Nicky Adams says there is a real emphasis on the promotion of international understanding, communication and collaborative working in the broad education offered by Felsted School
“If there is one skill that will benefit all of our students when they leave here, it is the ability to communicate and work with people of all kinds,” says the headmaster of Felsted School, Chris Townsend. “We prepare young people to go out into the world and make a positive difference, and of course they can do that in a number of ways, but not without being able to speak to others, empathise with them and work with them to make real progress.”
Watching a huddle of six-year-olds trying to work out how to roll a ball smoothly along a course they have made from lengths of plastic piping, it may not be immediately apparent that they are being prepared for a future consular role, but Simon James, head of Felsted Preparatory School, has a ready explanation.
“By working in this way, in teams towards a common goal, children are beginning to develop their skills of communication and negotiation,” he enthuses. “It’s interesting to see which children are natural leaders, who are able to take into account the differing opinions, decide on a course of action and persuade the others to follow. Activities such as this are superb preparation for adult life.”
Throughout their time at Felsted, boys and girls aged four to 18 are gradually developed as individual characters with their own talents and interests and the confidence to be themselves. But alongside this focus, the culture at Felsted is underpinned by the willingness of every student to pitch in and be one of the team. “Within the wider school community, there are many other smaller communities (such as houses), and it is membership of these that gives our young people a sense of belonging and responsibility to others, and encourages these skills of working together to achieve,” says Chris Townsend.
From a young age, pupils at Felsted are encouraged to join clubs, societies and team sports. “There is such pride in being part of the team, and loyalty to your team-mates and to the school you represent,” says Felsted’s Director of Rugby, former professional player Andrew le Chevalier. “So many lessons are learnt on the pitch – the importance of communication, team-working of course, but also how to be an effective leader, how to win and lose, and respect and fair play – all extremely useful experience in any walk of life.’
Though the sports field may be seen as the obvious breeding ground for such attributes, similar experiences are on offer in the orchestra, in various theatrical productions, group art projects, and the debating society, where students rely on their emerging oratory skills to bring collective glory. “We offer such a wide range of co-curricular activities that students are often torn between them and must develop the skills of prioritisation and time-management,” says Chris Townsend.
Among the strongest communities in the school are the boarding houses. 75 per cent of Felsted students over the age of 13 board, whether just a couple of nights a week or full-time, and there are currently 82 boarders aged from nine in the Prep School. While some boarders’ families live locally, many travel from around the world for a British boarding school education, creating a vibrant mix of cultural backgrounds.
“We are a truly international school,” says Chris Townsend. “It is one of Felsted’s great strengths that we’re able to offer our students an opportunity to live and work alongside young people whose experiences of life are very different to their own.”
Opportunities to link with their peers around the world beyond the school walls are also seized with enthusiasm. Felsted has staged its own annual Model United Nations (MUN) Conference for the past 10 years and each one regularly draws upwards of 100 senior students from the UK and abroad. This year’s event focused on the challenge of sustainability and was attended by students from 19 schools, with teams representing each of the member nations for debates mirroring those taking place at the actual UN.
“The MUN brings together internationalism, public speaking and co-operation with people you may not be familiar with, which are all so important,” explains Felsted’s Head Boy, 18-year-old Peter Hipkin, who has ambitions to join a succession of former Felsted students in the civil or diplomatic services. “I believe that the skills of negotiation and co-operation will take the world forward in years to come and that’s definitely what we are being prepared for at Felsted.”
Meanwhile, the school’s Head Girl, Sara Faraj, also 18, cites her visit to Uganda last summer as one of the most significant experiences of her life. On a project arranged by one of the school’s charities, Teach Uganda, Sara helped teach children and renovate their school. “The core values of leadership, service and community are very strong here,” she says. “My time in Uganda was unforgettable and has inspired me to want a career in the international community.”
Indeed, developing students’ global awareness in tandem with the skills to work collaboratively with others can ignite an enthusiasm among young people to effect change in the adult world.
“Learning about other cultures, to better understand and empathise with people of all nationalities with the aim of working together is key to the Felsted ethos and the education we offer,” says Chris Townsend. “This is the best preparation we can give our young people as they enter our increasingly globalised society to take up the roles that will make a positive difference in the world that will be their future.”