“Nothing will work unless you do.” – Maya Angelou

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been struck by discussions about the nature of work.

All of them concerned what happens after school. This question is one that we ask from almost the moment a child starts their education. We ask them “what do you want to be?” Or “when you grow up what would you like to do?” It was usual to hear “professional sports player” or “actor”, now more often than not it is an Instagram influencer (YouTuber being passé and oh so last decade). Times and ambitions change. I remember that when working at another school I told a Year 3 pupil that I thought that she was undoubtedly going to be Prime Minister (such were her skills for oratory and her habit of bossing me about) only to be told that I shouldn’t be so silly as she was going to be a hairdresser. As is so often the case I was left to consider how little I actually know.

In schools we regularly say that we are preparing young people for jobs that have yet to be invented. How we do this is a very good question. We, like many other schools, believe that a thorough grounding in a wide range of core subjects followed by an opportunity to pursue enthusiasms and academic interests is a suitable path of preparation for the wide world. If opportunities are taken through the co-curricular programme, then a rounded education is achieved and a wide range of employment opportunities beckon. This is probably a good thing as one of the articles I read predicted that this decade will be one in which research into AI will plateau. It looks like teachers are not going to be phased out in favour of robot replacements, lawyers have escaped the technological chop and accountants live to consider another spreadsheet. “Old skills” will remain in demand.

For those who aren’t quite sure about what it is they fancy doing once they have left school then the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor Dominic Cummings gave some interesting advice about what skills and characteristics are required by the new breed of civil servants. The new breed of Whitehall whizz kids will be “data scientists, project managers, policy experts and assorted weirdos”. The first three I suspect we can help with, not so sure about the last one. In exchange he offers zero job security, no free time and threats that you could be “binned” at any point. Sounds lovely…

According to a discussion on BBC Radio 4s Start the Week, work is the social capital that makes adults value their existence. Economist Daniel Susskind spoke about how we as communities classify people by what they do and without this society will have to rethink how it approaches using its time. Clearly, I do not know what pupils will have as a job title, but there is a significant part of me that would like to think that we could be mature enough to judge people not by what they do but by the good that they do.
It would be remiss of me to ignore the story that dominated the news last week. The surprise announcement from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that they wish to take a step back from a life of royal service. Is this the first and only time that someone has stepped back from their family to spend more time working? Times continue to surprise.

Nicholas Hammond



“Few things illustrate self-control…”

“Few things illustrate self-control as vividly as New Year’s resolutions.”

Sendhil Mullainathan

There are probably two types of people, those who make New Year resolutions and those who don’t. I have certainly met both sorts, but I’m not certain that I have ever met one who has actually kept a resolution from January to December. This month we tend to read a lot about famous people and their resolutions for the year. I’m sure that Instagram opinion formers are all busily telling us what 2020 holds for us or what it is we should be doing or buying. Mark Zukerberg famously published his resolutions on Facebook – I think his last one was about killing the meat he was going to eat but I understand that he is doing resolutions by the decade.

I don’t know how many of our students have made resolutions of their own. I am sure that a good number have, and I wish them well with their resolve. As this is the start of the New Year and the time for resolutions, I thought I might suggest a few and who knows one may just stick.

for pupils:

• Keep trying things. There is a wide range of opportunities at the BSP and a New Year is a great time to do something new or different.

• Spend time reading words on paper not just on a screen. A newspaper, a magazine or book, it doesn’t really matter what, but regular reading is a great habit to adopt. What about twelve books in twelve months?

