10 October 2022

The Monday Briefing: Gimme the Prize

The Monday Briefing: Gimme the Prize

Earlier in the summer, I received a few emails which were sent to make me aware that the deadline for nominating ourselves for the ISA Awards was closing. Our Admissions and Marketing Coordinator Laura probed me further, and she was right in saying that there were a few awards which Ealing Independent College could have nominated ourselves for.

Whilst a range of important awards were available, including those recognising excellence and innovation in various key stages, outstanding performance in sport, provision for learning support, engagement within the community, excellence in sustainability and those which celebrated provisions for Mental Health and Wellbeing or Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, I had little hesitation in explaining to Laura why I would not be putting EIC forward.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m completely in support of these awards. 

I think that it is vital that innovation in the education sector is brought into the consciousness of other schools so that practices which bring improvement can be shared for the greater good. If a school is doing incredible things in Inclusion, then I want to hear about it. I want to hear what they are doing, how it yields such incredible results and the processes they go through to bring such improvements. I’d love to see such examples of best practice distilled and disseminated amongst the sector through presentations at Annual ISA Meetings.

However, I don’t feel that it’s the job of a Principal or Headteacher to nominate their own school for such awards. Where a parent, local authority, or perhaps even a student or group of them feels strongly that the school in question has made a transformative difference to lives in a certain area, then by all means, it’s right to acknowledge such an impact. These are the people touched most by the work of the school, and these are the best arbiters of justification for any awards in education. They often have an extremely important capability in such scenarios: they can compare with other settings.

There’s a very big part of me that follows the ‘Roy Keane’ philosophy. If my memory serves me well, in the first game back after the Covid postponement in 2020, Manchester United travelled to Tottenham Hotspur and departed with a 1-1 draw. They were losing at half time, trailing to a Stephen Bergwijn goal that goalkeeper David De Gea had failed to stop, making a rather weak attempt. Roy Keane, summarising in the studio, launched into an apoplectic tirade against the Spanish shotstopper. Saying he was ‘sick of him’ and also describing him as ‘the most overrated goalkeeper he’d seen.’ He was then asked by Patrice Evra, also in the studio, what he’d thought of a fairly straightforward later save he’d made in the half. Keane responded, curtly, ‘it’s his job!’

In a similar way, it’s our job to run our schools as well as we can. To ensure that students are safe, to teach to a high standard so that they can make the very best of themselves when it counts. To set the right example in terms of behaviour, conduct and application so that they leave us as responsible citizens ready to contribute to society. That is the expected standard, and we do our very best to adhere to it every moment of every day.

If we’ve done that especially well, then that’s wonderful, and it’s the mark of a great school - which I certainly think that Ealing Independent College is - but I don’t see it as a claim for the Heads and Principals among us to stake for ourselves. Perhaps it’s my upbringing as a modest, reserved and humble Scot. Anything which even remotely gave an impression of bragging was quickly squashed in the Cairns household.

Looking across professions, would a police officer single themselves out for their most intelligently put together case against a criminal against others in the police force?

Would a fireman or woman put himself or herself forward for their most daring and brave rescue of the year in the UK?

Would a paramedic enter themselves for the most outstanding piece of emergency care in a near-death situation?

I think not.

Of course, there are some who possibly would - but I certainly wouldn’t. I’m happy to leave the plaudits to others.

If I ever start to doubt that the work we do deserves consistent celebration, I take immense pride in reading the reviews left by those who have experienced first hand what the College offers - alumni and parents - these are the real prizes for me. They give an unmistakable sense of what the College does. Overwhelmingly positive, and memorable for all of those involved.

Whilst I’m happy to pass on nominating the College for these awards, I will never miss a chance to put our students forward for either of the ISA awards which are in place to celebrate their achievements: the Lexden Prize for A Level students - not just academic achievements, but also contributions to school life and service to the wider community; and the Whitbread Memorial Prize for those who have just completed GCSE - which recognizes and celebrates outstanding involvement in, and service to, wider aspects of school and community life; in conjunction with achieving academic excellence in year 11 exams.

I feel suitably qualified to give such a verdict on student performance - having the ability to compare - and I can see, when I discuss the nominations with the young men and women which I have put forward in the past, that it means a great deal to them. I know that such awards, particularly when they know that I have deliberated and finally decided on them as the most worthy recipients, increase their confidence manifold.

We were not successful in our latest attempt, with Haboon’s nomination as documented before, but that doesn’t really matter. She has been recognised in the Roll of Honour for 2022, and I’m sure that the eventual winner was a thoroughly deserving one. She has, rightly, been recognised for her efforts. Two of our GCSE students, both outstanding in their own way, have been presented as possible recipients of the Whitbread Memorial Prize. I wish them every success. Nomination, itself, is an accolade.

I couldn’t possibly tell you whether our students are the very best in the country, but I can tell you that we will support them as far as we possibly can. I know that because of what we do, many of them go further than they could possibly have imagined before they came to us. 

But it is they who should enjoy the limelight for their efforts, not us - and that’s how it will stay at Ealing while I am Principal.

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