Creating conditions for children to thrive must be our post-pandemic priority, says new head Emma Goldsmith, the first woman to lead Dragon School.
As the new head of Dragon School in Oxford, it is an honour to be at the helm of this renowned day and boarding prep school – and I have quickly grown accustomed to the necessity of referring to pupils and alumni alike as Dragons!
I took up my position in September 2021 and there could have been no better time to embark on a new headship as schools began to shake off the restrictions imposed by Covid-19. There was a buzz before term as the staff looked forward to the return of busy, dynamic school life.
Although it has been a struggle in every sense over the past 18 months, the pandemic has also been a tremendous learning opportunity which has given school leaders the chance to reaffirm their priorities.
A preparatory school is so named because it prepares children for the next stage of their lives. This preparation is not just the academic (which was delivered during the pandemic via live-streamed lessons and remote learning platforms), but it is also measured by the variety of opportunities on offer, and how character and confidence are developed.
What we once took for granted, we now relish. Who knew how excited parents would feel to be once again cheering children on the side lines of sport fixtures? One of the highlights of last term was hearing live music again and it has been wonderful to see children’s self-esteem grow thanks to their chance to perform in musical productions, Christmas nativities and pantomimes. Teamwork and collaboration are key skills that everyone looks for on a CV, yet it was impossible for children to develop these properly while they were away from their friends in lockdown. It was amazing to see how resilient children were last year, but it is even more heart-warming to witness their renewed enthusiasm for working and playing together.
The breadth of extra-curricular opportunities on offer to young Dragons has been widened thanks to the launch of QUEST, our Saturday morning enrichment programme. Many other schools have also ended compulsory Saturday school, but we are proud that QUEST is proving popular not only with our boarders but also has a very high take-up from day pupils.
There is a choice from activities as diverse as paddle boarding, first aid, debating, bike mechanics and film-making, and our Oxford location offers unique and stimulating possibilities for off-site visits with the university, museums and countryside all on our doorstep. The driving principles are for the children to discover fresh challenges, develop skills and dare to try something new. I have been so impressed to see the inspiring Dragon staff embracing the ethos, sharing their skills and revealing unknown talents.
The experience of the lockdowns of the past year highlighted the fact that children cannot thrive in isolation – they need peers and adults outside of their family unit. What better advert for boarding?
I have worked in boarding schools throughout my career both in the senior and prep sector and appreciate what it takes to create a positive environment for children to thrive. Modern-day boarding helps to develop resilient and well-rounded young people and is a far cry from the necessity of boarding for families in past generations. We believe wholeheartedly in the benefits of boarding in terms of developing the character of a child and offer a home from home in a family environment.
The trials of these challenging times have made me appreciate the importance and joy of what educators do more than ever and I am very excited about what the future holds.
Emma Goldsmith is head of Dragon School, Oxford
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