The House System: a typical British educational establishment. | Editorial
The headmaster of Brighton College Bangkok – the sister school of one of the UK’s best independent coeducational schools – explains the challenges and benefits of the distinctively British house system.
What is the house system?
Basically, it is a way to divide students into groups and thus create smaller communities within the larger community. At this simplistic level, the system is used to create teams for internal competition and, disappointingly enough, in many schools, this is where it ends. However, in its most powerful form, it is the greatest vehicle for all exceptional pastoral care. If done correctly, it is a system that instills a myriad of the most wonderful and desirable attributes in its individuals and their larger communities.Everything is to do with pride. If you cut a rock stick in half, you will find the name it came from written indelibly in its center; and, in many ways, the passion that a student develops for their home is also in their hearts. It is quite simply due to the team spirit that a well-managed house instills. There is something quite magical about it; students of all ages come together, united in their desire for their home to be the best, for their home to win the many contests and, of course, the Maison Cup as a whole. Pupils of all age groups, with the natural distribution of talents, abilities, ages and, in mixed schools, genders, all come together, united in their quest. This camaraderie and solidarity is unparalleled and the benefits of this vertical interaction, where the young admire the elders and the elders watch and support the younger ones, are profound. When students take an interest in each other, a culture of caring sets in and becomes the norm. In doing so, we are creating citizens for the future – tolerant and helpful, modest but ambitious.
What are the challenges of creating such a system?
Indeed, there are quite a few. Without the power of JK Rowling’s Magic Sorting Hat, staff are tasked with ensuring that there is an equal representation of abilities and talents in all homes. Ideally, students in any home should represent a representative sample of the entire school. Sometimes, in reality, certain houses have periods of success and may temporarily dominate school competitions. I remember reprising my first role as house manager – the house trophy cabinet was devoid of silverware. Raising the spirits in this house was a task that was not just for me, the Housemaster; instead, it required buy-in from all members of the community.
However, among all the challenges lie opportunities, and many older students have taken action and added great motivation to the student body. Home competitions aren’t just about sports; instead, they should ideally match all walks of school life. Music, debates and theater are essential. In addition, in schools like Brighton, the rewards system is run by the house system and students accumulate points for good behavior and excellent schoolwork.In some schools, homemakers are called house parents, and for good reason – a good house will have a family atmosphere. In this tight-knit community, loyalty is encouraged and children become the best possible versions of themselves, but only if they feel supported and secure. Typically, alongside the parents of the household, a team of guardians will also provide their wisdom and adult expertise. However, it is the students who look after each other who provide the most crutches. Indeed, giving students the chance to learn and develop leadership skills is an exceptional advantage. Plus, I bet a lot of great UK leaders enthusiastically and proudly remember the house they belonged to at school. We can’t wait to see which leaders emerge from Brighton College, Bangkok and whether Fenwick, Ryle, Chichester and Hampden (the names of our houses) are written on their “stick of rock”.