Schools only exist because of the children who attend them. They exist to support these children, develop them and educate them as they navigate their childhood and young adult years. This can be very easy to forget in amongst all the many demands made of schools, not least all the reporting they have to do on targets and all the data they have to collect, as well as all the curriculum planning, meeting of regulations and the myriad other activities that comprise the day-day-life of professionals in schools.
Schools are absolutely there for students, however: to help them grow into the people they can be, and to ensure that they are given every ounce of support possible en route. Time in school should be a journey of exploration, discovery and stretching of boundaries; the experiences that a student has during his or her formative years form the foundation of their life as an adult, and set them up for success – in the lives of these whose paths they cross and influence, as much as in their own. A young person’s experience of school really, really matters – and it is absolutely right that we should explore these experiences, highlight them and celebrate amazing practice in schools, as we seek to spread excellence further and further afield in the schools’ sector.
Having spent a career teaching in and leading some phenomenal schools, I am acutely aware of the quality that exists in the U.K. independent schools’ sector, and I was therefore delighted to be asked to Chair the inaugural Independent Schools of the Year awards, run in association with Independent School Parent magazine. These awards seek to highlight and celebrate the student experience in independent schools, in areas from community outreach to careers programmes, and from music to sport, with almost every other area of school covered in between. These awards are a wonderful opportunity for schools to tell their stories of what they do to help their students flourish as decent and well-rounded human beings; for people outside schools, who see schools as examination preparation machines, it will be eye-opening – these awards will provide definitive evidence of what schools can and should be for.
Independent schools are embedded into the U.K. education system and educate over half a million students each year, spending almost a £1bn in 2017 alone on financial assistance to offer a high quality education to children whose parents could not otherwise afford this education. British independent schools have provided (and continue to provide) the model for education systems across the world, and were the framework on which the British state system was based; they persist in flying the flag for a focus on student individuality, character development and all round education, and the fact that this focus leads in turn to higher academic results should provide food for thought: children really do thrive in every respect, including academically, when their school experience is positive, stretching, challenging and uplifting. Independent schools continue to have much to offer as role models for a highly successful education.
Every child deserves an outstanding education; it is my hope that by illuminating real-life examples of an amazing student experience, these awards will contribute to a renewed and widespread understanding of the quality of the whole education that all schools can and should be empowered to offer.
So – let us celebrate and hear these stories!
Information and an application form for these awards can be found at http://www.independentschoolsoftheyear.co.uk/. Entries close on 18 July – apply soon!