“Culture and education aren’t simply hobbies…”

“Culture and education aren’t simply hobbies or minor influences.”

Pierre Bourdieu

There is a lot being written in the UK educational press about the importance of Cultural Capital and how much pupils should be accruing through their time in school. In the UK this is a subject that is connected to the inspection framework and it is seen by many commentators as a way in which schools in affluent areas can game the inspection system (and life in general) at the expense of others who do not enjoy such a comfortable existence. Crudely put, Cultural Capital is the stuff you know and the stuff that you experience. Once acquired (the sociologists tell us) such knowledge and experience give you an advantage. You speak the same language as others who are “in the know”, refer to the same experiences and in doing so exclude those who don’t or haven’t. It takes on greater importance when social mobility is considered. Not surprising therefore that it is, post-election, a hot topic in the UK. Being here in France means that we don’t have to engage in all such educational debates, but I think that we should be thinking about this idea as a school and what we might do with it.

Whilst many of our Year 13 pupils head off to the UK for university many do not. When it comes for them to enter the world of work many will have lived in a number of different places and have developed a broader perspective on the world than those who have been rooted to a single home country. Having had an experience of living elsewhere may well be of interest to a future employer. It may well give them access to courses or careers that would not be available to someone who has not had an international upbringing. This advantage simply comes about as a consequence of being an internationally mobile family, it is not something that we are consciously using to set our pupils apart, it is simply a fact of who we are. We have an internationally rich community – we have more than 50 nations represented in the school, again this is who we are. The lessons that our young people learn about understanding, tolerance and diversity are I would argue the sort of social or cultural capital that all schools should be investing in. I don’t believe that we use our undoubtedly privileged existence to exclude anyone, far from it.

We are fortunate in being able to offer learning experiences that are broadening both in and out of the classroom. We live on the edge of or in a city that is culturally and artistically extraordinary, we would be foolish to deny ourselves access to the offer of Paris simply because it may lead us to be labelled as culturally privileged. Indeed, I’d go so far as to encourage families to make the most of being here, of visiting the opera, or the ballet, or the galleries, or the museums, or the theatres, or the sites of interest because to miss out would be a shame. There is little excuse of missing an opportunity such as this. These opportunities should not be used to exclude others, I believe that they simply allow our young people to grow as individuals who will eventually do good in their own communities. So, if you are staycationing this half term then why not make the most of Paris and build that available cultural capital?

Nicholas Hammond



Why bother?

Way back in 2006 it was almost impossible to be in a British school and not hear the word “bovvered” being bandied about. For those of you who don’t remember 2006 or were managing to avoid UK television at the time, the word was popularised by actor Catherine Tate in her comedy sketch show when playing the 15 year old malcontent Lauren Cooper[1]. So popular was the catchphrase that it was word of the year and seemed to sum up the grumpy teenager with remarkable accuracy. Tony Blair even got in on the act[2]. After all, young people once they reach the age of about thirteen seem programmed to have a couple of years of not being bothered by anything else around them.

I wonder if this might be changing. I have the impression in many of my daily interactions with young people that many are indeed bothered, very bothered indeed. A consideration of the last few weeks of school life illustrate this well. Take the Senior School show We Will Rock You, a group of students (ably led by staff) generated a show of real quality. The delegates to the Model United Nations Congress in The Hague demonstrated real concern for others and a wonderfully mature approach to conducting high level discussions about pressing world issues. Yesterday, there were pupils opting to do an additional maths test, whilst others were submitting an audition recording for a piano competition. Today we see athletes departing for fixtures in the Netherlands.

Our young people face a challenging future. I believe that the more bothered they are then the more likely they are to find success and fulfilment. The educational writer Hywell Roberts makes a great point when he says that “At the heart of the world’s best teaching you’ll find one admittedly made-up word -botheredness.” Both we and they need this. As teachers we are hopefully providing direction and a degree of inspiration, for the pupil it is accepting that from time to time there is some work to be done. If there ever was a time of the school year to remind ourselves about being bothered it is now when winter has stretched on, when coughs and colds are rife and when quite frankly half term can’t arrive too quickly. For our younger pupils it is all about maintaining that joy of learning and for our older ones it is about being ready to accept the challenge afforded by the coming exams. Right now it is all to easy to fall into the I can’t be bothered trap. It is important that it is avoided, whatever Lauren might think about it.

Nicholas Hammond


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxB1gB6K-2A

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfkjvagVsRI


Aspirations, good or bad

Last week I wrote about how we as parents and teachers can be guilty of pushing children too far our way. This week for the sake of balance I’ll look at the same subject from the other end of the telescope. Whilst I remain certain we must consider most carefully the views of our young people, we also have a duty to sound a note of realism. I can’t help but think of the Monty Python sketch about flaky careers in mining as opposed to the job security of poetry.

It is fair to say that not everyone, however fervently they pledge to follow a life on the stage while at school, will make it. Thousands of Instagram posts will tell you to follow your dreams but not everyone will make it big in the music world. There is a finite space for YouTubers and other influencers. We can’t all play for Norwich City or represent England at rugby however much we may wish to. Or not. We won’t all be famous authors and there can only be one Prime Minister at a time.

One of the privileges of youth is to dream big. I hope that all of the BSP’s pupils are ambitious and that they have the opportunity to do whatever it is that fills them with both passion and satisfaction. I’ve also been in schools for long enough to know that not everyone is lucky enough to “make it”. Indeed, some of the most talented practitioners on stage or pitch have ended up doing something very different indeed. The same is true of university entrance. I know supremely gifted people who did not make it through the Oxbridge lottery and I welcomed calls this week to make both of those universities larger. Almost without fail they gain the grades required to go on and I know for certain that they are more mature, accomplished and talented than I was at their age.

During the last holiday I read a novel written by a student that I had taught, published by Penguin. I can’t tell you how proud I was of all that she had achieved. It is a great read. Others in the same class who were just as talented have gone off to do other things that won’t mean they end up on a shelf in the local bookshop. Another former pupil is a very successful actor, seemingly the “go to” for any period drama. She was a fine actor at school, but there were others who were as good who haven’t quite made it. Another wrote speeches for a former Prime Minister… he was one of the School’s best at debate, but he had competition.

Whilst having big dreams at school is a good thing, we also need to maintain perspective. No-one fails if they don’t make it big in the movies, no-one should feel overly despondent if they don’t get published. We can’t all be influencers and there are many ways to do good without being Prime Minister. The wise writer Charles Handy said that we need portfolios of skills and interests and occupations. If there is one thing that is true it is that our young people will have more opportunities than ever before, but they are wise to develop numerous competencies and indeed several specialisms. School can help with all of this. Success comes in many forms, today more than ever, it is good to develop multiple competencies.

Nicholas Hammond



Weird and wonderful sheep

Big news in the art world this week. The work generally considered as one of the pivotal works in the development of painting- Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Ghent altarpiece, was revealed to the waiting world in all its new and restored glory. It is a massive piece of art, well over four metres wide and three metres high. It has stood for centuries in the St. Bavo’s cathedral gradually accruing a patina from incense and candle smoke. This most recent restoration is not the first. Over the years well meaning experts have cleaned, retouched and in their eyes improved the original. This most recent restoration has taken more than eight years to complete and has taken the painting back closer to the original than ever before. At the centre of the scene depicted on the screen is a lamb. This new restoration has revealed the animal’s face as painted in 1432. It turns out that a well meaning restorer in the sixteenth century had repainted the lamb’s face to make it, well, more lamb like.

The original that we can see today is, well, a bit weird looking according to many who view it. Van Eyck,it seems, wanted the animal to be human reflecting the religious nature of the painting. The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. What is odd to us made sense to them.

So why my interest? I think that this restoration, the revelation of a different way of seeing has valuable lessons for us as parents or teachers. When we look at the young people in front of us, how often do we as adults attempt to paint them as we want to see them? How often in our words and with our advice do we seek to make them more acceptable to us? Do we attempt to paint what we want to see rather than revealing the real, however weird or baffling.

As January ends we enter the season of subject choices. Each year some pupils will make choices that reflect not what they are but what they think they ought to be. This is a recipe for underperformance and in some cases unhappiness. As adults we are there to guide, to offer useful and supportive advice and to influence where prudent. Sadly it is a very small step from this position to enforcing our own ideas, however well meant.
Our pupils come in many different forms. We do well when we recognize them for what and who they are, not what we think they should be. They will think differently, they will not always be as we might wish. They need to make mistakes. And we like gentle restorers are right to let them grow into the people they are.

Nicholas Hammond



“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