A Community with Shared Values
On Monday morning we gathered in the Chapel for the opening assembly of what will be the hundred and eightieth year since our foundation. The magnificent architecture of this wonderful building provides a tangible connection with the School’s earliest days. Through world wars and pandemics, the distinctive and resilient ethos of our community has endured, and that is because our values are not dependent upon fashionable whims or the fleeting preoccupations of a particular zeitgeist. Though our ethos and values may well be articulated afresh for each successive generation of pupils, the fundamentals remain pretty constant.
It is easy to fret about the implications of artificial intelligence or to lose one’s footing in the theoretical quagmire of identity politics. Similarly, it is easy to become disheartened by global warming or the failure of nations to live in peace and harmony. Our lives often seem plagued by uncertainty and worry. The relentless march of modernity takes no prisoners and the rise of secularism is often at the expense of our spiritual dimensions. In a world of fake news, it is very difficult for young people to discern what is real and/or what is of value. Modern life is not easy and sometimes we might even agree with Damon Alban’s assertion that it is ‘rubbish’ though the title of Blur’s second album was inspired by some graffiti nonchalantly scrawled on a wall on the Bayswater Road. Disillusioned anarchists will do anything for attention!
Such a bleak and curmudgeonly assessment is pretty unhelpful and there are many more reasons to embrace progress than to reject it. Individualism and freedom of thought are central tenets of a modern liberal society and yet there is also a real virtue to belonging to a community that shares common values and inspires its members to strive towards the fulfilment of personal and professional dreams. Championing individualism is not at odds with engendering the sense of collective identity that arises from belonging to an institution or community that celebrates much loved traditions and shares precious memories. Our desire to connect with others is endless and it is what makes us human. Sharing a common purpose and embracing values that are fundamentally kind and decent provides a benevolent framework or paradigm within which young people can develop their own understanding of the world and their place within it.
I am not the sort of person who is particularly drawn to social clubs or organised fun. I prefer spontaneity and relationships that feel authentic rather than forced or manufactured. In any case, institutional life is perhaps on the wane. Village pubs are closing and exclusive clubs in Mayfair are desperately scrabbling around for new members. Church attendance is plummeting and Rotary clubs are just about spluttering along. Choirs, brass bands and amateur dramatic groups also struggle to attract members. The atomisation of society is not a fantasy of some dystopian world. Evidence of its existence is all around us.
So what does it mean to be a Rossallian? First of all, it is worth pointing out that we consider parents, governors and all those who attended the School in the past to be members of the wider Rossallian community. We know that they are sympathetic and supportive of the School’s ethos and we know that our children thrive when there is a positive relationship dynamic and strong synergy between home and school. Children deserve clarity and consistency. They deserve to know that home and school are singing from the same hymnal if not the same hymn sheet. There will always be times when, as parents, we will question aspects of a school’s protocols and procedures. Similarly, there will always be times when individual decisions irritate us. However, if there is an assumption of positive intent, and a shared recognition of the fact that we are all working towards the same end, then our children will feel secure. After all, our common goal is to see our children flourish in every aspect of their lives.
Much of what it means to be a Rossallian has been hardwired into the DNA of this community since 1844. Whilst the world changes around us, our guiding principles remain constant. We are the custodians of the School’s ethos and it is a responsibility that we take very seriously.
We believe in the importance of compassion, empathy and kindness. We place a high premium on the friendships that develop within this place but we also hope to inspire young people to look outwards to the world beyond. We believe that it is our responsibility to encourage young people to engage with the challenges that they will face as global citizens of the twenty-first century. The need to embrace a sustainable future and find workable solutions to the growing number of humanitarian issues arising from social injustice and economic deprivation is pressing. Rossallians have always put others first. Some have won Victoria Crosses and shown great gallantry within a military context whilst others have dedicated their lives to serving their own communities as teachers, nurses, doctors, priests and local councillors. Localism matters to us just as much as globalism.
Within the realm of politics and science, the impulse to serve and make a positive contribution to society is discernible in the professional and personal lives of so many of our illustrious alumni. Similarly, within sports and the realm of academic endeavour, Rossallians have consistently demonstrated a steely determination to succeed. For many Rossallians, determination, resilience, courage and a disciplined approach to hard work has provided a firm bedrock for success.
Above all else, we celebrate diversity, promote inclusivity and champion equality. We value our traditions but recognise our responsibility to evolve to meet the needs of the young people in our care. We know that our parents choose us not just because of the quality of opportunities that we offer but because our colleagues dedicate so much of their lives to supporting the children. The true measure of a school is to be found in the quality of its staff and not its physical buildings or resources. In this regard, we are blessed. It is impossible to capture Rossall’s distinctive character in words. It has to be experienced to be comprehended and there is an alchemy that occurs within this place which results in a quality of community that is very special indeed. It is frequently commented upon by our visitors – whether they be inspectors, parents, guest speakers or members of the public.
For those of you who are new to us, it is my sincerest hope that you will experience that magic for yourselves. You will be most unlikely to gain a true sense of it from the clumsy words of this blog but the ethos and values of our community will soon become apparent to you from the mouths of your children, and that is precisely how it should be. Ultimately, the Rossall ethos is lived by our pupils with a vigour and sincerity that is quite extraordinary. Recently we volunteered to take part in an ISI pilot inspection and within the debrief someone observed that in relation to equality, diversity and inclusivity, ‘Rossall actively lives the values that other schools endeavour to teach’. There is no room for complacency but it is surely as good a starting point as any..
Headmaster of Rossall School