In praise of doing the lot

It is a cutting phrase, the one that goes… “jack of all trades but master of none”. Knowledge and skills seem to be becoming ever more specialised, our focus ever narrower. It was therefore with great interest that I watched the 165th men’s university boat race last Sunday and the 74th women’s boat race. This venerable British institution sees the rowers of Oxford University pit themselves against those from Cambridge University in what amounts to a private challenge on the Thames from Putney to Mortlake. These crews are not the world’s best crews although there is a great deal of talent sitting in those narrow shells. They aren’t even the best university crews in the country, but they represent something interesting and perhaps this explains why hundreds of thousands line the banks of the river to watch and 6.2 million tune in to witness the spectacle on television. The race itself is absurd, it is very long and takes place on a tidal, meandering river. Winning the coin toss can be as important as making a good start or finishing strongly. It is sport, but not as we now know it. The amateur ideal is fused with a professional approach. Whilst I’m sure that there are some “degrees of convenience” being studied to facilitate participation, this isn’t a case of sports professionals masquerading as academics, nor is it the other way round. All of the participants are studying, even the one who is 46 years of age. They balance study and rigorous training. I was particularly interested in Callum Sullivan 19 year old musician and athlete. He must be a busy man. Other boat race rowers have shown a prowess in differing fields, notably Hugh Lawrie writer, comic, musician and actor; Sandy Irvine, mountaineer; Lord Melbourne the Australian Prime Minister.

So it would seem that it is possible to excel in more than one field. Whilst we may not quite match up to the last man who knew everything – Thomas Young who proved Newton wrong, helped decode the Rosetta Stone and was an accomplished gymnast or to Dorothy Dunnett, novelist, scholar and artist or to Hildegard von Bingen they may also point the way to successful engagement in many fields.

And so we come to the end of this Spring Term. A period of time in which we have seen many pupils do many fine things. There are schools in the world that are larger than ours, but I do not see this as a problem, rather it is a virtue. Our musicians who played in the excellent Senior School concert this week are also the pupils who turned out for sports teams, went to debate, have excelled academically and have been the backbone of numerous societies. Many have given back in the form of service activities and charity fundraising this term. This is as true for the Junior School as it is for the Senior School; life has been about so much more than what has gone on in the classroom. The size of our population means pupils have to do everything, and I think that this is healthy indeed. It has been a term well spent. A term in which an enormous amount has been achieved. From plays to pitches there has been so much to celebrate. So here’s to the “jacks of all trades”, I believe that you have gained mastery in many. There can be no better measure of a term well spent.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Music is an outburst of the Soul.” Frederick Delius

Reality television and school inspections are two of my least favourite things. It was therefore with a degree of concern that I learned that the plot of the latest Year 6 show contained not only those modern plagues but also the presence of a power crazed Health and Safety Inspector. I should not have been worried, Year 6 put on a remarkably assured, extremely amusing and professional show. They danced, they sang, they acted and all were involved. Six days is all it took them to go from script to performance including all of the technical aspects of the show which they operated themselves. Great support was given by Year 5 as the chorus and a massive vote of thanks is due to the teachers who supported and inspired a most memorable performance. Indeed, I have never been told to get out of the hall by a pupil, but I have now… Nothing short of terrifying. A splendid effort from all concerned and a big thank you to the performers and crew from us, the audience, who enjoyed the show immensely.

I often am guilty of forgetting that we live on the edge of one of the most culturally and artistically rich environments in the world. There is, I suspect, a concert happening somewhere in Paris every single evening of the week. Yesterday was one of those rare times when I actually did something about it and booked to see a concert a little later in the year. Having the opportunity to see and hear music being performed live is something that I rather take for granted having lived and worked in schools for most of my adult life, so it came as a surprise to learn that the concept of a concert is a relatively recent one. If Wikipedia is to be believed the concert in the present form came into existence in the latter part of the Seventeenth Century, whilst informal music making in groups must have been going on for as long as humans have created instruments. Whilst the growth of audio recordings has meant that one can enjoy a concert in the comfort of home, there is nothing quite like the experience of seeing and hearing a live performance. The conductor Sir Thomas Beecham was clear that music has a role in what is an ever busier and more distracting world when he said that “The function of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought.” But then he also said “the English may not like music, they absolutely love the noise it makes.” For me it is sometimes the bits in between. The moment of stillness when the music has come to an end; if you need persuading have a look at this compilation from last year’s Proms:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/events/rxfhzc/play/p06kgcx4

