John Lennon would have turned 80 this month. Famously, he railed against what he saw as the hypocritical governments of the time: ‘All I want is the truth, Just gimme some truth’. There are times we can feel tempted to say the same of current leaders (of all parties and nations).
Lennon’s early career overlapped a period when it is said the deadliest famine in history resulted from a failure to tell the truth. Certainly, China’s great famine of 1958-61 is considered the best illustration of the dangers of a government running a country by instruction rather than market forces (a challenge faced more recently in resourcing UK governmental Covid-19 testing). The saddest fact of China’s great famine was its exacerbation by local officials who massively over-reported harvests in the most famine-stricken areas to please those around Mao, with the consequence of the government shifting resources away from, rather than towards those most in need.
It sometimes feels easier to tell people what they want to hear, rather than to say no. In school this can apply as much to excessively elevating predicted A level grades, admitting a pupil to the school when it may not be in their interest or even avoiding tough decisions on safety standards under Covid-19 because it is easier to say things are fine than to take tough decisions. I think you know we aim to be both open and honest on tough decisions; to do otherwise would be to neglect our duty.
Honesty is not easy. It is never universally popular to tell people their menu choices have been narrowed, their class grouping may fit their maths level rather than their confidence in English (or vice versa), their choice of co-curricular activities is inevitably compromised by needing to separate year groups. The gratifying thing about being head this term for Mr Williams, Mrs Hutton-Attenborough, for me and for the bursar, on behalf of our support staff, has been the frequency with which you have taken the time to say thank you, often after we have shared honest news that otherwise might frustrate you. It is also wonderful to be recognised within our sector too, with the Prep School being chosen as a finalist in the Independent Schools of the Year awards.
There are a large number of things we cannot wait to reinstate when it is safe, but there are a significant number of changes we have made through necessity that we will maintain when things return to normality. At the moment the most important element of honesty is being prepared to say “I don’t yet know” and being prepared to change our mind about decisions and be honest about our reasons. Please do not confuse this with complacency, because we are keen to make sure we understand concerns raised and you will have seen the impact of this approach in the evolution of our menu, our parking management, safety measures in school and how we adapted our use of conferencing and technology under lockdown. Personally, I am looking forward to listening to many Senior School parents in our upcoming forums. What is lovely to recognise is that you are willing us to keep getting things right, as recent feedback generally suggests you are. It would be dishonest to always respond by implying the answer you would like to hear, which is why we thank you for appreciating our candour at this challenging time.
Mr William Brierly