At a time like this, it has never been more important to consider the level of independence that is required to be successful and perform well in a learning environment. 

The reality of online learning means the support structure that holds a boy in place during a normal school day: a physically stimulating learning environment, the physical presence of a teacher or teachers, the company of fellow students, the well-established timetable and routine of lunch, break-time and a plethora of other equally impactful factors, are temporarily dislodged. 

It is easy enough to point to the absence of such factors as the cause of complication but this need not be the case, for it strikes me that we have the best opportunity we will ever have to recognise and practice with our boys the very skills that will establish a solid foundation upon which to build in future years.  

I remember vividly as a young teenager regarding my own independence unambiguously as ‘freedom’. In particular, this sense of freedom imagined itself as the opportunity to see my friends, spend my pocket money as I wished and to sleep longer in the mornings: I don’t recall any other factor being more compelling than these three! We would be unwise to ignore these factors as they too are a natural part of growing up and navigating adolescence. 

However, whilst independence brings freedom, boys should also understand that this freedom has the potential to bring about danger, unhappiness, suffering and a sense of failure as much as it does achievement, success and happiness. 

In a learning environment, possessing a broader perspective of independence and critically, how this evolves is vital if we are to ensure that our boys can develop the skills necessary to thrive academically and personally. 

At St John’s we have created the ‘Independence Ladder’ to illustrate to the boys how their independence can grow. This can and should start at the very beginning in Nursery and continue all the way to Rudiments and beyond. A brief explanation of each stage is given below: 


From the start, boys should be encouraged to develop their own thoughts and the confidence to express these as well as, where necessary and appropriate, not to have them over-shadowed or unduly influenced by adults or their peers. This can and should be done from the moment they arrive at SJB. 


We talk a lot about the importance of opportunities at SJB. The opportunity for boys to have the space to recognise their strengths and areas for development is vital and to gently encourage them to see the benefit of challenge rather than the potential for failure (search ‘Growth Mindset’). This will ultimately support both their sense of self-confidence and independence. 


To offer boys the space to make their own choices and to reflect on these is also hugely important. It is critical that boys reflect and recognise the impact of these choices, particularly if they bring about a positive result, as this will likely stimulate repeat actions. 


This is perhaps the biggest challenge and the one with the highest potential risk but also reward when adult support and direction is not present. In order for this to be successful, boys really do need to know themselves: the factors that are most likely to distract them from a particular task, how they can re-focus on this and the atmosphere/environment in which they perform best. Honesty with themselves is the most important factor here.


Again, self-honesty and awareness are necessary attributes for goal-setting to be effective. A goal that requires commitment, resilience and determination, when achieved, will almost certainly bring about repeat behaviours, but goals that are comfortably within their ability, whilst satisfying others will not stimulate growth in the same way. 


It is so important to give boys adequate thinking space and for them to treasure this. Finding a space or time in the day which works for them is imperative. With so many other distractions and our pace of life so hectic at times, this is one of the hardest things to achieve but if we can make it habitual in the boys, we will have given them one of the most important tools with which to discern. 


There are two types of question: one seeks clarity, the other depth. Questions which search for depth are often cyclical and stimulate our brains to consider different paths and ideas and encouraging the boys to think in this manner and to articulate these questions amongst their peers and with their teachers, will nurture a way of thinking and learning that will stand them in good stead for the future. 


Whilst this approach will underpin our approach to teaching and learning at St John’s Beaumont School, especially during SJBReach, this is something I hope parents and families will feel confident to support and try themselves in the future.


Giles Delaney, Headmaster