Don't Stop (April 2024)

Good afternoon, welcome back, welcome to Confidence term 2024. In the past two terms we’ve told you that courage is choosing to do what’s right even when it’s not easy, and that it’s taking on the tough challenges of maturing, both in terms of academic difficulty and social responsibility; and we’ve told you that commitment means keeping going when things are hard, and that it means believing in our community, our common goals here, being committed to each other. Courage and Commitment – have you taken your opportunities to develop and display those two parts of the Clapham character? If you were to give yourself marks out of ten for each, what would you get? I know there’s quite a range in this room – but also that there are ranges within each of us: sometimes we manage to be brave, sometimes we cower; sometimes we struggle on through the rain and sometimes we take refuge beneath the duvet. Character isn’t about getting it right all the time – it’s about doing better than before. Talking of doing better than before, I have my first piece of culture for you, a pop song from the far and distant time when I was a toddler:

If you wake up and don't want to smile
If it takes just a little while
Open your eyes and look at the day
You'll see things in a different way.

If you recognise it then you can join me in enjoying our shared secret – if you don’t then I’ll fill you in at the end of the assembly, as a sort of inducement to concentrate. These words are, I think relevant to some of you who wake up too often not wanting to smile and for whom that wait is just a little while too long. Some of you are still, eight months after the first time I spoke to you about it, struggling with the challenge of getting to school every day, and getting to school on time – and I wonder why. Is it that you lack the courage to face the day, that you have been so worried about the academic challenge that you’ve stayed up late, like a muppet, rather than get the good night’s sleep that you need? Or is it that you’re not really committed – that your focus comes and goes, that sometimes you want to do well and are willing to work for it, and sometimes you just want to be a toddler and have your mum do everything to make things just right? Maybe some of you still haven’t learned the lessons of the last two terms – and so I urge you not to give up, to keep on trying, to keep on doing better – as the chorus of our theme tells us:

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be better than before
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow – it’s a powerful message – being an adult with maturity and responsibility is actually better than being a toddler. Most of the reasons for missing school or for being late are because you forget about tomorrow – you forget to think long term and do what’s easy, or comfortable now, rather than what will set you up in the future. The other reason relates to this term – it’s because you don’t really believe that it will be better than before: you don’t have the confidence that hard work now will really make a difference. Well – the bad news is that yesterday’s gone: you can’t go back to toddling, the real world of adult responsibility and consequences are coming your way where not being there just means you miss out on opportunity. The good news is that your futures can be better than before – you have incredible experiences ahead of you – just don’t stop.

Why not think about times to come
And not about the things that you've done
If your life was bad to you
Just think what tomorrow will do.

That stanza gives us the heart of response – wherever you’re sitting today, however many out of ten you gave yourself, however many should have given yourself if you’d really thought about it rather than swaggering about to impress your mates. It didn’t work, by the way – you were marking yourself in the privacy of your own head and they can’t see what’s going on in there, thank goodness – there really is no point in being anything other than honest. But that’s hard isn’t it – because being honest means admitting that you’re not doing as well as you’d like – and that’s crushing unless you have the confidence that you can make tomorrow better – really thinking about where you are now can drag you into the whirlpool of the things you’ve done and the way life has been bad to you unless – UNLESS – you have confidence that doing the right thing now will make tomorrow worth having.

It's why I’m bad at playing chess. And I really am terrible at it. Not in the way that you might think: I know how the pieces work, I know about tactics and strategy, I know a bit of opening theory and how to work a checkmate – I’d probably beat most of you if we played (and I hope some of you are burning to take up that challenge). No, I’m not bad at the chess bit – I’m bad at the playing bit. I find it really hard to enjoy the game, to take pleasure in the sharing of ideas – it always feels like a battle of wits, a duel to the death.

