Last week I had a conversation that made me stop and think. Such exchanges are always good, a moment to take stock, to evaluate, to reconsider. The topic was comparison, and whilst we did not discuss the topic for any great length of time, it is a subject to which I’ve returned to over the course of the week.
In the conversation that stimulated this consideration we were comparing schools, in this case the comparison was of the most positive kind: “My children liked their last school because of the following reasons…” and they like the BSP because of these following but different reasons. How good to hear of pupils able to be so discerning as to pick out what they like and from what they benefit in such a reasoned and rational way. For me, it is a point of strength that we are not just like another school, and we are good in our own way; we have our own strengths.
Comparison is a dangerous business when it comes to education and learning. That said, it is impossible to ignore the process of exam taking that is going on at present. If ever there was an example of education’s obsession with comparison than the exam season is an obvious place to look. Exams are a mostly artificial construct in which (often) fabricated skills and swathes of knowledge are tested – most of what has been learned is not examined. Who knows, perhaps some days soon a system of teacher assessment supported by exams will be invented to ensure that we reward (and test) pupils on all they know rather than what they are asked about in a 90-minute slot. Still more challenging for our young people are the comparisons that they are forced to make between themselves and the airbrushed individuals that are shown on social media. The pressure to be popular has never been greater, and we as adults should be aware that the consequences of this insidious race to perfection can only ever have casualties. We need to continue to watch this, to challenge this, and to ensure that our young people are all capable of flourishing.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Queen Elizabeth in this, the aftermath of the Platinum Jubilee. Whilst I remain firmly convinced that comparison with others is not a good thing, we may well be profitably served by considering the example set by the Monarch. Service, good humour and an adherence to a clear moral code are the pillars of the Queen’s own brand of service. We should not compare because our situation is different. I do hope that over this last week BSP pupils have taken a moment to think about what the Queen has done and how they may learn from it. Whilst by no means blemish free Queen Elizabeth provides an exemplar for those considering life in the public eye. How appropriate indeed were the celebrations of this time last week – and how worthy of thanks are those staff members who worked so tirelessly to make the event a success.
This week in the Alps, our Key Stage 3 pupils will learn a good deal about how they match up to the challenges they will face. Some will go further, higher, and faster but all will have learned that there is more in them than they think, and that they have the capacity to succeed, even when they are challenged. We learn much about ourselves when we face challenge, it is not a question of how good am I in comparison, but as the Queen has shown us: is this best of which I am capable?