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Half-term message from the Head 20 February

Dear Parents

When school doesn’t work…

Sometimes we get it wrong. In the same way that families are imperfect, often schools are too. We are a place for and of people and people are fallible.

As teachers we are first and foremost drawn to this profession with a strong sense of calling, with a passion to work with young people and to see them flourish. Finding the time to enjoy each student’s quirkiness is often not possible amidst the relatively modern pressures of ‘achievement first’ at every pursuit. Our boarding construct enables more of this time for interaction although this too has been reduced of late by the ever-present pursuit of perfection.

We should be very careful!

Boys need to connect. They need to feel that they are heard and that they are not in this alone; and we know that at times one can be surrounded by mates yet feel completely alone. Within a school of 570 boys, there will probably be about 70 who are struggling emotionally at any given time. This is a significant number of boys - perhaps two per dorm. Any manner of events and non-events affect our sons: from feelings of despair about their self-worth, to feelings of anxiety about being good enough, to concerns about their futures in this world of multiple challenge.

Boarding can be both a haven and a hazard - and almost at the same time. A place for boys to bond and create friends for life whilst simultaneously being a place of no respite. It can be both liberating and stifling - a quandary indeed.

Teaching at a boys school such as ours requires a strong sense of empathy and the wisdom to know when to push a particular issue and when to extend grace in this task of affording all boys their place within the whole.

Sometimes we get it wrong, but we continue - we try and try again. We believe in what we do, and we hope our endeavours work towards crafting the gentlemen we aim to produce.

Boys have a part to play too. They need to speak up when they are feeling alone; when they are feeling at a loss; overwhelmed; distraught; boxed-in.

Perhaps this is one of the greatest differences our modern masculinity has gifted us: the permission and need for men to talk. Long gone are the days when men were expected to be stoic and tough as steel; emotionless beings able to get through any hardship without any sense of despair or vulnerability.

Although we remain focussed on growing strong men able to stand on principle when required, able to face off against giants of naysayers, able to lead others through real challenges, we also insist on harnessing the ability to love, to feel, to care. This demands a knowledge of self - which develops through being truthful and real. Our DNA is coded to love, to support and to care - it seems a sadness that this is undermined through one’s teenage years and has to be rekindled as we mature. Hilton must be a place of care and encouragement for every boy who calls this place his school. 

If your son is battling, listen to him. Support him. Hold him. He doesn’t need a lecture, he needs space to feel he is heard. 

Our world, although awash with opportunities, is also drowning in the threat and the fear of not being good enough. Our relentless pursuit of excellence, which is important, also presents unintended consequences of feelings of inadequacy and an unrelenting pressure to perform. 

We who work with teenage boys see these warning signs and we best pay attention. This half-term I urge you to listen and not to lecture; to pause and not to pressure; to rest and not to rush. Your children are your real wealth, they are your promise. Enjoy them. We all find our way, some sooner than others, but we find it. Your sons will too. 

Enjoy your sons.

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