Even after heavens knows how many years working in schools, the second half of the summer term still takes me a bit by surprise. It’s short, and it’s a whirlwind. There are numerous events, including those marking the end of Whitgift for the Upper Sixth and leaving staff and many others, some involving OWs; launching the anthology, celebrating the year in the library, welcoming new pupils, recognising the achievements of beginner musicians, and so on. Then there are sports finals and prize givings (plural for us), and of course all the while, some hundreds of exams to navigate and prepare for.
I’ve never known how to bring all of this activity together in end of term letters or speeches either. Mention everything and it becomes an incredibly long list. Mention a few personal highlights and you risk offence. So, I’m delighted that the Celebration of Whitgift Life takes exactly that form: a celebration, led by and about the pupils (and I’m doubly delighted that the programme is in the expert hands of Mr Osborne!). Our guest speaker will be OW Chris Cook, BBC Newsnight’s Editor, who will remember what it’s like to be in the audience, and pitch his remarks accordingly!
But there is an angle on all this that I do believe strongly. It’s all too tempting to view the activity of any time of year, and especially this time, as so much ‘stuff done’, achievements one can list. The real question is what have we learned from it, how have we done it, and how have we grown as a result. University applicants writing personal statements, like good job applicants, should avoid writing ‘I have done x, y, z’ and try instead to say ‘doing x, or y, or z has made me, helped me become, shown me ...’. Try that simple exercise out on the list of what you, or we, have done this year. It can be quite a challenge. But there are powerful answers. Pulling off a difficult performance makes us more confident, resilient and often makes us better listeners. Winning a competition or match shows us we can dig deep, and helps us understand how. Everything we do tells us something about who we are, and what we can be.
Great schools should always have that in mind. Which is why we do.