Principal's assembly 25th February 2020

Talking to our Year 11s and 13s, I know that the pressure is now on. There are fewer than 40 school days until the exams start. Courses are almost complete and it’s time for them to make sure they have the best revision strategies for learning the information for retrieval under exam conditions in three or four months’ time.

We’ll inevitably hear other pupils saying that they are stressed. From time to time, as adults, we will say that we are stressed. Stress in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a very good thing. Stress can be seen as helpful energy that aids performance.

Public speaking is a really good example of that – and this is a great opportunity to congratulate all those members of Asquith and Oastler who stood here last half-term. Every pupil told me how nervous they were.

To tell you the truth, I get nervous before every occasion I speak in public – and I’ll start to worry the day I’m not nervous! I just tell myself that I’ve done it before and it seems to go ok so it will be fine this time. You will be able to conquer any exam nerves by telling yourselves that you’ve done as much independent study as possible so it will be fine.

Another reason that it will be fine is because you have the support of your totally dedicated teachers. They are all desperate for you to do well and will help to make sure that you leave no stone unturned over the coming weeks.

But, what if you didn’t have this level of support from school or at home? What if, instead, you had people, often people who don’t even know you, undermining your state of mind and hacking away at your confidence? What if you are exposed to a high level of unkindness and can see no way of fighting back?

It isn’t only reality tv stars and presenters who suffer the attacks. Next time there is a lull in a sports match, you’ll likely hear a stinging piece of criticism from the crowd, as if the player missed that chance on purpose. I’m not sure how that helps.

Of course, we need feedback on our performance in order to improve. Of course, there are genuine arguments to be had about politics and religion. It’s just the rules of the game that need to change. A fair assumption might be not to write, text or tweet something that either you wouldn’t want to receive yourself or that you wouldn’t dare say to that individual in person.

There is a CBBC advert at the moment about kindness. It starts with a young girl thinking about how to respond to a picture of a friend’s new haircut. The positive and kind message or the negative and harsh criticism? The ad shows the consequences of the kind approach.

You won’t be surprised to know that I didn’t know much about Caroline Flack other than she was an amazing dancer. I now understand that she was a troubled woman who struggled to cope with the obscenely unkind words of total strangers. I’m sure many of you will now have read her final, unpublished Instagram message that her family wanted us to know.

"The reason I am talking today is because my family can't take anymore. I've lost my job. My home. My ability to speak. And the truth has been taken out of my hands and used as entertainment.

"I can't spend every day hidden away being told not to say or speak to anyone.”

In the end, she did not talk.

At some stage in life, you may feel a level of pressure or stress that is difficult to cope with. Please do talk. Family, friends or colleagues.  I have asked tutors to make sure that contacts for organisations like Minds and the Samaritans are readily available to all members of this community.

Over the last 18 months, I have talked to you regularly about our motto, “Work hard, be kind”. Perhaps the death of Caroline Flack helps explain to you why I chose that statement and why I believe that “I am my brother’s keeper” is the most important phrase in the Bible.

Our thought for the week could come from Gary Lineker who wrote this when explaining his approach to Twitter:

“Never look at general notifications. The idiots ruin it, sadly, for the vast majority of decent human beings that are on here. The trolls are the sort of people who scrawl on toilet walls at service stations.”

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