‘It’s not a game of political football’

Parliamentarians gearing up for the next general election are too ready to treat education as a game of political football, claimed Wisbech Grammar School headmaster Nicholas Hammond.

Speaking at the school’s annual speech day on Friday Mr Hammond said that all three parties were guilty of being involved in this game – and education was too important to be left to politicians with short term views and leaders who were unwilling or unable to decide what they wanted from schools.

Wisbech Grammar School Speech Day'left to right front  Dr Dennis Barter (chairman of the governors), Will Millard (Guest Speaker) and Nicholas Hammond (Headmaster)

Wisbech Grammar School Speech Day'left to right front Dr Dennis Barter (chairman of the governors), Will Millard (Guest Speaker) and Nicholas Hammond (Headmaster)

Instead of rewarding students for what they knew and what they could do, examinations were being designed to test what pupils did not know and could not do.

Mr Hammond said: “Our obsessions with league table standings and the shifting sands of grade boundaries lead people – particularly heads – to think first about their schools’ ranking and only secondarily about the educational needs of the children in front of them.”

Governments of all hues should be prepared to operate a voucher system which would allow parents the freedom to choose the school that they wanted to use.

Guest of honour was Will Millard (30), an explorer and past pupil of the school. He said: “It is a massive thing to be back at my old school.”

As a youngster he had assured his parents that he would never leave Upwell – and, in some ways, because of the dangers he had faced, they had wished that he had kept to that plan.

He said: “It was coming to this school that ignited my ambition for travel and also the beauty of learning, the relentless pursuit of information to feed the burning curiosity I had.”

After discovering West Papua he set out to discover the greatest trade route that no one had heard of and he described the hardest month in his expeditionary career as he attempted the first crossing of West Papua via one of those routes.

He said: “It is our fear of failure that stops us from doing things. Sometimes you just have to embrace the unknown and accept the consequences.”

During the expedition he and his fellow Grammar School past pupil, Callum Fester, had each lost two and a half stone in a month.

One day they came across a dog and knew that this meant that people were nearby. Mr Millard said: “We had just crossed paths with a new group of people that had never been contacted before, people that had gone undetected for thousands of years.

“We were in terrible, terrible shape by that point, but I had no right to break their secrecy, no matter how ill we felt. Sometimes there are things that are bigger than your ambitions.”

His advice for the students in the hall was that they should judge each other not by their successes but by what they were able to bounce back from.

He said: “Do not be afraid to take a step into the unknown. Find out how you cope under pressure. Do not be afraid of failure.”

• See www.fenlandcitizen.co.uk for the prize-winners.