Next week gives all in the school community the opportunity to experience a concert as our Senior School musicians will be performing on Tuesday evening. The Spring Concert programme focuses on the Baroque and Classical periods and will give us all a chance to enjoy the virtuosity of our pupils as they perform as individuals or ensembles. Please do come, it promises to be a fantastic evening. The whole school community is welcome, it is not simply an event for those who spend their time on the Senior School campus.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

In celebration of the Periodic Table

Yesterday I was standing in front of the dried spice display in Carrefour (yes, I know it is ever the life of glamour) and it struck me that it resembled the periodic table. There were clear rows and columns, rather like the periods and groups of the table and I rather hoped that there was some great underlying logic in having the spiciest in one corner and most flavoursome in another. I’ll look in more detail next time I’m there.

This year is the 150 anniversary of the periodic table and 2019 has been designated as the year of the periodic table by UNESCO. Working in a school means that you are never far away from a periodic table. I think that I have seen it on walls, windows, in textbooks and on a mug since I have been at the BSP. I suspect it pops up in other places. There is a version in Mr. Potter’s study. As an historian the most contact I have had with it has been through Primo Levi’s extraordinary book. Like Harry Beck’s London Underground map it is a functional diagram that has become a cultural icon. It also inspired one of the greatest comic songs of all time, thank you Tom Lehrer(1).

As a non-chemist I find it incredible that we can reduce so much information into so concise a form. This is where Mendelev’s genius really lay. Anyone who can simplify the complex into the comprehensible gets my vote. As Vincent van Gogh said “how difficult it is to be simple”. Mendelev’s table stands the test of time because it is adaptable. New elements have fitted in. The underlying logic has proved accommodating to change and new discoveries. When comparing the oldest known versions of the table (held by the universities of St. Petersburg and St. Andrew’s) to today’s table it is clear that the structure proposed 150 years ago holds true. It is a piece of thinking that has stood the test of time in a subject in which change is a constant.

Like the Tube map, the periodic table has been appropriated for other purposes. The web provides plenty categorising superheroes, cupcakes and my favourite, typefaces. It would be a shame not be in on the act so having spoken with our Communications Department (who bring us this newsletter each week) we are proud to present the Periodic Table of the BSP. Here is (almost) everything that we do, all of the underlying elements that make our school, well, our school. We’ve probably missed a few and undoubtedly in the future there will be new elements to add. Happily we know that whatever they are we will find a way of fitting them in.

(1) Tom Lehrer – The Elements – Live from Copenhagen in 1967. Do watch until the end…
www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcS3NOQnsQM

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Happiness

“A curmudgeon” was how J.B Priestley described himself. So did just about everyone else. Whilst he is probably best known for that staple of GCSE examiners “An Inspector Calls” he is less well remembered as an essayist of great style and prodigious output. So, it is odd that given his well-known misanthropy he would have written a series of essays on the subject of delight. The anthology was published in 1946 during those grey and dreary days and republished a few years ago. I dip into its pages at random to enjoy what he has to say about reading newspapers in the countryside, fountains and having a great idea. Imagine my excitement at finding a new version of these essays being published in The Guardian.

If ever we were in need of cheering up, now would be the time. The premise is the same, we are encouraged to appreciate simple pleasures and everyday things. Our young people face more than their fair share of difficulties. A recent winner of a Scottish essay competition gave me clear pause for thought when she outlined well, how dreadful it is having to portray a shiny Instagrammable life. Whilst part of me says we had it tougher, there is a very significant element that says actually they really do. As March turns into April exams loom, family moves are discussed and the school year seems to be very close to an end. For this reason on 21st March, International Day of Happiness I thought of a grumpy old J B Priestly.

Happiness school dough happy pupil
Happiness is learning to make bread
(Year 3 trip to Ferme de Gally)

We are fortunate to live in a wonderful environment. We have the privilege of studying in a place which inspired great artists and provides us with an ever changing picture of nature’s annual cycle. I’ve taken delight this week in hearing the drumming of a woodpecker, in poetry read aloud, of house tokens proudly banked and in the cheery good mornings of Junior School pupils. The first cup of coffee in the morning is always a treat to be savoured. When I heard that there was an international day of happiness I cynically dismissed it as yet another pointless exercise that had been dreamt up by the greetings card industry but on reflection it might well be a very good thing. Instead of asking what did you do in school today we should be asking what was it that gave you joy at school today?

