Friday, 14th October 2016
Teresa May is Oxford University’s 27th prime minister, an extraordinary statistic, especially when compared with the fact that Oxford’s great rival Cambridge has “only” produced 14. What reasons there are for this, is perhaps difficult to tell. It might be that Oxford’s geographical location in the Thames valley has placed it “closer” to London despite the fact that both cities are exactly the same distance from the capital in actual fact; it might be that Oxford’s concentration on the Arts and social sciences has ensured that those interested in politics have been more drawn to its courses; it might be that it’s more worldly atmosphere, as opposed to the isolated puritanical abstraction of that “beleaguered City” in East Anglia, as Rose Macaulay described Cambridge, “For south and north, like a sea, there beat on its gates without haste or pity, the downs and the fen country”. Of course it is difficult to tell and there will be many theories which people will wish to advance. But of course, the real point of interest is surely that in this country, political power has clearly been held by people educated at our two ancient universities and this is not a matter of the historical past; of the previous 5 prime ministers, 3 were at Oxford. There will be many who consider this statistic scandalous – how is it that one university (or if we are generous 2) can have such a firm grip on power? And perhaps there is some merit in this argument. Having said that if, as I do, one argues that there is merit in education which goes beyond childhood, then surely the fact that our finest universities produce the greatest number of our most influential public servants should be a huge relief as it is a palpable demonstration of our belief in education. We should remember of course that Oxford came 1st this year in The Times Higher Education world university rankings. If such an institution did not contribute its fair share of major public servants, then what justification would people like me have in extoling the virtues of education. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I consider it very heartening that places of educational excellence such as Oxford and Cambridge have an influence far beyond the number of people who attend them. Fine education is clearly a force which has a transformational effect. I am very grateful to all parents who invest so much in sending their children to our school but cannot stress highly enough the importance of education and its positive and benign effect. Before I came to Christ Church I used to teach at St Edward’s School up in Summertown. Every speech day, the chairman of governors would make the same remark. While this didn’t add tension or excitement to his speech, they were words that were profound and were always worth treasuring. They were the words of Confucius: ““If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for ten years plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years educate children. ”
Another feature of Christ Church Cathedral School of which I am so proud is that we treat all our pupils as individuals. We are able to do this because of the size of the school and the fact that our teachers are of great quality. Though of course one of the most important features of a decent school is the way that it teaches people to live in a community, something which I believe happens both when one is always sensitive to the needs of others – what would it be like to stand in someone else’s shoes? But also, ironically, when one is allowed to feel confident in one’s own individuality, hence the importance of being treated as if one is individually important. This was brought home to me when the remark of one of our pupils was reported to me the other day. “You can tell the difference between me and my brother; he’s go a verruca – I haven’t.” We must always rejoice in our own particular gifts!
At our Cathedral service today, The Headmaster of Cokethorpe, Mr Damian Ettinger suggested that at the heart of being a real man was the quality of kindness and compassion and that we should all attempt to engender those qualities within ourselves. It was a very clear and important message and it was splendid to hear the concept of manliness being described in terms, not of aggression, but kindness. I completely endorse this view. In lunch today, however, my strong sense of gender was brought into question when I was asked by my dining companion: “Sir do you think my old headmaster was a headmaster or a headmistress?” That’s a 21st century question!