Happy at School

In traditional schools most of the children are happy for most of the time. However most of them are also sometimes frightened or bored or over-stressed, or any combination of the three. Some of them are miserable almost all the time. None of this is necessary.

If children at such schools prefer term-time to holidays it is usually because school gives them the opportunity to meet their friends every day. This outweighs the humiliation of school uniform, the enforced discipline and the absence of the opportunity to decide for yourself what to do. Sometimes children like particular lessons, or particular teachers, but it is unusual for them to like the school as a whole.

Almost all the children who attend schools like the ones described on this site don’t just like them, they love them. They are not happy all the time, because no one is happy in a world where you may suffer poverty, illness, parental break-up or problems with friendships, but these inevitable difficulties are not exacerbated by rows over petty rules, humiliation over failure and work which offers neither interest nor purpose.

That’s All, Folks, the book of reminiscences of former pupils of Dartington Hall School that I edited, contains a wide variety of confirmation of these ideas.

Kait Tait wrote:


‘I loved being at Dartington and have no unpleasant memories of it, though my old letters show that I was not always the contented goody-goody I remember. If you were to say “Dartington” to me now in a free association test I should answer first “beauty,” then “peace’ and then “fun and interesting classes.” I shall always be grateful for the education I got there and for the atmosphere of calm reasonableness that seemed able to contain both rambunctious communal behaviour and private adolescent agony.’


Perhaps it is absence of the atmosphere of calm reasonableness that prevents so many other schools from being happy places.

Happiness in childhood is important. As Simon Davies quoted in the same book, from a sign on the wall of another school:


‘The days that make us happy make us wise.’

More articles by David Gribble