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Take Courage - a calculated risk

Published on 01/02/19

The 11+ admissions process has reached its conclusion, and as my first at the helm it has been exhausting, but hugely enjoyable. I had the opportunity to interview a significant proportion of our applicants, one of whom carried their bag into the interview. I assumed it contained a tennis racket until they sat down, produced a ukulele and sang a delightful song they had written. (A word of warning to those reading this blog who think a surprise song will win the offer of a place – it would never be as novel the second time around!)

This person had taken a real risk: had I been a ukulele-phobe, the performance could have been extremely unwise. Had they lost their confidence during the piece, they may not have been able to recover their composure when answering my non-musical questions. And in any case, for any 10-year-old (or adult) to take a risk like this when turning up to an interview, in my view, takes a great deal of courage.

Perhaps that is what courage is, the willingness to take risks, to put up with the risk of looking foolish, the risk of failure for the reward of success. It is not to be confused with carelessness or reckless risk-taking. Someone of courage is someone who takes time to prepare, who appreciates the potential downfalls, and then takes an informed decision to proceed, knowing the outcome can never be certain. In life, it is therefore a vital skill.

When looking at those who society would consider to be successful, whether measured by professional success, or more significantly the respect they have earned from their peers, we can often see that tough decisions will have taken them to the top. I wonder if Geraint Thomas could have been awarded this year’s Sports Personality of the Year title if he had not made courageous decisions along the way in the pursuit of his cycling career – which races to set aside, even though he was likely to win, in order to train for the possibility of a bigger success.

In the context of secondary schooling, the spirit of courage is well demonstrated in the university applications pupils make. The courage of applying to university courses where the grade requirements may be tough to meet, in the face of easier offers elsewhere, may take courage. But to apply to medical universities and Oxbridge colleges presents, in my eyes, great courage too, because they do so knowing not only that they are electing to take on far more work in preparation for the application, but also because the likelihood of not gaining offers is so great.   

It was not my lack of courage that meant I did not take such a route, but rather my appreciation that I would not have gained fulfilment on such courses (nor, I might add, would I have gained an offer). I look at those who do have the determination and the great ability to take that step in the face of the statistical likelihood of not winning an offer.  I really admire their courage to have a go nonetheless.

Sometimes the reward is seeing the success of your courage. That is certainly a motivating factor for entrepreneurs. Sometimes that courage is demonstrated the opposite way around to my previous example: knowing you could easily go to university but, instead, having the courage to follow an apprenticeship route. I always think of the pride one of my former pupils showed when reflecting on their well thought through decision to reject the university route and move straight into the world of work. It certainly did not hold them back in their career - quite the opposite.

As educators of tomorrow’s leaders, schools have a tremendous duty to nurture this spirit of courage – to encourage. The future is uncertain for us all, different people can thrive just as well through different career paths. Nevertheless, whichever path we take, we should always remember the difference between courage and simple gambling; both can go right or wrong, but someone of courage takes informed risks.

Mr William Brierly
Headmaster