“Say, canst thou make thyself?”

-Self Knowledge, Samuel Taylor-Coleridge

Taking one of the most formidable exams ever set might not be everyone’s idea of fun. So, when I suggested to a group of our Lower VI (Year 12) students that they should have a go at a version of this fiendish intellectual puzzle I wasn’t sure of the reaction. Perhaps because this is the BSP once they ’d hurdled the initial uncertainty about what it was they had been asked to do they set about the tasks with no small degree of, well, gusto.

The challenge is a simple one. Along with other students, with whom you share little by way of subject choice, create a presentation through the lens of your chosen academic discipline and theirs to entertain, inform and demonstrate your intellectual curiosity. The question is in the form of a single word.

This exam was first set by All Souls College in Oxford as their famous Fifth Paper in 1914, they only gave up on the idea in 1990 during which time such luminaries of the intellectual firmament as T.E. Lawrence and Isaiah Berlin had taken the test. Those candidates had a three-hour essay and ours may well be a little lighter on the time front and somewhat heavier on the collaborative front, but the challenge remains a steep one. I’ll have the privilege of seeing the results of this exercise with my colleagues next week and I have every confidence that the presentations will be excellent. When they have delivered, these pupils will have learned something about the way they think, the way they collaborate and how confident they are in demonstrating intellectual curiosity.

As a school, we are unashamedly ambitious for our pupils. We want them to realise their potential and sometimes this means that we have to put them in positions in which they may feel a little uncomfortable. In this case the discomfort is very short-lived and intellectual rather than anything else. During the course of any week, we would anticipate that pupils feel challenged from time to time. Next week, Year 9 will start their tech project, some will find it easy, and others will have to meet a challenge. The end of the summer term is traditionally the time we have sports days, a more physical challenge for some and a time when pupils find out of what they are capable.

When pupils have the opportunity to reflect upon the experiences that they have found challenging, be that intellectual or physical they learn valuable lessons about their capacity and about their limits. Our school values provide them with a compass, a means of navigating the situations that they find in front of them. Determination, endeavour and resilience are all virtues that we hold to firmly, believing that they will serve pupils well in the future. We aren’t asking them to push themselves into situations that scare, but we do want them to know when they should be developing elements of their personality or character so that they can be full and useful members of wider society.

Nicholas Hammond