I don’t consider myself an active fan of England Rugby, but on Sunday I found myself at Twickenham, part of the almighty community who waved their flags, sang ‘Swing Low’ and cheered every incisive move by the England XV against Wales. For that moment in time, I was a fan, a fellow participant amongst a community of thousands, trying to cheer the team to victory.
We are all part of any number of networks – networks of friends, networks of colleagues, networks of supporters – the list can be long. We tend to define ourselves and indeed are defined by our membership of and relationship to these networks. These definitions may only be transient, or they can last a lifetime. School has a vital part to play in forging this sense of community, belonging and identity and developing such networks.
One of the strengths of the independent sector is its fostering of lifelong relationships – and I don’t refer only to friendships made in those trying adolescent years, because schools up and down the country make that happen. I mean the relationships and interconnectedness that come by being part of a school and maintaining contact with it over the years, something which the independent sector has a very clear commitment to.
Every school is a community – a group of people – children and adults – who share a common ground. At its most simplistic level, it is a shared place. But schools work hard to foster shared values and ethos too. An independent school is not just about the students who are here now, although it can be significantly influenced by them. It is as much about those who have gone before and those who will be coming after. Growing this community, facilitating its links and developing stronger ties is an important part of our work at CHS.
This interconnectedness is increasingly evident through the ongoing building of relationships between current students, former students and the School. We have a programme of events which look to reunite former students across the year groups, to strengthen their relationships and develop new. At a recent event in London held at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the oldest Old Waconian left CHS in 1948 and the youngest in 2013. Irrespective of their age, the individuals shared much in common, and it was co-education that was particularly the topic of discussion. Our 1948 leaver told me that having put his own children through three different independent schools and with his six grandchildren at six different independent schools currently, he appreciated one thing more than any other about his time at CHS: that it was truly co-educational.
Boys and girls worked alongside each other and whether girls took Physics or boys studied English was not an issue. It was not even considered to be worthy of discussion. No one wore the spectacles of gender difference, the left side for the boys, the right for the girls; it was simply students together. This, the OW told me, was his lifelong lesson and he was eternally grateful for it. It was a view which the younger alumni shared with him; when I tried to lead them by saying ‘But surely, you must have been aware of your gender when choosing your A Levels’, they looked bemused if not a little bewildered. No, they told me, it did not even occur to them.
Teaching young people about their community and the communities of others is vital in the modern age – perhaps more so than ever. Irrespective of gender, ethnicity, faith and the many others ways one could talk about ‘difference’, young people need to learn that they are all part of that community and are enriched by such differences. We are a global community now and schools are the first place where young people encounter others who might not exactly share their backgrounds. This is a good thing. The lessons that Waconians learn at and in School are life long and reach far beyond a set of academic qualifications. They learn that we each have a responsibility for our community; that we have a duty to be positive members of and contributors to our communities and that the CHS community is steeped in history and is one that will be with them for a lifetime.
I thoroughly enjoyed Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, the story of a nomadic magical circus which appears at sunset without warning. One theme that emerges from the novel is that of belonging and interwoven stories.
‘And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise. Things keep going on, they overlap and blur, your story is part of your sister’s story is part of many other stories, and there is no telling where any of them may lead.’
Understanding how our stories, albeit different, are interrelated, and that we have an important relationship with those who have gone before us and those who come after us, is an important lesson for every CHS student to know and appreciate.
Head, Lucy Pearson