Schools as places of the ‘now’ … and of the community

What a wonderful pleasure it was last week to speak at the Independent Schools of the Year Award 2020, to announce the finalists, and then to introduce my fellow judges as they revealed the winners! It was a really joyful occasion – all online of course, but with exploding stars and thunderous applause. A really uplifting way to spend a Thursday afternoon … and you can watch it all again here if you are in need of a spot of celebration of what schools can be. Speaking as Chair of the Judging Panel, I can absolutely assure you that every single one of the finalists was worthy of huge praise – it was SO hard to single out just one which pipped the others to the post in each category, but we did, and an enormous congratulations to all the winners!

These awards were conceived as a means to focus on the importance of the experience that children and young people have at school – not their academic outcomes, or their future destinations, although these are incredibly important too … and, unsurprisingly, these expand and rise too when young people are enabled to flourish, grow in self-confidence, are exposed to opportunities and are encouraged, stretched and challenged to become their best selves. This is true of every single school – not just independent schools; the experience had by a young person while growing up is fundamental to their wellbeing now and in the future, and schools play an incredibly significant part in this, often acting as the central hub of a child’s development, and certainly working in partnership with parents and a child’s wider family.  

This development is not, however, solely of the individual person, crucial though this is; it is the development of the person to be part of the collective, the wider community and our society. As Leo Winkley, Headmaster of Shrewsbury School, so articulately put it in his acceptance speech for the overall Independent School of the Year Award, schools have a responsibility to educate young people ‘to care about their communities’, and this is exactly what is driving the astonishing and wide-ranging contribution which they – pupils and staff – are making to their wider community. In this process, children are being given the opportunity to appreciate the community in which they live, learning that they have a role and a responsibility in it, to others as well as to themselves.

Life is not something which happens in the future, and education is not – should not – be only focused on preparing for that future. Life happens – is happening – now, all around us, whether we are child or adult. We owe it to ourselves and to others to make the most of it. ‘Every day is a school day’ says the adage which motivates us to learn and grow every day; perhaps we could also rephrase this for those who learn and work in schools – ‘every school day is a day’ … a day of which we should make the most, mindful of our own needs but also our responsibilities to others, and the joy we bring them when we support them. 

So – enjoy the day, make the most of it for yourself and for others. Onwards and upwards, as ever!

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