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Amo, Amas a motto

Good news for the children of ‘elite’ Manhattanites currently exiled in the capital. They’re apparently in line for their very own London school just as soon as they’ve found a local council prepared to sell them the space for their premises (some are apparently strangely reluctant to cooperate).

The school’s approach will include iPads for all, immersive teaching in an on-trend language of their choice (Mandarin and Spanish – of course) and an emphasis on humility (may require specialist support).

No worries there. A bigger shock, however, could be the school’s upstart motto. Forget the elegance of the well-crafted Latin bon mot (they certainly have). Instead, no doubt after umpteen W1A-style brainstorming sessions, the school’s motto will be: ‘You miss 100% of the shots you never take’.

Literalists will scratch their heads. Traditionalists will no doubt be up in (a coat of) arms. What’s wrong, they’ll say, with venerable school mottos written in an ancient language so decomposed that each syllable comes with a coating of heritage mould? And is the numerical percentage ever appropriate outside an Excel spreadsheet?

Schools in the UK have generally stuck to a tried and tested formula chosen from a menu of heraldic motto flavours ranging from aspirational to zealot.

Unsurprisingly, since so many of our schools were originally religious foundations, impossibly devout is a prevailing choice. There’s a girls’ school in the home counties which makes much of encouraging pupils to become independent, sparky thinkers, completely unfettered, we’re sure, by the motto plastered across everything from sports shirts to school hats that declares them all to be handmaidens of the Lord. The Cheltenham Ladies are urged thus: ‘Coelesti Luce Crescat’ (‘May she grow in heavenly light’). ‘Yes, I’m sure I will,’ one can imagine Miranda Richardson saying.

Some mottos may have been catchy in their day but are now historically obscure. For example, Bristol Grammar School was founded in 1532 with the motto ‘Ex Spinis, Uvas’; this translates as ‘Grapes from Thorns’. Not obvious but, as all BGS pupils know, it’s a neat play on the founding benefactors’ family name (Thorne).

Just to be on the safe side, Harrow has two mottos: ‘Stet Fortuna Domus’ (‘Let this house stand’) above the crest and the somewhat less catchy ‘Donorum dei Dispensation Fidelis’ (‘The faithful dispensation of the gifts of God’) below. David Cameron’s alma mater, Eton has the similar, if more succinct, 'Floreat Etona', ‘Let Eton flourish’ (or, out of the way, the rest of you).

Insanely aspirational, impossibly devout, deeply incomprehensible, worryingly inappropriate, drenched in entitlement or a combination of the lot, surely the rich history of our mottos can teach any shiny new American school, with its monosyllables and straightforward use of the English language, a thing or two.

Or maybe not. Many schools these days no longer go in for mottos. Perhaps a move from single sex to co-ed rendered an original such as ‘Age Viriliter’ (‘Act manfully’) inappropriate, or maybe a race to the bottom was won by those who believe crests and Latin old fashioned and elitist. Either way, some prefer to pick a phrase, any phrase, and get it repurposed by a committee of artisan marketing folk into quality officialese. The result is guaranteed free from additives, preservatives and, if all goes to plan, meaning.

Americans are often characterised as lacking a sense of irony, but the dead hand of literalism has been granted permanent leave to remain here too. One secondary school for example, after a breathless wait while it considered its options, announced that it was ‘Putting learning first’. Another declares itself to be a place ‘Where learning matters’. None of that aspirational rubbish and what a relief for parents who can now rest assured that their children’s school is not putting learning last. Just so long as no one asks what the schools were doing before declaring these somewhat basic aims.

Could it be that US educationalists might just have hit on the way forward? Replace historic mottos with a pithy phrase that really does sum up what a school is all about. Swap ‘Ad astra’ for ‘Impossibly competitive’; ‘Fortune favours the bold’ for ‘Eye-bleedingly expensive’ and ‘The world needs to know who you are’ for ‘Head can’t remember names.’

Or perhaps we should, like good Wykehamists, refrain from facetious comments, abiding by the Winchester College motto: Manners makyth man.

Readers with delightfully daffy examples of school mottos – and possible translations – are cordially invited to send them to the usual address office@goodschoolsguide.co.uk.

Schools need educating about adopted children

‘Sam doesn’t really like maths, so he goes to the library corner and reads books instead when we do maths.’  These were the astonishing words my parents heard at my brother’s first parents’ evening.  As a black boy in a white middle-class suburb in the early 1970s he was treated like an exotic species.  My parents had to insist that their adopted son be treated the same as their other children.

Roll on 40 years and you might think things would be better for adopted children, but perhaps the reverse is now true: there is not enough recognition of their difference.

Sadly the effects of early trauma and abuse do not melt away when a child is placed in a loving family. ‘In our experience every child who has been adopted, however early in their lives, has some issues to deal with,’ one adoptive parent told us. Common traits are anxiety, difficulties dealing with separation, a fear of trusting adults and authority figures and immature emotional development.

And if a school does not properly understand the child they are dealing with, the child can appear to be insolent or challenging in his behaviour, leading in some cases to school exclusions. Around 38 per cent of adopted children are identified as having ‘clinically significant’ levels of social, emotional and behavioural needs, but schools’ recognition of this can be lacking.

One parent with three adopted children told us: ‘We found that none of the schools our kids went to had any knowledge of attachment disorder or how to deal with adoption issues. Indeed, the primary school teachers ended up exacerbating one of our son’s problems. It was heartbreaking to see how little they knew or, sometimes, even cared.’ Another parent tried to set up a training session for school staff but was told they could not make time for this.

This flies in the face of direct instruction from the Department for Education (DfE), that ‘teachers and schools have a vital role to play in helping these children emotionally, socially and educationally by providing specific support, to raise their attainment and address their wider needs’. There remains a yawning gulf in the achievement of adopted children, with only 49 per cent reaching age related expectations in key stage 2, compared with 75 per cent of non-adopted children.

To address this the DfE pays £1,900 per adopted pupil annually to maintained schools (in the case of independent schools, only if the place is funded by the local authority). This will not be ring-fenced – schools can spend it as they see fit – but you have every right to ask how they are using it to benefit your child.

You can also apply to a newly established Adoption Support Fund, which was rolled out across England last year with a pot of £19.3 million to provide therapeutic services to adopted children and their families.

When it comes to working with schools, some parents are hesitant about how much of their child’s history they wish to share. But the evidence we’ve seen is that the best approach is to be upfront and proactive, and to work with your school to have measures in place before issues arise. 

For tips on approaches within school which can help adopted children, see our feature Adopted children and issues in education and if your child is facing exclusion, or you need help in finding a nurturing environment for him or her, our advisory service is here to help.

Bernadette John

Bernadette John is SEN director at The Good Schools Guide. The SEN team helps parents to find schools for children with any type of additional need, whether that be mental health and emotional needs, issues around ill health, or learning difficulties.

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