The head of a top private school has set up a fairground in the playground to remind stressed pupils to have fun.
Shaun Fenton, head of £18,000-a-year Reigate Grammar School, encouraged children to eat ice creams, ride on dodgems and jump on bouncy castles to take a break from their forthcoming GCSE and A-level exam revision.
Mr Fenton, the son of Seventies glam rock star Alvin Stardust, said he wanted to show pupils that emotional wellbeing is just as important as exam results.
The event coincides with mental health awareness week, so children are also getting the opportunity to take yoga and cookery classes, and the school is celebrating national Outdoor Classroom Day today by holding lessons outside.
Mr Fenton is the new chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents more than 250 independent schools.
He told the Standard: “Wellbeing is supported by highlights along life’s journey. Children need a balance in life: happy, healthy children are more likely to be high-achieving. The fairground is a punctuation point in the year. This is the ideal time to remind young people psychological and emotional wellbeing is every bit as important as exam results or university destinations. It is what will sustain them through their adult lives.”
More than 10 per cent of his pupils get places at Oxford and Cambridge, he added, but “we don’t get that by coaching and cramming and nose to the grindstone. That 19th-century approach won’t work. We do take exams seriously but we don’t do it by cracking the whip. We do it by inspiring people. We have been sharing a range of strategies, from taking exercise to talking with friends and managing mobile technologies.”
He said it was vital to “protect and cherish” childhood and not lose sight of the joy of growing up: “Fun should not be squeezed out by accountability agendas and high-stakes testing.”
The school also offers mindfulness lessons, a counsellor, an activities week and peer monitoring. “Of course exam results are important, but we need to help students find a sense of perspective,” said Mr Fenton. “What better way than with a ride on the dodgems or a go on the bouncy castle?”
School’s outdoor for sums, sir…
More than 35,000 London children will have lessons outside today to boost wellbeing and mental health and inspire them to learn.
Hundreds of primaries and secondaries are taking part in Outdoor Classroom Day. Carley Sefton, chief executive of Learning Through Landscapes, the charity behind the event, said some will extend lunchbreaks while others will hold classes in the playground.
“In maths you can measure trees, science is great outside because you have space. For English, you can start stories outside,” she said.
Today 11-year-olds will be taking their maths SAT. Ms Sefton said being outside before and after the test can combat stress: “Walking on the grass with your shoes off and looking at clouds are all of benefit.”