Headteacher's Blog - The Burfordian, Issue 14 2022-23

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Headteacher's Blog - The Burfordian, Issue 14 2022-23

This is the Headteacher's Blog which was first featured in issue 14 of The Burfordian, published on Friday, 12 May 2023. 

Burford School Mr Albrighton Headteacher

At Burford, the language of “Respect, Participate and Reach” has very quickly become embedded in the culture of the school. It simply summarises what we are about. In my blog today I want to dwell on the third of our now-famous trio of values - Reach.

To reach to be the best version of yourself is not necessarily about winning. It is about developing potential in yourself and being ambitious. If you end up a village, county, regional or national champion, so be it. The key is that in your endeavour you have explored how to improve, develop your skills and continue to find joy in that process for its own sake. In individual tasks a state of “flow” is seen as the pinnacle. It is a concept used in psychology when you are at your best and on to achieve excellence. In a state of “flow” the level of challenge is appropriate yet skills are being tested and your attention is heightened.

There are different ways to foster “Reach” in a school, with some more sustainable or wholesome than others. Competition comes to mind often when thinking about striving for improvement. As a form of motivation, competition has significant strengths; nonetheless, it does come with a warning if not managed well. An emphasis on developing a sense of self-worth by being better than another can easily lead to a lack of respect and care for other people. It also does not necessarily lead to personal development – the idea of hollow victory comes to mind. Entering into competition which is set at a standard well below your capability will not allow skills to be honed. If managed well, however, competition can provide feedback opportunities. It is this scrutiny that can make competition valuable.

Scrutiny can be found away from competition and it is those that actively seek scrutiny that will seek to be the best version of themselves. Receiving feedback of course is not always easy, it is often uncomfortable. That is where character matters. Reaching for improvement involves risk taking, courage as well as humility.

Although we value competition at Burford the priority is about creating feedback opportunities. So yes, I am proud to say we will deliberately seek to make life difficult from time to time. We ask our young people to take risks and try something new. We provide a pastoral environment where it is safe to make a mistake. The vital ingredient is how the adults support the young people in those scenarios. We draw down on these values and nurture character through the wide range of opportunities for risk taking inside and outside the classroom.

Elements of this blog are quite clumsy in comparison to how great writers express this theme. Though quite gendered as a piece, few works of poetry summarise the point about “Reach” better than Rudyard Kipling's "If". Clearly dated, there are issues with it as a poem in a modern context, however the emphasis on character, essentially what we mean by “Reach”, is something that resonates through the ages. The importance of resilience in the face of adversity, the need for self-confidence with an ability to remain humble and the importance of truth are all covered. If you don’t know “If” I invite you to click on the link above. I will leave you here with the briefest taste in the form of a couplet I am particularly keen on:

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;