The end of the summer term…

When I had the opportunity to study anthropology the seeming obsession of some academics with the concept of rites of passage was striking. It appeared that it wasn’t possible to pick up a monograph without finding some sort of ceremony or event that was, in the observer’s mind at least, the marker of a significant occurrence in the passage of an individual’s life. The longer I am in schools the more important these markers seem to be (and the faster they come around – that is, however, age). From the start of term assembly by way of the Christmas concert via fixtures, performances and exhibitions we always end up back at the same place – the end of the summer term. What anthropologists regard as passage through a liminal zone we simply see as moving up a year group or going to another school or heading off to university. Perhaps this year, more than others, how we should commemorate the end of this most remarkable of years is a question to be answered. Perhaps we have the chance to build new traditions.

This year will, of course, be different. To some extent we have lost the anchor points of the school year, there is a danger of being adrift. I can’t help but spare a thought for those of our pupils who, for whatever reason, won’t finish the year with their friends and their teachers and whose end of term is likely to end (to borrow from T.S Eliot) not with a bang but a whimper. Those in school have had the chance to enjoy time with friends and to consolidate their learning but the end of this year will be different, it will not be the same even for those who are able to be present. Who knows what new ceremonies or customs will develop from our experiences over the last three months?

Whilst it remains difficult to gather, we can, without doubt celebrate. Our Junior School final assembly may be a little less well attended than normal and our Prize Giving may be virtual, but it would be wrong to view them as some ersatz version of the real thing. Both events have been filmed and the resulting productions will be shown in something similar to the normal way – Parents if you wish to put champagne in the fridge before starting it should be chilled by the time the films end! In taking a new approach we record for posterity the achievements of our whole community and who knows, in years to come it might be the sort of thing that is watched again. If nothing else, it will bear witness to the concept of lock-down hair in its many and varied forms.

Our pupils have had an extraordinary year. Many have been given a chance to work in a genuinely independent manner. Perhaps their way of viewing the world will have been shaped by this period of difference. I hope so. If it were the case that this experience leads to a new way of configuring the world and a re-ordering of priorities, then it may well have been time well spent. This has been a time of tragedy and uncertainty. Perhaps it has been a rite of passage that few generations will have the need to experience but it will have profound effects.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Year 12 student Rayan shares his opinion…

Student voice is one of the buzzwords ringing around education these days. Here it is in the School’s DNA. Allowing space for young people to express their opinions and giving them the confidence to do so is part of the BSP’s mission. Therefore I am delighted to be able to pass my column over to Rayan this week.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

“Pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, but the embrace of difference. Genuine pluralism understands that diversity does not weaken a society, it strenghtens it.”

His Highness the Aga Khan

As a student, and a person of colour, I have closely watched the ongoing anti-racism protests and rallies in the USA and around the world. Thousands have mobilized and assembled to stand up against racism. And, finally, governments, business and everyday people are listening and beginning the long process of instituting change.

I want to acknowledge the deep damage to humanity caused by racism. Racism exists everywhere, in all societies, even within our own BSP community. As students we have the right to be loved, respected, and supported for who we are if we are to become the best version of ourselves.

Rayan

As another school year comes to a close, I would like everyone to please remember that the important work of creating the conditions for students to thrive involves all of us. This is not a single moment in time, but rather a moral imperative to create positive and lasting change. We have a collective responsibility to make our community, and the world, a better place. Our teachers have inspired us as students to bring our best, each and every day, inside and outside the classroom. We have been asked to model excellence in scholarship, character and leadership. From the beginning of our student experience, the values of student voice, choice, and agency have been instilled on us.

We can all do something. We can sign a petition. We can (safely) join a protest. Read a book – This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell or Stamped by Ibram X. Kendi. Watch TED Talks such as: The Path to Ending Systemic Racism in the US. Talk with your family about what is happening in the world today. Have they experienced racism? Have they subjected someone to racism? What were they taught about different races in school? What about their parents? Let’s not be afraid to ask the hard questions. And let’s not be afraid of the answers to those questions.