• Speak up when you don’t understand something. We all learn most effectively when we take time to understand

• Only take what you are going to eat from the refectory. There is never a good reason for taking bread and throwing it away untouched

• Use social media for positive purposes only

• Be kind to yourself and to others.

for parents:

• Think about doing something new or revisiting old hobbies. You children will appreciate seeing you immerse yourself in something that you love doing

• Unplug a little. If you spend a lot of time glued to your device your children will also be tempted, if you read a book so might your young person

• If you have a question about your child’s school experience make contact so we can help or answer the question. Social media doesn’t have all the answers

• I’m sure that you always eat your greens and clean your plate. Well done

• Be kind to yourself and to others.

for teachers:

• Endeavour to try new approaches in your classes, don’t just keep doing the same things over and over

• Make sure that you are reading as much and as regularly as your pupils

• Make feedback an even more regular habit than it is already. Send positive news home

• Keep taking the healthy option in the refectory

• Be kind to yourself and to others.

for the Headmaster:

• Get out of your study more often, go and see what is going on in classes and co-curricular activity taking place. There is always something exciting going on at the BSP

• Read more, if you don’t read why would anyone else? (quite looking forward to this)

• Do you really need chips on a Thursday, think about it you greedy person…?

• Be kind to yourself and to others.

If you do try a resolution, good luck with it. I hope you have more luck with it than I am likely to with that whole chips business which looks like a step too far.

Happy New Year!

Nicholas Hammond


The bonds that unite us

Was it Winston Churchill who said something about democracy being the least worst way of running a country? Today there will be some who are ruefully nodding their heads. There will be others who are jubilant. Election campaigning is, of course, comparatively easy. Exercising power often proves more difficult. If ever there was a time for a bringing together then this would be it. British elections follow a well-established pattern. Successful candidates are seen throughout the night accepting victories and then at around 4.30 a.m. a result is declared. This time it came a little later. The nature of victory is curious for there will be many who remain sceptical about the policies that the winning party has put forward. Who knows how long the constituencies that have changed hands will remain behind their new MPs? One thing is clear and that is British politics has a government who has been given a mandate and they will push through at least some of the campaign promises that they have made with their large majority.

Britain’s status in the world will change in the coming years. Its place in Europe will change at the end of next month. I can only hope that those who are to lead the nation into the next decade will do so with an eye to unity and cohesion. Our young people deserve a country in which all can express their views safely and all should feel that they belong. Whilst politics is often used to divide it can be and indeed should be a force for unity and inclusion.

This morning we celebrated International Day at the Senior School. Fifty-five nations proudly showing off; fifty-five nations proudly working together as one community. Yesterday we came together to celebrate Christmas at the Junior School. Songs from around the world were sung, we revelled in the different genres of music, we marvelled at the soloists and found pleasure in the chorus’ joyful sounds. Both of these events celebrate the bonds that unite us rather than the divisions that separate. Different cultures, different beliefs and different customs all woven together to form a unique international community. It is good to be proud of our nations and our cultures, but in a school like this it is always striking to see how much brings us together despite our differences. I trust that the Prime Minister will follow our lead and seek to bring together rather than drive apart.

These events mark the end of the Autumn Term. Our longest term. Much has been achieved and there is much to be celebrated. This newsletter is slightly different as it contains a number of personal perspectives. Success, as we often say at the BSP, comes in many different ways and I think that this approach shows what achievement means to different people. I’m sure you will enjoy reading these views as much as I have. If nothing else, they show us that we find enormous satisfaction in the myriad aspects of this school and that it may well be the small or unseen that is the most satisfying. In a few weeks we will join once again as a school for the Spring Term and I hope that we will be refreshed and ready to scale new heights, think more deeply and support each other to an even greater extent.

Until then I hope that you have a fantastic, restful holiday.

Nicholas Hammond



“Well, good to see you…”

“Well, good to see you. Sorry I have to fly.”

From “We Being Ghosts” – Clive James

At the moment there is a discussion going on among British educational professionals about the need (or not) for a 16+ exam. As Year 11s are certainly aware, GCSE looms large at this time and many are formulating holiday revision timetables in preparation for the January mock examinations. On Wednesday, at their Parents’ Evening, all of the focus was on how to maximise the grade achieved. An historical perspective shows that GCSE was a replacement for the old two tier system of O levels and CSE exams. These in turn replaced The School Certificate. There is probably little need to delve back before 1951, but it is important to note that the school leaving age at that time was 16 years of age. Thus the School Certificate, O Levels and CSEs were qualifications used by employers to select candidates who were joining the workforce. Indeed GCSE has been a school leaving qualification – this only changed with the raising of the school leaving age to 18 in 2015. Now we assess pupils at 16 to gain some idea as to their suitability for A level study, but we probably don’t need a major exam to tell us that. I’m quite sure that most young people have a fair idea themselves as to where their talents lie. One good thing about GCSE is that it keeps options wide and pupils have to consider a range of subjects. In the British system this is the last moment at which our students are asked to be wunderkinder. That said they can remain open to all ideas once they have passed Year 11.

