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Column: Headmaster Simon Smith on what a good location can do for your education

Column: Headmaster Simon Smith on what a good location can do for your education

At my previous school, I introduced a new course for all our Year 9 pupils called Horizons. It is a multi-faceted course designed to encourage the pupils to look beyond the confines of their leafy, relatively secluded, Hertfordshire boarding school campus. One term into my Headship of Rydal Penrhos School I can already see the benefits of a school with far bigger, more beautiful and inspiring horizons.

Last October Lonely Planet named North Wales among the top places, fourth in fact, in the world to visit. Last month Bear Grylls tweeted his favourite place in the UK was North Wales and just this week the view from Snowdon’s summit was named as the UK’s best.

These polls and the Chief Scout and TV adventurer’s belief merely reinforce what we residents already know: that with the sea just a few minutes’ walk from our school and the mountains just a short drive away, Rydal Penrhos is uniquely placed to deliver a distinct education.

Our educational programme is based upon five pillars: Learning, Living, Leading, Listening and Location. The last of these is a facilitator of the other four, helping our pupils to discover their talents and be the best they can be.

Academic success and co-curricular participation (Sport, Music, Drama and much more) is of course at the heart of everything a good school should be and I can see that our pupils are positively affected by the inspiring views and the healthy environment in which they live and learn.

Many of our boarding house rooms and study areas have sea views and as we approach the sharp end of the academic year and the potentially stressful period of exam revision I believe our stunning location acts as a calming influence on the pupils and supports their well-being.

The Government’s recognition of the importance of clean air on school life has also received much coverage in recent months. The second Headmaster of Rydal School, George Osborne, wrote over a century ago: “Among the health resorts of Britain, Colwyn Bay has no superior as a place of residence for children”.

As I run along the Promenade on a sunny evening (in readiness for the Chester Marathon in October and Conwy Half-Marathon in November) I’m pretty sure its benefits extend to staff too and it might also explain why three of our girls have qualified for the Welsh Schools Cross Country Final.

But it is also in developing children’s character that a good education is founded and particularly, I believe, in the area of leadership.

All children should be prepared for leadership, learn the principles of leadership and experience it in a practical sense too. Our location means that the Prep School’s Forest School, the outdoor pursuits programme (climbing, orienteering etc.) for all pupils in Years 7 and 8, our Sailing Club (celebrating its 60th anniversary next year) and our Duke of Edinburgh programme are just four examples where leadership opportunities present themselves to pupils in the great outdoors.

Our staff help our pupils develop leadership and teamwork skills in a challenging, beautiful environment unavailable to the majority of pupils throughout the UK yet which is on our doorstep.

A study by World Challenge in 2015 found that life experiences such as leading an expedition can prove to be the difference in successful job applications. Nearly two thirds of businesses surveyed felt that candidates with such experience tend to be more successful employees and progress more quickly in their careers.

So be they academics, athletes, adventurers, artists, or all four, children and teenagers living in North Wales are blessed to grow up and be educated in such surroundings.

As a day and boarding school we are thrilled to welcome children from across the UK and beyond to this unique part of the world.  It’s our job as educators, with support from parents, to make sure they take full advantage of them and with the lighter nights, warmer weather and need for revision breaks there’s never been a better time to, in the words of the Visit Wales, Find Your Epic.

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