Wikipedia lists well over forty different ‘new year’ celebrations as they occur in different cultures across the world, from the Gregorian calendar incarnation on 1st January, through the Iranian new year that starts with the vernal equinox, the Coptic new year Neyrouz, which coincides with the ancient Egyptian date of 1 Thoth (sometime in late August), to the Pawl Kut straw harvest festival on 1st December. Some dates are fixed and some vary; in any event, they are scattered liberally across 2019. For those in the world of education, however, the start of September is immutably when the calendar rolls round.
Like most teachers, I am in the profession partly because I really like school. I always have. I appreciate that feelings may vary but there is invariably a freshness and an excitement about the start of the autumn term: the exam results are out, we’ve all had a really good break, and everything is possible. And, I dare say this is just me, but even the shift to that distinct September climate feels energising.
The past few weeks have all been about outcomes (exam results, university places and a whole host of new pathways) but, in my view, a great education is all about the process, about the experiences along the way: if you lean into those, the outcomes almost take care of themselves. Reviewing the GCSE and A level results last week, what was most inspiring was how many people had achieved great grades alongside their commitments to sport, performing arts, service and a whole host of other things. I don’t believe that this is a coincidence, but contend that the breadth of experiences and challenges people face helps to build character and resilience, as well as developing the positive frame of mind that begets success. This has been widely studied: you may recall, for example, the news story earlier this year about research at Huddersfield University demonstrating that continuing with sport during exams improves results (https://www.hmc.org.uk/blog/new-hmc-research-shows-playing-sport-beneficial-pupils-even-run-exams/); the psychologist Angela Duckworth, who coined the term grit for the propensity to keep at something, found that the capacity to persevere with something difficult was boosted by having another, different pursuit to balance it out. At AKS, that broader education is something we fundamentally believe in, and it bolsters academic excellence rather than distracting from it.
So, as we move into this new term, I would urge everyone to seize those opportunities, to make the very best of each day and to embrace the variety before us: it will make a difference, whatever individual pathways one finds oneself on. Whilst that Wikipedia article may make it seem otherwise, it isn’t a brand new year every day.
D A Harrow