This week marked the passing of two great minds, two polymaths. Clive James, critic, poet and raconteur and Dr. Jonathan Miller scientist, theatre director and public intellectual. Both of these individuals gave much pleasure through their humour and have challenged via their art. I wonder if they are a fast disappearing breed. Where are they now? Who are they now? We live in an age of celebrity, sound bite and thoughts expressed in 140 characters. Newspapers warn us about articles that are “long reads” while the rest of the news is rather abbreviated. Have we lost the knack of concentrating? Both James and Miller were not afraid of delving deeper, no matter how superficial the subject. Both moved effortlessly between genres. Both had the capacity to challenge and perhaps most importantly both could be very funny indeed. In an obituary of Miller he was described as having “boundless curiosity”. Are we guilty of letting this go? He was also described as a “team player and a striking soloist.”

Exams are useful, but the longer they remain in the same form the less useful they become. The test can always be gamed. We do get better at answering the question. If a BSP education was to give a pupil two things it would for me be these: an ability to succeed in exams and a boundless curiosity. And if I had to pick one I would settle for a team player and a striking soloist. Now that’s an answer that would satisfy not one examiner but might just be a recipe for lifelong learning which is, after all, what we are meant to be fostering in a school.

Nicholas Hammond



Not just going through the motions

Some of the most interesting comments in academic journals are to be found in the footnotes. Often maligned as the preserve of the pedant or dismissed as being irrelevant to the text they can be intriguing, amusing and entertaining. It is often with the footnote that we gain a real understanding of the author and for me at least, copious footnotes suggest that the author has far more of interest to say than can be contained in the main body of the text(1). The phrase “a footnote in history” has always seemed to me to be harsh indeed, it is here that we find new avenues of thought and other pieces of information. Small in type they are often large in significance or interest. I was therefore interested to hear the Chairman of the Governors’ Education Committee explain in a recent speech that one of the great benefits of retirement is that one has the chance to really research footnotes, to give them the time and thought that they really deserve.

Dr. Michael Tilby is no footnote in our school history. Over the past ten years he has tutored older students in the ways of the Oxbridge College interview(2) , a task for which he, as a former Cambridge College admissions tutor, is uniquely suited. He has been a supportive yet questioning member of our Education Committee and has devoted hours to the analysis of exam results, the performance of departments and has championed the work of the School. At yesterday’s Governing Board meeting he took his leave of the School having completed a decade of service with our very best wishes and sincere thanks. He will be missed indeed.

There is a very great danger that our support today of Toilet Twinning will soon be consigned to the bottom of a page. One day in a busy school calendar. It may not be the most glamorous of endeavours but games of chicken poo bingo(3) and the lavatorial cake sale this break time raised vital funds for appropriate sanitation to be provided for some of the world’s 2.3 billion people who do not have somewhere safe to “do their business”(4) . Next time you are in school please do take a moment to see the wide range of locations in which we have sponsored the building of safe toilets, it is truly impressive. My thanks to Year 7 for their enthusiasm in supporting this most noble of causes. The world now has 7 more safe toilets that it did not have earlier this week.

There are only fifteen school days left of this term. Be-fore then there are two notable events within our wider community to note. Our own BSPS will run their excellent Christmas Fair on Saturday 7th December and The British Charitable Fund(5) in association with the School Jazz Band are offering parents the opportunity to enjoy music at one of Paris’ most exclusive addresses(6) on 28th November. Both are not to be missed.

  1. You may have realised by now that I am a footnote-a-phile
  2. A process sometimes seen by observers as something of a dark art
  3. Really, https://www.toilettwinning.org/
  4. A typically English use of euphemism to hide the sheer embarrassment of talking about the bodily functions that underpins a good deal of the national sense of humour
  5. An august institution 200 years young and still going strong. Founded by Sir Richard Wallace – he of the art collection and green Parisian fountains
  6. 35 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, or the Hotel de Charost former home of Pauline Bonaparte, Arthur Wellesly and current home of our School Patron HM Ambassador to France, Lord Llewellyn

Nicholas Hammond



“November always seems to me…”

November always seems to me the Norway of the year.

Emily Dickinson

November. We are most definitely in the grip of deepest November. The clocks have gone back, the rain is falling and the temperature is dropping. There are leaves on the line. Those who cycle to school are trying to find their gloves to break the chill air as hands grip frigid bicycle handlebars. Hedgehogs are scurrying around making the last improvements to their winter hibernation dens. Sometimes I think that we would do well to follow their good example and take a few cold months off before reappearing in the spring. That said, such an approach would mean that we would miss one of the most important parts of the year for learning.

Academically, November is a key month in a pupil’s learning journey. A time when there is a good run of uninterrupted school days where progress can be made. It is not without its challenges. Tiredness, coughs and colds and the longer nights are not always helpful to a pupil looking to make progress. We are far enough away from the start of the year for both pencils and ambitions to be blunted, whilst the end of term is still too far away for serious contemplation. The message is a simple one at this time of year, use this time as effectively as you possibly can. Don’t let efforts drop off, keep levels of enthusiasm high and make the most of the lessons that you have. This week I was delighted to read that our extra-curricular programme is well supported with 75% of Junior School pupils enjoying activities and 82% of Senior School pupils engaging in learning outside of the classroom. Such laudable levels of engagement need to be kept up even during the darker evenings of November. Those who have chosen their subjects wisely and have followed their interests will find this no great hardship. This is perhaps a good time to remind ourselves that we succeed when we choose to study the subjects that excite our interests.

A few years ago we were visited by British polar explorer Mark Wood . Those who were fortunate enough to hear what he had to say will remember that his message was a simple one. Distilling all he had learned on expeditions to the Poles and up the world’s highest mountains he gave our young people a very good piece of advice – just keep going. Simply putting one foot in front of another is the key to making progress. The Norwegian explorer, philosopher, art connoisseur and publisher Erling Kagge also offers a good deal of ice-born wisdom in the excellent Philosophy for Polar Explorers . I particularly benefitted from his thoughts about getting up early, enjoying small helpings and accepting failure. Most of all his chapter on resetting your compass strikes a chord at this time of year. Here Kagge tells us that we must always learn, we must never limit ourselves to the achievement of only one goal, we must always be kind and we should always feel a sense of gratitude for the advantages that we enjoy. Even in November. Do wrap up warm.

Nicholas Hammond




“I’ve given my life…”

“I’ve given my life to the principle and the ideal of remembrance.”

Elie Weisel

We use eight words to describe the values that underpin our activities as a school. As a community we need to take a little time once in a while to remind ourselves of these important ideas and to consider how we live by them in the busy days of a packed term-time week. Today we have paused to consider a number of these values. This week of remembrance allows us to stop and consider the plight of others whose lives are affected by conflict. We reflect upon concepts of service, community, endeavour and integrity.

We mark remembrance in a number of ways at the School. We had an assembly in the Junior School in which we paused, listened, sang and performed. One member of our community went to play The Last Post at the British Embassy and at the Senior School some students and staff joined together at morning break in an act of quiet reflection.

Remembrance, understandably, means different things to different people. For some it is a celebration and glorification of conflict, others see it from a very different perspective. I am in the second camp. If one message comes through in the activities of today it is an acknowledgement of the horror, brutality and waste of war. Alongside that message is another one that speaks to the importance that we place on freedom. During the Senior School’s act of commemoration we heard older pupils reflect upon the justifications for war and also the impact of war.

