If ever a handshake would have been appropriate, it would be now

January, time of mocks, dark days and New Year resolutions, is also the time of Oxbridge results, and in a normal year these would probably get more prominence, not least in the national press (the usual obsession of education journalists being percentages of offers to different school ‘types’). I’ve always argued against the very concept of ‘school type’ in these debates, it being hard to see how Whitgift has more in common with some independent schools than it does with some selective state schools, but silver linings, at least that particular debate has been more muted this year.

And I congratulate our eight Oxford successes (Cambridge yet to come, but similar applicant numbers from us) because they coped (as everyone did) with specially difficult circumstances. As anyone used to live interactions will tell you, online interviews just jolly well aren’t easy, so our students deserve every congratulation, and every plaudit they’d have had in person in a normal year. If ever a handshake would have been appropriate, it would be now.

Mind you, I’m also delighted that more than ever (still not many, but more) have made it to American unis, including a handsome Harvard offer to sit alongside his Oxford one from the School Vice-Captain. With last year’s School Captain arrived at ivy-league Brown (after a nothing-short-of-heroic journey), it is good to see that broader horizon-gazing.

Last term I spoke in an assembly about what top employers (and top universities) are increasingly saying they look for in today’s young people, and generally don’t find. Problem-solving skills, the ability to rebound from failure and take risks, a breadth of interests and a breadth of knowledge, with the ability to think critically and apply it. Oxbridge colleges look for this too, and – inspired by the IB – our junior years curriculum also aims at instilling these attributes. You can’t just expect exams to do so, since they are nowadays constructed to be succeeded at according to a fixed syllabus (a blog about that story maybe one day). So perhaps one tiny other silver lining this year is the rethinking of the assessment process which, for all the pain, may just get people thinking differently. If, as the song goes, ‘this fragile world may crack / someone’s got to try to put the pieces back’. Now if anyone can name the musical, I will be impressed!

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