How Yorkshire's Leading Schools are Tackling 21st Century Challenges
Staff at Yorkshire's leading independent schools share the key challenges facing the younger generation.
Chris James-Roll, head of Cundall Manor School, acknowledges that children today face challenges that the generations ahead of them could never have imagined. ‘The pressures of social media and the urgency of communication mean that taking care of yourself and your mental wellbeing is more important than ever,’ he explains. ‘However, these challenges also bring enormous opportunities and when children leave school, employers, universities and colleges will look for skills for life that will add value to their businesses such as creativity, critical thinking and confidence.’
That’s why developing a thriving enrichment program has been essential for pupils there. ‘We believe enrichment promotes employability, academic attainment and teaches students the skills they need to make good, informed choices,’ Chris says. ‘A successful enrichment program can promote the life-skills needed for everyday life, while also giving students the opportunity to find out more about their interests and passions. We are known for our outstanding pastoral support, care and understanding. Pastoral support and academic success go hand in hand so we are particularly focused on ensuring that the support around all our children centres on creating an environment where our children are happy, safe and learning in a stimulating environment so that every child can be the best they can be.’
At Queen Mary’s, staff believe that social media is a big part of social and creative life for teenagers. They use social media to have fun, make and maintain friendships, share and learn new interests, explore identities and develop relationships. It is an extension of their offline and face-to-face interactions. However, there are some real challenges being faced, as head Carole Cameron explains. ‘In the words of a Year 10 girl, “influencers on social media give us false expectations of our life”. Queen Mary’s manages challenges regarding social media use with a robust PSHE programme,’ she says. ‘Engaging with parents and ensuring the appropriate filters and monitoring systems are in place helps to ensure that social media use at home is controlled, especially in the impressionable teenage years. Mobile phones are banned for the majority of the school day and pupils also have the opportunity to discuss their concerns discreetly. The quality of relationships within school are critical in building high levels of trust.
‘Wellbeing is at the heart of all we do. Every pupil is supported by a personal tutor. Children are, of course, free to discuss any matters with any member of staff including boarding staff, the nurse, counsellor, wellbeing assistant and clinical psychologist who are all on hand. Everyone can access discreet, individual care with parental input when needed.’ Confidence and resilience are key skills learnt by all pupils at Queen Mary’s. ‘With these attributes, pupils will be well-served to tackle all that life throws at them,’ says Carole. ‘The size and ethos allow girls to be challenged in a safe and supportive environment and build these skills, so that they leave ready to take on new challenges. Kindness is another core value at Queen Mary’s. The family culture provides a wonderful environment in which to learn and grow.’
At Repton School (a co-educational independent school for boarding and day pupils in Derbyshire), staff believe the key – but by no means exclusive – challenges of the 21st century relate to this century’s overwhelming complexity. ‘An ever more unmanageable flow of (often dubious) information; a society at once more connected by technology but also often polarised, picked-on or isolated by its impact; the need to understand the role of human capabilities in an ever more automated world. These are all very 21st century issues,’ say Mark Semmence, headmaster of Repton School and Vicky Harding, head of Repton Prep. ‘If these issues threaten instability – and we think they do – then the answer is surely balance and stability. Repton believes with utmost conviction in the power of boarding and competitive sport to ensure that the quintessentially human capacities are nurtured; collaboration, compromise, communication – these are all traits that are developed and grown in a supportive boarding context.’
Boarding, which Repton offers from age seven, and especially when all teaching staff live onsite to support pupils 24/7, not only allows a safe space to develop those skills mentioned, but also the time and the opportunity to work on health, fitness and skills in a top-flight sporting setup. ‘Repton has established itself as a world-leading school in this area, with a sporting provision pretty much unrivalled across the UK and indeed the globe,’ add Mark and Vicky. ‘As we believe that sport nurtures leadership, resilience and above all, teamwork, we believe it can – when allied to excellence in academic study – shape individuals uniquely able to work through the challenges of the 21st century.’
Repton have won a number of awards for the pastoral care they offer their pupils, not least an award for being the Happiest Boarding School. ‘This recognition is borne out of our unique wellbeing programme, WellWorks, which brings together cutting-edge, technology-driven methods with traditional, round the clock care from near-100 percent residential teaching staff,’ explain Mark and Vicky. ‘Any staff member can log an observation about a pupil’s wellbeing on our online platform, Wellbeing Manager, and these are triaged by an extensive pastoral team of safeguarding leads, pastoral heads and medical professionals. Where patterns emerge or intervention is warranted, action plans are produced, and these are measured against the results of regular psychological questionnaires that allow early flagging of issues so that staff can support proactively. Pastoral data is combined with academic data to offer a refined picture of a child’s progress and wellbeing, and every child has a “dashboard” visible to their teachers which facilitates support driven by insight. Of course, data is worth little if there are not experienced professionals to act upon it, and that is where Repton’s WellWorks system really makes a difference; the whole-hearted investment in accommodation for all teaching staff so that they can be on-hand, 24/7, to shape the experience of the Repton pupils.’
Heidi-Jayne Boyes, head of Wakefield Girls’, is confident that the young generations will navigate their way through some of the key challenges very effectively, ‘and likely make a better job than we did!’ she adds. ‘Climate change is one such issue that springs to mind. I see how committed and driven my students are to making a difference and this really means I can sleep well at night. I feel that the rapid development of technology and the digital world is something that we all need to embrace and learn to use to our advantage. Technology is not something we should fear but fully understand and embrace; it is about using digital tools in the right way to enhance our lives and our working practice, not to feel threatened by it. That said, there are elements of social media I detest and I worry that some people can no longer perceive what is appropriate or right. The final challenge is the changing nature of the workplace and the need to be agile. It will be uncommon for any of my current students to stay in the same job for their working life and therefore they need to accrue a whole range of skills to help them navigate these changes. This is exciting but change can be daunting, and so it is vital that we help our young people to build grit and determination.
The academic year at Wakefield Girls’ hinges around all the things that will help girls succeed as adult women – whatever field they enter, whatever challenge they face. ‘I’m very proud of our academic success but equally our well balanced, positive and uplifting culture,’ says Heidi-Jayne. ‘Our school is imbued with the values needed for students to become accomplished, committed women and along the way we have plenty of traditions that we celebrate as well as competitions and activities that we enjoy. We continue to offer our very popular EDGE programme so everyone can take part in a selection of extra-curricular activities from the amazing 95 we have on offer – a great way to develop new skills, friends and passions, as well as personal and professional development programmes for a complete education.’