“Let us remember: one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai

By rights, this would be the column in which I look forward to all that a new year will bring. Normally I’d be talking about resolutions, new beginnings and thinking about all we have to look forward to. I’d mention some of the events or happenings that we are looking forward to. It would be a positive, enthusiastic preview. But having been subjected to a near constant diet of concerning news over the holiday, I really do wonder what 2019 will bring. We seem to be living in a world in which dialogue has broken down and one in which co-operation is a long forgotten concept. So before writing I took the only course of action available in such dire circumstances and went for a walk. Having enjoyed the crisp winter air and having had time to think about what I should be thinking I’m writing in a more positive manner about what lies ahead and more importantly what we as a school can do to make things better for the future.

BSP pupils will go on to be leaders and opinion formers. They will be influential in whichever community they join. I’ve said it before and I will no doubt say it again, but it is important to recognise this fact. As future leaders and opinion shapers one of the skills that I hope they develop this year is the vital skill of oracy. If this world needs one thing, it is a group of young people who can speak truth to power. We need a generation who can challenge and who have the ability to stand up for what they believe to be right. Not at the cost of others, but for the good of all. If this is to be achieved then we as educationalists and parents need to ensure that every young person develops a voice and is ready to use that powerful instrument for change. Many of our pupils already have this skill; the Eco School group with their campaign to make the School single use plastic free, our prefects, our young managers, our charity committee members and the Student Councils have all developed a voice. This year I hope that every pupil uses the opportunities that they have for debate in class and in co-curricular activities to develop their voice. They should take an example from their peers rather than looking at the tawdry example set by many in public life and in some cases holding high office. They should develop constructive ways of engaging with discourse in both the real and the virtual world. They, I believe, have something important to say about the world that they are set to inherit. Furthermore, the world needs to hear it.

soap boxSo, if I have one resolution this year, it will be to ensure that I encourage our young people to develop their voice. To give them opportunities to speak and provide them with space to develop the ideas that may well save the planet. If I manage to achieve this it is likely to have a more lasting effect than my normal resolutions that never make it past January (usually the 2nd of January).

A very warm welcome to all new members of the school community. We have had new starters this week and there are more on Monday. We all look forward to getting to know you and working with you.

With every good wish for a joyful and constructive New Year.

Nicholas Hammond


“A living art of teaching…”

“A living art of teaching… has a thread of strength running through it that stimulates individual students to participate.” – Rudolph Steiner

jumpersI never thought there would be a clear connection between Marxist intellectuals and novelty festive wear. Turns out there is. The link is the Christmas Jumper. The modern “tradition” of wearing hideous festive woollies seems to have emerged in the last decade and is now a regular fixture of the run up to Christmas. It has even been put to good use by the Save the Children Fund who sponsor a Christmas Jumper Day on the 14th of December. So far so itchy.

There have been plenty of festive pullovers in evidence at this term end but it is the people wearing the jumpers I would like to focus on today. Over the past few weeks we have been treated to wonderful concerts, there have been quizzes, Christmas lunch extravaganzas, parties and plays. Once you have the opportunity to learn about the personalities behind the knitwear it soon becomes clear that there is more to our pupils than just a silly sweater. Indeed, at the end of a very busy term it is good to reflect upon the many diverse achievements that have been won over the course of the term. Particular thanks are due to Year 8 Zara who designed our splendid polar bear Christmas e-card this year.

