Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

On the right track

On the right track

It was good to get back to school yesterday in time for our New Parents’ Buffet. This event has two great advantages. First, Catering Manager Barrie Bulch and his team produce the most fantastic range of curries! Second (and, I guess, rather more important!), it’s a great opportunity to chat informally and start to get to know parents of all the students who have joined us this year at all ages.

It was a particularly pleasant occasion this year. Some of that enthusiasm, zest for school life and sheer happiness has rubbed off from our new students on to their parents, perhaps. Certainly there were many, many expressions of parental contentment with the way their children have settled into school – and, of course, with how been aided in that process.

Sincere thanks to those parents for the vote of confidence. We work very hard to make sure that boys and girls can hit the ground running, at whatever age they join the school. Of course there is trepidation about joining a new school. There are worries about getting lost: making friends; fitting in; winning places in sports teams. All those are inevitable parts of the rite of passage.

But they are ready for that big step. It’s the task of the school to render the conditions right so that the excitement and enthusiasm are seized and built on, given an opportunity to take root and grow. We plan carefully for that: and that care is bearing fruit. It was generous of a number of parents to take the trouble to say how delighted they were with our proactive pastoral care that made sure that their children could indeed settle in quickly, confidently and happily.

The key word is, of course, happily. A happy, confident child learns and thrives: an unhappy, worried or insecure one doesn’t. Schools must allow that happy, confident growth to take place. Indeed, it is because we recognise the overriding importance of that aspect of schooling that we hosted our emotional wellbeing/mental health conference - Out of Character? - last week.

One reason for hosting the conference was we felt we were in a position, with the contacts we’ve been making recently, to share our thoughts and knowledge with other schools and allow us all to benefit from the interaction and discussion that took place. More to the point, it also reminded all who work at the RGS of the need to concentrate on emotional wellbeing and the teaching of resilience. We’re thinking hard about all this, always well aware that a reflective school is an effective school.

The growing understanding of the centrality of resilience also kept rearing its head throughout the conference I’ve been attending this week, HMC’s annual meeting which brought together the heads of 260 leading independent schools in Britain and all over the world.

We find we need a bit of resilience of our own. We met at the Celtic Manor in Newport, where NATO leaders held their summit just three weeks ago: but there was no sign of the fighter planes or tanks that decorated the drives and lawns while President Obama and others were there.

Nonetheless, there were (as I kept saying) a number of metaphorical tanks on our lawn. In this country far too many people are too ready to have a go at independent schools, motivated by a mixture of jealousy, insecurity, and misdirected egalitarianism. Our opponents forget that we represent the best sector of schools in the world. So while some seek to harm us and undermine our reputation, and others demand that we follow their particular agendas in partnerships, sponsorship of academies and all other kinds of initiatives, we do need resilience so that we can chart our own path with confidence and a passionate belief in what we do.

Inevitably we have a lot of laughs when 260 heads of similar schools get together: the camaraderie is enormous. But we also recharge our batteries and refresh that shared vision. And we develop our own resilience in the face of now fairly constant attacks.

I certainly returned determined to keep the RGS on the right track that it’s currently following: my heartfelt thanks to the parents who, generous in their praise and warm in their appreciation of what the school does for their children, even so short a time into the new school year, reaffirmed my sense of purpose.

Bernard Trafford

Headmaster