“I am but mad north-north-west…”

“I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly , I know a hawk from a handsaw.”

Hamlet

A member of the bunting family the Yellowhammer has a distinctive bright yellow head and equally characteristic song. It is the subject of a John Clare poem and was described by Enid Blyton in Five go off in a Caravan. Olivier Messiaen, used its song in at least four of his major works and it may have inspired the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Sadly, we see very few here in Croissy where we are far more likely to encounter a Kingfisher, Cormorant or Green Woodpecker. Currently, it is one of far too many on the red list of endangered birds in the UK and Ireland. This week we also found out that it is the codename for the UK Government’s Brexit strategy document. What the Yellowhammer has done to deserve this particular honour I do not know.

There are schools that spend significant quantities of funds on producing glossy strategy brochures in which they proudly announce their five or ten year plan, generally to achieve a nebulous position – often self -proclaimed – as the best school in… or the best school at, well you fill in the blank. Some contain really interesting proposals about changes to educational approach or the development of character in pupils. There is usually a shiny new building to fill the front cover. Truth be told, I’ve written my fair share of these documents and I have looked ahead into the future and endeavoured to predict what the future might hold. This is a difficult game for circumstances change. I joined the BSP five years ago. Whilst Brexit was discussed it was far from reality, there has been a change of direction in French politics and the world may well be stumbling towards another financial meltdown. How many school strategic plans foresaw the rapid changes of the last five years? Not many I suspect. We have a short working document that guides our approach during the year, it outlines our priorities such as curriculum reviews, well-being initiatives, development of new educational spaces and the creation of new opportunities. It is far from glossy, it has margin notes, coffee stains and is a little bit dog-eared because it is a living document that guides the school management team’s activities. I call it an improvement plan because I believe that every institution has the capacity to improve and a duty to strive to be better. All that is contained in that document is driven by our school values. Were we to set strategic objectives, achievement of and development through our values seem to me to be an excellent template for progress. Our aim is a simple one – to provide the most useful and effective education for the pupils at the BSP whatever that means for them as individuals. For some this will mean a place at a highly selective university, for others it will mean something different. We must push where it is required and we challenge all pupils to achieve. We are proudly non-selective and our results speak volumes about the success of our approach.

From my study window I sometimes see herons fishing in the Seine. I am a great admirer of the heron and if my improvement “strategy” was to be given an avian epithet it would be Operation Heron. I want our young people to have the self-belief to stand in fast flowing waters of modern life with confidence and patience. I want them to know when to act decisively and above all I want them to be able to find their place in the world wherever that may be. I hope that this is a school strategy that we can all agree is to the benefit of our pupils.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Welcome to the new school year

If you are new to our community or if you are a returner I hope that you are looking forward to the new school year as much as I am. There is much in store to be excited by. Not everyone looks forward to the start of term. In Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” the narrator Charles Ryder talks about the start of the Oxford term in melancholic tones, but that term started in rain, a sodden British October, and we start in September sunshine. There can be few places as glorious as the Seine Valley, at this time of year. I hope that pupils are inspired by their surroundings.

Reception are on their way…

During the summer we were able to celebrate some excellent examination results. Our oldest pupils taking A levels achieved a stunning set of results with more than 34% of results at the highest levels while Year 11s also demonstrated their academic prowess recording a 9-5 pass rate of 84%. I’m sure that those facing public exams next summer will be inspired by this performance and will seek still greater success in twelve months’ time. I know that staff will be supporting them closely at this most important time in their school career. The same is true of those who join us at “the other end of the school” as this week was, for some, the very first step on the educational ladder. I’m sure all in our community join with me in wishing our Nursery and Reception classes well as they take the first steps in their school journey.

From the youngest members of our community to the oldest our aim as a school is very simple – we are here to see all children realise their potential and exceed their own expectations. Schools are straightforward and uncomplicated places. They exist for the education of young people. Things become complex when the systems take over so at the start of term it is perhaps good to remind ourselves of what is at the core of school life. All young people at the BSP should be able to learn effectively and they should find both joy and satisfaction in their achievements. If there are barriers to this achievement then we as a staff should be looking to assist them to overcome these obstacles. In that endeavour we are helped by parents and guardians. Sometimes we refer to outside experts. We will report, feedback and where necessary meet with you. Please let us know if there are any concerns that you have at this point in the year and we can start to address them.

