In the forthcoming edition of Prep School Magazine Gareth Jones, Headmaster of St Andrew’s Prep in Eastbourne, looks at why the spirit of adaptability has never been more necessary and what schools should do to lighten the weight of responsibility on today’s children. To read the full article, sign up to SATIPS and to receive Prep School Magazine.

In A.A. Milne’s classic poem, Now We Are Six, the young speaker briefly summarises his life to date before closing with the line, “So I think I’ll be six forever and ever.” Evidently, he feels clever enough to dispense with learning and, indeed, with growing up.

Growing up is hard! With each year comes more responsibility and higher expectation and 2020 has magnified this further, forcing schools to work twice as hard to ensure their pupils do not to get weighed down by this. And herein lies the conundrum.

How can a school create a purposeful and ambitious education without the pressure to succeed that is the mental undoing of so many in today’s society?

In response to the age-old question, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, research by Forbes magazine shows that the most common answers for boys are sportsman, fireman and engineer while for girls it is doctor, teacher and scientist.

However, right up near the top is the response “I don’t know”.

It seems, then, that children have no trouble admitting what so many young adults won’t – they have no idea what they want to be when they grow up. This is no bad thing, especially for children. Of course, ambition and focus are good; having a target often brings positive results. But keeping horizons broad and developing a range of interests is also beneficial because in this changing, ever more global world, citizens need to be adaptable.

This is where schools that offer breadth as well as excellence in their curriculum can play such a crucial role and it is also why it is never too early to teach children about CV building. They need to know what senior schools and employers are looking for: the importance of a well-rounded character with interests and values alongside good qualifications. Most importantly, they need to know that selectors want eager minds with a hunger to learn.

Tony Sinanis writes a well-regarded educational blog entitled Leading Motivated Learners and in one article he referred to the words of his (then) ten year old son, Paul, who said, “The truth is, I don’t understand the point of school. Everything that I am interested in and connects to my world doesn’t ever come up in school, so what’s the point?”

In a year like 2020 when the world became more confusing than ever, and children yo-yoed between school and home, some preferring the learning environment of the latter, words like this are an important reminder to us, as school leaders, that we cannot take the purpose of school for granted. In order to engage the children as learners, prepare them for the future and equip them with the resilience to ‘grow up’ successfully, we have to enable them to see the value of their education in every single lesson.

Read the next edition of Prep School Magazine for Gareth’s five principles to ensure this.

Gareth Jones is the Headmaster of St Andrew’s Prep, Eastbourne. From September 2021, he takes over as Headmaster of Bilton Grange Prep School in Warwickshire, now part of the Rugby Schools Group.