The Nature of Why

Last Saturday afternoon, the Winter Gardens provided an outstanding venue for an electric performance of The Nature of Why. This mesmerising performance piece merges dance and live music into a beguiling work of epic proportions; one that simply brims with emotion and physical beauty. The show features a cinematic live-score from Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, an ensemble of musicians from the British Paraorchestra and four extraordinary dancers.

Last week we had the very real honour of hosting the renowned conductor Charles Hazlehurst and the British Paraorchestra here at Rossall. They made excellent use of the wonderful rehearsal space in our new Performing Arts Studio.

The physicality of this piece, which exploited to good effect the ethereal and cavernous interior of the Winter Gardens Ballroom, was complemented by a generosity of spirit that gently evolved as the piece progressed. To begin with, we shuffled around a little uncomfortably as the dancers and musicians moved freely amongst us. The invasion of one’s personal space can feel unsettling but this unease soon passed and the distinctions between performers and attendees gradually blurred. As the work concluded, I noticed that two of our GCSE students had immersed themselves so fully that they were dancing in a circle with a couple of the company’s dancers. In that moment, I felt utterly joyful. I looked around me to see those with disabilities and those without drawn together in an inclusive and happy celebration of what it is to be human. Heading back to Rossall on that gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon, I felt so happy to call the Fylde home. To the south, the coastline of North Wales was visible, whilst to the north, the peaks of the Lakes provided the most extraordinary backdrop to the calm and startling blue waters of Morecambe Bay. Sometimes we take all this for granted and we overlook all the cultural delights that Blackpool has to offer.

Thank you so much to David Newell for organising this trip. These sorts of experiences, which take us out of our comfort zones and open us up to a world of wonderment, constitute one of the great values of an outstanding education. Do urge your children to make the most of these opportunities. Being challenged or invited to explore something entirely new enables us to grow both intellectually and emotionally. To stick rigidly within one’s comfort zone is to risk living a monochrome and mundane life. To embrace diversity and new opportunities is to experience a life of infinite beauty and endless excitement.

The supine figure of Jacob Rees-Mogg – a defining image of our tumultuous times?

Viewed through the distortive prism of the media, the independent sector is shamelessly stereotyped and denigrated. Lazy journalists tend to focus their attention upon Eton, Winchester and Harrow. They then presume that what holds true for a very small group of elite schools is applicable to the sector as a whole. The absurdity and carelessness of such an approach appears to matter little. In any case, the top hats, fancy buildings and vast wealth of Eton does, arguably, epitomise all that is unequal about British society. Throw in political figures such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Cameron and Boris Johnson and the charges of nepotism and elitism seem well-grounded.

Still, Blackpool is no Windsor, and those who fret about private schools being the preserve of plutocrats/oligarchs should come and pay us a visit. Despite Cuadrilla’s best efforts, this is no Dallas – not yet at least!

The fact that Jacob Rees-Mogg was photographed reclining in a languid manner during a lengthy debate on Brexit has resulted in the most extraordinary media storm. To many commentators, his pose appeared to demonstrate an intolerable proprietorial arrogance. Sprawled across the bench, he wore an expression that seemed to suggest that this was a tedious and trifling game but one to which he was undoubtedly born. It is easy enough to make connections between this image and David Cameron’s recent assertion that he might favour a return to frontline politics because he was feeling a tad bored. Boris Johnson has shamelessly capitalised upon his image as a lovable upper class buffoon. Yet delivering pithy oneliners on Have I Got News For You is rather less taxing than dealing with the current political gridlock. Are these perceptions fair? Perhaps not. After all, Jacob Rees-Mogg was probably just feeling tired. David Cameron probably does feel a little bit lost and there are plenty of people who agree with Boris Johnson’s current position. However, we live in a media age where truth matters little and spin is king.

Eton has produced no less than twenty prime ministers and it is easy to blame the ‘public school system’ for the present jam that we find ourselves in. Yet the Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who oversaw the formation of the welfare state, was himself privately educated. Similarly, over 10% of the current crop of Labour MPs are privately educated.

When people refer disparagingly to a ‘public school spirit or ethos’ they are referring to values or belief systems which are entirely alien to a modern, liberal and progressive School like Rossall. We are committed to developing young people who are principled, open-minded, caring and reflective. The character traits exhibited by Tom Brown or Harry Flashman represent the complete antithesis of a Rossall education. Our children leave the Sixth Form with a genuine and heartfelt desire to do good things with their lives and to be of service to others.

Earlier this year, Rosemary Bennett, Education Editor of the Times, wrote a piece about a new education initiative being launched by Damian Hinds which bore the excruciating title ‘All pupils will have the chance of gaining public school swagger’. This was a really unfortunate misreading of what Damian Hinds actually said which focused upon self-esteem and confidence. Hostility to the sector is all too often based on outdated perceptions and a palpable reluctance to engage with those schools which do not conform to tired and lazy stereotypes. One can only presume that this is because independent schools such as Rossall, by failing to conform to such entertaining and divisive stereotypes, ultimately constitute poor copy.

Our parents are grafters and I know that many make untold sacrifices in order to send their children to Rossall. There is no sense of insouciant entitlement here at Rossall and I would dearly love those who are most vociferously opposed to private education to make the effort to visit schools such as ours which serve their local communities so effectively. In terms of means-tested bursaries, Rossall more than pulls its weight and yet there are those within our sector who could well afford to do more but elect to do little. As a sector, the spotlight is on us and that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is only right that we should strive to build more effective partnerships within our own communities and it is only right that we should ensure that our resources are utilised to maximum effect. As charitable foundations, our primary purpose should be to maximise our service to others. Talk of Eton, Winchester, Harrow etc. is irrelevant to our mission here on the Fylde and those who seek to reference such schools as a convenient shorthand for a sector comprising 1,317 schools and educating over half a million children should be robustly challenged at every turn.