Now is the moment to show our true character as leaders. We have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to commit to the important, ongoing work of learning, understanding, and advocating. Open and honest discourse, standing up for what is right, respecting different perspectives, recognizing the strength which comes from diversity and plurality, and taking visible action are what we do. Let’s challenge each other, on a daily basis to make our school, homes, and community reflective of who we are and what we stand for. It is only in this way that we will be able to embrace our differences and become a stronger and more united society.

Rayan Adatia

Year 12

www.britishschool.fr

“How can you hate me when you do not know me?” – Darryl Davis

Thirty years ago, I spent a year in Minneapolis as an exchange student. For me it was a formative experience. An opportunity to live in a vibrant, progressive and exciting city. Skyscrapers, huge cars, baseball and all the other clichés of American life were there. I was impressed with its adherence to the Scandinavian roots of the city’s founders and I believed it was one of the most forward thinking of US States. More recently Minnesota elected Ilhan Abdullahi Omar to the House of Representatives, one of the first Muslim women to hold such office. Further proof to me that the city of Hubert H. Humphrey, one of the architects of the 1968 Civil Rights Act maintained its status as a city that welcomes all who seek to pursue the American dream.

As is so often the case, my illusion covered an uncomfortable truth. Somewhere well away from the experiences of a naïve 18-year-old something was rotten in this wholesome state.

Colston statue – empty pedestal

Rather more recently I lived in the City of Bristol a place built on the profits of slavery (and tobacco). On my daily commute to school I used to pass the Empire Museum and the now toppled statue of Edward Colston. Another progressive city with an uncomfortable past. A place having to realise that there remains a discussion to be had about what should be remembered and how the experience of the many should be balanced with the fame of the few.

The College I attended as an undergraduate has embarked on a sometimes painful but frank discussion of its past and indeed the source of some of its endowment with current students and alumni. The past cannot be undone but it should be acknowledged. It most certainly should not be ignored. It cannot be rewritten. There is a rational discussion being conducted about the statue of Robert Clive in Whitehall, a man vilified in his own lifetime for his actions in India whose reputation was restored as a hero of empire by supporters in the early Twentieth Century. Whilst this school has no uncomfortable skeletons hidden in the closet of its endowment it, like all other institutions, should pause and reflect. We teach a history of Empire that reflects the brutal truth of exploitation and the industrialisation of slavery, it addresses the horrors of the Nazi death camps and the role of Empire in the world wars. We have a PSHE programme that both addresses and challenges injustice and intolerance. That we could do more is without question. But our diverse population is something that gives me hope that the wrongs of the past can be acknowledged and that our young people will not be condemned to simply missing inherent prejudice and discrimination. Our community is perhaps uniquely placed to answer the question posed by Darryl Davis: “How can you hate me when you do not know me?”

Before coming to Paris, I was the headmaster of a school in a tucked away and often overlooked part of the United Kingdom. It was a school with a long past; it was founded in 1379 with a continuous history of providing education to young people. One such student was Thomas Clarkson and his efforts supporting William Wilberforce in the anti-slavery movement are all but forgotten today. If there is a lesson we can take from the current wave of protest it is that this should be the start of a long, careful and mature debate. It should not be hijacked for photo opportunity or for commercial gain. A movement like this will not be sustained by black squares posted one day on social media but requires long term commitment, it requires education, it requires us all to pay attention.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

It’s not unusual…

New normal. Altered reality. Unprecedented. All in this together. The list of pandemic clichés is undoubtedly longer than the four phrases highlighted but there can be little doubt that certain words have been overused in the last twelve weeks or so. I’m probably not reading the right newspaper columns, but I think that the word unusual might need more of an airing in the coming months. After all this isn’t the new normal because things will change. We might have to wait until there is a vaccine, but we are not going to be wearing masks when the Reception children are in Year 13 or if we are it will be a consequence of air pollution rather than COVID 19. This isn’t unprecedented, the world has experienced numerous pandemics. The Black Death wiped out a third of Europe’s population and I am reliably informed that Spanish ‘flu was a far more significant killer. I am not saying this to trivialise or to make light of what has been for some a tragic period and for many the most significant upheaval that they have experienced in a lifetime. There is no doubt that these times have been most unusual.

