With Barry Doherty, the new headteacher of Chipping Norton School

I am certainly a child of the 70s. And as I think of ‘the 1970s’ I struggle to conjure up much more than general strikes, cod wars, free school milk, really awful television and mostly awful music.

I am glad my own children and the children at Chipping Norton School are growing up today and not back then when the world seemed so much more rigid, monochrome and stale. It’s often been said that it is much harder for children to grow up in today’s world. I disagree.

Reading the first few chapters of Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens recently reminded me that, for all of the undoubted sadness in our world, we are a species that solves problems, seeks cooperation, increasingly avoids conflict, seeks tolerance and demands respect for diversity. I am convinced that the children of today grow up in a world where the unmistakable dangers (old and new) are outweighed by the opportunities that lie in wait – if only they and we prepare well enough.

When I began my teaching career in the mid-1990s, we had become a fairly passive generation of professionals. The much-lauded ‘Secondary Strategy’ tried to turn us into entertainers and hide the tough business of learning amongst games and puzzles, much like a sprout wrapped in bacon. The emphasis on skills development over knowledge acquisition has finally passed its zenith as we return to a better balance.

Academically speaking, never has so much been expected of school-aged children in this country – but then there have never been so many opportunities. In recent years, under my predecessor’s leadership, Chipping Norton School successfully entered this demanding new age of education and can be proud of pupils’ rising achievements in both their GCSEs and their A-Levels.

The school is on an upward trajectory but it could gently plateau and then falter unless we layer new approaches on top of those that evidently work.

Whilst our preparation of pupils for their GCSEs and A-Levels will continue and finesse, particularly how we memorise and recall information under pressure, our emphasis will now move towards much longer-term preparation of our pupils.

The difference between a good secondary school and an amazing secondary school lies in what happens in Key Stage 3 (Years 7, 8 and 9). Our drive to develop a knowledge-rich curriculum, with an increased emphasis on literacy and oracy development, will enable all of our students to more confidently navigate the academic and emotional demands of both GCSEs and A-Levels because they will be more highly skilled and self-confident learners.

It is naive to imagine this is a golden age for all young people; it is not. Young people encounter pressures, expectations and uncertainties that are new and unfolding. They seem keenly aware that they are the vanguard of a new age and bear some of the brunt of that new age, as well as its benefits.

Consequently, all adults must be as alert to ensuring our children’s emotional needs are also known and met – as daunting as that may seem at times. This is a huge topic in itself but is has to start with remembering they are children until they are not; ignoring their often paradoxical demands to enjoy all of the liberties of adulthood with few or none of the responsibilities. They need us all to continue to enforce the basics: eating the right food at the right time of the day, going to bed at a sensible time, reading for pleasure and relaxation and switching off all of those screens.

Smartphones, smart TVs and game consoles are the three prongs of the trident that deflates a young person’s social skills and interaction. With screens offering tantalising gateways into communication interactivity, social media frenzies and obsessions with the minutiae of celebrity trivia, we have a duty to keep our children in a real world; free of its many synthetic, transient or hollow pleasures. Everything in moderation of course, but I am as worried as most parents and carers about how much time I allow my own children to swim in the soothing waters of Netflix, Amazon Prime or Now TV.

Mind you, I am enjoying the latest season of Better Call Saul…