In the Junior School we considered the effects on civilian and animal populations as well as military personnel. No glorification here, but a clear acknowledgement of the integrity of those who are willing to defend the rights of others when all alternative other means have been exhausted. Alongside this is an appreciation of the long lasting impact that are made by the scars of battle on the landscape and population.

Out of such a solemn event it is good to be able to acknowledge students who made significant contributions. Our two flautists in the Junior School and our three Sixth Form readers at the Senior School gave much to our event. Our Year 7 reader who read her prize winning war poetry reminded us all that nothing good comes from war and the British Ambassador most certainly appreciated the playing of the Last Post at the Embassy this morning.

If you have a moment to visit our remembrance memorial at the Senior School I would encourage you to do so. Miss Wall of the Art Department and Mr. Bates of the History Department have created an entirely appropriate commemoration installation.

Much of the value of remembrance is in the lessons that it teaches the young in shaping their attitude to the resolution of disputes and to the avoidance of conflict. Not all of us will dedicate our life to the cause of remembrance like Elie Weisel, but if through the wearing of poppies, bleuets, forget-me-nots or marigolds we achieve a more peaceful world then today’s activities will have been worthwhile indeed. It is perhaps important that recall something else that Weisel said namely that “Peace is our gift to each other”.

Nicholas Hammond



John Hattie – What Works Best

It is probably the same in any field of endeavour. A piece of research points something out that we probably knew in a way that makes it impossible to ignore. Quite often this piece of research becomes an orthodoxy, it becomes so well used that it becomes the pillar of a subject or an approach. Education is no different. There are thousands of erudite papers about education published each year; some sink into obscurity, others become critical to the way that we think about what we are doing in school each day as teachers.

A few years ago John Hattie, an Australian academic started to publish material evaluating the effectiveness of a variety of strategies being used in classrooms around the world. He asked the simple but essential questions that needed to be asked about what are the most effective approaches to education. What things that are done in lessons lead to the most progress being made by students? Hattie stated that one year in the classroom should result in at least one year’s worth of progress. A reasonable starting point. His evaluation has been taken on by other academics who have looked at what methods have resulted in the most demonstrable progress notably the CEM department at Durham University which has looked at interventions on a value for money basis. The results are interesting. Feedback, meta-cognition, peer tutoring and homework (in a secondary context) have a very high return for little investment. Take away the economic element and they still remain highly effective strategies to ensure that progress is made.

We have spent a good deal of time looking at Hattie’s research and we have implemented many of the suggestions that he makes into our academic year and our daily approach. We believe that effective feedback is essential to good learning and as a consequence we have regular assessment reports in the Senior School and Parents’ Evenings have just started in the Junior School. These moments are vital if progress is to be made. Meta cognition or learning how we learn is also significant. This week I was delighted to see a variety of peer teaching techniques being used as well as some excellent presentations about how to learn with our older students sharing their wisdom with others. As we start to consider all that has been achieved in this half term it is good to know that much of the academic achievement has been done with the support of both teachers and pupils.

Of course one of the most effective ways of learning is by doing. Our older pupils have been in the UK doing geography fieldwork (in the rain) and others will be taking flight to spend two weeks with our partner schools in Cambodia. We wish them well as they go on to learn through doing.

Nicholas Hammond



“And now I might as happy be…”

“And now I might
As happy be as earth is beautiful…”

Edward Thomas, October

Schools tend to be a little different when it rains. There are the obvious differences such as the distinctive smell of damp pupils after a lunchtime football session who start to dry out in a warm classroom, but many differences are more subtle. The October rain is the first real sign that autumn has begun and that our late summer has ended. Mornings are a little gloomier. A chill is felt in the air before morning break – it takes a little time for the day to warm up. The PE staff suddenly find their track suit trousers and our younger pupils prepare to move from summer dresses to winter uniform.