There has been a good deal written in the UK over the past 10 days about inclusivity and tolerance (or a lack of it). Here at the BSP we have an open and welcoming community. This I believe is to be celebrated and we will do just that with the BSPS Fair on Saturday 21 September. I do hope you will come along. Have a wonderful school year.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

What have you got planned?

The summer holidays are upon us. School’s out. Prizes have been awarded, books handed in, school bags chucked in the cupboard and all too soon posters will appear in the shops advertising their back to school offers. Yes, the academic year has ended. The signs are plain to see.

Modern existence seems to demand that every minute of every day of a young person’s life is filled with “insta-worthy” moments and as a consequence pressure builds unnecessarily on our young people. Little wonder there is a crisis of adolescent mental health. On a more mundane level certain tourist attractions are suffering from long queues of people waiting to take the vital dignity preserving selfie to demonstrate individuality. What a paradox. How glad I was to hear earlier in the week that certain powerful social networks had paused due to technical issues; respite for some I suspect. It seems that holidays are prime candidates for promoting inferiority. If you aren’t living it large in five star luxury or paragliding off the Matterhorn then you may as well admit that you have failed. Or not.

summer holiday plans

Just as there is a pressure on young people to be doing something spectacular there is sometimes a pressure on parents to ensure that every minute of every holiday day is filled with productive and enriching activity. I was interested to learn yesterday that the ‘cahier de vacances’ was the invention of booksellers rather than the product of great educational research. Holidays and museum visits go together hand in hand. Summer courses abound. I’m all for enriching and I’m also all for a bit of loafing. Young people need some down time. Not eight weeks of idleness but by the same token they don’t deserve the pressure of twenty-four hour time filling and constant judgement. The novelist D.H. Lawrence wrote a lengthy essay on The Education of the People and gave the following stern and rather counterintuitive parenting advice:

“How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.”

I’m not sure I’d go so far, but there may well be something in this. I rather hope that over the coming few weeks there will be a healthy balance of productive activity, enjoyable time with family and friends and indeed just a little bit of idleness. By way of a challenge if one is necessary I’d simply ask pupils to read at least three “good” books, write a couple of postcards (because after all who doesn’t like receiving something nice in the post rather than a bill) and spending some time out in the fresh air. A bit of social media, some gaming and some idle chat might also have a rightful place in this holiday. If the right balance is struck then a great holiday will have been had and time will have been well spent. Best of all it will mean that students will return in September ready for a new challenge and full of energy.

Have a great summer one and all.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Heatwave 2019

school boys hats heatwave

When the weather warms up, it is evident that we are a school with a wide spread of nationalities. In consecutive conversations I have heard “It isn’t hot until you hit 40°C” and “I think that I am melting…” The difference between Scotland and Australia in a nutshell. With temperatures in the high 30°s it has certainly been warmer than normal. I don’t think I have seen a Junior School pupil without a hat this week – Chapeau! On the Senior Campus I’ve been delighted to see a resurgence of board games being played in the shade. I associate Scrabble, chess and draughts with roaring winter firesides, but it makes perfect sense to play under the canopy of one of our many trees. I did consider the imposition of a school siesta hour, but I think that is more a symptom of the end of term rather than climatic conditions!

This week could have been very different. It is only in the last three years or so that we have had the benefit of widespread access to air conditioned spaces. The Junior School benefitted a couple of years ago while Braille and the Kett building on the Senior School site have had the treatment more recently. Both of these initiatives are a direct result of the School having the resources to undertake this development work and both projects have in part been financed using the Development Fund Contribution that parents pay at the start of their child’s career. The School receives no funding from either the French or British government; we are grateful for the support of both institutions, but financially we stand alone. It is through the generosity of parents and other supporters that we are able to make alterations and improvements to the campuses in particular. Having asked for a substantial contribution to the future of the school I have been reluctant to ask for more. Today I am going to be Oliver Twist. The reason for this change of heart is simple, I think that you may be interested in supporting a project that has come from the students and I won’t have the opportunity to talk about it tomorrow as I had hoped at the summer fair.

The Outdoor Performance Space Project is exciting. It links to the School’s desire to encourage young people to find their voice in the world. The initial idea came from two of our prefects. It has been designed by a talented bunch of Year 12s and the crowd funding campaign has been a collaboration between drama and business students. It uses local materials to create a place where debate, drama and music can flourish. It will provide a place of calm for those who like to chat at break and lunch. Importantly it will also be a place where the past and present meet. We will be reminded of other people and their contribution to the School. Alumni, Parents and Friends of the school can buy a brick, a slab or a bench which will be inscribed with their name. I can think of no more inspiring a message for our pupils than to see that when they speak they have the support of those who went before.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Building to a crescendo

Along with greying hair, an expanding waistline and more forgetfulness than I like to remember a sign of middle age is one’s ability to feel a seething inner rage over the use of language. I’ve stewed over less and fewer and please don’t allow me to delve into the ire inspiring subject of “like”. It isn’t rational or reasonable but it just seems to happen. Recently I have focused on the use of the word crescendo. Events, in all walks of human endeavour, build to a crescendo these days. I have always believed that a crescendo is a musical direction to gradually increase loudness. The word has a clear root in Latin and for me has simply meant to gain volume or perhaps momentum. Imagine my surprise when I checked in the dictionary and found, horror of horrors, that in the early Twentieth Century it became acceptable to use the word to describe a climax as well as the build up to it. The world is indeed about to go to the dogs…

sports day school running crescendo

Looking at the last week we are certainly seeing a crescendo in school activity. We have yet to reach the apex of activity but we are not far off. The end of a term and the end of the school year is always a flurry of excitement, a crescendo if you please. Happily when looking at all that has gone on this week and all that is still to come the word works in both senses. This week has seen a magnificent Junior School play and a Senior School sports day, two significant events in any school year. Congratulations to all who have taken part and a huge thank you to staff for making such marvellous events occur among all of the other tasks at the end of a busy school year.

It is easy to be carried along on the tide of activity that marks the end of the year. I do hope that during all of the excitement that is to come our pupils find a moment to consider all that they have achieved, all that they have done for others and all that they hope still to do. This is a bittersweet time. We will see pupils leave and as a consequence friendships interrupted but in an age of connectivity it is perhaps easier than ever to maintain contact with those we no longer see each day.

If the weather forecasters are to be believed then next week will be a scorcher. The Senior School uniform regulations will be modified to allow the wearing of school sports apparel and I recommend a hat, anything with a brim and within reason will do.
If I still have your attention can I also give a plug for the BSPS Summer Fair that will take place on Saturday 29th June? This splendid event takes place on the Senior School Lawn and promises to be a fun filled affair. Please do come along and enjoy all that is taking place. Similarly, this weekend is the national Fête de la Musique and as part of the local festivities BSP students will perform with one of our local partner schools in St. Germain this evening at 7.00pm on the marketplace and BSP community band Rouge Dog Riot will be performing with their customary crescendos outside the restaurant Les Enfants de Cœur here in Croissy at 8.00pm. I’m sure that all our musicians would appreciate your support.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Cold, damp and not Love Island

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves.

André Gide

It may come as a surprise that I am not a regular watcher of the TV show Love Island. That said I do have something of a guilty secret regarding the 2006 series of Celebrity Love Island which I put down to being sleep deprived following the birth our second child. The current iteration of the show has received stellar viewing figures; some 4.2 million individuals tune in to watch the contestants’ antics on a regular basis. As such it is simply the latest version of a well-worn concept – put a group of people together, deprive them of their normality and see what they do. So far so Lord of the Flies. I like to think that I watched all those years ago with a profound sense of irony, I’m not so sure that our young people have such an opportunity. Young people growing up today have little choice but to be bombarded with a near constant barrage of images of perfection and success that they are challenged to match. Heavily curated lives and chemically enhanced appearances seem to be the norm and who would blame our young people if they are led to believe that this image is one that is to be admired. Perspective is sometimes difficult to achieve.

