“People wish for criticism but what they want is praise.” – W. Somerset Maugham

“I love criticism, just so long as it is unqualified praise.”

Noël Coward

Who doesn’t like a little bit of praise? Well probably those of us who like a lot of praise.

Affirmation, reassurance, and a warm fuzzy glow come when we hear nice things about what we have done, and young people can be lifted high when praise is given. When it isn’t forthcoming it can be disappointing and frustrating. Schools tend to have formal methods of praising what they regard as being of value. Soon enough there will be the first progress tests – good scores often result in praise. We are getting to understand the levels that we should expect from pupils now and as time goes on, we should be able to reward work well done with the praise it deserves. But as important as praise is, it is not without its challenges. Too much praise, it could be said, devalues the currency. Empty praise where standards have been reached without particular or noteworthy endeavour or effort are just that – empty. It is probably the case that praise won too easily or offered too readily is not worth having. That is perhaps why encouragement exists.

Schools in general are probably guilty of looking to praise that which is excellent. I’m not for a minute suggesting that we ditch Prize Giving or Achievers’ Assemblies, but I do sometimes wonder if we could or should reward with praise other actions. I’m not sure I have ever used an official channel to praise a pupil who has demonstrated integrity. More fool me, that is something to correct. Similarly, how should we reward those who strive to discover their limits and who do not achieve the highest grade or breast the final winning tape in first position? At the BSP we are good at recognising improvement, at lauding those whose effort and engagement with whatever it is they are doing demonstrate perseverance, but perhaps we could go further. Imagine a report that explicitly focused on character development alongside academic achievement. It would make for interesting reading. Writing it would require a different type of knowledge.

This week I had interesting conversations with a variety of pupils on this topic. A group arrived at my Tuesday breaktime drop in to discuss this very issue, and a convincing case they made for their perspective. Later in the week I had the good fortune to discuss the idea that adaptability is a value, I think we agreed that it is a laudable character trait and could well be termed a value. Both encounters set me thinking. Samuel Johnson was clear about praise telling us that “like gold and diamonds, [praise] owes its value to its scarcity.” I’m not sure I fully agree with this, but I do think we could look to spread our approval a little wider. Carol Dwek perhaps summed it up well when she wrote “the wrong type of praise creates self-defeating behavior. The right kind motivates students to learn.” Perhaps we as educators or parents should consider how and what we praise. Above all else it is important that in the sometimes-difficult world in which our young people live, where life is examined and perfection seen as an everyday achievement through airbrushed snapshots of fictional life, we teach them to recognise when they should praise themselves, reward themselves or allow themselves to feel some satisfaction or contentment in what they have achieved. That praise might be the very best form of this valuable commodity.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“We have normality…”

“We have normality. I repeat, we have normality.”

Douglas Adams

Regular, unremarkable, average… normal. Normal, not exactly a word to set the heart rate soaring. Not the state of things that is usually celebrated but, this week, here at the BSP I am delighted to report that everything has been, well, normal.

Let’s start with the Welcome Event. Strictly speaking this occurred last week but we can start there. It was a lovely event and so good to see families making all important connections and renewing friendships for the academic year. Then a week of school. As any Headteacher will tell you, there is no such thing as a normal week in a school, each one is unique, each one is different but as far as I can see this week has been normal. Rather like that quotation about a week in politics, a week is a long time in a school. We’ve had excellent stimulating lessons, homework tasks have been completed (with varying degrees of enthusiasm), we’ve had brilliant co-curricular activities, there was a cake sale in the Senior School for gene research, teams have departed for other European capitals to compete and we will have a national netball tournament here in school tomorrow. Normal, for us.

The Autumn term is a breathless one. It starts in bright sunshine and ends often with weather that is slightly less pleasant. We have long bright evenings after school that encourage dawdling and it ends with us hurrying home in the dying light by December. It is also our longest one. We are moving into the period of the term where some of the most significant academic development takes place. The foundations have been laid, previous ideas revisited and now we are moving on, moving forward, ensuring that progress is made. Before long initial impressions will be shared, targets revised and levels of ambition fixed. If a shaky start has been made this is as good a time as any to regather and relaunch. Ground can still be made up if it has been missed. And none of this all-important progress will be made if sleep is neglected or activities are out of balance. Now is a good time to review how the settling in period has gone. It is good to see how normal it has been. Progress should be normal for the BSP pupil.