Closer to home it is unusual to see teachers in masks. Similarly, it is odd seeing Year 7 and Year 8 wearing facial coverings in school this week. Classrooms are still set up in rigid rows like a Victorian Schoolroom or exam hall – not normal for us here in the BSP. It is unusual to see pupils spending break between pegs or cones. Necessary but unusual. Lockdown hair is also pretty unusual. I’d never seen a teacher with a mohawk until Tuesday, but I have now. Sadly, the hair didn’t make it until Wednesday. Lurking under masks there are new beards and there are more than a few longer fringes. I’ve rarely been in school without a tie. Not many are wearing them at the moment. Unusual.

Will it be so unusual in September? Who knows? Plans are undoubtedly being drawn up as we speak, and we will learn more on 22nd June. Until then school life will be unusual. We are currently organising our traditional end of year events, they are more than likely to occur virtually but we will seek to give our Year 13s an appropriate send off. Prizes will be awarded and celebrations of a year well spent will be held but not as we normally would. If it is safe to do so we can all hope for a less unusual start to next year while being prepared for other eventualities.

Happily, some elements of school life are, to borrow from Sir Tom, not unusual. Great academic work is being done, a particular shout out to all who have done online exams this week. You are amazing. Our pupils are well behaved, thoughtful and work hard to follow the new rules in place to keep them and their peers safe. Teachers are working indefatigably to provide remote and in place learning. Parents have been both patient and supportive of what has been put in place. Whilst this may not be the way that any of us would choose to work it is not unusual to see the best being made of a most difficult situation by the BSP community.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Swallows, starlings and geese

“A goose flies by a chart which the Royal Geographical Society could not mend.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Rather later than most other animals the School is ever so gradually emerging from (enforced) hibernation. The trees around us have gone from being bare limbed to fully leaved, the blackcaps who nested in the trees on the riverside path have seen their young ones hatch and dispatch.

We can learn a thing or two from birds. They are after all, the experts when it comes to social distancing. Canada geese fly in distinctive V patterns with a regulation gap between each bird so as to gain the most benefit from the updraft generated by their neighbour’s wings(1). Starlings engage in murmuration; massive aerial ballets, swirling and falling in their thousands yet managing to keep their distance and never collide(2). This we are told is to confuse predators and to provide safety in numbers. The recently arrived swallows that choose to sit on roadside telephone cables always leave a little gap between them so as to allow each bird to have space to catch the insects on which they feed(3). Robins, wrens and herons are all territorial, they all have their patches and like to keep their distances from each other to ensure survival.

Distancing regulations are the single most significant issue for us as a school as we re-open. Every child is meant to have their metre exclusion zone. The rule is there for time in classrooms, at break time and indeed should be respected as pupils leave the school. Classrooms start to look smaller when we have to observe distancing rules. Curiously such rules are nationalised, in the UK it is a 2m distancing zone, in the Netherlands there is no distancing. Opinion is divided and we, it seems, are firmly in the middle. This distancing means that we can’t have as many children in school as we would want to. It also generates the most interesting question of all – when will we stop distancing? Perhaps the biggest question is will we be distancing in September and that is a question I simply cannot answer. But it will take a brave politician to decide to abandon the rule for fear of being blamed for a second wave.

Our actions over the last few weeks have pleased some and irritated others. We work in an environment that is ever changing and we are endeavouring to provide the most satisfactory solution for the greatest number of pupils. It is important that we acknowledge that learning can take place in many different ways, it is not simply a matter of listening to the sage on the stage, but it can be equally effective when it is a guide by the side. Some children learn best when we leave them to it, others like to follow instructions. What I believe is that being in school helps children learn the equally important social skills required to succeed in later life. If the pupils of today can cope with the self-discipline required for social distancing, then they will have learned a useful lesson. Overall, most pupils have made good progress while learning remotely. If we are given the chance to see them in school this term, then I believe they will progress even more and in different ways. In the meantime, we all need to be swallows or starlings.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QAjfH05IUE Geese over France

(2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eakKfY5aHmY This is spectacular stuff

(3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpqbjMxiR_k A lovely exercise in slow media

www.britishschool.fr

The Junior School returns but not as we know it…

It did not take long for the USS Indianapolis to sink. Having been struck by a torpedo the massive ship sank in just twelve short minutes. Sailing alone there were no escorts to pick up the survivors who found themselves adrift in the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 900 of the ships company made it into the water. Four long days later the survivors were rescued. Only 317 had survived the ordeal. The crew of the Indianapolis have the dubious honour of having experienced the worst recorded shark attack in human history.

