Last week, I began by handing out a good number of Maths certificates and this week I am delighted to say that it is the turn of music. Before Christmas, a number of you took ABRSM exams in a variety of different instruments and there were some outstanding results. So can I please invite the following to come up:
Hannah – Grade 2 Clarinet with merit and Grade 4 Violin
Charlotte – Grade 2 Piano with merit
Sabija – Grade 3 Piano
Atida – Grade 3 Violin with merit
Hiruni – Grade 6 Singing
Georgie – Grade 6 Singing with merit
Tom – Grade 8 Violin with merit
In rugby, our U15A team, as I’m sure many of you know, qualified for the last eight of the National Vase Competition on Thursday and now find themselves two matches away from playing in the final at Twickenham. Trailing 19-10 to Brentwood School, the boys staged an amazing come back, culminating in fantastic try by Max Rogers, to win 22-19. Many congratulations to all you of involved, players and coaches, and the very best of luck for your preparations over the coming weeks as you get ready for the quarter final match against Crypt School, a big Grammar School in Gloucestershire, to be played at home at some point in the week before half-term.
Now as those of you who were in Chapel on Thursday will remember, today is Blue Monday, the third Monday in January, the day which some people claim is the most depressing day of the year. Hopefully the Chaplain’s top tips so far this term on ‘how to survive January’ will have helped you to address this. Nevertheless, I thought it would be good to start this morning’s Headmaster’s Assembly with something a little light-hearted. My theme for today is that of taking risks and to help me to introduce this I am looking for four highly coordinated pupils. So please can Tobi, Penny, Henry and Joshua from our Upper 6th come onto the stage.
Now the rules are as follows. Each of you has 3 bean bags, red, yellow, blue or green. Throwing alternately (girl/boy or boy/girl), your aim is to throw each of your bean bags into the green bucket. If you achieve this you will earn points – 2 points if you choose to throw from the first cone, 5 points if you throw successfully from the 2nd cone and 10 points if you manage to get your beanbag in from the furthest away cone. On each throw it is up to you which cone to throw from. You are competing girls v boys so your scores will be combined, with the winning team the one with the most points. Girls – you have the choice of going first or second.
Please can we give our four volunteers a big round of applause. The truth is, more or less every day of our lives we find ourselves in positions where we are weighing up the risk of doing something, situations where we have to decide whether we are going to play it safe or else take a chance and be bolder. In the case of the game we have just observed, Aimee, Robyn, Henry and Joshua obviously needed to decide whether to be reasonably conservative and go for a throw with a high chance of success, but less in terms of reward (2 points) or instead to go for the bigger prize (5 or even 10 points), mindful of the fact that there was a higher chance that they might not succeed. Calculated risk taking.
Surprising though it may be to some of you, as teachers we absolutely want you to take risks when you are at school. Sometimes, the risks you take will be calculated ones, like in the example we have just seen here on stage – all part of you honing your decision-making skills. And there are countless other examples. And sometimes, the risks we encourage you to take are ones that we would class as positive risks, risks where failure is a possibility but where the ability to learn from it and improve is significant. Ask any teacher in the Modern Languages Department, for example, and they will tell you that one of the fundamental keys to success is in fact risk taking, a willingness to give it a go, a willingness to speak to and in front of others without worrying if every word is right or if you are making grammatical errors. Your English teachers would say the same about playing with language, so too would your Art and DT teachers about experimenting with different colours, materials and techniques. Your Chemistry and Biology teachers, meanwhile, would, I’m sure, tell you that taking risks is an integral part of scientific research and advancements in medicine.
For some of you, taking a risk might mean other things: signing up to sing at Open Mic night or Cabaret evening for the first time, auditioning for a part in The Great Gatsby, your first time on stage in a school production, or doing a high ropes course when you know you are afraid of heights. Such risk taking is to my mind extremely laudable and absolutely to be encouraged.
