You are all very welcome indeed to the HMC Spring Conference. I am particularly pleased to see such a wide range of organisations who are committed to helping children have a happy and healthy, as well as high-achieving school career. The state school leaders joining us show the close ties which exist between the independent and maintained sectors – ties which we will continue to strengthen in the coming years. And I’d like to greet the many journalists who are giving us their time – I hope you find today thoughtful and stimulating.
First the housekeeping – the ladies and gents are…fire escapes are…
But there is much to keep you firmly in your seats. As you will hear from our excellent speakers, we meet in particularly fast-changing times, politically, socially and culturally. Those changes impact on children, which in turn affect the support they need at school and home. Uncertainty about the nature of the society they will grow up in, their life prospects and university debt, plus the expectations of the always-on digital world are just some of the factors in what are, by all accounts, increasing levels of anxiety amongst young people.
At the same time the role of teachers and parents has arguably never been under greater scrutiny. Some things never change of course – as adults we are, by definition, too old and crusty to know anything much worth knowing, apart from how to pass an exam and how to drive them to the latest party via satnav.
However, other things change very quickly indeed. Increasing focus on the need to nurture good mental health and responsible use of technology amongst young people means we are all responsible. It’s no longer only the boarding schools amongst us who are required to think about what our pupils do when the end of day bell sounds.
It’s not that schools want to blur the lines between teacher and parent. It’s that they are blurred already. Children need consistent guidance from all the adults in their lives. Otherwise we end up cancelling each other out - and we all know young people’s brilliance at playing one adult off against another! So it’s obvious that schools and families need to create stronger ties to draw up some new rules about how to nurture happy and resilient young people who use technology positively and live their lives with commonly held values.
And parents, it seems want that too. Many of the heads in this room have noticed increasing requests from parents for help with these new realities. That’s why we have responded by investigating what parents and pupils think, what they do and what they want schools to do. We need evidence if we are to focus on the right things.
That’s why HMC has, for the last two years, investigated what pupils in a variety of schools think about exams, transition to university, their own use of technology and, interestingly, their parents’ mobile device habits. We have also asked parents for their views on their children’s use of technology, and today we are releasing data on what parents would most like help with from schools.
It is a fascinating insight into what parents are really thinking and it shows us that, as well as exams and revision, they want help with navigating their children’s social lives and relationships. A parental focus group told us that they feel increasingly disconnected from their children’s lives and need to understand what is normal behaviour and what they should be worried about.
As one parent who answered the survey put it: “Socialisation seems to happen online from the child’s bedroom.”
None of us have all the answers. But by sharing the knowledge and experience of many of those amongst those assembled here, we can have useful conversations with parents and pupils which can lead to practical outcomes.
We are by no means starting from scratch here. Much good work is happening already, with schools holding parental workshops, expert talks, and conferences such as the digital wellbeing one at Hampton School which you will see leaflets for outside.
And we have a really good mix of experts to help us today. They will each be able to bring new perspectives and practical insights to help our great schools continue to innovate and improve the holistic, child-centred education of which we are rightly proud.
None of this would have been possible without (thanks)
Lastly, those of you who joined us in Stratford upon Avon for our annual conference might be interested to know that we meet again in the week in which we celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday – so the Bard is ever with us.
On that note, may I introduce our first speaker – no pressure Rosemary!
Click here to find out more about the Spring Conference.