Reporting of the COVID 19 outbreak often sounds rather like we are living through an experience similar to that faced by those unfortunate sailors. The truth is likely to be far less extreme. We have had to modify our plans and our normal way of life. For some this has been a time of great sadness and for others significant anxiety and we are very right to be wary of taking the next step. Care is required to ensure that we remain as safe as we can, and we need to do all we can to ensure that we don’t jump from one dangerous situation to another.

The Junior School opened its doors to pupils this week and a small number have chosen to attend. We have been fortunate in having an opportunity to develop our approach and it is certainly the case that the school day is very different indeed. In the coming weeks I suspect that numbers wanting to return will build and this will bring with it more challenges to be met. Space remains the biggest challenge of all. All pupils are allocated a metre square so the classrooms I once saw as generous in size have been made much smaller – only 9 pupils per teaching space. We can’t have groups larger than 15 so our hall is not as much use as it normally is. School is very different, and I have to say I’d rather not be wearing a mask as I type this column… .

I have no way of predicting how the pandemic will develop for our community. It will be the case that a flexible approach will be necessary both from the School and from families. It is almost certain that some year groups will move to a carousel approach to attendance as the term progresses. Both the staffing and space constraints required for appropriate distancing mean that a rota system will be necessary, and it looks like remote learning will remain in place for some time to come. Apologies in advance for the inconvenience this may cause but it is all done with a desire to keep both pupils and staff safe and to remain within the guidelines that have been established.

The School, like so many other institutions is adjusting to the demands of a new way of operating and we all need to be ready for one or two bumps along the road. Plans will change, but when we make changes it will be to ensure that we don’t end up jumping from a sinking ship into shark infested water. I hope that you can remain patient as everything starts up once again. Thank you for your ongoing support in these somewhat turbulent waters – it is greatly appreciated.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Taking a longer view

Tomorrow is the 8th of May. I apologise for stating the obvious but having grown up in the UK I am not used to having a public holiday in the middle of this month. Our day of leisure is a calendrical marking of the end of World War Two and normally I would be attending a ceremony by Croissy’s town hall but not this year. As the veterans of the Second World war grow ever older it falls to other generations to consider how it should be marked and the lessons that can be learned. Such is true of all history. The past changes, new perspectives emerge. Our view of World War II probably tells us as much about us as it does about the period we are looking at. The participants’ view was very different. The critic Frank Kermode talked about the difficulty of understanding when we are “middest”, comprehension and clarity are more likely to come the further away from an event we get. Attempting to understand in the midst of the maelstrom is a challenge indeed.

As we move to enjoying long summer afternoons my thoughts turn to cricket. A game I enjoyed playing with no great success. I particularly relished being sent to the outer fringes of the playing area as, more often than not, one was untroubled by a fast approaching ball. The benefit of being on the edge was that I had the privilege of seeing the action as both participant and spectator, hours of waiting and watching for seconds of action. The tea interval was also a high point. Next week we will start our long walk from the boundary to the cricket square as confinement (we are told) will be relaxed. But we are far from carrying on as normal, it will take time for us to get things right, we will be both in the midst and trying to make sense of all that we have experienced. As confusing a time for our young people as it is for us. We will do all we can to support them.

This week my Year 9 historians looked at the story of the now famous wartime poster “Keep Calm and Carry On”. A sentiment that seems to us to typify the stoic approach of the greatest generation. Curiously, the poster wasn’t actually used. The Ministry of Information decided that it was too old fashioned, to redolent of outdated ways of thinking so it was shelved. They decided to use a quotation from Herbert Morrison the War Minister, a more dynamic “Go To It” and even presented the words in a flashy font. Interestingly, the poster that lay unused is the one that we believe reflects the wartime spirit.