Over the coming weeks I will be asking pupils about the little things in which they find delight, a good score in Fortnite will (I suppose) be allowed, but surely it is not as good as the swish of the netball passing effortlessly through a ring or the rippling of a net after a crisply struck ball. I’d like to believe that all of our pupils find a simple delight in a job well done, of succeeding following application to a task, of lending a helping hand.
There is great pleasure to be had in a job well done and to that end I was pleased to receive this week the final version of our inspection report. Please take the time to read it. It is an accurate reflection of a school where delight is to be found.

BSP – ISI Inspection Report 2019

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Why don’t we really teach the value of democracy?

1229 is a very long time ago. It is also the date of the first recorded student strike and it happened here in Paris. In many cases student strikes are focused on universities, but increasingly school aged students are using strikes (or perhaps more accurately boycotts) to make their voice heard. The story of Greta Thunberg is indeed an inspiring one and the message that she and other protestors send is one that politicians would be wise to heed.

student voice democracy school speaker

As Headmaster, I can’t say that I believe that missing a day of school to register a message, however important, is the best way to promote a position or idea. For me, the message that the strike or boycott sends today is a clear one that speaks of the frustrations that our young people (globally) feel about their voice, their view, their future. If today’s actions teach me anything, it is that adults and particularly adults who wield power be it economic or political have a duty to consider the effects of their decisions on future generations.

In 2016 Scotland held a referendum on independence. It was the first major UK election in which young people were given the opportunity to be active participants in a democratic exercise. I followed the progress of this franchise extension with great interest and it was very clear to me, very quickly that the Scottish electorate aged 16-18 were some of the most well informed, open-minded and responsible participants in the debate on devolution. When the UK voted on Brexit the franchise was limited to over 18s; I leave it to you to decide if that was a wise idea. Young people should not have to strike to have their voice heard, they should have the right to engage with the full political process.

Youth rarely has the opportunity to speak meaningfully to power. Too often the political and decision making process uses youth as a decoration rather than placing it where it should be, at the core of all that is being decided in their name. Greta Thunberg is one of a long line of powerful speakers who happen to be too young to vote. A number of nations have taken the plunge and have given the full right to vote to under 18s, perhaps the closest to home is Austria who opened up the ballots in 2011. Critics voice concerns over maturity, non-payment of tax, a lack of interest or a lack of an awareness or responsibility. Much the same can be said of the electorate in general. I know many sixteen year olds who are far more politically aware than some fifty year olds and let’s face it they are probably more interested in the long term consequences of political decisions made today. Perhaps there is an argument for capping the age of voting, although I’m not sure when you lose the right to influence the future.

Perhaps what has happened today will nudge the current crop of politicians to grow up a bit and recognise that youth not only has a voice, but that it is their responsibility as the elected custodians of state to engage meaningfully with this community in making decisions that affect not just the present but the future.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

The value of co-education

‘Think equal, build smart, innovate for change’

The issue of single sex education versus the co-educational approach is a long established and ever engaging educational debate. Proponents of single sex education point to the benefits that this approach has. They are often more vociferous than those on the co-educational side of the fence. I’m aware that there are merits in both systems.

I’ve worked in both single sex and co-educational schools. I taught at a boys’ only school and have worked in boarding houses populated entirely by adolescent young men. All were fine institutions doing a great job and I enjoyed being part of them (apart from the peculiar smell that comes with a Year 9 boys’ dormitory.) For the last twenty years or so I have been working in a co-educational environment. There are differences between the two systems and both have certain strengths. A few schools have adopted a diamond model which sees primary education conducted in a co-educational manner, a split occurring in secondary with a final reuniting in the Sixth Form.

pupils learning co-educational values building with Kapla

On balance, I favour co-education. No big surprise there, but it is perhaps worth explaining why. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, we live in a co-educational world. There are very few areas in which women and men do not work together. If education is preparation for later life then it would seem sensible to learn to co-operate and respect each other from an early age. One hopes that by the time that the end of secondary education is reached such respect, tolerance and understanding has been achieved. I’m not sure that a girls only or boys only situation is going to help with this. We as a school have to remember to celebrate the success of both women and men – a quick look at the naming of our buildings on the Senior School campus would suggest that we are ready to celebrate the achievements of both men and women. Secondly, I think that working with co-educational classes makes us as teachers think carefully about what it is we are doing.We are conscious of trying to be inclusive and ensuring that all have the chance to answer questions or show their excellence. We have to ensure that we have tasks that are accessible and interesting to all members of the class. Thirdly, I believe that by educating co-educationally we are giving our young people the opportunity to consider what constitutes a healthy relationship based on respect.

Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s slogan is ‘Think equal, build smart, innovate for change’. By offering young people the opportunity to learn together I hope that we are doing something to promote the idea of thinking equal.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Around the World Day

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent van Gogh

Around the World Day in the Junior School has to be one of the most inspiring days of the school year. Rather like the Senior School’s International Day it gives us all the chance to celebrate the diversity that exists within our one community. It also gave me the chance to gurn… (probably best not to ask). Often schools seek to flatten differences and to produce individuals who share the same ideas and perspective. At the BSP this would be impossible, even if we wanted it. We are quite simply too varied to be forced in one way. This is one of our great strengths as a community. We have a broad perspective and our pupils can only benefit from having the unique experience of interacting with others from all continents and many nations. None of this would not happen without the indefatigable support of the parent community who have quite clearly been busy assembling costumes, props, cooking delicacies and making exhibits for the last few weeks. It was a remarkable display and we will probably never really know how much it has influenced the pupils who were fortunate enough to experience all that there was to savour! An enormous thank you parents and friends for all that you did to make this day such a success.

If there is one thing that I hope our pupils understand by this, the half way point in the year, is that we all function better when we are able to co-operate and learn from one another. Support, dialogue and an appreciation of otherness allow our young people to develop as the thought shapers and leaders of the future. Our children will have the chance to change their communities for the better. We need to give them the confidence, knowledge and skills to do so. By learning about the many countries and cultures of the world they have a head start.

If ever there was a demonstration of how well equipped our pupils are to see clear solutions to difficult problems then it is provided by the contributions that they made today to Sky News on the thorny subject of Brexit. Might I suggest that the Westminster politicos take time to listen to what the next generation of Europeans, in this case British and French, are saying about the current political situation? I am firmly of the belief that most of the world’s issues could be thrashed out by a group of Year 6 pupils if they are given sufficient supplies of Haribo and a little time. It was a pleasure to welcome presenter Braydon to the School and look forward to seeing our unique take on this issue on air.

Half term beckons and so I was pleased to join with our Senior School pupils in the now traditional mid-year madness. A dazzling collection of socks were on show and our thanks go to the catering team for hot chocolate with marshmallows at break. Life may well be complicated sometimes but it is rare for anything to look too bad from the perspective of a marshmallow filled mug on the brink on half term.

Have a great half term pause. Enjoy whatever it is you are doing and I look forward to seeing everyone back in school on Monday 4th March.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Report Writing

It has been a week of reports. Year 11 and Year 13 will receive their reports on mocks today, many Senior School pupils had their interim assessments and we as a school have been inspected. We will be given the report on that in about six weeks or so.

So to start, a little quiz. Can you match the following reports to the correct person?

“He will never amount to anything.”

“A quiet student who needs to stop playing with his motorcycles and learn that music will not make him a livable wage.”

“He will study law, and we have no doubt that he will make a name for himself.

“A persistent muddler. Vocabulary negligible, sentences malconstructed. He reminds me of a camel.”

Your choices: David Bowie, Albert Einstein, Roald Dahl, Fidel Castro. (Answers at end of article)

Reports written about pupils can be, it seems, horribly inaccurate.

Over the course of my time in education I’ve read (and written) thousands of reports and they have changed. The reports written at the start of my career tended to be less rooted in evidence and were usually reflective of an opinion. Often a fairly sarcastic one. Modern reports are a little more data driven. Old ones tended to be a little more amusing, newer ones more informative. Some may mourn the passing of reports such as those written above, but I suspect the ones that we write today are more useful. Of course many schools finish the academic year with a report and over time many involved in education have asked for more information during the course of the year and thus it is not uncommon for interim or other reports to be generated.

There is perhaps a danger of both parents and pupils waiting for the report. Recent educational research suggests that the most successful pupils know where they stand in terms of their learning as they progress through the course of a year. They work consistently to address areas of weakness and they polish the areas of strength. They know how they learn and they know what they need to do to get better. This sort of understanding comes from careful thought about the comments written on school work and a pupil’s reaction to them. If you want to know how a pupil is doing then the exercise book is as good a place as any to start. If the pupil wants to improve their grades or simply learn more then they are well served by looking in the same place.

Perhaps the same is true of school inspection reports. The inspectors do not visit us very often. This week has seen us attempt in some ways to show all we do in a year in the space of a week. I’d argue that if you really want to see what we are all about and how we live our school values a look over an archive of newsletters or our Twitter feed gives a clear idea of what we are doing and how we are doing it. I know that the inspectors have seen many excellent things and they will leave us with constructive suggestions as to how we might improve because no school is perfect. There is always something that can be done to improve. That is a good thing for life would be very boring if there was nothing much to do.

