Elective Action, ‘Having a care, Making a difference’

Return to work after the February half-term break always see the Claires Court community turn itself ‘towards doing good for others’. This pattern of activity harks back to our life as a ‘Catholic’ school, during which time we incorporated the solemn period of religious observance known as Lent. Ash Wednesday services here saw many boys and girls carry a smudge of palm ash on their foreheads, a sign of our mortality carried to remind us that as humans we come from dust and to dust we will inevitably return.

Lent forms an integral part of many Christian churches, across west and east, ‘modern’ and ‘orthodox’. The 40 days that follow are expected to be filled with ‘fasting and prayer, doing penance, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and…’ in my childhood the self-denial incorporated the loss of sweets/chocolate for the children and alcohol for the parents, though not on Sundays, a universally agreed rest day from the purgatory of abstinence.

If this was my experience as a child of the sixties, and still very much one as a head on the eighties and nineties, I have found as I make my return as a headteacher footsoldier at the end of the Teenies, that an adolescent’s view of terms of sacrifice and service seems very, very different. Perhaps encouraged by 3 decades of Comic Relief, Pudsey Bear and other ‘giving Gigs’, abstinence & penance has been swapped out and replaced by ‘giving with a smile’. In short, ‘having a care’ has become ‘FUNdraising, with the emphasis on the personal gratification arising from lots of ‘jolliness’.

Not being by nature a gradgrind, I’ve been trying hard to notice whether my own adolescents have fallen into this self-indulgence, to which the answer is probably – ‘easily done’. And yet, I am indeed very heartened by the choices that they are making to raise issues and agree action-based support for causes deserving of notice. I’ll not cover the whole piece with this essay, but just commence with describing some remarkable work arising in Year 12 and 13. Inspired by last year’s school support of the ISA school in Pong Tek, Cambodia, this year’s Sixth Form have decided to establish a school-based project out in the Gambia. They have put together a video, first rush of which is here:

It seems to me that the younger pupils remain pretty selfless, being readily willing to share and give to others, lessons learned through the effective socialising behaviours of early infancy and nursery. And these Sixth Formers seem cut out of the same mould, perhaps because they have grown through that period of time from ‘tween to early teen’ in which ‘vanity’ becomes apparently something children these days are permitted to catch. Perhaps they need to, rather like chickenpox, so they become immune to it later on, but I’m not so certain, because the characteristics of the vainglorious once learned are hard to lose.

So here’s my pitch for 2019, we need to encourage children of all ages to worry a little bit more, to get cross about some small part of humanity’s ‘stakehold’ which doesn’t feel fairly distributed, and then work with them so they can learn how to make a choice of action to take and then do just that ‘something’ that will make a difference. This will require us as adults to get out of our comfort zone too, so I am not talking about ‘making sure your coca can is recycled’ in the correct trash can. Over the generations I’ve seen so many local initiatives come to successful fruition, most notably the Alexander Devine Hospice (a place) and Kids in Sports (a service). If we don’t clear the waterways of Maidenhead, who will?

Waiting lists for Cubs and Scout groups grow by the yard, because we don’t have sufficient adults finding the time to become suitably qualified. It may be that their time has come and gone (I don’t think so), but it is true that here at school we are tweaking the Year 9 programme to ensure all the boys and girls have the opportunity to pursue the Duke of Edinburgh’s award at Bronze level, squeezing out a bit more juice from what we do to ensure our young people learn that volunteering and acquiring new skills and being uncomfortable under canvas and expeditioning for 2 days without the internet are actually fun things to do.

If we get this right, all 110 of our 14 year old cohort will gain the widest-ly recognised starter qualification in leadership in the World. Here’s the DofE peeps writing about this from their website:


“Global expansion over the last 50 years has enabled the Award to reach more and more young people. Today there are over 130 countries and territories delivering the Award – 63 of these on a national basis. However, the Award is now expanding in other ways, targeting those who have not previously had opportunities to develop themselves. Recent Award projects around the world have focused on involving young offenders, those with disabilities, street kids and aboriginal communities. The impact of the Award on many of these young people is extraordinary: it transforms their lives.

The spread of the Award across the globe is testament to its universal appeal and the vision of its founder. However, even HRH admits that this took him by surprise:

“When the first trial of the Award was launched in 1956, no one had any idea quite what would happen. In the event it was an instant success, and the Award has been growing and expanding worldwide ever since.”

What’s not to like?

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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