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26 September 2022

The Monday Briefing: Bicycle Race

The Monday Briefing: Bicycle Race

One of the best things about being Principal of a small school is the ability to truly get to know all of the students in your care. 

I’m often complimented by the Vice Principal at the College, Laura, regarding my ability to remember all of the names of the many new students we have as well as I do. I take a great deal of pride in the fact that I meet each new potential student at each interview stage where possible, exploring their goals and ambitions, what they feel about how they learn best and their views regarding their education up until this point.

Because I take such a keen interest from the start, it’s not difficult to get to know the Ealing Independent College community, and, in a similar way, it’s important that the students here get to know me too: my standards; which aspects of their approach to life at College I hold to be most important; my views on how they can all realise their potential.

The ability to put everything into context in terms of how students are performing in College is vitally important to me. Knowing our students as well as we do enables the opportunity to identify where students might need added support while they may be going through a tough time, or possibly to identify where a student deserves extra praise for having achieved especially well at a certain point in their day to day life. Having small numbers at Ealing gives us the chance to fully appreciate individuals for all that they bring to our environment.

Over the last week, I’ve been thinking of one student, and how much they have grown in confidence and performance level since they joined part way through last year. Being able to fully appreciate just how impressive their transition has been can only be done through a detailed knowledge of the contextual circumstances which the student has gone through.

This student - I will not name names - impresses me on a daily basis.

Not because of especially high test scores, an overwhelming number of merits or an attention seeking attitude to let me know how well he consistently does.

This student impresses me because of his attitude towards life, and in getting the very most from it.

He came to the College, largely, because he felt he wasn’t getting the best from himself as he would put it, though I think it’s more likely that the system wasn’t getting the best from him.

Since having a taster day, and then enrolling, he has thrived, scoring well in academic tests, homework assignments and assessments, but, most pleasingly, it has been his response to these challenges which has pleased me most. On feedback days following mock exams, he is always there: keenly intent on adopting an analytical approach by seeking from teachers the guidance he needs to improve.

His character can often come across as rather self-deprecating and lacking in confidence, but I know that all staff see him as someone who is on track to achieve excellent GCSE grades. He gets worried and anxious about what his baseline tests will say about him, though they are clear that in all areas, they are ‘above average.’

He embodies something which the College is truly built on - individuality. He follows the rules at College to the letter, but is never afraid to speak his mind. This has resulted in a rather amusing classroom display in the MFL room, which records the number of days since his ‘last whinge’. I often visit to see how his form is doing, and the number is invariably set to ‘0’.

He never shirks hard work, though when I spoke with him about what he misses about his last school he responded that ‘it used to be quite nice to only get about three bits of homework a term’. I’m absolutely sure he was being sarcastic with regard to this. His mindset is most apparent on the sports field during games sessions. He’s not the most skilful football player there, but he always tends to do the right thing, passing when he should rather than taking the selfish approach. He prefers cycling and tennis, but he’s keen to give cricket and rounders a go. 

While the others are panting and wheezing after their initial warm up exercises, he passes it off as exactly what it is, stressing the point that he has an 4-hour Omnium race later that evening. Some students could see this as showing off, but he isn’t. He’s just very ‘matter of fact’ in what he says. He had an accident on his bike back in March, but it wasn’t enough to keep him off College. True to life, that didn’t stop him getting straight back on his bicycle.

When one factors in the information that eight years ago, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour - something which he alluded to in a recent assembly when asked about a time when he had shown resilience - then it is clear to me that he is, indeed, an inspiration. He said that he didn’t recall the whole situation in great depth, but almost remembered that he had to ‘stay strong.’ For one so young, this is such a mature concept to have to appreciate.

It was really pleasing, then, to receive an email from his mother last week. His mother, who, from day one, has understood the importance of being supportive of the College and of her son, has always kept us fully in the picture in terms of his health and his feelings towards the College. She has regularly thanked staff for how well they have helped to integrate him, and we held a long and productive call about what the right amount of GCSEs was for him to be taking in the summer. She is keen to be involved, and trusts the advice which she is being given.

We had a truly excellent speaker visit the College last week. I had been excited about the effect which Darren Edwards’ talk may have had on the students, and, it turns out that I’d perhaps underestimated just how powerful his presentation could be.

The email read:

Hi Allan,

Just to let you know that my son was very pleased to meet Darren and thoroughly enjoyed hearing all about how he meets his physical challenges head on and his incredible adventures. What an inspirational speaker!

He was particularly impressed with how he has transitioned over time from one discipline to another, achieving the highest level of excellence each time. My son, as you will know, is very fixed in his interests and this certainly piqued his interest. 

Wanted to express sincere thanks for arranging this. I’m sure meeting Darren will endure as one of the highlights of school life. 

All the best

In many ways, schooling is rather like a bicycle race, akin to the Tour de France. The student who has formed the subject of this article was struggling to enjoy it because he didn’t have the right team behind him, or perhaps the right equipment. 

But now he does, and he’s making the very best of it. 

Just like in his case, he may have had some setbacks right at the start, but it is resilience, hard work and a can-do attitude which brings the momentum which can really get you moving forward at great pace. Of course, there will be knocks - and I was told that the Omnium featured another rider bumping our student illegally - but it is how you respond to those that matters, and he came second while the bumper was disqualified.

Darren made a very good point in his talk about making a distinction between ‘bouncing back’ and the concept of ‘bouncing forward’. Not merely returning to the person you were after a setback, but becoming something different, something better. I think I prefer this, and I can also see much of that approach in many of our students - our avid cyclist being one of them.

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