The House System: a typically British educational institution
The headmaster of Brighton College Bangkok – the sister school to one of the UK's top independent co-educational schools – explains the challenges and benefits of the quintessentially British house system.
21 September 2016
In my previous article for Relocate Global I wrote about why British Independent education is so revered around the world. Independent schools are part of the Great British fabric and there is nothing more quintessentially British than the house system – just think of Mr Chips or even Harry Potter. However, with so many schools now opening on international shores, the salient question is whether the house system has also made the journey. Brighton College Bangkok, for example, has four houses in common with its sister school in England. In our opinion, the successful implementation of the house system is integral to ensuring the same quality as our sister schools.
What is the house system?
At its most basic, it is a means of dividing pupils into groups and thus creating smaller communities within the wider community. On this simplistic level, the system serves to create teams for internal competition and, rather disappointingly, in many schools this is where it stops. However, at its most powerful, it is the greatest vehicle of all to outstanding pastoral care. If done properly, it is a system which instills a myriad of the most wonderful and desirable attributes into its individuals and their broader communities.It’s all to do with pride. If you cut a stick of rock in half, you’ll find the name from whence it came indelibly written across its centre; and, in many ways, the passion a pupil develops for his/her house is right in their core, too. This is, quite simply, because of the sense of team spirit that a well-run house instills. There is something quite magical about it; pupils of all ages come together, kindred in their desire for their house to be the best, for their house to win the numerous competitions and, of course, the overall House Cup. Pupils from all year groups, with the natural spread of talents, abilities, ages and, in co-ed schools, genders, all come together, united in their quest. This camaraderie and solidarity is second to none and the benefits of this vertical interaction, where the young look up to the elder and where the elder look out for and support the younger, are profound. When pupils have a vested interest in one another, a culture of kindliness pervades and becomes the norm. We are thus creating citizens for the future – tolerant and helpful, modest but ambitious.
What are the challenges in creating such a system?
Indeed, there are a few. Without the power of J K Rowling’s magical sorting hat, staff are tasked with ensuring that there is an even representation of abilities and talents throughout the houses. Ideally, pupils should, in any one house, represent a cross-section of the whole school. Sometimes, in reality, certain houses have periods of success and might temporarily dominate the school competitions. I remember taking over my first role as Head of House – the house trophy cabinet was devoid of silverware. Lifting the morale in this house was a task that was not merely for me, the Housemaster; instead, it required buy-in from all members of the community. However, within all challenges lie opportunities, and many of the elder, more senior pupils sprang into action and added great motivation to the pupil body. House competitions are not restricted to sports; instead, they ideally should correspond with all walks of school life. Music, Debate, and Drama are regular staples. Furthermore, at schools like Brighton, the rewards system is run through the house system and pupils gather points for good behaviour and excellent academic endeavour.In some schools, House Masters and Mistresses are referred to as House Parents and this is for good reason – a good house will have a family feel to it. In this close-knit community, loyalty is encouraged and children grow into the best possible versions of themselves, but only if they feel supported and secure. Typically, alongside the House Parents, a team of tutors will also provide their adult wisdom and expertise. However, it is the pupils looking out for each other that provides the greatest of crutches. Indeed, giving pupils the chance to learn and develop leadership skills is an outstanding benefit. What’s more, I bet that many of Britain’s great leaders could recall with gusto and pride the House they belonged to at school. We can’t wait to see which leaders emerge from Brighton College, Bangkok and whether it’s Fenwick, Ryle, Chichester and Hampden (the names of our houses) that’s written across their ‘stick of rock’.
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