At this time of year Independent schools around the country are opening their doors to prospective pupils and asking them to sit for their entrance papers. For thousands of pupils it is a nervous time. What are schools looking for? Often they are selecting academically able pupils, but schools are also considering how they would fit into the School.
It is the latter that perhaps is more important to me. It does not matter how academic a school or pupil may be, if it is not right, the child will not thrive. Schools should never be chosen by parents as a badge of honour, as a measure of intelligence of their children. Schools should be chosen because they are right for their child or our case, their daughter. Creating the right conditions in which children will thrive is essential and those conditions created in a school will not suit every child. To me, the skill of the selection process for both parents and head teachers is to find out whether the school is right for the child.
I feel a school should feel like home. An environment where the pupils feel safe, an environment where they feel challenged and excited by the learning, but not intimidated or overwhelmed that they might not be good enough. They should feel they can come to a school with a growth mindset where they understand that their talents are developed through hard work and persistence, rather than a fixed mindset where their talents are set based on their test scores.
So how as Heads can we determine this? I interview every pupil in the Senior School and I ask them to bring in something of which they are proud. I try to tease from them what it is that makes them proud. For many it is not the prize or the award but their persistence in achieving it, the difficulties they have overcome to reach their goal. Some talk about winning races, but it is not the winning that matters to them rather their perseverance that enabled them to win. Others talk about competitions they have entered and the experience they have gained from the event. Some bring in photographs of their families and eloquently explain how they have been shaped and inspired by them, others come in leg casts or with photos of injuries and explain how they had overcome physical challenges.
Being proud of your achievements is important. It reflects the hard work, persistence and determination to do well. I want the girls to come to the interview feeling secure in the environment that they can tell their story with pride, to be able to identify they have a growth mindset and leave feeling happy and comfortable in themselves. The stories they tell reflect as much about themselves as the entrance papers they sit.