And the good news in all of this is that, perhaps unsurprisingly, research shows that adolescents and young adults do in fact take more risks than any other age group. More than that, taking risks is a normal and essential part of our development as human beings. And that is of course fine, so long as the risks in question have been properly considered; when they have been taken in an essentially safe environment; when they are neither reckless or negligent, nor likely to cause serious harm to the person taking them or to others.
But what of unhealthy risk-taking, to which young people are also particularly pre-disposed? And what is behind the decision to partake in it, especially when the potential dangers of doing so are known and understood? The first obvious answer is, undoubtedly, whether we like to admit it or not, the influence of or pressure from peers, that desire to fit in or to impress, all of which are far more keenly felt in the teenage years. Indeed, in an interesting study that was carried out, early adolescents, late adolescents, and adults all behaved similarly on a computerised driving task when they were doing it by themselves. However, when they were paired with same-aged friends, clear differences emerged. The early adolescents were much more likely to engage in risky driving when their friends were present. Late adolescents were somewhat riskier in their driving when they were with friends. However, the presence of friends had no impact whatsoever on adults’ driving.
The second reason is that young people prefer to rely on personal experience to tell them right from wrong, rather than allowing themselves to be told by others whether something is a good idea or not. Consequently, they are more willing to ignore the warning signs and potential consequences until such time as they have tested it for themselves. This can still be the case when the risks are presented to them clearly and objectively by experts, rather than their parents or teachers who they sometimes feel do so more subjectively and judgmentally.
As many of you hopefully know, we do in fact have one such expert in school today. Dave Parvin, a former Drugs Squad Officer in the Police, will be leading our Drugs Awareness day in school today. He will be talking to staff, giving three presentations this afternoon to the 2nd and 3rd Form, to the 4th and 5th Form and finally to the 6th Form. And then this evening he will be addressing some of your parents. The older ones amongst you may well remember him from four years ago. If that is the case, please do not fall into the trap of thinking that there is therefore no need for you to engage with it. Indeed, trends and fads change, new drugs and substances are appearing all the time. And that is precisely why we have asked him back and why he continues to visit a large number of schools around the country, providing the most up-to-date information about drugs, including those which are still not necessarily seen as being harmful or dangerous. And I would urge you most strongly to listen to what he has to say. He is certainly not here to preach or to lecture. But he is here to present you with clear facts so that you can make informed decisions. The truth is that drugs affect different people in different ways. In fact, they can affect the same people in different ways. And in the case of more recent drug paraphernalia, such as Nitrous Oxide (NOS) and Vapes, the true long-term effects are not properly known or understood as yet.
It is a recognised fact that young people are inclined at times to want to push boundaries, to rebel and to seek new experiences – hardly a recent phenomenon. But when it comes to drugs, my strong advice to you is that this is very much one risk that it is not worth taking. Not just because it is against our rules and can result in you having to leave the school, albeit this is of course important and would have a detrimental effect on your educational career. No. Of equal, if not greater significance, for me is the fact that if you are looking for ways to help you relax, to cope with stress, if you are seeking a buzz to help relieve feelings of boredom, or are tempted by the feelings of confidence or a connection with others that drugs are reputed to elicit, experiences most of us have felt or wanted at some point, there are many other healthier, less costly and indeed easier ways to achieve these goals.
In short, taking risks in life can be extremely positive, especially when the outcome is personal growth, change for the better and even when valuable lessons are learned from an initially undesirable or unpleasant result. As Albert Einstein famously once said, “A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it is built for”. But when it comes to taking unhealthy risks, such as drug taking, risks where the short-term benefits are debatable at best and the long-term benefits non-existent, these are invariably best avoided. I hope you find today really useful and informative and that you draw similar conclusions.
As some of you may have noticed, we are joined this morning by the new Headmaster Mr Durrant. He will be in school for the whole of this week and I know he is hoping to have the opportunity to meet and chat to a good number of you over the coming days. Do please make him feel welcome.
We are at that stage when there are a few coughs and colds going around. Do keep going. A chance to recharge the batteries next weekend over the long exeat awaits, but in the meantime work hard and have a great week.