(Quotes in order: Albert Einstein, David Bowie, Fidel Castro, Roald Dahl)

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Less swagger, more purpose

Education updates – Educating confident, well-rounded and resilient children.

Damian Hinds (UK Secretary of State for Education) says that confidence and self-esteem are as important for future success as GCSEs and that no child should be denied access to the activities that help them to develop these attributes. He has also said that all children need to have the opportunity to develop something that he calls “public school swagger”. Whilst I agree with much of what Mr. Hinds says about providing all children with a wider range of activities to build resilient and well-rounded individuals, I do wonder why we have to engage with this rather hackneyed mud-slinging around what public schools do.

We probably ought to start with the phrase “public school”. In the UK a public school is rarely a school that is directly controlled by the government; it is an independent school. Historically there were seven public schools in the UK, they were governed by the 1868 Public Schools Act. There were lots of other schools in 1868, some called private schools and others called grammar schools and eventually all fee paying schools were lumped into the category “public” which led to the confusion as to what they in fact were or indeed are. Nowadays the term public school can be used in a pejorative manner which suggests that the pupils who attended them are privileged, out of touch and arrogant.
So back to this swagger business. Mr. Hinds believes that independent schools convey privilege on their pupils by providing a wider range of subjects and activities for them to experience. This self-confidence is handily described as swagger. So he makes the very good proposal that all schoolchildren in the British education system should have these benefits. I think that we would all agree with him that this is indeed a very good wish. Sadly such plans require considerable amounts of funding and there lies the flaw that will kill this initiative.

In the current political turmoil there is, I suspect, a natural tendency to want to find some villains. The people destined for Mr. Tusk’s Brexit hell may well display “public school swagger” through their ability to sound like an authority when in fact they didn’t really know very much at all. But I’ve met plenty of people who could do this who went nowhere near a public school. Curiously, I have also met many ex-independent school pupils and ex-public school pupils and ex-state school pupils who display far more laudable characteristics. At this particular overseas British style independent school I see more kindness than swagger; more integrity than arrogance and more community spirit than selfishness.

So if there is one person at the BSP who is swaggering, it is perhaps me. Sorry, but there you have it.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Snow day and slow education

I woke up to the radio
And the glare of a blanket of fallen snow…
It’s a snow day
Snow Day, Bleu

Snow daySnow Day. Two words guaranteed to raise a smile even with the most conscientious of students. A meteorological treat for the pupil who just needs to draw breath at the end of January if popster Bleu is to be believed. I hope that amongst the fun of constructing snowpersons and at least one snow bear, some learning was had on Wednesday. On Thursday we could not run our bus services so we were down on pupil numbers. These days provide some of the most exciting opportunities for creative education. I was lucky enough to be able to work with a Year 9 and Year 11 class at the same time. I normally teach the Year 9s but this time the Year 11s took the lead, they shared their skills in source analysis with the other pupils. They provided the technical knowhow while the Year 9s had the facts. It was a great lesson, nothing really to do with me, I only provided the materials. Education can come in many forms and I suspect that anyone looking carefully at the snow and ice this year will have learnt much about the wonders of the natural world. Learning can be best when it comes from an unexpected source. That said I was surprised on reading the suggestion that British shoe shop assistants are soon to be charged with providing basic arithmetic lessons in the summer holidays when fitting youngsters with their new shoes(1). Whilst I’m all for making the most of every learning opportunity I think this one might be a little optimistic.

Tomorrow, a dedicated band of thespians will meet to spend the day rehearsing for the Senior School show Grease. Again a fantastic opportunity for older pupils to set a great example to younger ones. More experienced performers will provide a lead for those in the chorus. In The Hague another example is to be found. A small group of students have been acting as the Australian delegation to the UN, a model one in this case but no less serious than the real thing. A place for Year 13s to show Year 10 and 11 students how to stand up in front of a packed lecture hall and make a thoughtful, well-constructed speech. And on Tuesday as the snow fell the jazz band were doing their thing in Le Vésinet. Once again an activity in which a cross section of the school community were found playing and learning together.

I’m not suggesting that we chuck it all in as teachers and let the students do it themselves. Indeed I’d never recommend ‘do it yourself’ education (I’m not keen on any form of DIY), but I do think that it isn’t a bad idea to just acknowledge the importance of student to student learning. Sometimes it is better to learn from someone who is slightly closer in age and experience. So if there is something good to come out of a snow day then this might be it.

1 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/30/education-clarks-shoes-tory-shop-child-development

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr