to find a positive outcome

We feel fortunate at Sherborne Prep; we have educators that enable and actively encourage children to seek knowledge and to ask questions through their approach and we offer a challenging, broad curriculum. We want our children to be brave and adventurous in their school journey; we aim to inspire the confidence to dare to fail and to bounce back from this with support.

The growth-mindset so often written about is one we actively aim to encourage; a strong pastoral support system reassures children when necessary and goes hand-in-hand with our aspirations for pupil development.

Staff should be open and actively listen to individuals. At Sherborne Prep this often comes through less formal situations, be that in the co–curricular subjects, through personal pupil development and the all-important break time. The most informative, interesting and funny conversations that I have are always over the lunch table, in the playground or in the boarding house.

Children respond when you are interested in them. A child that feels valued will take greater pride in their work, in their play and in who they are. We see their head raised, a little spring in their step, a subtle indication that they are embracing life and where a child may falter, we recognise this and can act supportively to encourage them upon their way.

Emotional wellbeing has grown in precedence, and rightly so. Schools no longer educate children in a linear way. To bring the best out of children we must educate holistically. Resilience and perseverance, I would suggest, are words synonymous with many school values. The Sherborne Prep (Dragon) values of perseverance, honesty, kindness, generosity, independence and awareness are as important to the pupils as they are to staff.

Values are vital, but only if they are fully embedded and lived through the culture of the school. Reinforcement of these values allows children to recognise the pillars upon which they balance their development. Children who are truly emotionally well have a network behind them – all working together to encourage the child to be the best version of themselves.

This does not mean fixing their problems for them, nor allowing them to catastrophise situations. Instead, we have a responsibility to be the balance in our children’s lives, to support them when they inevitably get it wrong (as we all do, most days!) and to help them to find a positive outcome.

A balanced child leads to an emotionally resilient young adult, one who is ready to venture out of education equipped to find a solution and to plot their way through life’s maze.

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