Guiding our children towards the right path

Posted on 24th Apr 2023 in School News, Co-curricular, Curriculum

Andrew McCleave, Headmaster at Ballard School, on how independent schools look beyond the curriculum

By choosing an independent education, parents can open a world of opportunities for their child, not just academically, but also, in terms of life skills and character development. As employers continue to look beyond grades, these soft skills become even more important, for example, captaining a team, obtaining a Duke of Edinburgh award, fundraising or volunteering. Independent schools, with their many co-curricular activities, clubs, and trips, help pupils experience life beyond the classroom. In their study, ‘An Unequal Playing Field’ (2019), the Social Mobility Commission Chair, Dame Martina Milburn, found that co-curricular activities led to several “...important benefits – a sense of belonging, increased confidence and social skills, which are invaluable to employers.”

Research also shows that busy, happy children do well in the classroom. Independent schools generally have fantastic facilities, specialist staff and the opportunities to enable extensive co-curricular activities. Ballard’s excellent provision underpins both pupils’ wellbeing and academic achievements throughout their journey, from Nursery to GCSE, teaching key life and practical skills. As a way of instilling a love of learning, Ballard’s early years and Pre-prep have regular forest school and nature walks, encouraging a love of nature and the great outdoors. Mindfulness, yoga, dance, gymnastics and PE help nurture body and mind. Art, cookery and music encourages all-important creativity. This breadth and balance help foster those skills, so important in later life, that help to set our pupils on the right path.

During a typical Ballard week, we counted 142 co-curricular activities, two trips, a parents’ seminar, an awards ceremony, a swimming gala, a Student Council meeting and a Performing Arts Scholars’ workshop and performance. Mondays include five tailored GCSE clinics; six sports activities; seven Arts clubs, plus: Cookery, Creative Writing, Debating, Geographical Problem Solving, Philosophical Thinking Club, Reading, Reasoning, Spanish Games and Travel Club. The ability to provide these choices, particularly within the arts and sport, is why so many parents choose an independent education, such as the one provided at Ballard.

An independent education also underlines the importance of community and charity, aiming to create caring, positive young people. At Ballard, our busy, happy children love to help others. PSHE lessons build on and reinforce our key values including kindness, positivity and responsibility, not only supporting our pupils’ physical health and mental wellbeing but also teaching them about living in the wider world. In Year 1, this includes looking after the environment, caring for others and the importance of our community. Pupils are involved in whole school reflections for Remembrance, Holocaust Memorial Day and last year, the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. We also recognise many other days and weeks that celebrate diversity including Dyslexia Awareness Week, World Mental Health Day, Anti-Bullying Week, Odd Socks Day, and NSPCC Childhood Day, with older pupils helping and mentoring younger.

Alongside our PSHE lessons, we also teach our Year 3 pupils about charities within their ‘Life Skills’ lessons. Pupils decide which charity they would like to fundraise for and organise a cake sale as part of their curriculum. This charitable outlook is contagious, and the Ballard Family regularly fundraise for worthy causes. As a School, we also fundraise, running the ever-popular chocolate tombola and numerous cake sales to large scale appeals for Ukraine and more recently, Turkey and Syria. Not only are members of the Ballard family incredibly generous, but they also take action whether mobilising support, cleaning beaches or driving supplies to areas of need.

Staff, parents and pupils also fundraise independently, undertaking challenges to raise money for a charity of their choice. One six-year-old pupil made the news with his own running challenge to raise hundreds of pounds for the NHS during the coronavirus crisis. Running 100 miles in a month, he raised over £4,800. Last summer, one of our Year 11 pupils set up and completed “16 Challenges” to accomplish before her 16th birthday to raise money for the charity, Brain Tumour Research. Challenges included giving a lecture at a museum, a 16-mile triathlon and even 16 rounds in an MMA ring.

Yet it isn’t just these challenges; three of our Year 5 girls held a joint birthday party and rather than accepting traditional birthday gifts, they invited their friends and guests to donate to our local hospice, Oakhaven. Their touching gesture inspired such generous donations that they twice upped their target, raising over £1,000. The Ballard Family always supports Oakhaven’s annual Santa Dash and have been their largest fundraiser for this event for many years.

Community is also important, with many independent schools engaging with their local community directly, through events and partnerships, or indirectly via fundraising. Ballard opens its doors to pupils from local schools to participate in sports events, STEM and music activities, as well as to watch our productions and listen to careers lectures. We invite local care home residents into school for our community Christmas Concert.

Recently, a team of our Year 9 pupils visited Oakhaven Hospice as part of the Acorn project, taking part in activities with the residents, as well as talking with and singing to them. The team presented their work in an assembly, highlighting how much they had learnt from the experience and how important fundraising is for Oakhaven. The New Forest Basics Bank is another charity we work closely with. Pupils take boxes of food and supplies, donated by our community, to help local families and learn from the organisers and volunteers about how they deliver this vital service.

These relationships not only help the charity but also help our pupils understand why caring for others and helping, whenever you can, is so important. That kindness is more than helping a friend – it is about being an ‘upstander’, someone who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes.

So, if you would like your child to learn more than just the curriculum, consider an independent education and set them on the right path.

This article appears in the 2023 edition of John Catt's Preparatory Schools, which you can view here: