Why Old Boys bring new things to school life

 One of the most impressive aspects of Bolton School that I found in my time there is the vibrancy and engagement of the Old Boys’ or alumni network. The sense that those who have passed through the school valued their time there and will engage with those who are in the school in the present day is a remarkable and significant strength.

The first aspect of this strength is the sense of continuity it brings between the generations. Old Boys’ (of course that term does not imply any great age – the youngest are 19 years old straight from school) come back to school to give of their time to inspire the current pupils with both their talents and the tales of their lives. This raises aspirations as well as informing. This can be at careers events, special lectures or in some cases where travel is tricky, by Skype. The presence and involvement of adults other than teachers in education is something that is important to any school. If we label schools as the preserve of the young and those paid to work with them we make them too separate. We miss the chance for a much wider educational experience and to bind the generations together with the common cause of building a strong society.

In the past few months we have met a World Champion mountain biker, a chess Grandmaster as well as members of a whole range of professions. And in a few weeks an old Boy will drop by in his RAF helicopter. Giving of time and talents in this way enhances the experience of school life for all. It also helps the pupil’s value school life if they see a wide range of adults engage in their world.

Another impressive aspect of this engagement is in charitable giving. 1 in 5 boys and girls at Bolton School are funded by bursaries. Of those a good number have free places. That is funded almost entirely by mostly anonymous charitable donations from former pupils. So often I hear people tell the story of their own school days, the difference made by a good teacher, an affection for the school and a strong sense of wanting to ‘give back’, so that a future generation can also benefit. The set of values that lead to his sense of giving back is immensely impressive and commendable. It is also a set of values useful to society at large. Many of the adult community in Bolton, as in other towns, ‘give back’ with their voluntary work. It is, once again, an attitude that binds together society.

And finally the Old Boys’ association has a large number of events where former school friends socialise and enjoy one another’s company. It is a truth that lifelong friendships are formed at school and it is good to see those being given an opportunity to continue into later life. It is always amazing how quickly former school friends, apart for decades, pick up the threads of a strongly formed bond. This sense of belonging is crucial to a strong society.

So I am most impressed by the Old Boys’ of my school. But what I want to argue is that it is simply an example of a set of attitudes that are the hallmark of a strong society and the sort of community in which we would all wish to live: with a bond between the generations, a sense of giving back and a place to enjoy friendship.

Join the Bolton School Alumni network at boltonalumninetwork.com

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is Headmaster of Bolton School Boys' Division. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists.