Written by Richard J Cairns, Head Master
Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Dear Old Brightonians, A day from now, term will end. The signs are clear already. Yesterday, boys and girls were sporting Christmas jumpers in aid of the Rocking Horse charity. Today, the porters are lugging bottles of wine, chocolates and flowers across the quad to favoured teachers and House tutors. Vast quantities of cake and chocolate will be consumed in the final few lessons. Christmas lunches will be served, crackers will be pulled, hats donned, jokes told and so the longest term will come to its inevitable conclusion. The college will fall silent. Only a few cold, sad seagulls (and the Bursar) will remain.

It is at such moments, when the life blood of the college is literally drained from it, that one appreciates most clearly that schools are not about their buildings or their grounds but about the people, the boys and the girls, the teachers, the parents and the support staff. This is a community, not a collection of buildings, and it is a community that can be proud of what it has achieved this term.

The headline successes you will know about. Like John Lewis, we never knowingly undersell ourselves. The college is UK School of the Year 2013. The Sunday Times accorded Brighton the status of top co-educational school in England. The new Lower Sixth began the term with the best GCSE results ever achieved by a co-educational school. National prizes were won by college chemists, mathematicians, modern linguists, engineers and physicists. All the netball teams have won through to the regional finals. Our hockey club enjoyed its best season ever. The rugby club saw success at all levels, with the Under 14s securing 12 wins out of 13. The 1st XV remain unbeaten in the county for 8 years. The school musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, was stunning. The Autumn Concert, Choral Concert and Carol Services were breath-taking. The House Song competition brought every pupil in the college together in a festival of fun and occasional musicality. There have been House 'At Homes', House dinners, Head Master's dinners, Russian soul evenings, debating and entrepreneurship competitions, House swimming competitions, House rugby, random acts of kindness, Make a Difference Day, Respect Week, Remembrance Day, Field Day, Chemistry Day, a China Conference, a new Head Master's lecture series and so much more. There has also been a fair amount of academic work. Most boys and girls have kept pace comfortably, some have occasionally been overwhelmed and have had to be gathered up and supported, others have ducked and dived with skill and panache, chased hither and thither by anxious Housemasters and Housemistresses. 'Twas ever thus and always will be.

Such are my recollections of a term full of colour and moment. More specifically, I recall seeing two boys in Kemp Town hurry across to help an old lady whose shopping had spilled across the pavement. I recall a sixth former expressing delight that her friend (but not she) had been made a prefect. I recall seeing a shy girl stand in front of an audience of 400 people and sing a solo piece with spirit and composure. I recall the joy on the face of a 4th Form boy in the Under 14Cs scoring his first ever try. I can still see the look of terror on the face of a Sixth Form prefect when first he was asked to speak in Chapel to six hundred others. And I remember the smile of relief and pleasure when I congratulated him on his delivery.

I mention these individual moments because I know that this community can only truly be the happy and purposeful place that I would like it to be if each and every one of us, pupils, teachers and parents, treats the other as an individual, worthy of love and respect. It is why the boys and girls are encouraged to contemplate a 'random act of kindness' each day. It is why we devoted five days this term to Respect Week, considering why girls and young women in too many countries are denied even a basic level of education, why in so many developed countries the elderly are sidelined and forgotten, why in large parts of the world people are still persecuted because of their sexuality, why racism and ethnic tension still persist, and why conflict seems so often to be the first resort of political leaders not the last.

It strikes me that unless we place these issues concerning basic human dignity at the heart of a Brighton education, we run the risk of producing young people who may be well qualified but are poorly educated.

I want everyone who leaves here to feel that by their presence they can make the world a little bit better. I want them to recognise that they can make a difference and should. And I am confident that they will. At a Lower Sixth dinner that I hosted last week, I asked the boys present whether they regarded their generation as more or less tolerant of difference than their elders. One boy piped up that the only racist and homophobic people he knew were his grandparents. Most of the others quickly agreed. Times are changing. And, it seems, for the better. Nelson Mandela would have been impressed. "To deny anyone equal rights," he said, "is to deny that person their humanity."

Mandela also reminded us that "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." I hope in our own small way that we will do just that. Successes this term are welcome. The quality of our sport, music, drama and dance has undoubtedly enriched us, and our studies have informed and challenged us. But for me, what matters most, as we head off for our holidays, is that we remember how very fortunate we are and we find a few moments to consider how we might each make a positive difference in 2014.

It is an enormous privilege to be Head Master of Brighton College. I thank you for your support, my teachers for their remarkable dedication and the boys and girls for their sense of fun and common decency.

I hope you all have a very happy Christmas.

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