Next week, we will go to it. School will be different; the world is indeed different. That said we should not forget the message of the other poster – we will require reserves of patience as a new normal is created. Hope in times like this is important. During the second war the foundations of the UK National Health Service were laid and Butler’s reformist 1944 Education Act was passed. A new country was planned, and new world envisioned. In the “middest” they believed in looking to a better future. I can only hope that we can do the same.

Do have a relaxing long weekend.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” – Marcus Aurelius

Who’d be a politician during a pandemic? Whilst it isn’t a particularly fashionable view, I have the utmost admiration for anyone who chooses a political career when it is motivated by a desire to improve the lives of others. Many have pointed to the success of female leaders in this time of crisis which can only be an inspiration to our young people. When I was at school, I thought that being an MP or similar would be a fantastic job but right now I wouldn’t be rushing to stand for office, even if there was a party that I thought would accommodate my own particular blend of views. As Édouard Philippe said earlier this week, he is in a no-win situation. He oversees an economy that needs to be restarted and has responsibility for keeping citizens safe. A tough balancing act to accomplish successfully.

Thank you to all parents who completed the intentions survey. It is useful to have a guide, however vague as to the number of pupils we can anticipate joining us once school opens. Little is certain with regard to the process of reopening other than it is likely to be phased and will include regular interludes for handwashing. We are receiving advice from Éducation nationale regarding pupil safety and will not be announcing any details about resumption until after the announcements scheduled for 7th May.

Whilst I wouldn’t be a politician at present, being a parent feels similar. All families have to weigh up risk and benefit when contemplating a return to school. Same decision, different scale. Any child attending school will (almost certainly) be at greater risk of infection than a child who stays at home. As a consequence, families choosing to keep children at home will continue to be able to access remote learning materials and these materials will form the basis of our offer in school. We will operate in a very different way. Drop off will be phased or staggered. The school day may be shorter. There will be one-way routes around the school and distancing of one metre will have to be observed. We will not be playing ball games at break time and access to the school library will be severely limited. Teachers will be wearing masks and pupils will have to remain at their desks or in designated areas. Much of what we currently enjoy will be curtailed. Temperature checks will take place at points of entry and those displaying symptoms will have to return home. Most upsetting of all, I can’t promise chips on a Thursday. It looks like sandwich lunches to be eaten “al-desko”.

This is a time of mixed emotions for families. We should be prepared for turbulence in the coming weeks. Our community is a resilient one. I know that decisions are made by individual families considering the safety of others and the School will do all it can to protect those who choose to attend. These are difficult times, but we are stronger when we are together in isolation.

Have a great long weekend.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Butch Cassidy and the COVID Kid

There is a scene in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” where the former bank robbers take a job guarding a silver mine in Bolivia. The grizzled, world weary, tobacco spitting manager tells the pair that the trip up the mountain guarding the payroll is far safer than going back down the mountain(1) . I was given similar advice on a hill-walking course; apparently more accidents occur in the final kilometre of a walk than anywhere else on route. Going up the hill (it seems) has its challenges but coming down can be even more dangerous. Over the past few days we have been hearing a good deal about flattening curves and peaks being passed. This is all great news. However, we are still far from seeing the end of these challenging times and now, perhaps more than ever we must be both patient and prudent.

Earlier this week the Education Minister spoke about the possibility of schools opening in the week commencing 11th May. Like any politician his canvas is necessarily broad, and we are only now starting to find out exactly what school opening will look like. For some, school will not be open until the end of May and others will have to wait until June. If the infection rate grows then we may all be confined once more. Some regions may open before others. The only thing that is certain is, well, uncertainty. I can’t imagine that we will have pupils coming through the School’s gates on 11th May, indeed other pronouncements suggest this will be a day for staff preparation, with pupils returning later in the week. As yet we know nothing about the conditions of a return, will it be masks or no masks? What social distancing will be required? What will we be able to serve for lunch? The last one is straightforward – sandwiches for the first few days at least. There are most certainly more questions than answers and I hope that the entire community can remain patient as we work out what is possible and above all what is safe. We do not want to create more problems for the medical services by returning to school before it is wise to do so.

