‘I went to the Cambridge Greek Play a few years ago because my tutee was playing Orestes. You might have heard of him – Tom Hiddleston’. Tom Hiddleston? The famous actor? I was not expecting to hear my host’s claim to fame when I sat down to dinner with him at High Table at Pembroke College on Friday night. It left me wondering if any of the cast of this year’s plays would become well-known actors and add to the list of Cambridge’s illustrious alumni.
This topic of conversation had arisen because the last time I had been in Cambridge was a few weeks ago when I took a group of Year 11s to see the Greek Play. I try to make the pilgrimage every three years because I believe it is extremely worthwhile for pupils to hear the Classical tragedies and comedies performed in the original ancient Greek. On such visits, there is also often time to explore the colleges of the university and this year was no exception.
Having left London early in the morning, we arrived in good time to take the girls on a tour. I was particularly proud of blagging our way into Trinity College on a CAMcard and a prayer. While standing on the steps of the fountain of Great Court, I dredged up stories of famous alumni such as Isaac Newton and Lord Byron. The girls were particularly amused to hear that Byron kept a bear in his rooms because dogs were not allowed.
While telling such stories, I found myself blurting out, ‘You too could join them! None of this is closed to you’ (gesturing to the magnificent buildings surrounding us). Was this true of each of the girls in the group who were of varying academic ability? But indeed it was true; the girls had yet to sit their GCSE exams and until that point, the possibility was still very much alive. I knew that some of the girls struggled in class, but it was such a powerful statement and I was proud to have made it. At some point in their life, these girls of mixed ability could hear that there was a chance (however slim) of attending the hallowed halls of Oxbridge. From that moment, you could see each girl growing a little taller and more ready to lap up the pre-show lecture from Professor Simon Goldhill and embrace the joy of their first play in ancient Greek. Could they walk in the steps of Tom Hiddleston?
So often our pupils have a fixed mindset; when they come across a problem, they give up. It is so important that we nurture the growth mindset so that our pupils persevere in challenges and realise that their skills and talents are not limited. We need to encourage our pupils to exceed the expectations that they, we and society might impose upon them. We need to give them something to aim for because if we aim high then we can often surprise ourselves.
This visit to Cambridge was clearly inspirational for the girls. By exposing them to the intellectual environment of a top university, they learnt that such goals were achievable and were within their grasp. Their aspirations had been raised and when they discussed their future plans with the Head of Sixth Form a few days later, a number mentioned that Oxbridge might be a possibility…
The Year 11 girls are about to sit their GCSE mocks and are slogging away at revision. I hope that now when they are feeling frustrated and disheartened, perhaps the image of Tom Hiddleston (or one of the other alumni) might come to mind and spur them on to achieve their best.