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School Houses: Joyous eccentricity, tradition, culture… and the rest.

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Last week I was stuck on a train. I’d been to a school which has some great house names and, as I reflected on my own experience of  house systems in various schools, I put out a casual tweet.  Normally you get a few responses – a bit of passing interest – but the response to this was huge.  Over 1000 twitter replies.   You can see the whole thread here – although this doesn’t include all those who quote-tweeted their responses.  I started off by engaging with all the replies but soon gave up.

It appears that school houses are alive and well across the land in schools of every kind.  For a few people, the idea of houses in schools is weird and alien, provoking some strong responses. “No, I’m not a tory or a Catholic so I didn’t go to a  school with houses!”.  Some people expressed amazement that this was a real thing – not just something invented by JK Rowling.  At least four people responded with the Hogwarts houses (not even funny the first time; sorry folks.).

But the responses are fabulous. There are lots of common categories:

  • Key historical figures.
  • Key inspirational figures from different walks of life.
  • Key people representing subjects, spanning a range of areas of study.
  • School founders or former Headteachers
  • Saints or other religious figures.
  • Cities and streets, ancient and modern.
  • Ships and aircraft
  • Prominent local people.
  • Rivers, forests, mountains and other geographical features.
  • Birds and other animals – real and mythical.
  • Flowers and trees.
  • Royal Households.
  • Objects in space.
  • Very very ordinary house names: colours, letters of the alphabet.

Here’s a flavour from my personal history:

  • Primary School 1: Aztecs, Incas, Mayas
  • Primary School 2: Waverley, Hindhead, Frensham, Churt, Elstead, Tilford (local villages)
  • Secondary School:  Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter
  • BIS, Jakarta:  Merapi, Bromo, Krakatoa, Agung (Indonesian volcanos)
  • KEGS:  Tindal, Strutt, Holland, Mildmay (figures from the school’s early history)
  • Highbury Grove: Aqua, Ignis, Terra, Ventus (four elements in Latin)

Here’s a flavour from my twitter responses:

  • Spitfire, Neptune and Hussar; ships commanded by Sir Thomas Fremantle
  • Significant townspeople: Parry, Muston, Gannock, Laughton
  • Clanfield Primary: Buscot, Radcot, Rushey, Grafton all local locks.
  • Athens, Tuscany, Troy and Sparta.
  • Broadley, Holmsley, Setthorns, Silverstone – New Forest Enclosures
  • Penguins of The Falklands: Rockhopper, Gentoo, Magellenic and King
  • Planes: Lancaster, Spitfire, Vulcan, Meteor
  • Spartan, Vanguard, Valiant, Scepter. Names of submarines
  • Welsh saints; Non, Teilo, Elli and Cadoc
  • Mythical beasts: Centaur, Drakon, Geryon, Pegasus, Phoenix, Titan, Wyvern
  • Explorers: Armstrong (space) Kingsley (land) and Magellan (sea)
  • Ducks, Geese, Larks and Warblers!!
  • Metropole in Motor City, Dubai -F1 teams: McLaren, Ferrari, Williams & Mercedes.
  • Sussex castles: Amberley, Bramber, Hastings, Lewes
  • Inspirational: Hawking, Nightingale, Shakespeare
  • Da Vinci, Luther King, Seacole, Tomlinson.
  • Austin, Bronte, Shakespeare, Tolkien. British authors.
  • Gods – Athena, Demeter, Zeus, Poseidon & Neptune
  • Mandeville, Bourchier, Bohun and Devereux – Earls of Essex
  • Literally Norfolk houses: Blickling, Felbrigg, Holkham, Mannington, Wolterton

I’m a massive fan of houses – and would certainly want them in any school I worked in. They provide such a fabulous opportunity for leadership, for competitions and celebrations of students’ talents and successes in various pursuits.  In a big school, they provide a way of breaking down the scale to give students a sense of belonging and working with older and younger students.   Far from being the preserve of faith schools or ‘posh schools’ – schools of all kinds embrace the idea of house spirit to great effect.  I think it’s fabulous.

One of my all-time favourite house events was House Music at KEGS.  Without doubt the highlight of the year. Here’s a blog about it: https://teacherhead.com/2012/11/25/kegs-house-music-the-kegs-spirit-in-action/.

Thanks to everyone who contributed your house names.  It was great fun – but I’ve got enough now – thanks!

Discussion

3 thoughts on “School Houses: Joyous eccentricity, tradition, culture… and the rest.

  1. Wow interesting! I’ve never been to a school with houses. We aren’t even allowed to count points for colour teams on our sports day.

    Like

    Posted by AJ | October 14, 2017, 4:48 pm
  2. Enjoyed this, Tom! I want to be in ‘Krakatoa’, please.

    I’m a fan of Houses – a great way of grouping students vertically and creating a community within a community, which is perfect for Sports Day and organising things like House Music and House Drama. It’s also good to have staff linked to Houses to which they can show loyalty and give support, and to offer students within a House some leadership responsibility.

    It’s interesting how many schools have House names which are based on historical male dignitaries – including girls’ schools. The girls’ school where I was the Head had this, and I’m pleased to say that since I left and the school merged with its sister school, they’ve replaced these names with historical female figures: Nightingale, Franklin, Chanel, Austen, Hepburn and Parks.

    Another head I know joined a girls’ school where the same situation applied. She tackled it and met considerable opposition (you challenge tradition at your peril!), but she persisted – good for her. Story here for info: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/12009369/Headmistress-under-attack-for-ditching-historic-male-house-names-at-girls-school.html

    Last point – the comprehensive school where I started teaching in the 80s had a pastoral system based on four Houses and my first promoted post was to Assistant Head of House. Together with the Head of House we oversaw the pastoral provision for a quarter of the school – and siblings were all placed in the same House so you got to know those families. It worked well, I think, and differently from the more common Head of Year/Head of Section structure. I think it allowed for better continuity of provision.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by jillberry102 | October 18, 2017, 4:46 pm

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