Thank you for the many positive comments about our remote learning arrangements. It is good to see that so many of our pupils are benefitting. It is also clear that there are many parents who should be considering a career change such is the excellent support being offered on the home front. As the weeks roll on we hope to make greater use of the more dynamic elements of the platforms that we are currently using. I am fairly certain that even when we return we will be making use of the lessons learned from remote school in our daily approach

Helen Keller said, “We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world”. Sadly, we are likely to be living alongside COVID-19 for many months to come. Despite the slowing of infection rates, I suspect that we will face challenges, disappointment and frustrations during this summer term. We need to take care. We need to continue to work together to remain safe. We need to be equally cautious and optimistic. This will be a term like no other, but it will be a term in which we are likely to learn more about ourselves, our strengths and frailties. As a community and as individuals we will be stronger than ever before if we remain together in isolation.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

1. Having found the clip in question it seems that my memory has failed me – apparently up the mountain is dangerous, Butch and Sundance just think that down the mountain is dangerous (about 1:30 into the film)

“Boredom is when there is absolutely nothing to do. Lethargy is…”

“Boredom is when there is absolutely nothing to do. Lethargy is when there are things to do that you can’t be bothered doing. Most people suffer the latter, but they call it the former because it lets them off the hook.”

Christopher Jamison

 This week I could write a very short column and sum up all that really needs to be said in two short words.  Eight letters would suffice.  I’m not going to do that because I think the community as a whole should be recognised more fulsomely for all that has been achieved in the last three weeks and let’s face it, I’m at my desk with nowhere to go. 

It turns out that novelists and film makers don’t quite have it right.  We have been told in many stories that when the world faces a crisis, communities disintegrate, and anarchy follows.  As yet, in this quiet corner of Croissy I have not had to fight off looters threatening to ransack the house to find our secret stash of lavatory paper.  There have been no reports of shopping cart hijacks outside the local Carrefour.  From what I can see via the media most places seem quite calm.  We must all hope that such rationality continues.

This has been a time when neighbours have introduced themselves and have sought to help each other out.  People around the world have posted amusing parodies on social media and A listers have turned their talents to reading bedtime stories and sonnets.  Who wasn’t touched by stories of New Zealanders putting bears in their windows to entertain younger children denied a trip to their favourite play park?  Thank you Michael Rosen for We’re going on a Bear Hunt and for reminding us that we’re not scared.  If our pupils have learned anything since this whirlwind struck it is that we are better off working together than looking out for ourselves.  Will they have the courage to continue to live this way once confinement is over?

Perhaps I have been doing this job too long.  There is a danger of cynicism creeping in.  Who would have believed that Year 13s and Year 11s would have continued to study without the shadow of looming exams to motivate? They have and hats off to them, they have studied and learned for learning’s sake.  Who would have thought that pupils of all ages would embrace their remote schooling and engage with study as successfully as they have?  Shame on me for doubting, I should have known that BSPers are better than that.

And now we have to meet another challenge.  The holidays, usually a time to switch off or do different will not be normal this time.  Yes there will be some time for lie-ins and the rhythm of the school day will not be there to structure the day, but having seen the way that the last three weeks have been approached I can cast cynical thoughts aside.  I’m issuing a challenge to all of our pupils (and any interested parents) to meet the demands of the Headmaster’s Housebound Holiday Challenge, to go above and beyond what they would normally do in downtime in eight demanding categories.  Over the next two weeks we have the chance to learn skills that may well last for a lifetime.  From learning a Shakespeare speech, to knitting by way of acts of kindness you can gain a prestigious accolade and will be able to show off for the rest of your life whatever it was that you learned to do while in confinement.  If you are to complete the challenge, then structure will be required.  Bear in mind the words of the monk Christopher Jamison.  Structure is the enemy of lethargy; if you create a rhythm for the day and ensure that time is differentiated by activity then this holiday will be both enjoyable and productive. 

Thank you all for the last three weeks.  We have truly shown what can be achieved, what wonderful things can be achieved when we are together in isolation.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr