Celebrating achievement in an unpredictable world

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence” –  Helen Keller

 Our annual Events and Achievements celebration, held earlier this month, is without question the single event that best sums up Northampton High School’s ethos and philosophy for me. This is partly because it is designed to fulfil that role, although my perception of why it performs the function so well is broader and more personal. As the event draws nearer each year I am filled with a sense of apprehension and pride, because I know that I will be called on again to list the glittering achievements of so many students. A privilege and also a serious responsibility in anyone’s book. The achievements are extensive and varied, from academic awards to ballet grades, but perhaps the most notable are those we celebrate with the students who left us in the summer and are now busy starting the next stage of their journeys through life. Into higher education, apprenticeships or travelling, but above all into adulthood.

What does our awards ceremony mean then, if it is adequately to do justice to the young people whose lives have been channelled through the school? This is not an easy question to answer, because the breadth of achievement in schools is arguably only matched by the range of human endeavour in the world at large. However, I think that Helen Keller’s words go some way to explaining why this particular event means so much to the students receiving prizes, as well as to the wider community of the school.

Some might say that young people in the UK have little reason to be optimistic. Looking towards an erratic and changing workplace, students are naturally concerned – more so now perhaps than ever before. The vast majority of people under 25 did not want to leave the EU, with over 80% saying they would vote to remain in any future referendum, according to research by Survation. Their freedom to find work has without doubt been affected by Brexit, indeed, according to Ernst & Young, 34% of companies monitored have ‘publicly confirmed [..] to move some of their operations and/or staff from the UK to Europe’.

Yet the catalogue of destinations and courses our Sixth Form leavers have chosen, and the sheer range of prizes given for academic, musical and artistic achievement, tell another story altogether. One of optimism of the purest kind. There is opportunity for those who know how to find it and success will increasingly be defined by how well people are able to match their skills to the changing needs of employers. Striving for new and better achievements throughout life at school feeds the fire of ambition, encouraging flexibility and developing pools of resilience when things do not quite go as planned.

Success at Northampton High is not simply defined by elite performances. We reward pupils for serious academic progress as well as those who have achieved the highest results. Furthermore, our prizes for contributions to school life and to the wider community are given the same priority as those for students winning gold awards in national scientific and mathematical competitions. Beyond the actual awards in our ceremony, however, it was the recent Sixth Form Academic Scholarship that confirmed to me the confidence inherent in our students. This year well over half of Upper Fifth students entered the competition, in spite of the limited number of awards on offer. This shows huge self-belief and the realisation that there is much to be gained from the experience itself – an opportunity to give of one’s best and to learn about responding to pressure.

Helen Keller was right. Through hope, confidence and optimism, our students consistently come up with amazing achievements, no matter how uncertain our world may be.

Mr Rickman, Deputy Head Academic