It was truly fantastic to welcome all the pupils back at the start of term in what passes for normality in the UK today. I have enjoyed hearing about their summer holidays and am glad that they had the opportunity to relax and re-engage with the activities and sports that they had to stop during the lockdowns.
On the topic of sport, this summer we saw the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics/Paralympics. Whilst they may seem a distant memory now I am sure a number of you were hooked at the time, possibly due to the weather, but also hopefully because, like me, you find the whole spectacle exciting and inspiring. You may have joined me in getting up at very early o’clock to watch the events live. It is much better seeing something as it happens and therefore being part of it, than watching it on catch-up knowing the result could be easily found on a phone or tablet. Various newspapers, and the BBC, reported early morning surges of electricity with all those coffee machines and kettles being switched on at 0300; fans across the country desperately trying to keep awake.
Getting up this early required some effort in our lives, but this pales by comparison with the efforts required to train at an elite level. As we know, we have pupils and staff who have been, are, or will be competing at the highest level and this single-minded devotion to success is to be admired. Rowing is one of the Olympic sports I like to watch and, despite the dismal performance this year, I know from enjoying the sport at university how much effort it requires to train.
Naturally, it is not just the hours athletes put in but also the expertise they have to acquire that requires this level of dedication. I was particularly taken with the skill exhibited by the toxophilites (archers – the pupils know of my keenness for Greek). It is, of course, not enough to understand just the physics of how to fire an arrow or use the bow correctly, it is not even enough to practise a lot, to truly become an expert requires something more, a deeper skill level and understanding.
The Paralympics and Olympics can, on one level, just be enjoyed for the spectacle, nations competing in a forum that prizes dedication and challenge, but they also demonstrate a display of effort and expertise that are critical to pupil success too.
I would be not fulfilling my duty as a Headmaster if I did not remind our pupils of these at the start of a new year. Regardless of year group they know full well if they have put the effort in. They know if they have revised, they know if they have trained, they know if they have practised their lines, or their musical score as much as they could. I know staff will remind them about all of these things but the brutal fact remains year after year that it’s up to each and every pupil to set their limits; they will hold themselves back if they do not try.
Now a number of them will be rolling their eyes inwardly at the ‘yay, work is fun and rewarding speech’, but they know to trust me to tell them the truth and in their hearts they all want to succeed.
At our first Mass of the school year Father Robert set the pupils a challenge. He told them not to forget the little people, and to remember that everyone matters. I want to add a second one, I want all our pupils to become experts in one aspect or another in their studies, music, drama, sports and activities. This means not just doing their homework, revising for their exams or turning up to play a match, but going further and becoming mathematicians, historians, athletes.
There are many areas of school life where they can do more than what is asked of them and I guarantee to them all, and this is a proper guarantee rather than a political manifesto pledge, that they will find whatever they do more interesting than the oft repeated call ‘will this be on the exam’ or ‘do I really have to know this’. The secret truth is that by combining effort with challenge, they will make their school lives easier and easier as they lead up to Sixth Form – now what could be a better way for me to start the term than to give away the secret to making a pupil’s life easier over the coming year.