‘Education is about forming good people’

In light of competition from improved primaries, Sean Skehan, headmaster of Barrow Hills School, argues that prep school is paramount for children to learn that the sort of person they are is just as important as their academic abilities

I recently received an email commending the sporting attitude of children at Barrow Hills School. Sent by the teacher of a visiting prep school team, it praised a child who had been honest about a disputed umpiring decision, even though this disadvantaged our team, and a child who comforted a player from the opposing team when he missed a shot at an open goal and his own supporters had laughed at him.

This is how you measure the success of a school. Education is about forming good people.

Pupil profile

The Barrow Hills philosophy – to play a pivotal role in forming good people – is certainly a million miles away from the type of teaching subscribed to by Thomas Gradgrind in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times: “Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon facts. Nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

At Barrow Hills we have created our unique pupil profile, focusing on the qualities we want the children to develop during their time with us. The school community, adults and children understand that these desired attributes are as important as examination results and top marks. Our success is measured by how well the children develop and grow, to evolve as young people who are able to clearly demonstrate the following qualities:

– Scholarly

It is very important to understand that here we are not merely referring to academic prowess. Rather, this sense relates to the attitudes and behaviours which help us all make academic progress; effort, resilience, being organised. All children can develop these attitudes and behaviours, and in this way all children can be scholarly.

– Curious and brave

We encourage our children to be interested in and open to new knowledge and ideas. To take risks in learning and to accept challenges are instrumental to growth and development. We never want a child to be held back by the fear of something different or demanding.

 Telling the truth might not always be easy but knowing that it is the right thing to do, that it shows strength of character, is a real measure of a child’s progress  

– Generous and compassionate

We focus our children on the need to be generous and compassionate in terms of how we relate to other people, our families, in school and relationships beyond school. The children are generous to each other by being kind and forgiving. They regularly show their compassion by helping others in the local community and beyond through a series of caring initiatives, many of which are put forward by the children themselves.

– Truthful and responsible

The email I received shows how our pupil profile instils the importance of being truthful and always being true to yourself. The fact that a child stepped up to their responsibilities in being honest about the umpiring decision, even though it was not to the school’s advantage, was a proud moment and demonstrated that this quality clearly resonates with our children. Telling the truth might not always be easy but knowing that it is the right thing to do, that it shows strength of character, is a real measure of a child’s progress.

– Joyful

Being joyful is as important as any of the other qualities. We advocate the importance of appreciating the joy of learning, of friendships, of all the opportunities our children are privileged to have, and we also work hard to remember to celebrate the achievements of others.

This pupil profile impacts on everything we do at Barrow Hills and, of course, also extends to extra-curricular activities. Our children receive ‘credits’ for showing these qualities in and out of the classroom, once again underpinning the value that we place on development outside of the realms of pure academic attainment.

Seamless transfer to senior school

A successful prep school education also prepares a child for a successful transfer to senior school. 

The advice and support that is provided to our children, and the good relationships that we have forged with the admissions departments of a wide range of schools helps us ensure a seamless and stress-free progression to the next stage of a child’s academic journey.

This new journey will bring a child into contact with significantly more children – and children of a much older age group. A child that is not comfortable in her/his own skin, who has not had the opportunity to develop into a well-rounded individual, may find this incredibly difficult. 

The pressure to partake in exchanges on social media platforms also represents a further hurdle for children of this age but a good prep school will have helped your child remain true to their values and possess an innate understanding of right and wrong. It will also have developed the qualities of curiosity and bravery that enable a child to make the most of the extensive opportunities that await them at senior school.

The formative years at prep school should ultimately result in your child learning to understand that the sort of person they are and aspire to be is just as important as their academic progress.

As the great philosopher Aristotle said: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”


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