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When the going gets tough

Working in the world of education means that you're constantly surrounded by buzz words and ideas - and not just from the mouths of pupils, but most commonly from education bureaucrats.

One of these currently in circulation is the brainwave of teaching children "resilience."

The premise lies in the belief that somehow today's children are softer than in years gone by. There may be logic in this argument, for there is no doubt that we are much better at shielding children from physical and emotional harm than we used to be - we are much "softer" (and, perhaps, nicer) global citizens. This is where education has stepped in, to fill the life-preparation vacuum with programs in 'resilience.'

The British Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, recently reiterated: "Now I don't suggest that they can just be taught, but clearly what happens in school - the ethos of a school, the expectations that are set for students and the support that's given, alongside what happens in extracurricular activity, sport, public speaking, voluntary work and so on - all of these will have an effect on character resilience and on the workplace skills that our young people will take with them.'

In outlining the case for the inculcation of resilience, he inadvertently identified why UK independent schools - and boarding schools in particular - continue to be so successful: the attributes and skills he identifies are exactly those things at which independent schools excel.

The reason they do so is not just about financial resources; it's more about their ethos - one which has always been built on a holistic approach to education - the belief that what goes on outside the classroom complements the learning done inside it.

Independent schools are all about creating well-rounded children who have a variety of talents and interests.

Being at a boarding school magnifies this effect: there, not only are children surrounded by this all-embracing atmosphere 24-7, but they also have to take on the added skills of learning to live with others (friends, acquaintances and rivals alike) and dealing with life's hardships independently.

The result of this is that not only are they resilient but they are also extremely confident - and confidence carries you a long way in this world.

A young Hong Kong girl who moved to a British boarding school in September reminded me of this recently. She wrote: "If you ever have the chance to tell the young 14-year-old me who was still afraid to order meals from a restaurant, the girl who was rolling over her bed every night, crying, and wiping tears with a soaking wet pillow about how I could become independent after spending only four months in England, I believe I would have fainted.

"The truth is, I am not the innocent and shy girl anymore, I finally grew up and learnt how to deal with problems on my own."

She learned this confidence and resilience not through any artificial educational program, but by being a normal boarding-school teenager.

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