Last week I saw the Nursery Christmas show; how humbling to see the youngest members of our school community singing and dancing with such assuredness. In September they were having their first experience of the School and now they are quite at home! Key Stage 1 and 2 have had busy terms in which they have moved on in their learning and have enjoyed days out to farms and days in with Egyptians. They have impressed us all with their singing too in their Christmas Shows. The Seniors have not been left behind. Our girls’ football team had a magnificent season, we’ve seen excellent expeditions and trips. University offers are rolling in and our Christmas Show gave our musicians a chance to shine. It has been a wonderful term and there have been so many high points that it is impossible to list them within my newsletter word count. But if you want to see what has been achieved, then take a look at our social media feeds, enjoy the recordings of shows and glance back over the term’s newsletters. As well as having questionable taste in jumpers our pupils have given of themselves and their talents to assist others in the local community through a variety of service projects, collection campaigns and fundraisers. Be it sorting stuff at Emmaüs or playing a musical instrument for older people in their care home, our pupils do it. It is easy to be distracted by the miles of acrylic yarn but make no mistake, our young people are made of a far more powerful moral fibre. They understand that service and integrity are as important as excellence.
One and all they deserve every congratulation on all that they have achieved. I hope that you and they have a joyful Christmas and Happy New Year.

Nicholas Hammond

1. See The Invention of Tradition E. J. Hobsbawm and T. O. Ranger if you wish to find out more…

Christmas Time

“Gleðileg jól!”

Time travels more speedily when it is the end of term. There is also less of it in the run up to Christmas. Put the two together and you gain an appreciation of how life has been in the last ten days or so. The end of term is now upon us and it does not seem so very long ago that we were returning from the summer holidays.

This has been a fulfilling and exciting term. Our young people have worked hard and played hard and the results are plain to see. For many the Christmas holiday will be a well-earned break, a chance to spend time with friends and relatives. For others it will be a time to draw breath and to prepare for the January exams.

This week I read with great interest that the Italian education minister Marco Bussetti had called on schools to avoid overloading pupils with homework during the festive period. Italian students have one of the heaviest homework burdens in Europe and he gave a clear steer to Heads that they should ensure that there is time for pupils to enjoy time with their family and relatives (for those looking for a country with a lighter burden try Finland). This week also saw the centenary of the birth of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The great author was a man who used his time to the full. He had a punishing working day rising at 1am, working until 9am when he had a short break before continuing on until 7pm. Then he went to bed (sometimes with a pitchfork by his side). There is probably a happy medium between the do no work plan and the Solzhenitsyn approach. So what should our pupils (who do not face the looming spectre of mocks) do this holiday? How best to spend the coming days?

The answer is perhaps to be found in the approach to holiday time found in another country, Iceland. Jólabókaflóð is a tradition borne from the privations of the Second World War when Iceland was unable to import goods. Friends started to exchange books rather than give gifts. Once they had been exchanged on Christmas Eve people went home and spent the evening curled up with a good book. After the war Icelandic publishers saved up their new titles for the Christmas period and the Jólabókaflóð or Book Flood emerged as a custom. Books are still exchanged the night before Christmas. It is perhaps no co-incidence that Icelanders read more books per capita than any other nation in the world.

JS Library photo for coverI hope that everyone receives a book to read this Christmas. Perhaps more importantly I hope that everyone finds time, if only a small amount, to read between now and the start of the next term. If that is the case then we can all probably agree with the words of the song that this is “the most wonderful time of the year”.

Nicholas Hammond


Clearly something that is to be avoided, but something that is very tempting to those in education. Barely a week goes by without some great new educational idea being introduced on an unsuspecting world. Some initiatives are adopted wholesale, others fall by the wayside pretty quickly. A trip down memory lane will bring up such marvellous ideas as learning outcomes, verbal feedback stamps and sitting in form order. This week, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools turned her withering gaze upon the formerly popular primary education scheme, Brain Gym. The programme has been around for
a while now and gained a loyal band of adherents convinced of its benefits. The scheme started in California in the late 1980s and was used widely in Europe; indeed in 2008 it received the official stamp of approval with the then Department for Children, School and Families.

It gained an enthusiastic following and I am sure it was enjoyed by many who took part in it. There is little to suggest that it actually helps with learning (if you want to read an entertaining demolition try Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science analysis). All reservations put aside I’m sure that for some it was a way of finding success at school and maybe in turn
it drew pupils to further academic progress. Who knows? Scientifically unsound, it could still have some value. I firmly believe that a tiny amount of success in school can lead to the sort of momentum that grows greater and even greater success.