A battle of wits, where we find out who is right and who is dead, is a scene from my favourite movie of all time – in fact, I go so far as to confidently state that it’s the best movie ever (without a shred of justification – this is obviously subjective, I look forward to hearing alternative suggestions when you meet me on the gate at 8.35 having given yourself enough time to challenge my views on film before you go into class ready for the day). It’s the Princess Bride and the man in black, a mysterious pirate, is challenging Vizzini, a ruthless criminal, for the eponymous princess who Vizzini has kidnapped and who the man in black wants to take from him for reasons that are, at this point, still mysterious. They agree on a battle of wits, for the princess, to the death; Vizzini explains how clever he is, and therefore how foolish the man in black must have been to challenge him, there’s some light shenanigans and then they drink their wine – the structure of the game being there are two drinks, one of which is poisoned, and one move – whether to drink the one near you or the one near your opponent. Fans of Benedict Cumberbatch will recall a similar game from A Study in Pink (which I also recommend if you’ve not come across the first episode of Sherlock).

I shan’t tell you what happens in either duel – they’re far too worth watching for me to spoil it – but that tenseness, that feeling that death is on the line is what I get playing chess. Which I know is ridiculous, but I don’t like it – and as a result I don’t play as much chess as I could – which is a shame, because mostly I like it, and everytime so far that I’ve lost I’ve survived to play another day, the shame has never been so overwhelming that I’ve had to move to Patagonia.

Anyway – I lack confidence in my ability to survive chess – which I know is silly and so, like a silly billy I don’t play as much chess as I should. Some of you lack confidence that your study here will make future you richer and happier – which you know is silly and so, like a bunch of silly billies you take duvet days when you have a bit of a cold or a tummy ache, or simply lie in bed when you should be getting on the bus to meet me on the gate at 8.30 to discuss your favourite films (or novels, or TV Dramas, or pop songs – I’m interested in all the art forms just so long as you get here in time to have the discussion and then head to class).

Our song today has been Don’t Stop by the marvellous Fleetwood Mac, and the last verse goes like this:

All I want is to see you smile
If it takes just a little while
I know you don't believe that it's true
I never meant any harm to you

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be better than before
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone

Sixth form is your chance to shape your future – to take a baseball bat to whatever happened in your past, knock it out of the park and grab your opportunities with both hands. And I know that some of you don’t believe that it’s true – I suspect that some of you think it’s some kind of great conspiracy designed by me for my own, mysterious purposes. But I’m not the man in black, all I want is to see you smile – to come out of sixth form walking with confidence, smiling and ready for adulthood – which brings me to some really great news, which is that your year group has, as of today, wrested control of student leadership from the Year 13s. You are now the grown-ups of the school as they face the final trial of their exams, and to mark this, we are able to announce the student presidents and vice presidents.

Leadership is a challenge to each one of you, it is the challenge of Confidence term, and it is the challenge of having the confidence to put your hand up and say “This one’s on me,” to see something that could be better and to fix it, to see someone who’s having a hard time and to help them have a better time. It’s said that Timpsons have only two rules: put the money in the till (be honest) and look the part – I have no real doubt of any of your honesty, the challenge of confidence term is looking the part of an adult rather than a toddler, stepping into the big shoes the Year 13s have left you, showing up, being on time, taking responsibility. Some of you are ready for this, some of you are looking at me thinking “I was born ready”, and for some of you it’s a big step. Well, let’s take that step together – if you want to help me overcome my silliness then please challenge me to a game of chess and I’ll try to start playing rather than just chessing – and I’d like to help you overcome your silliness, perhaps when we meet on the gates at 8.30 you can tell me what I can do that would be helpful to you.

You know what courage looks like, you know what commitment feels like – you just need Confidence – if you were born ready then show us your maturity – if you’re not there yet, then maybe it just takes a little while: don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.


1. Fleetwood Mac have not made an appearance in previous assemblies (which is a curious oversight), however, The Princess Bride is a regular visitor - for example, in Life, Death, Love

2. Punctuality is an ongoing concern that perplexes me with its difficulty: Curious and Punctual

3. If regular chess isn't your think, then Tamerlane chess is played in Samarkand