During the last fortnight we could be accused of having done much the same thing as the TV producers hunting ratings. Years 6-9 have been taken off to an unfamiliar environment, set a series of often demanding challenges and expected to get along with each other when tired, wet and perhaps a little bit uncomfortable. I had the great privilege of seeing Years 7-9 in the Alps this week. I saw sailing and raft building and I am still attempting to recover from numerous dunkings in a glacial river at the hands of Year 9. It has been the wettest week ever for our expeditions and I have to acknowledge the amazing work done by the instructor team from Alp Base who have found still more inventive ways to challenge and inspire while the rain teams down. Weaseling? Apparently good in the rain… ask a Year 8 or Year 9 and they will fill you in. Huge thanks also to the members of staff who have taken time away from home to accompany these trips; without them this extraordinary opportunity would simply not happen.

There is a big difference between what has been going on down in the Ecrins National Park and what has been happening on “the island”. There has been a distinct lack of preening and a whole lot of getting stuck in. Above all our pupils have demonstrated an awareness of each other; I saw the quiet word when someone was a little nervous, the sharing of a packed lunch when another was still hungry and the lending of kit when someone was shivering. Communal living is not easy at the best of times and it is much more difficult when all your stuff is wet. This kindness, this willingness to recognise the needs of others is perhaps the most valuable lesson that will be taken from the week away. So a massive well done to all involved, you have shown that there really is more to life than vacuous celebrity and rampant narcissism. Even if you never step foot on a via ferrata again you’ve done it now and I hope that you remember the value of working together.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

The Next Generation

…citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn’t want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and we, all of us, living and yet to be born, must be forever profoundly grateful.

Stephen Ambrose

Over the years they have been described in many ways. The journalist Tom Brokaw called them “the Greatest Generation”. We may call them heroes or simply veterans, they are, of course, the D-Day generation. In many cases they were little more than schoolboys when they were charged with the task of prosecuting a crusade against tyranny. Modest and self-effacing, these veterans returned to Normandy yesterday not to receive thanks but to pay tribute to their fallen comrades. If we are to look for a defining feature of this generation it is in their acceptance of service as a key element of their existence. This characteristic is perhaps best personified these days by the Queen. She has seen Prime Ministers come and go, indeed she sees the last of another today but her mission does not change. She seeks to serve; today this steadiness seems more relevant than ever.

Nursery pupil unearths a plaster dinosaur bone

This week our Nursery class were studying palaeontology, a period of prehistory that also relishes in generating generational epithets. Cenozoic and Mezoic. Cretaceous, Jurassic and Triassic to name but a few. An inspiring week has been enjoyed by our youngest pupils as they have hunted for fossils, curated a museum and explored dinosaur filled worlds. How lucky they are to be embarking on the journey of wonder that is education. Historians have given names to many periods of history. From the Neolithic to the Industrial Era by way of the Dark Ages and the less stylishly titled Early Modern Period we delight in giving names to time. Similarly we try to personify groups with other titles such as Generation X or Y, millennial, slacker or snowflake.

Having looked at the ninety year olds on my television screen and having watched our own three year olds learning in such vibrant a fashion, I could not help to wonder what label would be given to them as a generation. Will their title be in response to environmental catastrophe, or a reaction to conflict or will it reflect a technological leap – the AI Generation? Or perhaps they will be the Responsible Generation? Will they be the group who question our behaviour as a species? Who knows? As a teacher (and indeed as a parent) there is only so much that can be done, the really important decisions made by the next generations are taken on trust. We can provide examples, give lessons but what is to be done is to be decided. We have to trust in those who are to come. Thus it is our job to prepare them well.

There are parallels between the growing generation and the greatest generation. Our school is a crucible of nations, cultures and ideas. In having had the opportunities to learn together and play together I believe that we are preparing people who will value cooperation above conflict, compassion above selfishness and service before self. It is our role to nurture these traits as best we are able. Being in the fortunate position of visiting many parts of the School each week I think we are certainly heading in the right direction.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Child-led learning and responsibility

“You say it best when you say nothing at all.”