I was fortunate to spend some time with Nursery and Reception this week and their enthusiasm is infectious, it is good to be reminded how exciting the “normality” of school can be. I’ve also spent time with Year 13s who are considering their next step, the one that takes them out of school, they too are aware that the normality of school, so often not praised, will soon come to an end for them.

Our normal is vibrant and exciting. It is a normal that rarely stands still and one in which we all strive to do our best in all endeavours. As our school values so clearly state, our normal is to strive for excellence, to act with integrity and to work for the benefit of many. That, I hope you will agree, is a normality that is worthy indeed. Perhaps normality should be rebranded as being something exciting?

I hope you have a lovely weekend.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Grief is the price we pay for love.” – Queen Elizabeth II

Rivers of ink have been spilt in the wholly appropriate appreciation of our late Queen’s dedicated service and her uncanny ability to move with the times. As a monarch who did National Service, made early use of broadcast media then moved on to social media and even allowed herself to have some fun in this most august of roles, there is much on which to reflect and learn. The King has taken up his mother’s good example and we look forward to a similarly dynamic Carolingian Age.

Whilst witnessing the ceremony associated with this State occasion, I’ve been struck with the limited time that a family has had to grieve, quietly and privately. Now that the Queen lies in state the family may be afforded this necessity. Today they will take part in the vigil in Westminster Hall a place of silence and contemplation. As Prince William admitted yesterday, the process is not an easy one.

Losing a family member is one of the most challenging situations for any child to overcome (no matter what their age). It is particularly difficult for school age children. Sadly, we have had experience of this loss as a school community, and I believe that we have provided appropriate levels of care and support. But this most public outpouring of sorrow may well affect children in school who have lost a relative, particularly during the pandemic. If you have concerns about this, please do contact our welfare team who are in a position to help and assist. Grief can lay hidden for some time, and it is difficult to predict when it may surface.

On Monday we will have another opportunity to remember the Queen’s life of service. We plan to have a two minute silence, a small gesture in recognition of this extraordinary life. Please do remember that if you would like to watch the coverage of the State Funeral live then you may withdraw your child from the school for the day and this will be recorded in our registers as an authorised absence, please send an email to the appropriate School office. A Service of Thanksgiving for the life of the Queen will be held at St. George’s Church in Paris on Saturday (see page 3 of this newsletter for further details).

Unlike last weekend in the UK, there is no interruption to sports fixtures, theatrical productions or other events. We have decided that our Welcome Event will continue as planned. This is an opportunity for us to come together as a wider school community, to make new friends and renew older friendships. I really hope that you will be able to attend. Our school charity shop will be open, pre-loved uniform items will be available for purchase and a range of local groups will also attend to provide information about joining. Our parents’ association the BSPS will run their ever-popular bar and I can thoroughly recommend the pizza on offer! Do join us.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“The lessons from the peace process…”

“The lessons from the peace process are clear; whatever life throws at us, our individual responses will be all the stronger for working together and sharing the load…”

Queen Elizabeth II

The start of a new school year is a time for optimism. “This is the year I will not be late”, “this is the year I will stay on top of my homework”, “This year I will try my best” are all common refrains when you speak with young people in September. It is also a time of year when Heads reflect on the last year’s exam results, on last year’s achievements and think about what is to come. In short there is an air of purpose and recognition of the endeavour that awaits.

Our term started on Monday, and with it the school year. A five-day first week is always a challenge, particularly for the youngest members of our community and those who have become accustomed to a post-lunch summer holiday afternoon nap. I’m delighted to report that everyone was still coming into school with a discernible spring in their step this morning – a commendable display of energy.

Of course, the end of this week has been dominated by the sad news of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We joined as an entire school community this morning to reflect upon the lessons that we can learn from this remarkable individual. As one who did not choose her path in life her dedication to the service of the nation is an important example to follow. Her ability to reconcile communities in conflict, to demonstrate public forgiveness and to move on positively from loss are perhaps some of the less often recognised elements of her character. Her Majesty lived a life with purpose and in doing so provides our young people with a lesson that they would do well to heed. Perhaps just as important as these characteristics was her ability to put people at their ease and ensure that even some of the most important of occasions had their humorous side. How can we forget her cameo appearances with 007 and alongside my favourite bear, Paddington. Many of our pupils will go on to play a significant role in their communities in later life, I hope that they, in having had time to reflect upon this particular life, will follow the example we have been fortunate to witness.