Over the course of the week I read a piece of what seems to be a well-researched, thoughtful academic paper which called into question certain educational beliefs that I have held dear for many years. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren’s report ‘The achievement well-being trade-off in education’ suggests that many recent attempts to put children at the
centre of leaning and teaching methods are ill-founded.

He questions the view that pupil-led learning, enjoyment and performance form a virtuous circle (he clearly must have loved his school days). He hypothesises that we have all read our Rousseau incorrectly and suggests that “effective learning is often not enjoyable”. Having read all this I was starting to worry that I’d got it all wrong and had been heading off into a happy land of educational mediocrity. I was relieved to note towards the end of the paper that he wasn’t suggesting a return to Gradgrindian education but rather explaining that there may well be times that pupils will be less than happy about doing their homework and other elements of their learning. He advocates making pedagogical trade-offs depending on whether we are looking for education to provide the state with income or to produce fulfilled adults. All in all, I think we may be on the right track here at the BSP. I’ll probably read it again just to check though…

ShowI finished my week seeing the Reception and Key Stage 1 Christmas Show. An extravaganza of talent and indeed joy. Most of the joy was in the audience. Well done to all the performers and thank you to their teachers who have worked so hard to bring the show to fruition. Experiences like this are both joyful and valuable. The good thing is there are plenty more to come in the coming weeks.

Nicholas Hammond

“No-one is bigger than the team” – John Kirwan and Sean Fitzpatrick, 1999

U18 girsl foot ASPWe are entering the time of year where sports players shift their attention from autumn sports to winter sports. I had the pleasure of watching the boys’ 1st XI play their final game on Saturday morning and round off their season with an emphatic win. Regular readers of the newsletter will be aware that our girls’ 1st XI had their most successful season on record remaining unbeaten in the regular season. This magnificent achievement is testament to their extraordinary team spirit and skill. They have been coached effectively and have worked together to produce exceptional results. I suspect that all of the players in this all-conquering side will remember this season as being one of the best, no matter how long they continue to play the game. Chapeau.

An ability to be an effective team player is valuable skill indeed. Over the course of a pupil’s time at school they will be put into a team. Sometimes they will be with their
friends and often they won’t. In many ways I favour the latter. As an educational experience there can be little that is more valuable than to be placed in a situation
where one is forced to co-operate with other people, to communicate clearly and to support a collective endeavour. At the BSP many opportunities to be part of a team
exist. Obviously there are sports teams but the cast of a play is also a team. Our orchestras and ensembles are also areas of mutual co-operation and I am looking forward to seeing these teams in action at the end of term concerts. But the experience of co-operation is not limited to co-curricular activities. We regularly build teams in the
classrooms. Group work when I was at school was always a bit of an excuse to skive off and let someone else do the heavy lifting. Now group work tasks are established that
really test students’ knowledge and develop their team working skills. Today I observed some Year 12 Economics students work in teams for ten minutes to produce mini presentations on a topic that they had not known before they started. This is a real and meaningful learning challenge which develops both skills and knowledge. The results were very impressive. I would never have envisaged a Hackathon team – but we have one.

I am not a huge fan of management books but James Kerr’s “Legacy” is something of an exception. Whilst on the surface it is about rugby we have used it as a staff to consider the way in which we approach our roles in the various teams that we belong to. Kerr, in looking at the recent culture of leadership in All Black rugby provides us as teachers or adults working in a school with many useful lessons concerning the way we play our part. It is well worth a look. I believe that we have learned from it.

So be it a Maths Challenge team or a rock band, the cast of a musical or being the substitute on the bench, I hope that every member of this school has the opportunity to be part of a team each term. We won’t all have an unbeaten season but we will develop a vital life skill.

