Not a typical blog, but one final insight into the current term at BGS.
This is the script from Monday’s Celebration Assembly. Such whole school gatherings start our week at BGS and provide valuable opportunities to recognise some of the good things going on. As usual, it was a privilege to acknowledge various achievements and award certificates, trophies and such like.
The range of activities and accolades even at this late stage in the year is simply extraordinary.
Following on from the Senior School Prize Giving ceremony at Speech Day last Friday I also wanted to spend 5 to 10 minutes (-ish) exploring the theme of our final week, namely that of ‘excellence’.
I don’t usually script my assemblies, but I did this time in an attempt to get the message just right. This is more or less what I had to say, not flowing prose and far from a perfect distillation of my thoughts; but you will hopefully get the gist:
“Excellence’ is an apt theme for a celebration assembly, for the first assembly after Speech Day when we acknowledged high achievement and the progress made both inside and outside of the classroom.
So, ‘excellence’ then …
An education at BGS is all about the pursuit of excellence and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is a high and noble ambition. Furthermore, excellence is within everyone’s reach in this hall. Excellence is not synonymous with arrogance, being boastful or brash. It’s definitely not about feeling or being superior to others. ‘Excellence’ should be without ego.
It is about being the best version of you; being proud of your successes regardless of how you define these for yourself; and it’s about celebrating other people’s successes not just your own. At BGS we say that we are ‘at ease with excellence’. Have you ever thought what we mean by this?
I’m trying now to scratch at that surface and I hope some of what I’m saying might make sense. Let’s dig a little deeper. At ease with excellence. Mrs Chapman coined this phrase a few years ago. It suggests that the achievement of high standards is part of our routine, in our nature. Something we are known for.
We all heard this from John Hollingworth at Speech Day when he reminisced about a meeting with famous playwright and director Sir David Hare and the comments David made to John when he realised our guest speaker had attended BGS. David was quick to let John know that BGS was a truly wonderful school.
‘Excellence’ is a key part of what we are about and a characteristic of our school that is known and has defined us over generations. ‘Excellence’, one of our values that pupils, parents – current and prospective – staff, governors, old Bradfordians, all mentioned during a consultation process about school brand, identity and strategy that began in 2014 and continues today with our ongoing surveys.
But ‘excellence’ means different things to different people.
I said earlier that the quality of ‘excellence’ it is within everyone’s grasp. But no two people in this hall are the same and each of us have the potential to excel in different ways. We can be successful in different ways. So, how do we achieve ‘excellence’ for ourselves?
This is where our motto, a credo for life, comes in: Hoc Age.
In this regard, we are steadfastly northern, from Yorkshire, of Bradford. Hoc Age. Just do it, get on with it, no fuss, no nonsense, put the effort in, roll your sleeves up, and get stuck in. Give it your all. Be modest, never arrogant. Do your best.
At ease with excellence and Hoc Age are two defining tenets of our school philosophy and identity that have been with us since our foundation. We seek realistic lofty goals, achieve great things and put the effort in to make it all happen.
And success? Success that is meaningful, that you’ve had to work for won’t always come easily. We reach high and we fail from time to time. We have all taken knocks and we will all take more. At the same time, we have all enjoyed successes too. We have all done things we are proud of.
I keep returning to this theme in assemblies because it is an essential truth about finding fulfilment and feeling like you’ve done a job properly, earning the right to be a success. The pursuit of excellence is very often a bumpy road. Accept it. Get on with it. Pick yourself up, dust yourself down, seek help, and move forward. Keep believing in yourself. Hoc Age.
I mentioned A and A*s at Speech Day. These are to be aspired to. However, I also covered many other achievements that we have celebrated this past year. I said that any test or exam result, or success in sport, the arts, community volunteering project, hobby, interest, club, society etc. that needed effort putting in to achieve, that required you to show some character, make sacrifices and navigate setbacks, that made you feel good once it was ‘in the bag’ is a meaningful and worthy accomplishment.
Speech Day is a celebration of the process of learning, the business of working at something and improving whether it’s in the classroom, on stage, pitch or Duke of Edinburgh trek; it’s not just about outcomes.
Albert Einstein said: “education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”. The really important lessons are what is left when you’ve forgotten the detail of the subjects you were taught. I think that is what Einstein was driving at.
Qualifications and the stuff you learn, the knowledge and expertise you gain at school, it all matters. It opens doors and improves prospects. But I think there is something more here that Einstein was alluding to, which we have just enough time to touch upon. Something about wisdom perhaps?
If you leave this year, this School, knowing that you can achieve ‘excellence’ by applying our motto Hoc Age to the way you go about your work, the way you live your life. If you can recognise your achievements and those of others and say ‘well done’. If the essence of a BGS education and our values get under your skin and into our bones, then your time here will have spent wisely and your school will have served you well.
‘Excellence’ – working hard and with honesty to make the most of yourself. Achieving highly; but with modesty. Helping others to do likewise.
Enjoy the last week of term. I’ll see you for final assembly later in the week.”
“It is about being the best version of you; being proud of your successes regardless of how you define these for yourself; and it’s about celebrating other people’s successes not just your own.”