President Macron’s words last night should also give us pause for thought. A kind-hearted Queen was how he described her. As we plunge into a year of excitement and possibility, we would be wise to put kindness at the core of all our endeavours. As a counsel to no less than fifteen British Prime Ministers the Queen was mindful to remind them to be kind to themselves, to ensure that they were not overwhelmed by the pressures of their role. Where challenges are faced, we should share the load, co-operate and support each other. These too are lessons for us to consider at the start of this new school year.

Our thoughts are with King Charles and his family as they mourn the loss of a family figurehead, a much-loved mother, grandmother and great grandmother. Her steadying influence will be missed as this the modern Elizabethan age closes. The success of a new age is in the hands of the generation I had the privilege of addressing this morning. They are indeed capable of taking inspiration from Queen Elizabeth and moulding a better future. There can be no more appropriate legacy from this most extraordinary person.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“I’ve just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday… I tell you what, never again.” – Tim Vine

One of the interesting aspects of my role in school is that I sometimes end up having the most unexpected of conversations. This week I was able to discuss the finer points of pirate etiquette with some extremely well behaved Nursery pirates and I had a conversation with a parent about famous people who insured parts of their anatomy. The insuring of digits, arms and legs is not a new thing. Following some diligent research (ok a swift dip into the guru that is Wikipedia) I’m reliably informed that Bruce Springsteen’s voice has a policy worth 5 million dollars, Julia Robert’s smile is apparently valued at 30 million dollars and the list of actors, celebrities, dancers, sports players and performers who have insured their legs is far too long to list here. The conversation led me to think about education as insurance.

It has been said before that education is one of the greatest investments that a parent can make in a child’s future. Unsurprisingly, I’d agree. Once learned, it is indeed difficult to unlearn, especially when it comes to the development of skills or character. We may need to brush up on the content, but the developed ability remains once it is acquired. Education as investment is easy to justify. But what about education as insurance? Is the link as clear?

Again unsurprisingly I’d say yes. If we define insurance as a thing providing protection against a possible eventuality, then our approach to education is a form of insurance. Over the course of this academic year pupils have developed a bank of knowledge, a group of skills and a mindset that will protect them against a possible eventuality. If we have learned anything over the past few years it is that our young people need to be flexible, adaptable and above all resilient. This year we’ve challenged and encouraged, and the results are excellent – and go far further than the academic sphere. Most recently we’ve seen that lives can be turned upside down by conflict. Our Ukrainian students have shown us that when provided with a suitable environment learning is possible, even in the most extreme and upsetting of circumstances. Their example demonstrates the importance of holistic education. When faced with a challenge we need to know how to do certain things, like make friends, build trust, and co-operate with others. We also depend on others to be ready to assist. It is education that develops these valuable character virtues and therefore provides an insurance policy that offers cover for life and all it may throw at us.

At this time of year we have the luxury of time to reflect on what has been achieved. Not simply that which is commented upon in reports but perhaps it is time to look at both our investments and our insurance. Much has been achieved but if Aristotle is to be trusted our progress to flourishing is a lifetime project – there is still much to do. The summer holiday period gives us the opportunity to reflect, to consider what needs to be done and to gather both energy and resolve. Bill Bailey observed “I think happiness really happens when you least expect it: it’s when you’re not really thinking about it, when you are not trying to achieve it.” Holidays give us the chance to think about what needs to be done rather than focusing on doing.

As we break for the summer, I would like to take this opportunity to thank parents, grandparents and guardians for their support of the school. To those who leave us, you leave with every good wish for future success from the BSP and for those who remain, we look forward to seeing you in September.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“The Commonwealth Games…”

“The Commonwealth Games is an event for everyone. I believe it continues because of the unity and appreciation in respect of diversity, different nationalities coming together to compete under one Commonwealth banner.”

Denise Lewis

I am sometimes asked why the school flies a European Union flag post Brexit and I’ll normally give a response focused on us being a school of many nationalities and that as a school in France we are still part of that grouping of nations. This week it isn’t there. Those who are particularly observant will have noticed that the circle of stars is not flying this week and we have another blue and yellow flag flying from the Debussy building. This week is the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and as we have a Commonwealth flag, I thought that we should fly it in recognition of the meeting taking place in Kigali, Rwanda.

