Broadly speaking, there are two types of school-leaver; those who leave very reluctantly, nervous about the next step, as school life has enriched them. Then there are those who exit the school gates, that long awaited day as, for them, school was a chore; school was something that was done to them, rather than a process in which they were fully engaged.
Parents who visit Wandsworth Prep often ask me why we place so much emphasis on creating a happy environment in which our children can learn. In a part of the country with abundant parent choice, parents often ask for some guidance as to how to choose the right school for their child. An outstanding inspection report should play but a mere part in the decision making process; where a child will be happy should underpin that final choice.
Happiness relates to how we feel; it is, however, more than a passing mood. Humans are emotional beings. Negative emotions, such as fear and anger, are essential in terms of protecting us from danger in order to defend ourselves. Positive emotions, however, help us to connect with others and build our capacity to cope when things go wrong.
Placing emphasis on happiness in schools is not a loose concept. Prioritising emotional well-being, resilience and children’s mental health was, in fact, announced as a focus for the Department of Education in 2015 under the leadership of the then new Education Minister, Nicky Morgan. To my mind, this is a welcome change.
We, of course, want every child to reach their potential; whether on the sports field, the stage or in the classroom. Our curriculum is rigorous, challenging and balanced; ineffective, however, if not buttressed by strong relationships, encouragement and support.
Critics may argue that school is not a place to teach happiness; and nor do we, overtly. We are, however, able to ensure that we put systems and structures in place that ensure our environment is a happy one. Happy children are more engaged and thrive in adversity. Studies prove that humour and happiness help children learn.
Bridget Saul - Headteacher