Headteacher at Woldgate School

Headteacher Jonathan Britton
Headteacher Jonathan Britton

Last week, I presented my assembly on the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race to our Sixth Form College students.

My wife loves rowing, so every year we either watch the event on television or watch the event in person with friends in London.

Sir Steve Redgrave.

Sir Steve Redgrave.

This year was very different from normal, as for only the second time in the history of the race, women were allowed to complete on the same day, on the Thames, with their male counterparts, rather than at Henley, as in previous years.

For many though, the race will be remembered for the partial sinking of the Cambridge female team’s boat in the race. Partial, because, although the top of the rigger that holds the oar shaft could be seen, the rest of the boat was largely underwater.

Rowing is a wonderful sport.

It is one of the most demanding physical exercises I know and it is also simply wonderful to see the technique, skill and sheer elegance of a boat well rowed, as the blades at the ends of the oars slice into the water and force the boat to glide forward.

When you see a crew working together in perfect harmony, synchronised and each pulling hard, together, with each individual ensuring they are committed to do their very best for their team, it symbolises the very best teamwork; individuals do not look towards their own needs, but to those of their fellow teammates and community.

Knowledge, combined with sheer skill, as individuals, work together, to achieve a shared goal.

The female Cambridge boat team as well as bringing all of these admirable qualities to the fore, also demonstrated an utter determination to finish the race. Ignoring calls for them to stop, to pull to one side, they continued, cold, and wet, trying to pull an oar through the water in a boat that was largely submerged.

They had a goal that they had worked towards over many months and years.

I believe that we must not forget just how important the dedication, determination and hard work is that results in such outcomes.

In a society that often values the celebrity and instant reward, we can forget that for individuals such as these, success if not necessarily born of natural talent, but of hard work and dedication.

They have, over months and years, shown the necessary commitment, aiming for the highest standard every day to achieve the outcome they desire and deserve.

Over that time they have not only acquired the will, but the knowledge and honed their skills sufficiently to allow them to operate at such a consistently high level. Talent does take you so far, but hard work builds character and eventual success.

A gold medal is not won in a moment, but through a lifetime of preparation, and for people such as Sir Steve Redgrave, it is now part of who he is.

A retired British rower who won gold medals at five consecutive Olympic Games from 1984 to 2000, he has also won three Commonwealth Games gold medals and nine World Rowing Championships golds.

He is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest-ever Olympians, the most successful male rower in Olympic history, and the only person to have won gold medals at five Olympic Games in an endurance sport.

Pupils watched as he rowed, determined to beat his time, but he lost his footing and slipped from his rowing machine to the floor; this was a moment worthy of note, as a reminder that success is not a smooth, but often a bumpy road.

In giving an assembly to our young people, you hope to share those qualities that are important to our community, as we help to prepare our pupils for the challenges that await them in school, Sixth Form, at university and, of course, in their chosen career.

Character, acts of value and merit, knowledge and skills, underpinned by a determination to do your very best are, of course, part of our philosophy, as a school, and are integral to the education we are determined to provide through our teaching and learning every single day.

Values that ensured the Cambridge women’s team finished the race.