Headmaster’s Blog

In a week which has seen internal school exams, the final lessons for our Year 8s before they sit Common Entrance, the Year 7s heading off to an adventure weekend courtesy of PGL, all members of Year 1 to 4 competing in Junior Sports Day at the Exeter Arena, the annual ECS U9 and U11 Athletics Festival, 8 sports fixtures, an outreach concert, 5 Evensongs, 1 Eucharist and a service of Confirmation, my mind has been drawn to the importance of breadth and balance in the School experience. In particular, our busy and exciting week (‘twas ever thus) has, for me, shone a light on the importance of balancing academic rigour with extra-curricular opportunity.

Both of these feature prominently in our ECS Habits. The pupils know that we value very much the Habit of Hard work; and they also know how much importance we attach to the Habit of Taking Part. We have these ECS Habits as out touchstones: they inform our decision-making and guide our interactions. And they also spell out to all members of the School community the central importance of a wide and balanced array of priorities and opportunities that underpin what we offer to, and expect from, our pupils and staff.

As public exams loom and the pressures to revise mount up, there can be a tendency to think that the correct path to take is the one which advocates the prioritising of book-hitting above all else; that is to say the ditching of all pursuits that don’t contribute to the absorption of curriculum material. I made pretty clear my views on this approach in the HM’s Blog of 10th May, in which I got on my soap-box and proclaimed: ‘As for balance: woe betide the pupil who tells me that they are going to have to give up their activities/stop playing cricket/take a break from their music group/spend each lunchtime in the library because of their revision!  Good emotional health, resilience and a rounded-and-grounded approach is what we’re after, and that’s why continuing with clubs and societies and continuing to socialize and have fun whilst also getting on with some revision is so important.’

It was pleasing, then – during a week which has seen both exams and extra-curricular involvement run concurrently – to come across Camilla Turner’s article in the Telegraph, whose short-n-snappy title made clear its content: ‘Children should not stop playing sport in run up to exams as it has no impact on results, study suggests’. The HMC (Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ Conference) has recently, says Turner, published the findings into their research among 1,482 male and female GCSE students. Specifically, they examined the effect that participation in sport had on their exam results.

In their report, the Psychology Department at Huddersfield University (who carried out the research commissioned by HMC) confirmed that there were no negative implications on results from involvement in sport. In fact, Head of Department Professor Peter Clough said, ‘taking part in sport appears to have a lot of positive impact….(students) are happier, psychologically healthier, less anxious and more resilient and robust. Taking part in sport on a regular basis is not doing them any harm and it is doing them good.’

The study went on to look at involvement in other extra-curricular activities (including music and singing). It found that there was no direct effect on academic performance (positive or negative), but that they did have ‘the same advantages as sport in terms of improving wellbeing and mental toughness’.

So, the message seems pretty clear. Well done, then, to all of our pupils for getting on with revision and exam week whilst still throwing themselves into fixtures, services, clubs and activities. To our Year 8 pupils who will have Common Entrance revision on their minds and schedules over half-term – remember the importance of balance, and take note of Professor Clough’s findings. Work hard – because that matters. But also relax, spend time with loved ones, go to bed at a decent time, and keep active – because that matters, too.

Happy half term, everyone.

24 May 2019
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