Nicholas Hammond

More important than Dora…

JL EtienneIt took Jean-Louis Etienne an epic 63 days to single-handedly drag a sled to the North Pole. Once at the Pole he had no-one to celebrate with so he shared his achievement with his cooking stove and his sledge. Thirty odd years later he has become one of the world’s most celebrated and well respected explorers. He joined the Senior School and Year 5 in the newly refurbished Redgrave Multi-Purpose Hall this morning to share his thoughts about his lifetime of achievements and to challenge us to think about the threats to the world that we face today. You can read about his inspirational story on his website which tells you much about the man behind the legend:

As a school we have joined with wider communities in behaving in a more environmentally responsible fashion. We’ve reduced our consumption of single use plastic, we harvest rainwater, we have energy efficient lighting and we have a beehive. What Dr. Etienne made clear was that whilst such measures are good, we as a global community have far to go. We should be in no doubt that the crisis that we face today will only be solved with the application and dedication of the next generation. Young people like ours have the key to saving the planet. I suspect that, having listened to Dr. Etienne some will have been inspired to consider being part of the solution. Whilst he claimed not to be a “superman” just a person who persisted with their dream, I find it hard to believe that there are not pupils who will be thinking differently today as a consequence of having met him.

If you don’t have a chance to look at the recording of the event here are six key points from the talk:
• Passion might mean that you start a project. Perseverance is the thing that will see the project to success. So follow your idea and don’t give up.
• Expect difficulties. Few things in life come easily and if you give up because the going gets tough you should never have started in the first place.
• Cold temperatures won’t kill you. Ill winds will.
• Language is a tool. Use it to increase your knowledge. Never stop exploring.
• Don’t push your boundaries. Discover your boundaries. Find opportunities to discover how great you really are.
• Change is sometimes necessary.

In summing up his thoughts, Dr. Etienne told some older students that his experiences of fundraising for expeditions have taught him that it is normally the case that a few well-chosen words make more of an impact than many. I thought that was excellent advice so I’ll stop now.

Nicholas Hammond

When will we ever learn?

It would be interesting to know if, one hundred years from today, British Schools will still spend so much time studying the First World War. To some extent modern British culture is considered to have been shaped by the First World War. At least in the public imagination it was a war of stiff upper lips and playing the game, of noble sacrifice gone wrong as warfare changed beyond all recognition to harness the industrial power of nations. Poetry, novels, plays and films have been written; it is a conflict that has stamped itself on the national psyche of the UK in a way that it hasn’t in other countries. The idea of lions led by donkeys and the dangers of unchecked nationalism also weigh heavy on our latter day interpretations.

This week I had the great fortune to go with Year 9 to the First World War battlefields of Northern France and Belgium. We were blessed with both exceptional weather and engaged, interested students. Many of them asked the inevitable questions about the futility and waste of war, after all, who could not be moved standing in front of a pristine war grave for a fifteen year old boy who died under fire? The answers don’t get any easier to find.

As we stood looking at the Menin Gate, bathed in early morning sunlight, I was struck that as teachers we have an obligation to ensure that the First World War does not slip into the mists of time. It was a modern conflict in which the world was forced to understand, for the first time, that targets could be found far from the immediate battlefield. It was perhaps the first mass media war with its own brands of propaganda and fake news. It had unexpected consequences, positive ones, such as votes for women. It was a crucible of nations with Canada, Australia and New Zealand asserting their independence from Britain, the old order was questioned. But at what price? Carnage, sorrow, dispossession. Without World War 1 the Middle East situation would be different indeed. These are not easy concepts for young minds but it is important that we challenge our pupils to consider the views they need to develop, to compel them engage with “difficult” subjects. In doing so we have to, as parents or as teachers, allow them to disagree from time to time.

I have written before that we are developing a new generation of leaders at this school. Our young people will, I am sure, go on to make a massive contribution to their communities (wherever they may be) and it is important that they are ready to apply the lessons of the past to their futures and the decisions that are made for them and on their behalf.

