Focus on the 3 Rs – Resilience, Respect and Relationships

MED SEPT 14 Sibford Schoolhead

MED SEPT 14 Sibford Schoolhead - Credit: Archant

Michael Goodwin, head at Sibford School, writes about the importance of health and well-being to students

Many schools in England are neglecting – and may be actively harming – students’ health and wellbeing, experts warn.

Professor Chris Bonell of the Institute of Education argues that education policy shouldn’t focus solely on academic attainment.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, he says there is danger in an education policy which encourages schools to “maximise students’ academic attainment and ignores their broader wellbeing, personal development, and health”.

At every open morning we hold, I stress to parents how Sibford cares for the mental well being of its pupils. Yes we want them to do the very best they possibly can, but I’d rather see a student leave here as a well-rounded person with three grade B’s at A Level, than as a A* student totally unable to cope with the real world.

Professor Bonell points out that personal, social, and health education (PSHE) remains a non-statutory subject, and argues that schools spend less and less time teaching it because of ‘pressure to focus on academic subjects’.

He suggests this move is underpinned by two ‘deeply flawed’ ideas. Firstly, that more time spent on health and wellbeing results in less time for academic learning and therefore lower attainment. Secondly, that improving attainment is singularly crucial to increasing economic competitiveness.

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Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. It’s a well-known quotation, and has an obvious relevance to education.

The ways in which schools promote the welfare of pupils cannot be neatly encapsulated in grades and levels, nor summarised in league tables. We abandoned SATs at the end of Key Stage 2 in September 2008, not only because we believed that ‘teaching to the test’ can harm students’ mental health but also because we wanted to use the time more productively.

That is not to say we should not be alert to evidence of intellectual and social development. But we do need to see it in terms of subtle changes in each unique individual, rather than linear progress on a Department of Education graph.

Children who are encouraged to obsess about target grades and government tests, are often frightened to experiment and their creativity and love of learning becomes inhibited. As adults, we don’t expect to become better at everything we want to learn without experimentation and mistakes, and it seems strange not to encourage this resilient attitude in young learners.

We encourage our young people to work on their three Rs, but with a different spin. For us, Resilience, Respect and Relationships are the best starting points for true learning. We are fortunate in having the support of enlightened parents, who recognise that memorable learning is more likely to take place when a child is fully engaged in a meaningful activity.

Our outdoor learning programme, where children can, for example, build living willow structures, is a far more meaningful way of practising measuring, thinking about shape and design, and, equally important, developing additional ‘soft skills’ of team work and communication while at the same time having fun. These experiences and attitudes not only promote more authentic learning, but also a greater sense of emotional well-being.

As a Quaker school we are well aware that a calm centre to our lives can give us purpose, and we begin each day with a period of silence, a method that Quakers have been practising for more than 300 years. William Penn, in 1699, described silence as being ‘to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment’. Our experience is that when students become calmer they become more focussed and more able to learn.


This article is from the September 2014 issue of A+ Education