The Making of Us: Why schools matter and the single sex or co-ed debate webinar

What is education for and how can you choose the right school for your child?

Click on the image above to view the playback video of this webinar

That was the theme of a lively and informative webinar with leading educator and author, Clarissa Farr, former High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School, Fiona Murchie, managing editor of Relocate Global;  Jonathan Anderson, headmaster of Merchiston Castle School, a boys boarding and day school in Edinburgh, and James Kearney, Headmaster of Sotogrande International School, a co-educational day and boarding school in Spain.Choosing the right school, whether it is an international school, one based in the UK, or a local school in a new geographical location, is one of the biggest decisions that relocating family has to make.It can be daunting when faced with the myriad of different choices – single sex or co-ed? Boarding or day school? International or local?

Creating a school community

Clarissa Farr was eloquent on how schools created and nurtured communities, and talked about the shared memory of our school days and how education is “part of us”.“Schools are important as living communities, and may be the last community we experience,” she said. It is within this community that we learn to collaborate, empathise, disagree politely, and understand different viewpoints.”For international children, the challenge is to make education feel settled enough, she said. The workplace is now radically different and young people will not be in one career for their entire working life. Twenty somethings are now more entrepreneurial, they touch down more lightly in their jobs and have branching careers rather than a linear pattern.“They are growing up to be less risk averse, more versatile and more resilient,” she said. “We are learning from the younger generation in many ways. It is now not just older people handing down knowledge to those who know less.”Therefore, the challenge for schools is to keep up and to equip young people who are facing a world that has much greater uncertainty and multiple opportunities.The skills they will need in this world are self-management, good judgement and independence of mind in order to lead fulfilling lives, she explain. The gap between generations is now greater because technology has accelerated.“Choose a school where the values are aligned with yours. You have to feel that you have made the right choice.”Central to the formation of good school relationships is the triangle of trust between school, student and parent.“Your skill as a parent is gradually letting go and that can be difficult. As parents we have to accept a degree of stepping back as our children grow. Schools want to encourage children in that independence of mind,” she said.Her tips for parents of young people were:
  • Don’t rubbish the school in front of your child – it upsets them. Keep that respect and trust between home and school.
  • Help children to learn to come back from failure.
  • Dealing with disappointment and coming back from it is an important part of education and we should not be protecting children from it.
  • During the Covid-19 pandemic, young people have had to get used to the terms “might” and “possibly” and in time this will build resilience.
  • As a working mother, there are extra pressure and women should not be under pressure to make it look effortless.
  • It is about team work and not holding women to unreachable standards 

Nurturing and life skills

Jonathan Anderson, said that at Merchiston Castle School the chance to grow and discover oneself was important.“What we want to give our boys is an opportunity, space and freedom. It is our responsibility to nurture them to a point of excellence. We believe fully in that roundedness of education and the opportunity to excel in sport or music. That sense of nurture and not telling the boys that excellence is something they shouldn’t strive for.”He said the effect of Covid meant that this will be a generation like no other.“Out of this young people will become equipped in a way that no other generation has been,” he said. “In ten years they will be able to reflect on those experiences and put them to good use.”He also talked about how school interacts with parents from overseas, keeping the continuity of information going.Clarissa Farr spoke of how Covid-19  has shown “how quickly we can do things if we all agree we need to do it”, while Fiona Murchie, managing editor of Relocate Global, commented on how schools had responded so quickly and so well to the challenges of the pandemic.“International schools are used to uncertainty, political unrest and natural disasters,” she said. She also drew attention to Think Women, which supports women and helps them develop their career and create amazing networking opportunities.

What should parents look for in a school?

“Our approach is that happy children learn really well,” said James Kearney. “Happy students need to be challenged and inspired. School is not just an academic centre, and every child is unique and needs the opportunity to have that nurtured.”He said that a sense of community beyond school is critical, both for students and for parents. This can help international students feel part of something bigger than just a family and can be helpful for families who may be moving around.Clarissa Farr suggested parents should “Keep an open mind, rule out nothing, culture, location, day or boarding, and look for a feeling of trust and confidence in people who will care for your child.”Jonathan Anderson said honesty is very important – don’t be afraid to ask the questions.“You should feel school is open with you and give you honest answers.”As a final help for parents, Fiona Murchie recommended they should ask as many questions as possible, soak up the atmosphere and the culture of the school and use the virtual tours on the Relocate website.“There is plenty of excellent choice out there,” she said. 

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