AlexWe are right to remember and right to commemorate. All who had the opportunity to hear Georgie Green’s poem in Notre Dame on Sunday cannot help but consider the cost of conflict and those who heard Nicholas Lo’s stirring playing have been given pause for thought. I hope that 100 years from now we are still commemorating Alex’s great, great grandfather and his comrades who gave so much.

Nicholas Hammond

“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.” – Edmund Hillary

Perhaps it is a consequence of living in a world governed by bells, timetables and a prescribed year that there is a danger of allowing the school year to roll along “as normal”. On Monday, teaching staff had an INSET (training) day. On Tuesday the half term started – the school picked up where it had left off ten days before with a few new faces. All very familiar, all very normal.

Despite this seeming familiarity an event occurred during the half term that has shaken many from this comfortable routine; former BSP teacher, Nicholas Lowndes, sadly died following an accident at his home. Nicholas Lowndes joined The British School of Paris in 1974 and he left our immediate community for retirement in 2015. Those who were not taught by him may have met him doing stalwart service on the second hand book stall at the summer fair. Nicholas was always going to make the most of retirement. Having already lovingly restored a house in Brittany, he had other plans. Some will know of his exceptional woodworking skills. There are few among us with the expertise to create a lute. Retirement was not an end to learning or talent development, it merely signalled a new phase in a life where learning remained central.

The loss of a long-serving member of staff is a matter for sorrow. Our deepest sympathies are with Mrs Lowndes our Junior School Librarian and wife of Nicholas and also with their children who all attended the BSP. I know that friends and colleagues will rally round and support; such is the way of this school.
Loss affects a community, but the institution carries on. Sometimes this is a comfort. Death is not necessarily a comfortable subject for adults and it is perhaps more alien for children. That acknowledged we should confront the subject. There are members of this community who have lost parents, siblings and a significant number will have lost grandparents. Loss can come in many forms and it is generally traumatic. But in a school, a place dedicated to making the most of talent and to the realisation of potential it also provides a powerful reminder. Very little in life is guaranteed and to that end we must make the most of every day that we wake up to. Whilst comfort, familiarity and routine are all good, we must never forget that we have, each day, the chance to do not just something extraordinary but many extraordinary things.

British-School-of-Paris-1280I wonder if, over the course of this coming week, we can reflect upon something that we have done that is worthy? Have we used the extraordinary opportunities that we have here? Have we used our talents wisely? Sometimes the jolt of tragedy serves to remind us that this life of ours is indeed precious. This half term we should avoid the trap of simply going through the motions and ensure that we continually strive for excellence. This may mean doing different. If we are able to achieve this then it will have been a half term well spent.

Nicholas Hammond

Five reasons to be cheerful

I recently had the great good fortune to hear Geoff Barton, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders speak at a conference.  Geoff is a fount of good sense in a sometimes turbulent educational world and he has recently blogged about 5 reasons to be cheerful at the end of this half term.  In a spirit of healthy plagiarism (if there is such a thing) I am taking his excellent idea and adapting it to a BSP purpose.

So, 5 reasons for us at The British School of Paris to be cheerful at the end of this half term:

1)     Learning has happened in spades (massive amounts)!

ApplesI am fortunate to be able to tour the schools on a regular basis and I am constantly impressed with the knowledge and eloquence of our young people.  From Nursery’s incredible work with apples to A level students in Year 13 pushing the limits of their knowledge and understanding it has been a successful half term by any measure.  Everyone can do something that they couldn’t do before!  Thank you to teachers and very well done to our pupils.

2)    New pupils are now established pupils

At the start of term we had nearly two hundred new students.  Such is the welcoming nature of the BSP these “newbies” have become “old hands”.  Our pupils are settled and are able to develop friendships, build on the talents and enjoy coming to their school.  Over the course of the half term there has been only one Monday morning where we have not welcomed a new pupil.  Our warmth and openness as a community means that no-one feels new for long!  Next half term we will welcome still more pupils, we look forward to all that they will bring to our community.

