A new boy joins LEH
  • Enrichment

I have worked in co-educational boarding schools for the whole of my teaching career.  My last school, Bryanston, was set in rural, beautiful Dorset.  And so to move to a highly academic London day school is not the most obvious of changes. Indeed, many friends and work colleagues were surprised by my decision to join Lady Eleanor Holles, assuming, not unreasonably, that I would continue to work in that sector-within-a-sector for the rest of my working life.  

The decision, however, was an easy one for me, and especially so after I had visited it for the first time.  Firstly, LEH’s reputation is widely known and highly regarded.  It is a place which fosters high standards among its pupils and staff, and is unafraid of innovation and change.  Nevertheless, it surprised me how many people I knew also had some experience with the school: a few had attended, or had friends who had studied here; others had relatives (very often rather intellectually intimidating aunts who had done great things in their fields).  Then there were those who knew it by association: they’d lived in the area, had attended nearby schools (including a boys’ school whose name I can’t quite recall now).  

Certain words and phrases were echoed in the various conversations I had before applying, but one featured strongly, and that was ‘warmth’.  Such a characteristic is difficult to define, but I know, after inspecting schools for over ten years, and having visited many more in the UK and overseas, that this intangible quality is very often noticeable when it is absent: you feel it quite quickly, and it can be discerned not only in meetings you attend with staff, but also in the lessons observed. Circumstances come together, personalities and philosophies fail to cohere.  And that lack of warmth is difficult to dispel. 

In contrast a happy school is one of the most wonderful places you could ever visit: the noise emanating from classrooms is sometimes no different in decibels, but it is different in kind, and quality.  Visit any school and you can learn a lot from the corridors: the wall displays, the buzz of  engagement from the children, a door being held open for you by a Year 9 student, a ‘thank you’ here, a ‘you’re welcome’ there, and the many faces, often smiling, the ease of relationships visible between staff and students, and between students from different year groups. LEH is not unusual in offering such qualities, but it struck me how unselfconsciously, or, rather, how naturally, such things were embodied and enacted among both its staff and students. They are not remarkable to those who have worked here for some time, but that shows how deep-rooted they are. 

I know there is an ongoing debate among educationalists (and parents) about the relative merits of single-sex versus co-educational schools.  There are strengths and weaknesses in all models, whether they are boarding, day, faith, secular, progressive, traditional...and so on. As a father of two daughters and one son the different approaches taken by our young people in their learning very often defy easy categorisations, and reject stereotypes: show me a conscientious, hard working girl...and I will show you a boy who will match that attitude.  But perhaps when they are separated for a few hours during the day they each find time to be away from each other’s gaze, and judgements, to be more fully at ease with themselves, and with their peers.  That breathing space, that ability to focus solely on the many demands school makes of them, benefits many who feel empowered to dedicate themselves to such things fully.  For a young person finding their voice, forging their identities, all this and more can be better served in single-sex school.

Now, after working here for several weeks, and after teaching some of the LEH students, I can honestly say that the decision I made in that far-away time which was the pre-Covid world, was the right one.  The students and staff at LEH are indeed warm and welcoming, as well as intellectually curious and intelligent;  and the school, even during these difficult times, feels at ease with itself, but fully aware of what it wants each of its students to achieve.  Above all, I have come to realise that when one decides to make a major decision in one’s life one should not be fooled by the often transient lure of being ‘happier’.  You would hope that would happen, but too often such a condition is buffeted when things don’t quite fit, and those pesky events get in the way of your route to your own, personal Arcadia.  Instead, I think we (and I would include LEH’s students) should seek ‘enlargement’, or ‘enrichment’: we should ask if the next stage of our professional or personal lives will make us greater, more enriched, changed for the better.  And in doing so, can we also enrich and deepen the life experiences of others? I know, like many who have already moved through this astonishing school, that this is precisely what LEH does.  Contributing to that process, and becoming enriched myself, is the greatest reward a teacher can have.

By Dr James - Deputy Head of LEH School

 

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