When parents of prospective students come to see me, they often ask how the school instils such confidence in its students. This question often arises from the tour of the school conducted by a current Sixth Former who has successfully displayed a chatty maturity without tipping over into an unattractive arrogance.
I find the question difficult to answer as there are no ‘confidence’ lessons nor is it a conscious priority for the school but instead perhaps a natural outgrowth of our strong school community.
The vertical House system certainly plays a part. Stockport Grammar School has four Houses composed of students drawn from each year group; from joining the school boys and girls become used to mixing with other students of different ages, both older and younger than they are. The Sixth Form students take responsibility for organising teams for the vast number of house competitions; learning how to manage, organise and encourage their peers certainly helps build confidence.
Most of our Sixth Form students choose to become prefects with many applying to be senior prefects with real leadership responsibilities. Senior prefects may be tasked with supervising younger pupils or have formal roles as leaders within Houses or as part of the Charity Committee, Sixth Form Committee or Eco-Schools Group.
Co-curricular activities also help through a high level of participation. Again, the activities often put students of different ages together, perhaps in a play or a musical group, and again this helps to develop confidence. The more relaxed relationships with members of staff in these different settings also enable students to develop their communication skills and the belief that their viewpoints are important and will genuinely be considered. A wide range of sports gives students opportunities to develop in confidence; they are given positions of responsibility in teams and have to take decisions during the game or match. Uncovering talents that other pupils do not have boosts self-esteem.
Confidence is also developed in the classroom. In the vast majority of lessons, the atmosphere nurtures students in both giving and listening to opinions. Tolerance of each other’s views is very much encouraged and this gives students the confidence to articulate their thoughts. Regular involvement in assemblies, presenting to their peers in class and public speaking competitions also help to ensure that the students become more comfortable in speaking to sizeable audiences. The various School Councils provide forums for the students to engage with real issues within the school and encourage them to develop and argue their points of view.
Confidence also comes from the trust we place in our students. At Open Mornings, in September and November, for example, we use First Year (Year 7) students to conduct tours of the school for the families of prospective pupils. This gives the visitors real insight into SGS life through the eyes of girls and boys who have only been part of the school for a few weeks as well as giving the students the chance to have a go at answering questions and taking the lead in conversation.
Finally, school provides endless opportunities for students to try new things and sometimes to fail in a supportive environment. The realisation that failure is a normal part of learning and part of life robs failure of its confidence-sapping power and allows students to learn how to pick themselves up and move on without losing their self-belief. FAIL comes to stand for First Attempt In Learning rather than something to be avoided at all costs. In a world that changes so rapidly and will continually make fresh demands on our students this is certainly an important lesson.