“Now slip me snug around your ears,
I’ve never yet been wrong,
I’ll have a look inside your mind
And tell where you belong!”J.K. Rowling
It may well be one of my favourite scenes in both the book and the movie adaptation… the sorting hat scene. Ushered into the great dining hall the bewildered new pupil is assigned a house that may well define the way that the rest of their time at Hogwarts will play out. The houses, it seems, are as important as the school, the first point of allegiance, the place where support and friendship grow. Houses feature in many books about British schools from Mallory Towers to Tom Brown’s School Days, the house is front and centre.
I’ve just been making a film for next week’s Senior School assembly about why I think the house system is such an important part of life here at the BSP and whilst there are some distinct differences between Hogwarts and the BSP, I do think that we need to make sure that we know why we have houses and appreciate what they can do for us.
School houses may well be a particularly British phenomenon, they originally were actual houses in which pupils lived but over the years this system of belonging has spread from boarding schools to day schools. Indeed, it would be rare for you to find a school in Britain that does not have a house system. I was a proud member of Holkham House (Green) and have been a member of other houses as a teacher: some named after buildings, others after alumni and one case after the Housemaster himself. In some schools, houses are an important element of the pastoral or welfare system, in others they fulfil a different role, providing opportunity to participate in events and a ready band of fellow house members with whom to work. One of the great elements of the house system is that in a year group bubble free world, it is one of the few opportunities for the “vertical mixing” of pupils, a chance for those who are a little older to mix with those who are earlier in their school careers. Support can be provided, good examples set, and inspiration shared. As beneficial as the learning is for younger pupils the benefits for older ones are also significant. The House is often the place where pupils get their first taste of leadership, where they have to organise others to the achievement of a common goal and to encourage others to do their very best for the house. Houses should also be a way of developing a healthy competitive spirit on a local scale, a way of challenging each and every pupil to get involved, perhaps with an activity that they have never tried before. Houses are a low-risk way of having a go at something new with the support of your housemates ensuring that fun is at the fore. Each year we have a multitude of house competitions in which to get involved and every merit counts towards the House Cup, often the prize most eagerly sought at the end of the school year. The weekly assignment of house points is a much-anticipated element of the weekly Junior School assembly.
So, parents, if you are feeling a little “houseless” may I invite you to follow your children into the world of the house system? You too can share the allegiance of being in the house. Alongside questions about what you learned today, why not ask about house activities and opportunities, you may just find out about one of the most exciting elements of life here at the BSP.