The Pursuit of Happiness

In Focus

Ann Jackson, Deputy Head explores the Dauntsey’s approach to developing a sense of wellbeing among our pupils.

At a time of growing pressure to succeed academically and socially, a key element of education is equipping young people to lead happy and fulfilling lives. Here,

From the moment they arrive at Dauntsey’s, our pupils realise that they are part of a community: a community from which they will not only gain a lot but to which they will also make an important contribution.

This community is founded on respect, responsibility and relationships.

Respect means understanding that people have different personalities, skills and talents. Respecting others as well as yourself creates a tolerant and flexible community.

Responsibility means not only taking ownership of your own decisions and actions but also looking out for others around you. It’s not about apportioning blame but admitting to your mistakes and taking time to ask if a friend or classmate is OK.

Relationships help us to understand ourselves and others better. We encourage our pupils to value the people around them and build friendships, not only within their class but also through sport, music, drama, school trips and, of course, with the staff who teach and work with them.

This explains why so many visitors, new pupils and parents talk about the special atmosphere within the School. It is not something that happens by chance, nor is it created overnight. It is something that we are very proud of and that we work very hard to maintain.

A NETWORK OF SUPPORT

At the heart of our community is the House system, which creates a feeling of belonging and collective responsibility. But the network of care and support reaches every corner of the School, from the teaching staff to the nurses and counsellors in the medical centre, from the chaplain to the domestic staff.

So a caterer might notice that someone isn’t eating as well as usual, a sports master might remark that a boy is suddenly behaving with more aggression, a Housemistress might see that a normally lively girl is listless and tired, a parent might suggest that their child seems unusually stressed. We share this information, so any issues can be aired and problems dealt with before they escalate.

It helps that many families send all their children to Dauntsey’s, which means that we establish extended relationships with families and create strong bonds of trust.

Parents, of course, play a crucial role. In loco parentis doesn’t mean replacing a pupil’s parents but representing them and working alongside them. The more closely we can work together, the more we know and understand our pupils and therefore the more perceptive we are when there are changes in behaviour or mood. That means we can provide early intervention and support where necessary.

Even in this atmosphere, it’s important to remember that Dauntsey’s, like any other school, isn’t immune from what’s happening in society as a whole. If anxiety and stress are issues in the wider world, it’s reasonable to expect that they will be here. For example, body image increasingly affects both boys and girls, who are all under the spotlight of social media.

UNDERSTANDING THE TRENDS

The pupils are a great help: they know what the trends are within their peer group and can sometimes spot potential problems more quickly than staff.

The key is to be proactive. Throughout their time here, pupils can informally explore and discuss what is happening around, and to them in a safe environment through our Complementary Curriculum and PSHE (personal, social and health education) programmes, as well as having the opportunity to hear from visiting speakers.

To build self-esteem, pupils are encouraged to make the most of the many wonderful opportunities that are laid at their feet. Sport and adventure promote resilience; drama, dance, art and music feed creativity; trips and visits set the world of school in a broader context. Importantly, all of these activities build confidence, encourage tolerance and can promote the relationship between hard work and great results.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

But you also have to expect the unexpected, because life is always unpredictable.

It is equally important to be aware that the wealth of choice can itself become a pressure and that growing young people can take on too much.

This is about striking a balance between care and personal development. We are not trying to mould a Dauntsey’s pupil – we are here to help each person to find out more about themselves, enjoy success beyond the classroom, make lasting friendships and experience inevitable failures in a safe context.

Ultimately, it is about equipping them with the tools to leave us as happy, secure young people who are ready to take their place in the world.