Overstreet, Schlitz and Keating, 1999

Everyone seems to have an opinion on how much responsibility a child should be given and at what age. Famously Maria Montessori came up with a list of tasks that could be completed by age and perhaps, in her centenary year, we should pick the best bits of her ideas about child-led learning.

There have also been many articles of late about helicopter parenting, snowflakes and how young people no longer take responsibility for, well, anything. Back in my day when life was sepia toned, children were expected to be able to do just about everything that a grown up could. We could re-shoe horses, compose a symphony and stop a ship from sinking while writing sonnets… in Latin. Today, they’d have to use an app (and that is just typical) say the cynics. I certainly enjoyed a far greater level of freedom as a young person than many children would enjoy today; perhaps my parents were simply far less responsible than I am, perhaps it really was a different world. Some observers would say that we are guilty of “spoon feeding”, of doing too much, saying too much, of expecting not enough and indeed there may well be some truth in this opinion.

I’m the first to encourage young people to take responsibility. I couldn’t have been more impressed with those politics students who stood as election candidates and had to do that most difficult of tasks – standing up and talking in front of one’s peers. Similarly, all those who managed to manoeuvre their bicycles down to the green pitch by themselves on Wednesday morning. Last weekend one intrepid band of D of E Award participants took their own route, only to discover that they had to put it right. They must have done because they were in school on Monday. In the course of any day our pupils both take a lead and accept responsibility. Whilst there are often adults underpinning these activities, important habits develop. British education is all about the whole person and that sometimes means taking risks and this also means not always being right. Most difficult for teachers (and parents), it also means that we have to stand back and let young people “get on with it”. Sometimes education works best when we don’t helpfully interfere.

If there is one place where we have no choice but to allow independence, it is the exam hall. Once there parents cannot assist, teachers can’t advise and for once students are by themselves. Whilst I am no great fan of high stakes testing, one thing I do like about exams is that children have to think and do for themselves. They are accountable for the result that they get and perhaps more importantly they are responsible for what they do with the mark or grade later on. Do they take it as a spur to achieve or a reason to give up? If we want to know the real value of exams this is perhaps it; not the result but the reaction. Saul Alinsky may just have had it right when he said in his Rules for Radicals that one should never do for others what they can do for themselves. He wasn’t thinking about cleaning a pair of shoes or doing the laundry, nor was he talking about packing a bag for a forthcoming school trip but he might as well have been.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Eurovision and Exams

With a high-high-ho and a high-high-hey (Latvia’s pirate song in 2008, don’t ask) what Eurovision might teach us…

As Year 13 are Walking Out(1) for their study leave and the campus recovers from their Hawaiian shirted Storm minds inevitably turn to examinations. One simply can’t Look Away. It is cruel indeed that just as the weather takes a turn for the better we oblige our young people to hit the exam hall… mostly they Keep on Going. Whilst my university finals are the stuff of recurring nightmares not The Dream. In Truth I don’t remember much about the exams I took at sixteen and A levels are a bit of a blur. I also did a fairly obscure set of exams called S levels just before I left school, these I remember. Mainly because all my friends and Friend of a Friend had finished their tests and were enjoying an early summer holiday. One question in particular sticks in the memory after all those years – “Is Europe a useful historical concept?” I really enjoyed that question, not something that I can say about every exam I have sat. I do hope that at some point this summer our students find one of those questions that they believe is made for them and for a few minutes lose themselves in the sheer absorption of showing what they know.

exam chair

One concept of Europe that is Bigger than Us and indeed is ever expanding is that given by the annual Eurovision Song Contest which sees its grand final this weekend. Whilst I am less than enthusiastic about this musical shindig, I share a Home with a genuine Eurovisionophile. In the happy world of Eurovision the joys spreads from Iceland to Australia (and the most elastic definition of the continent ever seen). Indeed the smart money (Soldi) seems to be heading down under with Kate Miller-Heidke and her vertiginous performance of Defying Gravity (words really don’t do it justice).

