Hurst College Chaplain and Director of Staff Wellbeing Janneke Blokland discusses the importance of fostering a sense of belonging across the whole school community

Life for our young people is becoming increasingly complicated. Developing technology has had significant benefits in society at large, and particularly education, not least because it has enabled new forms of community to take shape. It also poses real challenges for our young people as they develop as members of diverse groups.

One of the key aims at Hurst is to provide pupils with an awareness of the world in which they live and how they can become valuable contributors to the communities in which they belong. Apart from teaching pupils how to be safe in their environment, we aspire to foster a sense of belonging that shapes their developing identities. Our hope is that by the time they leave as young adults, they know who they are, what their values are, and are equipped to embark on their further journey in life.

Hurst College on fostering a spirit of belonging
Hurst’s Janneke Blokland says teaching young people about the world around and how they can contribute is valuable to their sense of identity and belonging

We are acutely aware that the time children and teenagers spend at school will be one of the most important formational experiences. Therefore, we model those values and instil an awareness of belonging and commitment. Members of staff – teaching and support teams – are encouraged to see Hurst not just as a workplace, but as a community. The staff dining hall and common room are open to all staff members and provide an opportunity to meet. Outside of work, staff participate in social activities, such as comedy and quiz nights. Many colleagues cycle or run together and, with others, support local events such as the Brighton and Mid Sussex marathons.

Pupil wellbeing is at the centre of everything we do, with the house system as a pastoral focal point. Each student – whether day or boarding – belongs to a house which becomes their home for the time they are at school. In this way, they are not only supported by their house parents and tutors but also by their peers. Each house has a small group of student guardians who are appointed to be a listening ear and to lead on wellbeing initiatives. The guardian role has become increasingly important in all year groups from the Junior Prep School all the way through to Senior School and Sixth Form.

“We are acutely aware that the time children and teenagers spend at school will be one of the most important formational experiences”

Students are not only encouraged to play a part in the Hurst community, but also within the local community. One example is the Reading Buddies programme. One afternoon a week, 50 students (aged 16 and 17) visit local primary schools to help younger children develop their reading skills. For both sides, this is the highlight of their week. In this way, our pupils participate in the life of the local community and develop strong relationships with children from a variety of backgrounds.

Another example is Community Action Day, when students and staff demonstrate the Hurst ethos of ‘Work hard, do good and engage’. They do this by clearing gardens and grounds at local sports clubs, Scout halls and churches. Throughout the year, there are occasions in which current pupils, staff, parents and former students are able to interact, making the Hurst community truly inter-generational.

Through all these opportunities, we endeavour to provide each member of the Hurst community with a sense of belonging and purpose. We also hope that these opportunities inspire our pupils to achieve their personal bests and to enable others to do so as well.

Hurst College

Further reading: Healthy competition – why school sports are so important