Principal's Assembly 27th November


Students of A Level Politics will know that one of the principles at the centre of traditional Conservative Party thought is noblesse oblige. The French literally translates as nobility obliges suggesting that, just as parents have an obligation to look after their children, the nobility had a moral duty to look after the less fortunate around them.
The language is somewhat old-fashioned now, but the principle remains important. Today, Mr Potts is taking assembly and will be discussing these ideas of privilege and responsibility:
We’re here today to talk about privilege. But what do I actually mean by ‘privilege?’ And how does it affect us? Hopefully you’ll all leave church today understanding what privilege is, why each of us is hugely privileged and – most importantly – the responsibility that comes with that privilege.
Before we do that though, I’d like to ask you one or two questions:
* How many of us sitting here today have been lucky enough to go on a family holiday in the past couple of years?
* How many of us will go home after school to a warm home and be surrounded by people who care about us?
* And how many of us take for granted the fact that, when we get home, there’ll be a warm meal waiting for us at the end of the day.
The fact that we can all take these things for granted, without even thinking about it, tells us that we’re privileged. But beyond that, you all benefit from a level of privilege that the overwhelming majority of children in the UK could only dream of. Less than 7% of children in the UK get to benefit from an independent school education. Yet here you all are, sitting on benches that have been occupied by architects, scientists, politicians - and even a Prime Minister. Statistics show that when you leave school, you’ll have a much higher chance of going to a top university, gaining a highly paid job and even being elected to parliament. That’s privilege.
Having access to that privilege doesn’t mean you can sit back and wait for things to happen for you; you’re still going to have to work hard for what you achieve. However, there’s no getting around the fact that each of you has been given an incredibly privileged start in life and it’s up to each of you to make the most of it.
We live in one of the richest societies in the world but, according to research carried out in September this year, over 4.5million children in our country live in poverty. That’s 1 in 3 children in our country who don’t have access to the basic comforts that each of you is able to take for granted. And before you jump to conclusions about these children and their families, nearly 70% of those children live in a household where at least one of their parents works.
That underprivileged start in life that many children are handed can have lifelong implications for them. If you’re born into poverty in our country, you’re far more likely to underperform in your GCSEs and are far less likely to go on to a well-paid job - or even to be better off than your parents. Worse than that, children born into poverty in our country, are far more likely to suffer from ill health when they reach adulthood and their average life expectancy will be almost 10 years shorter than someone from a more privileged background - someone like each of you.
Think about this: somewhere in the world, there’s someone just like you. They might be the same age as you, they might be as intelligent as you, they might even look like you. The only thing that
separates them from you is likely to be the start in life that they’ve been given. And that start – as you’ve heard – is likely to shape their future and how the rest of their life turns out too.
So after listening to all that, the big question you have to ask yourself is: if those children – both in our country and elsewhere – are living such desperate lives, why am I living in such comfort? Why do I get to go home to a warm and loving home? Why do I get to take for granted luxuries like holidays, nice clothes and spending quality time with my family? Why am I benefitting from the great start in life that a private education will afford to me?
The answer to that is actually quite simple: Americans call it dumb luck; others refer to it as chance; I prefer to look at it as privilege.
The important thing to remember about many of the people who don’t share the privilege that we all get to take for granted is that they’re often where they are because of sheer bad luck. They didn’t ask to be born into poverty; they didn’t choose to go to failing schools where so much of the focus is on keeping your head down and avoiding anti-social behaviour, violence and a culture of low aspiration, rather than actually learning. And they certainly didn’t choose to live in homes where the heating isn’t on, there isn’t a warm meal on the table each night and you can’t rely on mum and dad to care for you because – often they aren’t even equipped to look after themselves. All of that is just bad luck - but it’s important that you all realise that could just as easily be you.
So, now that you understand how lucky you are, what should you do about your own privilege? Should you feel guilty about it? No. But you should be thankful, you should never take it for granted and you should determine yourself to make the absolute most of the privileged life that you’ve been given.
There’s more though: You should also use that privilege to do some good in the world and – if possible – try to share some of that privilege. And, most importantly, you should never judge those who don’t enjoy that privilege that you were also fortunate to be born into.
I’d like to end today’s assembly by reminding you all that once again this year we’ll be supporting the Richmond and Burmontofts Elderly Act Groups’ Christmas Hamper Appeals. This is a perfect opportunity for us all to use our privilege to support some of the most vulnerable and isolated members of our communities and, most importantly, to show them that they are valued and cared for. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could make this our biggest and most successful Christmas Hamper Appeal ever?

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