We have definitely come to the end of the beginning. It is difficult for me to tell those students who joined this term from those who are old hands, confidence has grown, habits are forming. The week has found a rhythm, understanding is developing and norms are established. Teams have travelled and fixtures played, service activities have begun and rehearsals are under way. For the senior pupils we are approaching the first assessment point of the year. A time of reckoning which will, hopefully, result in new resolution and renewed endeavour (if required). October is the moment when we have a chance to review, to reflect and to pull ourselves up if that is necessary. I hope that by now those who were once “new” definitely feel that they are comfortably part of their school. For our oldest pupils this is time of university applications, reference writing and predicted grades – for them it is the start of the end of their school career. October it seems is a time for looking ahead and perhaps for a little reflection, not a time for melancholy but for excitement and anticipation at what is to happen next. As AA Milne once said, “The end of the summer is not the end of the world. Here’s to October…”

One bright element of this October is that, despite the rain we have yet to see a fall off in the number of pupils who are cycling to school. This is fantastic but I would ask, perhaps more importantly than ever that helmets are worn, brakes are checked and lights are charged. So popular is cycling that we have had to extend our cycle stands on the senior campus. As mentioned in a recent newsletter our local police will be checking cycles in the coming weeks to ensure that they are correctly equipped. As both evenings and mornings are a little less bright more than ever care is required. A note for drivers too, be aware that journey times will be a little longer in the coming days as construction work is carried out on the hospital site in Le Vésinet. Please be aware that more time will be necessary for a prompt arrival.

From what I have seen, our young people are working well and engaging in all the school has to offer. As the days draw in I look forward to pupils maintaining their energy levels and brightening the ever shortening days.

Nicholas Hammond



“No great deed is done by falterers…”

“No great deed is done by falterers who ask for certainty.”

George Eliot

Certainty is a most reassuring feeling. It may also be one of the most significant obstacles to learning. Whilst it may not always seem to be the case, little that we learn is ever really cast in stone, whatever an exam board may say. This term my Year 9 History class have been seeking to understand the origins of World War One. They have had to weigh evidence, consider opinions and analyse events. We know the war started in 1914 but that is about all that is certain. Perhaps the absence of certainty is what makes sport so exciting. Whilst it looked likely that Dina Asher-Smith would walk away with the gold medal, her victory was not certain until she crossed the finish line.

As an historian I’m sure she will have considered all of the variables, questioned her preparation and will enjoy what has been achieved. She will also know that in the next race nothing is certain and she will have to do it all again.

One feature of British style education is the blending of a base of knowledge with a portfolio of skills. If we are to view this year as being a success we may be wise to ask how well we have developed critical thinkers who are able to make sense of this complicated and sometimes contradictory world. The first step is to move away from believing that we are always right in what we think; if this is achieved then we are going to enjoy a vibrant year of learning.

Pupils often make decisions about what they do and don’t like about school early on in the educational journey. All too often the enthusiasm of our youngest learners is stifled by the feeling that a particular subject or activity “is not for them”. Misperception turns into certainty and it is never questioned again. This is a shame. The BSP is not a large school and as a consequence our young people have the opportunity to be involved in a wide variety of activities and our class sizes mean that all have a chance to be involved in lessons. We can question the “not for me” misperception. Term is well under way and it is a good time to remind ourselves that learning is best when we all engage fully. I hope that our young people remain confident in being able to ask the question “why do we think that?” when considering the answers that they are given. Without this degree of critical thought our understanding of the world will not move on.

This week the UK enjoyed National Poetry Day. Simon Armitage the Poet Laureate spoke thoughtfully on the use of language in politics describing it as “threadbare”, a language of certainties that does not address real issues but perhaps the most telling statement came from poet Anthony Anaxagorou who suggested that poetry offers a route beyond the media soundbites. “A poem is happy not knowing anything for certain, whereas news needs to be premised on ‘truth’,” Anaxagorou said. “Poems argue their own logic, they call on their own truth, which needn’t be an empirical one, so in this respect their reach is far more universal.”
I’m certain I couldn’t have said it better.

Nicholas Hammond