Most schools award Colours to pupils who have excelled in different areas of school life, be it academic, sporting, cultural or service – these are normally awarded to those who will have attained a high level of achievement in that specific area. Usually, they are given a metal or sow-on badge for their blazer or even a different colour blazer or ribbons, being called up before the whole school to receive their award and acclaim.
Thereafter, the rest of the school will know and recognise that these are special people, while most pupils actually never receive Colours. When it comes to Academic Colours, these are usually awarded after the IGCSE results come out, and normally are awarded to those who have achieved at least five A*s (some schools have higher levels, mainly because they take in pupils of higher academic ability). At the end of one Colours Committee meeting in a school where the standard was five A*s or above, the Head, who was not chairing but was attending the meeting, indicated they had missed one so the Chair asked if the child had got 5 As – he replied she got was 5 Os. The Chair’s eyes narrowed in the way we do when we wonder if we have heard something correctly, then checked to see if the child had indeed got 5 As.
The Head replied, “No, she got 1A, 1B and 3Cs”. There was a silence as the members of the Committee opened their eyes wide and wondered how they could tell the Head that he was stupid. The Head let them stew for a moment or two before stating that he knew what they were thinking but went on to say that they did not know, nor did the girl know, nor did anyone know for that matter, but he knew that four years earlier in the Common Assessment Paper that pupils wrote to consider their readiness for senior school, that girl had got 26% for English and 30% for Maths.
As the fact slowly sunk into their minds, the Head repeated that he believed that the girl deserved Colours, for her faithfulness, because she did what she could with what she had.
After a poignant and pregnant pause, one or two of the Committee members cried, “Yes, but…” to which the Head replied, “Don’t ‘yes but’ me! That just means you know it is right but you don’t like it and you cannot think of a reason”. Not to be put off from their traditional stance, they then confidently declared, “Well, then, precedent! What would happen if we broke our rules and set such a precedent?” The Head calmly and quickly responded that if the precedent is wrong then it should be changed.
After some further discussion, the committee declared that they would not allow it and though the Head could perhaps have over-ruled their decision, he let it go as he wanted them to grasp and believe in what he believed. So, that girl was not awarded Colours. The meeting ended and the content of the discussions remained confidential. The following Monday at Assembly all those youngsters who had achieved five A*s (or above) proudly came up on to the stage to receive their Colours badge and their moment of glory - that girl with 1A, 1B and 3Cs did not.
Four months later at another Assembly, the Head addressed the pupils and encouraged them that all staff asked of them was that each one did what they could with what they had, in line with the Parable of the Talents in the New Testament in which those who used their different level of talents were praised for their faithfulness (not for their success). In making that point, the Head used that girl as a hypothetical example, saying that perhaps someone who had got 1A, 1B and 3Cs at IGCSE may deserve Colours because maybe that child four years previously had joined the school with, say, 26% and 30% in English and Maths – that child would have done what he could with what he had.
Nine months later as the Head walked to the Assembly Hall, the girl discussed in the Colours Committee meeting a year earlier approached him and asked if she could speak to him. He said, “Sure”. She went to her blazer pocket, took out a bar of chocolate and said, “Thank you, sir”.
The Head replied, “What’s that for?” She said, “You gave me Colours.” “No, I didn’t,” he replied. She said, “You gave me Colours. Thank you, sir,” and walked off. She must have sat in that Assembly and realised she was someone who really deserved Colours – and eight months later she remembered that fact. She got Colours in her heart and it meant a huge amount to her, while the others all got their Colours on the outside, on their blazers. Few pupils ever thank a Head for receiving colours – but that girl did. She was faithful – that is more important than being successful. Colours are due.
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.