The appearance of Covid-19 and the subsequent global pandemic can be characterised as a ‘Black Swan’ event. The Black Swan theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and describes an event that is completely unexpected, has a significant impact, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact and with the benefit of hindsight.
humans, we have an innate desire to find a simple solution to a problem. This
propensity tends to lead us to make decisions based on our prior experiences,
scientific knowledge and accepted norms. If it is easy to measure and easy to
categorise then we like it. However, in a Black Swan event there is no prior
experience from which to draw and as such any
arrived upon are blinded by these psychological biases. As such we struggle to rationalise
what has happened and how to address it. Taleb concludes that, in order for us to
deal with Black Swan events, we must build robustness against negative events
whilst still focussing on positive events.
cancellation of final examinations was totally unexpected, the first time this
has ever happened, and it has left a significant gap in the established
accepted norms for students. In a system set up to value an examination grade
alone as a measure of your education and ability, it is no wonder that our
pupils have been struggling to rationalise the situation.
However, at Downside we do not measure the education of a child solely by their examination grades. Downside prides itself in the fact that pupils feel accepted and valued unconditionally. This means they can grow and develop in confidence to achieve their best and to support others to do the same. The excellent examination outcomes they achieve are in addition to this philosophy, however we consider that the journey is as important as the destination.
than trying to keep with the accepted norm and making our pupils take
examinations mimicking the normal exam series, at Downside we gave our Upper
Sixth Form pupils a different option. They had the opportunity to personally
assess their progress using written assessments and, to try something new, were
offered a ‘Viva Voce’ (spoken assessment) with their teacher. We ran a
personalised programme of support lessons with these pupils to help them
prepare for these assessments and to give them an opportunity to demonstrate
how much they have developed over their time at the School.
also continued to be an integral part of their House communities, committing to
supporting House activities and, by doing so, they have kept in touch with
their friends in the School community and the positives therein.
called on the wider Downside community for their support and the result was the
‘Beyond Downside Programme’. The programme included daily keynote speakers and
sessions to support future career paths with titles such as ‘Challenges and
Opportunities: as the ‘old order’ collapses, how do young people embrace that and
replace a sense of loss and bewilderment with optimism and excitement?’ and
‘Technology is changing the future of work. The rise of robots…’ This programme
is helping our pupils develop robustness needed to deal with these
How life will be at university is still largely unknown; only time will tell. However, Downside pupils have the ability to cope with whatever is thrown at them because they are the product of a Downside education. By supporting our students now to prepare for life beyond Sixth Form is vital and will give them the tools to have the strength to fulfil their ambitions.