The Head, Nicola Huggett

Keeping Your Options Open

Last week I had a very interesting opportunity to attend a talk at a conference by Will Gompertz, the Arts Editor of the BBC and formerly the Director of Tate Media. He spoke to us about why everyone should think like an artist. He used that term in its widest sense and what he had to say was relevant to you all, but most particularly the Year 11s who will be attending the ‘Introduction to the Sixth Form’ evening this Friday. This, for you, is the start of an exciting journey where you will begin, if you haven’t already, to consider what subjects might determine the direction of the rest of your adult lives. That might make it seem rather alarming, but in so many ways what lies ahead will be more interesting and stimulating than anything you have so far experienced.

One of the key messages of Will Gompertz’s talk was that you should always keep all your options open. He spoke about the fact that in your job market, still at least five years away, there will be no more lifetime careers for ‘The Office’ David Brent – type middle managers.

Without a retirement age, there will be people changing careers five or even ten times, and you will compete not just against young people but also against older people for internships and positions of responsibility. There will be people who might want or need a change of career even in their 60s.

His view too was that ‘middle class’ entrepreneurs will be replaced by a ‘creative class’ who will be the people who can think broadly, coming up with ideas that include a combination of different areas of knowledge. In business there are scientific ideas that need artistic design to be marketable, artistic designs that need well-worded argument to make a convincing product. If you ask anyone who has ever started their own business, if they only used one subject to do so, they will think you are mad. Even as a head, I have to think about a mixture of educational, financial, legal and human resource issues to do my job every day.

Assuming you have to specialise on a very narrow range of subjects at the age of 16 just shouldn’t be the case. At Blundell’s, you will be glad to know, we agree completely with Will Gompertz on that. When you choose your A level subjects, I believe that you should give yourself options and that is why we expect you to choose four subjects from the start. That should mean that you can do both sciences and a language, or humanities and a science, creative subjects with a humanity or a mixture of all four like the social sciences.

There will be a small number of university courses that need you to study a specific range and it will be important that you research which those are, but in your Lower 6th year, you have complete freedom to try out your four choices for size and that should only help you to keep that breadth of knowledge that you might well need later, in whatever field you decide to go into.

We have also been encouraged this week by the English department to talk about what we are reading and I was reminded about the first ever Sherlock Holmes story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle called ‘A Study in Scarlett’. Holmes meets Watson for the very first time, when they are both looking for someone to share lodgings, and as Watson shakes his hand, Holmes says “How are you? You have been in Afghanistan I believe”. Watson is astounded. “How on earth did you know that?” he gasps. Holmes explains that he has long valued the skills of observation and deduction. He says “All life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link….” In Watson’s case, he sees “a gentleman of a medical type but with the air of a military man. His face is tanned but his wrists are not and therefore he must have been in ‘the tropics’ – in hot sunshine but wearing long sleeves. His left arm is held more stiffly than his right suggesting a healed wound and his face seems strained by hardship and sickness. Holmes asks himself, where in the tropics does an English army doctor in 1887 see such hardship and get wounded in that way”? Obviously, he deduces, in Afghanistan, and he is right.

There begins the story of the most famous partners in crime ever created. A great contributor to what makes his stories as interesting and imaginative as they are is Conan Doyle’s incredible breadth of knowledge from geography, science, climate, political history and physiology amongst many other things.

They all go towards making Sherlock Holmes a brilliant detective and a very intelligent man who is fascinating to read about or watch – irrespective of whether you like the Basil Rathbone or the Benedict Cumberbatch version best. Whilst Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930 at the age of 71, Holmes and Watson are ageless and seem destined to be immortal. If that is where keeping your academic options takes you, then who can argue with that.