Members of this year’s Upper Sixth have enjoyed incredible success with their applications to study at either Oxford or Cambridge. From a wide range of disciplines, 21 pupils applied, 16 were offered interviews and eight have now received conditional offers, two of whom have also been offered Choral Scholarship.
Although nothing is yet guaranteed (they still have to earn their place in the exam hall in the summer) this is a wonderful achievement for both the pupils and their teachers. We will shout it from the rooftops. But . . . . how does this sit with a school that values each individual and considers respect, kindness and service as being paramount? Is it right to single out individual excellence in a community of equals? Should Dean Close shout about Oxbridge, national hockey titles, Young Musician of the Year or any other high profile success? What about the hard won C grade, the heroic B team win or the determined merit at Grade 3 on the trumpet?
Being in a position to apply to Oxbridge means that you have probably got at least 8 A*s (8s or 9s in new money) at GCSE, have read widely around your subject, attended extension sessions and sought out teachers for individual advice and guidance. You have then spent several hours working and reworking your personal statement as well as reading the books you have claimed to have read. For many courses you then have to prepare for and sit a challenging thinking skills or aptitude test which you have come into school, whilst everyone else is on holiday, to sit. If you have done all of this, and you are chosen for interview, you then go through several gruelling practice interviews with familiar and unfamiliar experts who are trying to find areas of weakness for you to improve on. Then you finally get the chance to show what you know by travelling to one of the top universities in the world for interview. There you are faced with questions you could not have prepared for whilst surrounded by other equally hard working and academically brilliant peers, all trying to gain one of the few places that are available. Finally, you wait for a month before receiving an email, or an update on UCAS Tracking, which tells you your fate when you are surrounded by your friends who may or may not be getting the same news as you.
All of the Dean Close pupils who applied for a place at Oxford or Cambridge this year are men and women with great resilience and curiosity. They are putting in their 10,000 hours and it is right that we should congratulate them. They are not better than any other pupil at Dean Close but they have done a great thing and we should say well done. It would be unkind not to.
These pupils show what can be done, they can inspire other pupils to keep going and to have high standards. Stories and heroes have long been used by cultures to show people what can be done. The majority of this year’s Oxbridge applicants are involved in supporting Maths clinics, providing academic assistance in their houses, mentoring younger pupils or just showing the way by their example. They are fine people to look up to and maybe they will inspire someone to do a bit more in their area of interest and just do that bit better. Celebrating Oxbridge success can raise the game for everyone.
Finally, there is a balance. There is a fine line between congratulating individuals and making everyone else feel slightly less; less important, less significant or less valued. In school and house assemblies, tweets, speeches, green chits, letters of congratulation, a quiet word in someone’s ear or a news story on our website, we should and do make it abundantly clear that achievement is not a one-size-fits-all. It comes in all shapes and sizes. If I was to choose my top three stories from last year’s A Level results it would be the young man who gained four A*s to take up his place at Cambridge, the young lady who surpassed her own expectations and worked through some tough times to secure two A*s and a B and the person who, on the evidence of their GCSE grades should probably not have been studying A Levels but finished with three Cs and is studying at their first choice university.
We will continue to celebrate when pupils do great things, this week it is Oxbridge, who knows what it will be next week….