A really special feature of the new academic year has been the extensive opportunities we have had to engage with so many of our parents. Whether through online or in person parent forums, at the introductory evenings or Sixth Form pathways evening, at one of our year group parent lunches or at one of our early tutor parents’ evenings, we feel like we have already met with so many more of our parents this year than in the Septembers gone by at the height of and following the pandemic.
The start of any new school year brings with it conversations that often turn to discussing the transition that all of our children go through as they “move up”. The changes, the surprises, the outgrown blazers, increasing sporting commitments, friendships made and lost, academic choices to be made, the relentless passage of time that they don’t notice but for us, as parents, feels like sand slipping through our fingers.
I always marvel at the thought of how all of the pupils in early September look both simultaneously much bigger than they did before the summer and small relative to the pupils who have just left that year group. It’s obvious, and yet there is something truly magical about that sense of anticipation that the year to come will bring with it experiences and memories for life that will shape our boys and girls who will change, grow and flourish before our eyes and we won’t see it happening until we look back and remember where they started.
We often talk about life’s milestones and the idea that, at some point, we reach the threshold of accumulated wisdom we refer to as adulthood. (And yet, how often have we all faced situations when we have searched the room looking for a responsible adult, only to find that that person was us?)
The milestones by which we define our journey into this mythical adult life – starting nursery, reception, secondary school, 16th birthday, 18th birthday, driving licence, university, first job, first love – I believe however are not the true moments in which we grow, just markers that growth has taken place.
Instead, the real milestones in our lives are those moments when we grow through what we do, the decisions we make and the challenges we overcome on our own. The time you got lost in a crowd but found your way back to your parents, the first time you spent a night on your own, the first time you felt the warm afterglow of someone taking your advice, the first time you had your heart broken, the first time you realised that you passionately and wholeheartedly believed in something, the first time you owned a mistake, the first time that you realised that life is bigger than you, and the time you realised that this didn’t matter; all that mattered was the difference you chose to make to leave the world a better place than you found it.
Learning and experiences gained at school are equally complex to evaluate. Exam results are a sum total of pupil endeavours but the people they become as they spread their wings and fly is the true measure of the learning that has taken place. The questioning, the exploration of and attempt at negotiating boundaries, finding out who they are and what they stand for and within that, much more importantly, accepting and cherishing the responsibility they have to live as part of a community. We see that in our pupils as they mature and take on leadership roles, in the way they lend their voices to important issues, the societies they set up, the assemblies they lead, the efforts they go to in order to represent the needs of those less fortunate than themselves.
Growing up and getting older is inevitable, and each story, beautifully unique, is a journey through the milestones that we measure and the ones that we don’t even notice passing us by. And yet it is these latter ones that shape and mould the people we become and their value and worth goes well beyond that which is visible or measurable. Let’s teach our children to value and cherish these things as for each and every one of us they are nothing but a source of true pride.