Friday, 24th November 2017
It's been a very quiet week in school. I don't think I have often written that! Of course, the pupils and staff have been very busy, but I have been impressed by the way in which the fact that everyone in the Prep School has been taking exams has affected the place so much. People returned from the weekend ready to focus and over the past few days have got on with the disciplined task of getting their exams done. Staff will be meeting on Wednesday to consider every pupil in the School and their performance in these exams. This exercise, involving input from all staff, means that we can work together to ensure that every pupil fulfils their potential.
Doing exams is not the be all and end all of education. A true education, I believe, should allow a young person to be most fully themselves, to bring out as fully as possible their potential. It should equip them with the appropriate knowledge to survive in life and, perhaps even more importantly, should provide a pupil with the ability to acquire that knowledge which they do not have but which they might come to need. It should provide a pupil with a set of skills which gives them opportunities and provides them with pleasure and relaxation. It should give them a moral compass and should provoke in them a sense of compassion for those around them and for the world in which they live. Furthermore, it should provide them with a sense of wonder and enquiry, and a sense of passion about learning and about living. In summary, going to school should prepare a pupil for a lifetime of education and exploration, and give them a hunger to improve themselves and the world.
An education should also provide a pupil with a sense of self–discipline because it is very difficult to achieve anything without this. Taking exams and the requisite revision is a good way of cultivating such self-discipline. One needs to make notes, charts and diagrams, and one needs to test oneself and be tested. One needs to create an environment where careful work can be done. One must be regular in one's habits and one must prioritise things which are not necessarily immediately exciting or easy. Then when it comes to taking the exams themselves, one must be in a ready state and able to concentrate for long periods of time. It is claimed that the concentration span of the young is pathetically short these days but in an exam one is expected to concentrate for long periods of time, often several times a day. I believe that at the heart of most successful people is the ability to concentrate for longer than the average person. Certainly, sustained concentration is the way to achieve anything of value. All these things are vital educationally. It is also the case that to get into senior schools exams are essential. We are, of course, a preparatory school and one of our purposes is to prepare our pupils for getting into these schools. It is hugely valuable therefore to undertake these exams.
Some of you have no doubt been enjoying Neil McGregor's fascinating Radio 4 programme, Living with the Gods. Each programme in the 30-part series lasts just 15 minutes. An object on view in the British Museum provides a starting point for considering some aspect of human experience. A recent programme focussed on a small and very simple piece of carved horn, which was found inside a cave in Germany just before the outbreak of the Second World War. In fact, the excavation was halted by the conflict. The horn was very ancient indeed, dating from the very earliest stages of human existence. Investigation revealed that it had been carefully carved; so carefully indeed that it would have taken several hundred hours to do so. Part of the programme's enquiry was about why it would have received such attention and the conclusion was that it was an object to be worshipped. As such it was worthy of the dedication that had been given to it. I thought that this was a very potent symbol of the attitude that we need to rediscover, that there are things in life that are so important that they are really worth working on. In fact, it is through valuing certain things and activities highly that we give life meaning, and elevate the human condition to a level worthy of the power over the planet with which we appear to have been entrusted.