Academic Deputy Head’s Lines – 17.06.22

Prep School
17 Jun 22

This week, I had a discussion with a colleague about talent versus hard work; weighing up which might eventually result in greater success, be that on the Cricket pitch, in a LAMDA or music examination, on Sports Day or any aspect of learning within the classroom environment. But why stop there? Why not extend this muse to consider its relevance in the context of life in general? Keen to draw a plausible conclusion, we analysed some data and this suggested that hard work comes out on top; the ‘gold medal’ winner. So, why does hard work beat talent? Well, talent is great, but perhaps all it does is give you a head start; you still have to work hard to win or achieve. My father always told me that “anything worth having is hard to get” and this week, these words have rung true on so many occasions, here at SVPS.

Some children might appear to have more talent initially than others, and they may appear to have a head start but research shows that this is not always the gift that it first appears to be; rather perhaps, a bit of wolf in sheep’s clothing. Talent is used to things being easy and so it relies heavily on having the security of things going smoothly. Talent likes to cruise and enjoy the view, talent is not particularly resilient, brave or tenacious. Only the children who are willing to work hard are prepared for the turbulence that they must experience if they are to reach their goals. Talent does not prepare you for the grind. Skill does not prepare you for the inevitable plateaus that you will endure. The ability to work hard and dig deep when things are tough or not going as you would want them to is the difference between giving up and going on to fulfil one’s dreams or exceed one’s potential; the ability to fly up high. Olly Stallwood is someone who knows about hard work…

On Tuesday, Olly, an ex-pupil of ours at SVPS visited Year 6 to talk about his career as a balloon pilot and the journey he has been on to achieve this most amazing accolade. You could have heard a pin drop when Olly told us that, despite only being 19 years old, he was for a while the youngest person in the UK ever to qualify as a balloon PPL pilot and also took part in a World Record, beating night glow with 134 balloons! You might think that Olly must be super-bright to have achieved so much at such a young age and you would be right, but some aspects of School did not come easily to him – sheer determination and hard work are what got him to where he is now. Olly is dyslexic, so reading and spelling are a challenge, but Olly is one who relishes a challenge, as it turns out, so when he was here at SVPS, even at an early age, he showed that he had a particular talent – the ability to work hard.

Every day, Olly would stand on Mr Strydom’s toes in the morning, waiting patiently with his reading book in his hand, to remind him that he needed him to listen to him read. He wanted to get better, he wanted to improve, he wanted to be the best reader he could be. Every day without fail, Olly read to Mr Strydom and indeed, his reading results got better and better. It was hard graft but paid dividends; Olly went on to pass the Kent Test 11+ and left us in Year 6, with a full toolkit of skills.

Fast forward to the age of 16 and, at this point, Olly told his mother that he wanted to become a balloon pilot as a career. Qualifying as a pilot involves passing incredibly challenging exams as well as complex practical assessments. Olly was not daunted by either of these. Used to working hard, Olly got stuck in and smashed his exams in an eye-watering short amount of time. He qualified. He achieved. He is the balloon pilot now that he set his sights on becoming. Flying all over the world, Olly now regularly reaches into his personal toolkit whenever he needs it. Indeed, dyslexia is his friend, affording him an outstanding problem-solver and a divergent thinker. Resilience, tenacity and bravery are attributes that are unteachable, but rather they are acquired. Being dyslexic has meant that Olly has had to dig deep on many occasions, fuelling his personal burner skillset. The young man that brought his hot air balloon in to share with us this week taught us all a valuable lesson – that having a growth mindset and an outstanding work ethic are vital attributes that will undoubtedly determine one’s future success. He aimed high, worked tirelessly to get there and now, he is flying…