Ms Sarah Bollan, Key Stage 3 Lead at Rydal Penrhos, explores the important role the house system can play in pupils’ settling in and development.
Alumni of Rydal Penrhos will be familiar with names like Crusaders, Trojans, Barbarians and Corinthians or Hovey, Mack, Yorke and Ashcroft when talking about school houses. Fast forward to today at senior level and house pride centres on Morgan, Wesley, Osborn and Payne.
The importance of belonging to a house, the bond this creates, the memories you make and the fact it enables you to make friends across year groups rather than just within them is an essential part of life at Rydal Penrhos. If at times over our 140-year history the school has taken for granted the incredible community spirit and camaraderie the system creates, then the COVID-19 restrictions have certainly brought the importance of this pastoral system into focus more than ever.
This is especially true with regards to our youngest pupils, joining us for the first time.
As children move through the final years of primary school their imaginations are already anticipating the move up to Year 7. They wonder what it will be like to be in a bigger school with older children, to navigate from classroom to classroom, to have different teachers for each subject.
Most of all, however, they wonder about their friendship groups and the people they will meet.
For many pupils, overcoming the first steps of putting yourself out there and making friends is difficult enough; when you add social distancing, year group ‘bubbling’ and lockdowns, it is almost impossible for the normal social dynamics to develop.
This is why we have focused on keeping track of our pupils at Rydal Penrhos. Not just in terms of their academic progress but their happiness and demeanour.
It is why we are now ensuring that pupils can experience the return of school trips, move-up days and activity week, which offer pupils time together outside of their normal curriculum activities.
Houses have been a major uniting force in the history of our school. The competitions, events and sense of identity that they bring have always helped pupils get to know one another.
When pupils join Rydal Penrhos in Year 7, they are allocated to one of the houses which they will then represent not only in designated house events like Sports Day but across the year in everything they do.
House points can be earnt for all types of good-natured behaviour, not just academic or sporting effort. It is a fantastic way of recognising and encouraging virtues that aren’t necessarily reflected in an exam result or match score.
House activities offer a space for pupils of all ages to work together as equals towards a common goal. When a Year 7 takes part in their first House Assembly and sees their Head of House, a Sixth Form pupil, take charge of organising teams and events, it sets a benchmark that they can aspire towards as they move up through the school.
Even more importantly, it means there is another friendly face they will recognise as they go about their day, beyond their friends and teachers.
House competitions often feature teams with pupils from multiple year groups. This can help younger pupils feel a sense of belonging and real influence within not only their year group but the entire school.
When a Key Stage 3 pupil makes a defining contribution on Sports Day or sings a solo at the Inter-House Christmas Carol competition, it’s a memory that will stay with them as they progress to the top of Rydal Penrhos and take up positions of responsibility and leadership.
Before the start of Sports Day this year pupils from all year groups gathered outside and spent an hour making flags, banners, hats and signs in their house colours which they then paraded from the Memorial Quad to New Field.
The enthusiasm and energy were obvious. Some pupils went the extra mile by arriving in costume, or painting their arms and face the colour of their house. Osborn even set up a green tent on New Field!
Just look at the many millions of people all over the world who flock to see their teams each week and you can see that people have a clear need for belonging and identity.
Through competition, different teams come to respect one another’s similarities, creating a sense of unity that ties all together. That is why the house system, despite creating separate camps in school, serves to unite the entire Rydal Penrhos family.
As a school, we responded remarkably well when the pandemic hit back in March 2020. The past decision to allocate iPads to all pupils Year 3 and above meant the technology was already in place when we needed to move lessons online.
When restrictions were eased, our large school site and small class sizes meant that we could safely welcome back our pupils while maintaining their safety and quality of teaching. What was harder to recreate through a screen was the energy of pupils gathering in their red, green, blue or yellow to run up the score in a sports game or figure out the answers to a house quiz.
Now that day-to-day life resembles the old normality once again, the role of our extra-curricular activities and house tradition stands greater than ever.
While we can’t give back the time that our Year 7, 8 and 9 pupils were forced to navigate a strange, unprecedented pandemic era, we will do everything we can to provide even more of the incredible, memorable moments that Rydal Penrhos has continually created for its pupils over many decades.
This year’s Sports Day was a perfect illustration of how the house system is uniquely equipped to do just that. I look forward to seeing pupils not just in Key Stage 3 but across the whole school continue to learn and thrive as part of their houses.
Ms Sarah Bollan – Key Stage 3 Lead