From Rio to Narnia

Posted on: 14 Sept 2016

Looking back to the Olympic Games and exam results of late summer, Craig Jenkinson, Deputy Head Academic at AKS Lytham, discusses how the stories behind achievement are often the ones that count.

Thank you, Tom Daley. Thank you for not winning your gold medal, contrary to all expectation. Thank you for sharing your disappointment so publicly, but thank you for not blaming your coach.

Thank you also for not being hard on yourself and for accepting that you had done the best you could. Thank you, most importantly, for being human and for proving that, despite your (relative) non-achievement in this particular occasion, we respect and admire you no less than before.

Tom’s achievements in his life thus far (and on other occasions at the Rio Olympics) are certainly commendable, but they do not define him. We, the public; many of whom would have serious wobbles at the thought of even stepping out onto a bouncy board at great height, never mind jumping off it in style with all the world watching; like Tom because of his attitude, his humour, and his personality. If I had a choice of dinner guest at the moment between Tom and one of those American (gold-medal-winning) swimmers who lied to the Rio police, I know to whom I would rather serve up some roast potatoes and chat about life.

Achievements can make us proud and help us to set tangible goals, but the story behind the achievement is more often the one that counts. Team GB did remarkably well and all celebration is entirely appropriate and deserved; however, this country is not defined by our excellent position in the medal table, neither are our respective neighbours, America and China. So why do we insist on defining our schools by their examination results each year and creating ranking tables?

It is small wonder that teenagers present with increasing stress and anxiety, when the message they keep receiving is that achievement is everything. If we think that we are defined by our titles and badges, then we are only as good as our last one, and we are continually chasing the next, constantly worrying about how it may compare, and terrified of failing; since a failure at the achievement would equate to a failure of us. This is clearly nonsense, but how many schools genuinely applaud effort as equally as achievement in their end-of-year prizegiving? It is so much healthier for any individual to judge themselves on whether they did their best, and then accept whatever achievement outcome goes with it.

Employers, parents, and teachers all know that our students are not defined by their examination grades; no matter how good they may be; and our schools (including primary) are not defined by their headline results and ranking. But the cold Winter of trying to quantify the unpredictable complexities of human growth and development in single numbers and letters continues, and I still wait for the stone (league) table to crack and for the Lion of real education to roar; turning common sense into common practice.

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About Craig Jenkinson

Craig Jenkinson is Deputy Head (Academic) at AKS Lytham, a coeducational day school in Lancashire.