Headmaster’s Blog

Working in a school provides some genuinely glorious moments which stick with you for a long time.  One such moment happened last week on the playground.  I was chatting with some of the Year 8 girls about sport, and I asked them whether they had heard the news from the day before about who had just become the highest-scoring left-handed Test batsman of all time.  Quick as a flash – and enormously pleasingly – the reply came: ‘Was it you, Sir?’.  I advised them that this was a very sensible guess, and that their ‘upwards-management’ skills were showing considerable promise, but that I could not in all good faith claim to have just passed Kumar Sangakkara to become the best Test left-hander the world has ever known.

The answer, of course, is Alastair Cook, former England captain and freshly-retired legend of the game.  An opening-batsman of considerable poise, grit and skill, Cook made his debut in 2006 (where he scored a century – as he did in his final innings at the Oval this summer), and became England’s all-time leading run scorer in 2015.  He captained England’s Test side from 2012 to 2016, is a 3-time Ashes winner, and is the 5th highest run-scorer in the history of Test cricket.

And – did you know? – Alastair Cook was a Chorister.  He attended St Paul’s Cathedral School where he sang the daily services in exactly the same way as our own Choristers do here.  In his spare time as a Chorister he played some cricket, too: there’s a wonderful story about him turning out for the school 1st XI and making 110 of the team’s total of 127.  It’s perhaps not the most typical of journeys to becoming a sporting icon and a national hero, that of being a Chorister, but it’s a journey which has been much-discussed since his retirement and one which, in fact, makes sense.

Cook’s poise, tenacity, work ethic, concentration, stoicism, resilience, self-control, team work and leadership are widely-regarded as being just about the best in the business.  Talent and flair have played their part, too, but it’s no secret that his work-rate, his drive and his commitment got him to where he ended up: at the very top of the pile.  He himself said in his final press conference: ‘I have never been the most talented cricketer. I never pretended I was; but I got the best out of my ability.’  And perhaps that’s where the Chorister background served him so well.  Turning out everyday to ‘perform’ in front of a crowd, being a professional aged 10, knowing that getting it right matters, knowing that others are depending on you to do your bit, knowing that you need to focus, to concentrate, to lead, to follow, to blend, to stand out, to be reliable, to be dependable, and to practise really hard until you (and your team) get it right: that is part and parcel of the daily life of a Chorister.

No-one likes to be pigeon-holed, and Alastair Cook’s story is a great example of a school refusing to allow a child to become a one-trick pony.  That’s an approach I admire very much, and certainly a culture that I am proud of here at ECS.  Breadth and balance is so important in schools: we are, after all, all about educating the whole child.  It matters that we provide a broad range of opportunities, both within the curriculum and through extra-curricular programmes.  Talent and flair play their part, yes, but of equal importance are opportunity, encouragement, inspiration, coaching, time, resources and determination.

We have a terrific number of lunchtime and after-school clubs that run each term, and we encourage pupils to have a go at something at which they may not (yet) be very good but which they may want to try.  In the same vein, our Choristers all play sport and represent the School, just as our top-performing athletes (and we have a good deal of club and county representation this year) all sing and contribute to the musical life of the School.  Our Senior Enrichment Programme (weekly time dedicated to the pursuit of interests and passions outside of the curriculum) provides opportunity for each of our senior pupils to follow either our Sport and Exercise strand (sports leadership, health-related fitness, swimming, sports nutrition) or our Creative Arts strand (Music, Drama, Art) – either because they have scholarship aspirations at 13+ or because they just love it and want to do more of it.  Several of our elite musicians opt to follow the Art/Drama/Sports modules, their thinking being that they get enough music through their Cathedral involvement; and in the same way some of our most gifted sportswomen and men choose the Arts strands because they want to explore other interests.

What a good thing this is.  Yes, we have specialists among the pupil body, but they are not streamlined or funnelled into a 1D existence for the sake of School triumphs and statistics; rather, they are nurtured and encouraged in all areas of their development in a School which values highly the development of character and the education of the whole child.

The opportunities offered to Alastair Cook at his Prep School and the skills that he developed along the way helped him on his journey to greatness.  Where will your journey lead you?

21 September 2018
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