Monday, 2 March 2015


This week's theme for assembly was on 'Labels':

Labels are everywhere and we use them all the time. They are used in so many ways that the whole concept of labelling is embedded deep into our culture - you can't go anywhere without seeing labels or being labelled.

And if we look way, way back, it becomes clear why we label - as a species, when we came down from the trees and started to explore the world around us, the bewildering array of new and different things could well have ended our evolutionary progress before we got very far indeed, as it so frequently has. The thing is, the world is such a complex place, so full of new things, that our brains could easily become overwhelmed by the variety. Or we could become so limited that our very existence would be at risk. As an example of this, there is a species of bird that will only eat a specific fruit from one type of tree. It doesn't matter that there are other trees, or that there are other fruit that this bird could eat, but no; they do not have the ability to look and compare and judge that another fruit is, in effect, the same or similar to the one they eat. And as a result, they are now at risk of extinction because the fruit from this one tree is changing due to global warming and they are not recognising the new fruit as something edible.

We must have, at some point, evolved the ability to look at things and recognise similarities - that fruit looks similar to this one, which I like, so I will probably like that one too. . . And so we evolve.

It's also important to be able to compare and contrast things so that we can spot things even if they don’t look like we expect them to do so. If I'm hunting an elephant, for example, I need to be able to find the elephant, even if it's partially hidden in a bush; this can only happen because our brains can look at a bush with an elephant hiding in it and spot the patterns that would indicate that there is an elephant in there. If we didn’t have that compare and contrast ability, we would not have seen the elephant, because we would only be looking for a whole elephant, like the one we have a mental picture of in our heads.

But this essential skill has evolved and become more complex as our world has become more complex and has changed as our society has changed. We are, by nature, a cataloguing, list making, labelling animal because it is what got us where we are. The trouble is, we can't stop labelling!

Labels can be useful - the labels on medicine telling us not to take it, the labels (or signs) warning us about danger, are all perfectly useful. Scientists who study patterns, looking for new discoveries; the elusive cure for cancer, say, or the solution to the world energy crisis will be found by labelling, cataloguing and looking for those patterns…

And labelling happens all the time in our day to day lives; in the supermarket, the food labels helping us make healthy choices, labels that help us clean our clothes effectively at the right temperature and in the right way. Labels can even be pretty harmless; I am wearing labels; my watch, my suit, even my socks, are all labelled, branded. So what? I can buy the most expensive item of clothing and it could well have been made in a factory somewhere in the world right next to a similar item being made for Primark - how do I know?

But this is where it starts to go wrong, and labelling can be something harmful. I, personally, do not think that I am any better than someone else, just because I am wearing an Armani watch, but the wearing of specific labels can frequently be interpreted in this way. It is why so many schools have very strict rules on clothing; because there are some people who feel that by wearing a particular brand of shoes, or trainers, that this makes them better, bigger than someone else. I do not understand this logic at all, but it is there, in quite a significantly childish way. And it is promoted by advertising and the media - the footballer who promotes a particular brand, the supermodel who wears a particular perfume. I am not naive enough to think that just because I might buy David Beckham's latest clothing item that I will suddenly look like him … …

When we label to discriminate, to separate and isolate, it becomes something wrong and harmful. Our original evolutionary drive to compare was to help us see similarities, but we far too frequently use this essential skill to separate and isolate. To label myself a Manchester United fan, for example, would isolate myself from those of you who follow other local teams. (This is why I am a Rugby Union fan & refuse to be drawn into the tribal labelling that exists in football).

We are all labelled, all the time. This is to understand how we are, how we behave, but if we lose sight of the fact that we are all, in fact, individuals, with our own unique set of strengths, weaknesses and priorities, then we see that labelling people is pretty useless and frequently counterproductive.

That is why, here at Sandymoor, we refuse to label people. We do not have sets, and you are not taught in groups that label you. Instead, your teachers treat you all as individuals, tailoring your experience to your needs.

That is why we hold you, individually, to account here at Sandymoor. We do not label you and treat you differently just because of who you are. Too many schools do that. The 'Oh, that's so and so - they always behave like that' or the 'Don't try that - it'll be too hard for you'. This is so important, because when people do limit us, they put chains on our imagination that are hard to break. I remember to this day a senior teacher at my school saying to my parents that there were limits to my future - this person stated that sixth form would be of limited use to me because I wasn't bright enough to go to university … and here I am, with three degrees to my name … believe me when I tell you that I will never limit you, or let anyone else limit you.

At Sandymoor, we will never limit you or assume you have boundaries to your potential - instead, we will always work with you to help you achieve what you desire. As I've said many times before, the only limit to your future is your imagination. And some hard work ,of course, but without imagination, without a goal to aspire to, all the hard work in the world will get you nowhere.

Bullying, intimidation, harassment - all the things we have a zero tolerance policy towards - all start with making assumptions, labelling people, not looking at the individual, but treating them like someone, something different. Bullying starts with trying to limit the victim, let them feel that they are somehow less, somehow deserving of it all. And we will not tolerate this in any area.

So, at Sandymoor, no-one will ever say to you that you have limits on what you can achieve. No-one will ever put you in a class and then put a limiting label on that class. This is why we do not set, why we do not have a top, middle & bottom group. No-one will ever say that you shouldn't try something because it's beyond you or that you would never be able to understand. Instead, we promise to work with you, alongside you, to help you achieve your dreams and aspirations. Dare to dream, dare to aspire and we will support you all the way.

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