[Skip to Content]

Search from
-,--- schools

It’s a big wide world out there...should schools do more to guide pupils before they enter it?

Following reports on tattoos and other polarising life choices harming young people's futures, Tom Dawson, head of Sunningdale School, looks at the role of prep schools in preparing pupils for the next stage in their education.

Posted on: 06 Oct 2016
Posted by: Tom Dawson

Categories: Education

This blog is in response to the Sunday Times article 'Tattoos spike young’s chance of a job, warns ex-Apprentice star'

What is school for? Is it all about achieving the exam grades required to secure places on the right courses at the right universities and ultimately landing the right jobs? Perhaps this is partially true but we must be wary of making this the only path that matters.

We are very lucky in this country to have some of the best schools in the world. The pupils in our schools have a wealth of opportunity that should enable them to follow any path they choose. It is our duty to encourage our pupils to embrace these opportunities and to make the most of them. We should also persuade them to keep their options open for as long as they can and avoid making life limiting choices. Times change, people change, and independent schools are so good at teaching their pupils to be adaptable and to make the most of any situation that they might find themselves in.

As our pupils come to the end of their time with us in the prep school world, it is important to be mindful of what our primary goal is. We are ‘preparatory’ schools; our role is to prepare our pupils for what lies ahead. Young people now face far greater challenges than those of thirty years ago. As the world opens up and more things become possible, the risks of getting it wrong also increase. Learning from your mistakes is an essential part of a good education but pupils need to be aware of and avoid making mistakes that could stay with them well into their adult lives.

One of the areas that continues to cause so many headaches is social media. Used in the right way it is a wonderful tool that has helped our pupils stay in touch during term time, the holidays and long after they have left school. Get it wrong, however and social media has the power to limit future opportunities and narrow options. Just like getting a tattoo in the wrong place, your social media profile can be difficult to erase.

I am a huge fan of social media and we use Twitter and Facebook to keep parents, former pupils and our community informed about what is going on at Sunningdale. We learn all the time about what to do and, just as importantly, what not to do.

We also make sure we educate the boys and, critically, their parents and our staff on how to use social media responsibly and collaboratively. We have a social media code of conduct, we invite speakers in to talk to the whole school community and continue to share our own learnings. We cannot just close our eyes and hope that it will all be alright.

This is but one example and neither school nor parents can wrap pupils in cotton wool. I don’t want my pupils to be fearful about adolescence or adulthood but what is important is to be open about the future and help them develop a good moral compass, self-awareness and the confidence to make the right decisions.


About Tom Dawson

Tom Dawson is Headmaster of Sunningdale School, a traditional boys’ boarding prep school in Berkshire.