Having been an unwilling witness to the semi-finals I believe that the Eurovision performers may well have something to teach our exam candidates. They, like a well prepared student know what is expected of them. The format is clear (who knew the rules for Eurovision specifies set dimensions and number of backing performers?) They have revised their performance with the utmost care so they Like It and their fate hangs on a single performance. As it is on stage so it is in the exam hall (with probably less dry ice). I believe that our pupils have been taught. They have certainly been working hard in the past weeks. They are Kings (Roi) of past papers by way of rehearsal and Replay. Now is the time to perform. Now is the time for them to Dare to Dream. I hope that following all this hard work stress levels do not get too great. If they do there are plenty here in school who can support. If our candidates can approach their task with the same joie de vivre that is demonstrated by those who sing and dance and play for their country in Tel Aviv this weekend then this will be a memorable exam season indeed, it will be a performance without Limits.

Exams are one way to unlock new opportunities. There are others. We live in an age when high stakes testing has become the norm for young people, they Run with Lions. I believe that exams are a useful way to assess ability, but not the only way. Happily this attitude is changing (like a Chameleon?) Perhaps we can devise a way in which we celebrate our academic skills and knowledge with the brio of a Eurovision Song Contest performer. Altogether now, Say Na, Na Na.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

(1) All italicised words are song titles in the Eurovision Contest this year. Armenia, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Israel, Italy, Australia, Belarus, France, Cyprus, The Eurovision slogan this year, Austria, Lithuania, Malta and San Marino. Apologies if I missed out your favourite!

www.britishschool.fr

Forging friendships

“Whilst there are some irksome aspects to school, I think you will find to your eventual delight that the experience has broadened your horizons.”

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles 2016

Whilst it seems like yesterday, thirty years ago I spent a year in Minnesota as an exchange student. Last weekend, thanks to the wonders of social media, my fellow exchangees caught up with me. Decades down the line, the personalities haven’t changed that much even if the hair (or lack of it) has. Sadly there are pictures and no I won’t be sharing.

In many ways that year abroad was a formative experience. It probably galvanized my desire to be a teacher and it opened my eyes to the world. As a group we met during the year to share our experiences and benefit from simply being together. It was in a time before the internet so we put on shows, reviews, played games and generally had a good time in each other’s company. It was a privilege to find out more not only about the US, but about other places, other ways of doing things, other ways of seeing. We finished the year with two extended trips where these friendships were reinforced and then we left. Whilst I carried memories, I didn’t keep in touch. So it is really a privilege to have the opportunity to connect once more. Much of this week’s comment has been about the South African Elections and the value of democracy. Great to have a report from the polling station, an Aussie view and a Finnish perspective. The learning hasn’t stopped.

At the BSP my cherished experience of thirty years ago is so commonplace that it hardly merits a mention. With fifty six nationalities on campus every single class is a crucible for discussion and has the potential to influence thinking far beyond the confines of the classroom. This is one of the most important elements of our education. It forces perspectives to be wide; our daily life promotes global understanding. Last weekend I had the great privilege of accompanying some of our musicians to The Hague for a music festival; they performed with distinction and I was a very proud Headmaster. A quartet with representatives from Russia, The Netherlands, France and Italy meeting with players from Azerbaijan, Nigeria and Romania to name but a few of the other nations represented. Whilst the competition element was great perhaps more impressive was the ease with which all of the students mixed and enjoyed spending time together. Being a witness to such easy interaction and such fruitful communication gives me hope.

Some communication requires no words. Music is an important part of life here at the BSP and it was pure pleasure to hear our jazz band in full flight on Tuesday. Congratulations are due to Mr. Lockwood and all of his jazz messengers who demonstrated what can be achieved when the bar is raised and young people are pushed to excellence. It all looked so easy, a guarantee that there has been a massive amount of hard work in the background! Congratulations to Louie, Matthew and Cat who took their first solos this year and hats off to Freddie for holding the stage with his one man show!

A four day week in which we have crammed in five days of activity. Tonight we recognise the achievements of our sports players at the Senior Sports Dinner. It promises to be another evening of well-earned celebration. Be it music, sport or study this is where lifelong bonds of friendship are forged.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr