Senior Headmaster’s Blog: The Power of Pets

This can be one of the most stressful times of year in a school, as the clock is ticking towards public examinations. Deadlines loom for coursework and portfolios, and the coming holiday is unlikely to offer a break, but an increase in revision and exam preparation for most.

I have spoken before about the need to gradually increase the work rate towards the summer, rather than try to crush revision into a short period of intensive study at the last minute.

To add to the stress at this stage of the year, pupils (and staff, and parents too!) are often tired towards the end of terms, and little triggers can have a big impact. You will have your own views as to whether social media adds to the challenge (I think that it does), but the pace of society and the expectations placed upon young people to grow up fast, to make big decisions, and to cope in a rapidly changing world all combine to create a febrile atmosphere.

So, what can we do to help? I do think that the most important thing to do is to model good behaviour. It is very easy to add to the pressures, and the way that we talk to children can create tension, rather than helping young people to manage it. In terms of exam preparation, we can help to provide structure, and build confidence. We can aid with providing a good environment to work, and the tools to be successful. We can encourage good sleep, good diet, some exercise and relaxation, but an approach that is targeted towards doing one's very best.

Sir Anthony Seldon (former Head of Brighton and Wellington, and now the Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University) recommends the power of pets in providing a calming atmosphere (click here to read) I certainly remember well from my time running a boarding house how an unhappy teenager, who was not willing to talk to me, or another member of staff, could take our dog out for a walk, say what they felt they needed to say, and unburden themselves. Fresh air, exercise, and a great listener all in one!

Everyone faces moments of tension in their lives at some point, and some are more able to manage those on their own than others. Fortunately, we now live in a society where people are talking about these issues, and that is a good starting point. There is no simple solution that suits everyone all the time, but with regard to exams, the results are really immaterial. What matters is that each person, by preparing for them as well as they can, does as well as they can. For some, that will mean doing even better than they hope, and for some they will not reach those targets, and need some support in recalibrating for the next steps. There are many different paths to success, and nobody should be defined (or define themselves) by any one step along the way.

I am going to finish now. The dogs are asking to be walked.

Chris Townsend