- Published: Saturday, 21 June 2014 15:29
Speaking to parents of students departing from the Upper Sixth is a fascinating experience. For some of the parents it is quite a reflective and poignant moment as they have been associated with Birkdale for many years; the ending of the annual rituals of the start and end of term, sports matches, concerts, parents’ evenings, grades and reports and the social side of school life produces a real sense of the end of an era. Parents often comment on the confidence that Birkdale has given their son or daughter as well as on the good academic results, happy community and broad extra-curricular opportunities.
In a strange symmetry, when parents of prospective students come to see me they often ask how the School instils such confidence in its students. This question often arises from the tour of the school conducted by a current Sixth Former who has successfully displayed a chatty maturity without tipping over into an unattractive arrogance. I find the question difficult to answer as there are no ‘confidence’ lessons nor is it a conscious priority for the school but instead perhaps a natural outgrowth of our strong school community.
The vertical House system certainly plays a part. Birkdale has 4 Houses, named after former Head Masters, composed of students drawn from each year group; from joining the school boys and girls become used to mixing with other students of different ages, both older and younger than they are. The Sixth Form students take responsibility for organising teams for the vast number of house competitions; learning how to manage, organise and encourage their peers certainly helps build confidence.
Extra-curricular activities also help through a high level of participation. Again the activities often put students of different ages together, perhaps in a play or a musical group, and again this helps to develop confidence. The more relaxed relationships with members of staff in these different settings also enable students to develop the wide range of communication skills and the belief that their viewpoints are important and will genuinely be considered. A wide range of sports gives students opportunities to develop in confidence; they are given positions of responsibility in teams and have to take decisions during the game or match.
Confidence is also developed in the classroom. In the vast majority of lessons the atmosphere nurtures students in both giving and listening to opinions. Tolerance of each other’s views is very much encouraged and this gives students the confidence to articulate their thoughts. Regular involvement in assemblies, presenting to their peers in class and public speaking competitions also help to ensure that the students become more comfortable in speaking to sizeable audiences. The various School Councils provide forums for the students to engage with real issues within the school and encourage them to develop and argue their points of view.
Confidence also comes from the trust we place in our students. At Open Day, in November, for example, we use Year 7 boys to conduct tours of the school for the families of prospective pupils. This gives the visitors real insight into Birkdale life through the eyes of boys who have only been part of the school for a few weeks as well as giving the boys the chance to have a go at answering questions and taking the lead in conversation.
Finally, school provides endless opportunities for students to try new things and sometimes to fail in a supportive environment. The realisation that failure is a normal part of learning and part of life robs failure of its confidence-sapping power and allows students to learn how to pick themselves up and move on without losing their self-belief. In a world that changes so rapidly and will continually make fresh demands on our students this is certainly an important lesson.