3)    We have an ever developing sense of responsibility for wider communities

This term we have made massive steps forward towards reducing single use plastic and whilst there is still work to do we are well on the way to achieving our goals.  We enjoyed the first batch of honey from the beehive.  Our Sixth Formers are currently in Cambodia visiting the school that we have built with the support of the tireless BSPS. We’ve contributed to local sports events and are proud to be part of Croissy’s Remembrance activities next term.  Our volunteers have given many hours to charities such as the Red Cross, Genetic Disorders UK (Jeans for Genes), Arbre À Pain and Emmaüs – Bougival. We make a difference both locally and globally.

4)    We are about to open a new multi-purpose hall

Whilst education can (and often does) occur anywhere it is always an advantage if learning happens in an inspiring environment.  The newly refurbished Redgrave Hall will give us the opportunity to perform in a space that will match the talents of our pupils.  It will give us room to hold lectures, assemblies and it will make parents’ evenings much more effective!  Most importantly it is a shared space, Junior School pupils will use it and Senior School pupils will use it. Sport, music, drama, public speaking and many other activities will take place in it. One thing that we have learnt over the last eighteen months is that we are fortunate in having a variety of spaces shared on two campuses and it is easy enough to move from one campus to another.  We are one school.

5)    We get to do it all again after the holiday

There is an enormous amount to look forward to next term.  Trips will still go out despite the weather, fixtures will be played, lessons will take place; there will be challenges and discovery.  There will be opportunities for pupils to show determination and endeavour.  We will continue to play a leading role in our community and we will seek to serve others with integrity and we will strive for excellence.  We are fortunate to work in a school which offers us all, be we pupils, teachers, support staff, administrators, governors, alumni, parents or friends such opportunities to learn from each other.

Have a great holiday.

Nicholas Hammond

A comma not a full stop

Half term is one of the educational world’s greatest ideas. Whilst it was probably invented to allow children to go back to pick potatoes from fields or make the last preparations for the coming winter on a farm, it now fulfils a very different and no less valuable purpose. After six and a half weeks of the school year it gives us all an opportunity to take stock, to reflect on what we have achieved at the start of the year and to look ahead. Having enjoyed the most wonderful weather over the past few weeks, we have perhaps been slightly tricked into thinking that we have only just returned to school and I for one have found that this half term has passed incredibly quickly.

Breteuil for coverThe second half of the Autumn Term is one of the most important periods of learning in any school year, for those in examination years it is nothing short of vital. It is most valuable time and we will use it wisely – it is here that the foundations of success are laid, thus we will need to be ready to be working at our maximum levels when we return. But we face a danger in this coming holiday, if we stop completely the habits we have built up this half term will take too long to re-establish. Young minds are like high performance engines, they need to be run regularly if they are to perform at their best. To ensure that we do not lose our vital academic momentum I need to ask for parental help. The forthcoming holiday is one in which pupils should have a well-earned rest. But such a rest does not mean letting all things academic slip or grind to a halt. As well as spending time on screen (seemingly everyone’s favourite pastime these days), our children should take time to read a book, talk to family and friends (face to face) and spend time in the fresh air. If you are travelling then a diary, scrapbook or blog will stimulate the mind now and be an interesting artefact later. Half term is a good time to sort out those files that might just be getting a little messy and a time to revisit the elements of work that perhaps would benefit from some revision. If something can be done each day then the momentum will remain and starting next half term will be all the easier. At the risk of causing familial fallout I’d be grateful if you could remind your children that whilst half term is a holiday, it needs to be, at least to a small extent, a working one.

Whilst I realise that this column will win me few friends in the pupil body, I know that if half term is used to refresh rather than to simply flop then it will be time well spent and in the long run it is sure to pay handsome dividends. Minds that have been kept active will need little start up time in November and that is a great advantage. Who knows, reading a book might even turn out to be quite interesting…?

Have a wonderful half term.

Nicholas Hammond