The Commonwealth is an interesting group. 54 Nations, nearly as many as we have represented at the school, 2.5 billion people most under the age of 29 and a place where small nations are represented with 32 of the world’s 42 small states in membership. There are nations from Africa, Europe and the Pacific, the Americas and the focus of the group is on the future with the environment, justice, youth, and democracy all featuring prominently in discussions. Alongside the debate and thought there are the Commonwealth Games, the friendly games which will take place in Birmingham in July and August. A chance for athletes to come together to compete in a setting other than the Olympic games or a World Championship.

As nations form particular clubs and groupings, so it is with schools. The BSP is a member of a variety of representative organisations who lobby on our behalf and provide opportunities for discussion, training and the sharing of good ideas and approaches. HMC, the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference is focused on leading UK independent schools but has an International Division of which we are a part. COBIS, the Council for British International Schools provides a forum for discussion of international education and IAPS, the Independent Association of Prep Schools provides opportunities for discussions and representation of primary matters. We are also part of a more local network of schools, ELSA, the English Language Schools Association which is a grouping of anglophone schools in France. By being part of these organisations we can learn from other schools and develop our unique approach to education. We aren’t bound to be like the other schools in the group, we can share ideas and develop our own offer. Such is the benefit of being independent and having close ties with schools with similar interests.

Our school is fortunate indeed to have a wide representation of different nationalities. This is one of our strengths. We benefit from having pupils from different parts of the planet coming together to study and enjoy themselves. This is an experience that goes beyond the classroom and is invaluable for the development of a global mindset, something that will be of benefit in later life. We are proud of our British roots, and we are equally proud to be international in our outlook. The qualifications that are earned here will be valued around the world. Still more important the attitudes shaped by this most varied of populations will, I suspect, go on to make our world a better place.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“If you want something done…”

“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”

Lucille Ball

Historians are rather keen on turning points, and whilst the events of this week may not prove historically significant, I do have the sense that we have passed the point of being midway through the term and are now careering towards the end of the school year with (at least from this desk) an alarming speed. It is a busy time of year. Those taking their GCSEs and A levels are approaching the end of this extended season of testing, the Key Stage 3ers have been to the Alps and returned with plenty of tales, the Year 6 have journeyed to Normandy and experienced a great week of learning out of doors. Internal tests are being handed back, teaching takes on a slightly different air and the sun shines. And there are reports, lots of them.

This may very well be a good time to visit a school. Spirits are high, good humour abounds and there are few places in the world better than being on the banks of the Seine in the shade of a generous plane tree. It was a pleasure to have the British Ambassador to France visit on Tuesday. Dame Menna Rawlings enjoyed a tour of the school with pupils, sampled a school meal and was grilled by Lower VI politics students. We were grateful for her taking time from a busy schedule to visit us; we are indeed honoured to have her as our School Patron. Also in school this week were our Governors, the group who provide oversight of the operations of the BSP. One of our Governors, Mrs. Rose Hardy visited the Junior School and was, of course, bowled over by the excellent work that she saw being done there.

Yesterday, I received a letter (always so much better to be sent a letter than an email). It was one that came in a rather impressive envelope and came from none other than President Macron, wishing the school well and sending his best wishes to the entire community following his re-election. It would appear that the good work of the school is being noticed in high places. It was particularly impressive to see that the President, a busy person if ever there was one, had taken the time to comment and sign in his own hand.

We are always grateful when busy people take time to recognise our efforts and wish us well. It is good to learn that even those whose every minute is mapped out for them can enjoy either being here with us or taking the time to notice what it is we are doing for the local community. This is perhaps a lesson for us all. No matter how busy we are, a kind word can go a long way. As we hurtle end of termwards, I hope that our young people have the opportunity to make sure that they enjoy the school, its environment, and community. This is truly a magical place of learning and there is nowhere else quite like it. When the current group of pupils are old and grey I’ll wager they will look back on the time that was spent here as being some of the most significant and influential in the formation of their character.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Comparison is an act of violence against the self.” – Iyanla Vanzant

Last week I had a conversation that made me stop and think. Such exchanges are always good, a moment to take stock, to evaluate, to reconsider. The topic was comparison, and whilst we did not discuss the topic for any great length of time, it is a subject to which I’ve returned to over the course of the week.

