Former Eton head says 'gilded youths' need to learn to fail

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Tony Little says schools should make sure pupils have some experience of failure

High-achieving, "gilded" young people who had an easy time at school need to understand what it is like to fail, says the former head of Eton.

Tony Little said clever children who never had difficulties needed to have the resilience for struggles of adult life.

He said schools should help young people learn from the "experience of failure".

Mr Little said children needed to find out how to "bounce back".

Speaking at the Global Education and Skills Forum about young people's well-being, he said he was concerned by pupils leaving school who had never seemed to have struggled.

"The only ones who worried me, as I shook hands and said my farewells, were the boys and girls who had gilded school experiences.

"The golden schoolchildren, for whom it had been very straightforward, always good at exams, always popular, always found the flow easy to deal with.

"They never really had anything significant to bump up against," said Mr Little, who is now chief academic officer of the GEMS international education group.

"I think it behoves all great schools to make sure all their children fail.

'Lessons from sport'

"Not just have the experience of failure, but of course within a supportive context, to learn from that experience of failure."

There have been concerns about a rise in young people with mental health problems and growing interest in schools teaching ideas such as well-being.

Mr Little said that schools needed to think about what they celebrated.

There could also be lessons from sport.

"It's not the fact of being dropped from the sports team, it's how that is dealt with, how young people are enabled to bounce back and find their way to regain that level or even higher," he said.

There were also warnings that education systems needed to focus on more than exams and academic success - and to think about emotional well-being.

"The education system did a great job in the past to focus on the top six inches of our head but we need to address the needs of students a little lower - the heart - to teach children about their emotional and social happiness," said Abdulla Al Karam, director general of Dubai's knowledge and human development authority.

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