Aspirations, good or bad

Last week I wrote about how we as parents and teachers can be guilty of pushing children too far our way. This week for the sake of balance I’ll look at the same subject from the other end of the telescope. Whilst I remain certain we must consider most carefully the views of our young people, we also have a duty to sound a note of realism. I can’t help but think of the Monty Python sketch about flaky careers in mining as opposed to the job security of poetry.

It is fair to say that not everyone, however fervently they pledge to follow a life on the stage while at school, will make it. Thousands of Instagram posts will tell you to follow your dreams but not everyone will make it big in the music world. There is a finite space for YouTubers and other influencers. We can’t all play for Norwich City or represent England at rugby however much we may wish to. Or not. We won’t all be famous authors and there can only be one Prime Minister at a time.

One of the privileges of youth is to dream big. I hope that all of the BSP’s pupils are ambitious and that they have the opportunity to do whatever it is that fills them with both passion and satisfaction. I’ve also been in schools for long enough to know that not everyone is lucky enough to “make it”. Indeed, some of the most talented practitioners on stage or pitch have ended up doing something very different indeed. The same is true of university entrance. I know supremely gifted people who did not make it through the Oxbridge lottery and I welcomed calls this week to make both of those universities larger. Almost without fail they gain the grades required to go on and I know for certain that they are more mature, accomplished and talented than I was at their age.

During the last holiday I read a novel written by a student that I had taught, published by Penguin. I can’t tell you how proud I was of all that she had achieved. It is a great read. Others in the same class who were just as talented have gone off to do other things that won’t mean they end up on a shelf in the local bookshop. Another former pupil is a very successful actor, seemingly the “go to” for any period drama. She was a fine actor at school, but there were others who were as good who haven’t quite made it. Another wrote speeches for a former Prime Minister… he was one of the School’s best at debate, but he had competition.

Whilst having big dreams at school is a good thing, we also need to maintain perspective. No-one fails if they don’t make it big in the movies, no-one should feel overly despondent if they don’t get published. We can’t all be influencers and there are many ways to do good without being Prime Minister. The wise writer Charles Handy said that we need portfolios of skills and interests and occupations. If there is one thing that is true it is that our young people will have more opportunities than ever before, but they are wise to develop numerous competencies and indeed several specialisms. School can help with all of this. Success comes in many forms, today more than ever, it is good to develop multiple competencies.

Nicholas Hammond