Never Underestimate the Importance of a School’s Culture

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Carlotta O’Sullivan, Principal at Sinclair House School in Fulham, on why a good school will give a child ‘roots’ and ‘wings’, but it is the establishment’s culture that enables them to fly

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.”

This often-quoted saying references our accountability as parents, but it is also applicable to the responsibility of schools nurturing young minds.

If we do our jobs well, we are challenging or cultivating one or the other at any particular time – and our ability to nurture a balance between the two is essential to enable children to fulfil the depth and breadth of their potential.

Cultivating ‘roots’ – as children’s figurative connection with themselves, with others and with their place in the wider world – is important, to give pupils a sense of belonging, of identity and empowerment, breeding confidence, self-belief and resilience.

‘Roots’ are the foundations of pupils’ social and emotional development, the sense of being grounded and connected in a community, and the relationships and friendships that provide the fabric of a strong pastoral care system, providing children a sense of security and stability.

‘Wings’, on the other hand, give children the knowledge and abilities to soar, expand their horizons and venture into new and unchartered territories without trepidation. They give pupils a freedom to express their innate curiosity, fearlessly approach new opportunities and explore ideas creatively. Wings enable independence and encourage initiative to flourish.

As we approach Spring Open Days, it’s important that parents don’t neglect the importance of school culture.

This is essentially the ‘feeling’ when you walk around the premises, and, in the figurative sense, the fertile ground in which roots are nurtured and wings are grown.

Of course, all schools have an obvious accountability for the academic at their core, equipping children with the necessary knowledge to go on to the next stage of their education.

“League tables and exam results cannot capture the experiential aspect of children’s time at school, which is shaped by its essence, AKA, its culture”

In the Independent sector, we have the luxury of a greater freedom to provide a curriculum that is broad, challenging and creative, inspiring a love of learning, and embedding knowledge-based skills that are the critical currency of universities and future workplaces.

However, league tables and exam results cannot capture the experiential aspect of children’s time at school, which is shaped by its essence, AKA, its culture.

My vision for Sinclair House has always been guided by a core belief that an environment of academic success naturally flourishes when children feel secure, motivated, engaged and happy. Science has shown that happy children really do learn better.

Happy children learn better, but how do you ensure kids are happy at school? Look at the school's culture

Science has shown that happy children really do learn better

Cognitive research indicates that when learning experiences are made relevant to children and emotionally engage them positively, information is processed by regions of the brain in a way that suggests pupils actually assimilate this knowledge more ‘deeply’.

Real-time cerebral changes in students evidenced on MRI scanners indicate positive emotional engagement stimulates activations all around the cortex, in neural areas involved in cognition, memory and meaning-making.

In addition, happier pupils release more dopamine and acetylcholine, neurotransmitters responsible for simulating memory centres and focusing attention.

“Greater emotional support and a sense of security promote the release of oxytocin – known as the ‘cuddle chemical’. Levels of this neurohormone correlate positively with performance improvement and emotional resilience”

Studies of children taking exams have shown greater emotional support and a sense of security promote the release of oxytocin – known as the ‘cuddle chemical’. Levels of this neurohormone correlate positively with performance improvement and emotional resilience.

Ultimately, when children later reflect on their school years, their memories are emotionally coloured. They don’t remember how well equipped the Science Lab was, or the size of the library; instead their recall is what is neurolinguistically termed ‘kinaesthetic’ – whether their time was fun, joyful, or anxiety-ridden, filled with friendship or struggle.

In other words, they remember how it made them feel – and this is hugely influenced by a school’s culture and ethos, as well as the climate of learning. A good school will give ‘roots’ and ‘wings’ – but it is the culture that enables them to fly.

Websites, social media and a prospectus will give you a sense of school life, but the only way to get a true feel for which school is right for your child is to experience it yourself.

SHS Prep School Open Day takes place on Thursday 12 March 2020 from 10am-11.30am

The school is located at 59 Fulham High Street SW6 3JJ. To find out more see sinclairhouseschool.co.uk


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