Sir Anthony Seldon is a leading authority on contemporary British history and education and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham. He was a transformative Head for 20 years, first of Brighton College and then Wellington College. He is author or editor of over 40 books on contemporary history, politics and education and is the author on, and honorary historical advisor to, Downing Street, was first director of the Institute for Contemporary British History and is co-founder of Action for Happiness.
On Wednesday 16 February, Duke of Kent School was lucky enough to have Sir Anthony visit who delivered an inspirational and life affirming talk to parents, pupils and staff about the how the happiness and wellbeing of our children is central to their success at school and beyond.
Sir Anthony has a reputation for being an iconoclastic leader, a radical reformer and a ruthlessly ambitious man with a flair for publicity. A very different impression was created by the small, softly spoken, gentleman with floppy hair who engaged his audience completely, with his unique brand of eccentric charisma and evident passion for education and the welfare of young people. The audience was exhorted to appreciate the importance of silence and stillness, of seeing what’s there in the mind. Young people (and adults), he argued, need to be given guidance on how to be ‘happy’ and to discover how to manage their minds, their bodies, their emotions and their relationships. It was a message to educators and parents alike, that if young people are to become the best they can be, they need our love, care, attention and respect as the unique and special individuals that they are.
After a moment of stillness and reflection, when the entire audience closed their eyes and engaged in a mindfulness of breathing exercise, Anthony warmed up and took aim at the policy makers whose guiding principles have been, by their very nature, so deeply damaging to our young people. He argued that over many years they have been the victims of an ideology which is so profoundly wrong and detrimental to their wellbeing. That ideology, he contended, was that the only way that pupils, teachers and schools are judged and ranked is by their exam results. He pointed to the example of Aristotle who stated that schools have a duel role, to teach students about the best that mankind has thought and created, and to teach good character and values to help them live lives that are meaningful and good.
Sir Anthony finished by commenting on the outstanding work being done by staff at the Duke of Kent School, with their focus on the development of the whole child and their positioning of the wellbeing of their pupils at the heart of everything they do. Happiness does not have to be sacrificed in pursuit of exam success if, as Howard Gardner stated, we ask ‘How is a child intelligent?’ not ‘How intelligent is a child?’ He inspired the audience for a better life for them and their children. He made a huge impact on every adult in the room with each one taking a gem of inspiration.
Interestingly, one of the pupils remarked to his Mum following the talk: “yes, he was good, but the teachers at school and you lot at home all do that stuff all the time, every day!”. We must be doing something right as a School! Thank you Sir Anthony.