Matthew Burns

HEADMASTERS BLOG – GRIT YOUR TEETH

Another week, another initiative from the Government machine. Today we are told that schools need to instil “Grit and Character” into pupils. To be fair, Tristram Hunt and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility acknowledge that private schools do this well. Perhaps they ought to find out how we go about it?

Grit, Character or Resilience, however one wants to define it, is not simply the product of extra-curricular activities and sport. It is forged in the quality of the relationships between pupils, their peers and their teachers. Strength of character comes from a deep sense that the individual is valued and respected by those closest to him. Physical challenges are an important element in building that teamwork and trust, as well as creating the shared experiences which form the patina of long-term friendships.

Outdoor Pursuits provide the same opportunities in an un-competitive environment whilst some of the tightest teamwork is seen on the stage where musicians and actors have perfected their art together. The range of opportunities creates a niche in which the individual may flourish.

In boarding school, pupils quickly learn the truth of the old adage, “The more you put in, the more you get out” or in the words of a particularly perceptive 14 year-old, “We will make me the best I can be.” The boarding house is a close community which instils a sense of belonging and pride. Pupils benefit from having roots in school as well as in the home. Security builds strength of character.

Unfortunately, to simply tell teachers to run extra-curricular clubs won’t deliver. Pupils quickly see through a contrived activity provided by a poorly motivated or partially skilled teacher. Neither will they commit to an activity if it isn’t supported by a wider ethos. By way of example, a survey of school assemblies would suggest that the ability to sing is almost extinct, yet television shows us this is far from the case. School singing requires each individual to have the confidence to sing out in the knowledge that their peers either side of them will do the same. If one falls others will falter. A collective commitment is required and must be nurtured first.

School singing requires each individual to have the confidence to sing out in the knowledge that their peers either side of them will do the same. If one falls others will falter. A collective commitment is required and must be nurtured first.

I believe utterly in the importance of a broad education and I am delighted that such an influential committee has come to this conclusion. However, if they want to make it really stick, then we need to go back to the drawing board, debate the purpose of education, and refine the national curriculum, OfSted, League Tables and the wider panoply of educational control. If we don’t, this will become another forgotten sound bite and a transformative opportunity in the lives of children will be lost.

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