Head Master's Michaelmas Term Address
I should like to add my own welcome to your Cathedral church. It is wonderful to be back in this extraordinary building and to gather as a school community. For some, it is your first service here but for others it is much more familiar territory. Regardless, seeing the vaulted architecture and exquisite decoration while singing to the accompaniment of the glorious organ is a privilege that never tires. Paul in his letter to the Colossians invites us to “be thankful” and there is certainly much for us to be grateful for. Let us try to keep that sense of joy and wonder as we progress through this school year.
I anticipate that there will be a mix of excitement and nervousness among you this morning, even if you are not showing it to your peers; it is very common in schools after the long summer break and it is not confined to pupils. Even experienced teachers like to get the first lesson out of the way to comfort themselves that their subject knowledge and classroom craft have not somehow been mysteriously and disastrously lost during July and August. However, I sense that the mood is positive and I am sure we will settle into our routines soon enough.
As we do so, I am also confident that most of you will have targets, both for the next few weeks and the remainder of the year. Many will be obvious, certainly in the academic sphere (places at university; grades at GCSE; favoured option subjects), but also in the co-curriculum: sport (a particular team); music (an individual grade or place in ensemble); drama (a role in your chosen play); clubs (leadership of an existing group or establishment of a new one); community service (your preferred placement).
That is all fine and good; indeed, it is the sort of thing you expect your Head Master to say at the start of the year. My challenge to you this morning is to offer 10 other targets by which you might monitor your year’s success. They are as follows:
1 Proper sleep patterns
2 Time for exercise
3 Eating healthily at regular times
4 Time to relax
5 Emotional resilience — accepting being “good enough”
6 A sense of humour
7 Firm boundaries
8 Random acts of kindness
9 Walking in fresh air
10 A sense of perspective
I will circulate the list separately so that you can reflect on the ideas at greater leisure. It comes from Clarissa Farr, former Head of St Paul’s Girls’ School, one of the highest achieving schools in the country in terms of public exam results. She talks about this list as important factors in establishing favourable educational growing conditions for young people. I like the items for two reasons:
First, they are focused on wellbeing, kindness and contentment. I often say to prospective families that we set much store in our pastoral systems because we believe that happy pupils are likely to be successful pupils and this list offers some practical ways to establish such a positive outlook.
Second, they are based on individual growth and are strikingly non-competitive. Whichever your particular blend of interests and the point of your Norwich School journey, looking after yourself will be critical and I hope there is something here on which you can focus in the coming weeks. As our bible reading from Colossians says: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity”.
I am not suggesting that areas such as physical fitness, realistic expectations, humour and kindness should replace a desire for dramatic, sporting, musical or academic achievement. Rather, I hope that looking after yourself and those around you will complement your endeavours at school and enable you to strive for these goals more comfortably and sustainably.
Clarissa Farr expands on the metaphor for growth by describing the school’s role in educational development. She says that a school should be “a trellis on which each girl grows independently, weaving her own path”. I care as passionately about girls education as Mrs Farr but I think its best context is co-educational. Moreover, the principle for good schools of all types is the same, so these ideas are just as applicable to boys. Norwich School and your family seek to provide a strong and stable framework, but it is then up to each one of you to grow according to your interests and enthusiasms. Put another way, each of you should be seeking to create an individual, bespoke experience from the options available to you in Cathedral Close.
I hope this image of individual growth in a community structure is helpful to you as you make your way through the 2019/20 year. It certainly reinforces for me the importance of both pupil and school in a successful educational process. The contemporary philosopher, Professor Roger Scruton, puts it thus: “I am a teacher. I have acquired much knowledge, and I long to impart that knowledge...I have decided that I can impart that knowledge only to volunteers. Conscripts are a total waste of time…the important thing is that the deal is a free transaction”.
I can vouch for Scruton’s part as the teacher in such a relationship: in the same way that only you can do the growing in our gardening image, only you can learn the material presented to you in school. Your family and your teachers can want the best for you, they can make the conditions as favourable as possible and they can offer as much support during the learning process as they can. Yet it is you as individuals who have to take responsibility for the learning action itself; it cannot be delegated.
So, make the most of the opportunities available to you and look after yourself in order to achieve what you want this year. It is great to have this amazing community together again in Cathedral Close and I look forward to seeing what you can do as individuals and what consequently we can do together during the coming year. Good luck to you all!