In the conversation that stimulated this consideration we were comparing schools, in this case the comparison was of the most positive kind: “My children liked their last school because of the following reasons…” and they like the BSP because of these following but different reasons. How good to hear of pupils able to be so discerning as to pick out what they like and from what they benefit in such a reasoned and rational way. For me, it is a point of strength that we are not just like another school, and we are good in our own way; we have our own strengths.

Comparison is a dangerous business when it comes to education and learning. That said, it is impossible to ignore the process of exam taking that is going on at present. If ever there was an example of education’s obsession with comparison than the exam season is an obvious place to look. Exams are a mostly artificial construct in which (often) fabricated skills and swathes of knowledge are tested – most of what has been learned is not examined. Who knows, perhaps some days soon a system of teacher assessment supported by exams will be invented to ensure that we reward (and test) pupils on all they know rather than what they are asked about in a 90-minute slot. Still more challenging for our young people are the comparisons that they are forced to make between themselves and the airbrushed individuals that are shown on social media. The pressure to be popular has never been greater, and we as adults should be aware that the consequences of this insidious race to perfection can only ever have casualties. We need to continue to watch this, to challenge this, and to ensure that our young people are all capable of flourishing.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Queen Elizabeth in this, the aftermath of the Platinum Jubilee. Whilst I remain firmly convinced that comparison with others is not a good thing, we may well be profitably served by considering the example set by the Monarch. Service, good humour and an adherence to a clear moral code are the pillars of the Queen’s own brand of service. We should not compare because our situation is different. I do hope that over this last week BSP pupils have taken a moment to think about what the Queen has done and how they may learn from it. Whilst by no means blemish free Queen Elizabeth provides an exemplar for those considering life in the public eye. How appropriate indeed were the celebrations of this time last week – and how worthy of thanks are those staff members who worked so tirelessly to make the event a success.

This week in the Alps, our Key Stage 3 pupils will learn a good deal about how they match up to the challenges they will face. Some will go further, higher, and faster but all will have learned that there is more in them than they think, and that they have the capacity to succeed, even when they are challenged. We learn much about ourselves when we face challenge, it is not a question of how good am I in comparison, but as the Queen has shown us: is this best of which I am capable?

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“To be brief…”

“To be brief is almost a condition of being inspired.”

George Santayana

At the end of the school day we break for a half term holiday. In order to include the local bank holiday we are out of sync with many other schools in the area and those in the UK. Half term in England and Wales is next week and there will also be a welcome break for those who take exams. We return to school on Wednesday 1st June and will start a packed half term of learning. This holiday has been termed a mini-break, although I’d still probably prefer it to be called a half term. But it isn’t the name on which I want to focus, it is the fact that it is a shade shorter than other half terms. The half term is like a comma, if gives a moment to draw breath, not to stop everything but simply to reduce and to slow. It is a time to recover and replenish a stock of energy, and that energy will certainly be needed in the coming weeks for the pace of school life will only accelerate from here on into the end of term. It is important that we use this limited time to gain the most benefit possible.

So having thought about the idea of small but important holidays, I did wonder if there are other areas of school life in which small is beautiful. Take break time, a period as vital for teachers as it is for their pupils, a chance to draw breath and to ready oneself for the next block of lessons. As those on exam leave may have found, the discipline of the bell means that break lasts just long enough but there is no temptation to procrastinate. Revision is a topic very much on the minds of pupils at the moment – again, breaking it up into reasonable chunks is a very good idea. Screen time, now an important element of life can be done in shorter bursts, there is no reason to engage in marathon sessions. This holiday I hope pupils balance indoor time with outdoor time and active time with more restful time. In fact there are many things that benefit from being a little shorter, indeed I can (off the top of my head) only think of one area where I’d never advise a pupil to go short and that is on sleep.

Brevity, it has been said, is the soul of wit. I suspect that it may also be the sign of a good newsletter column. So that’s me done, I hope that you have a restful half term.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Education is for improving the lives of others…”

“Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.”

Marian Wright Edelman

Schools can be viewed as a collection of small communities all contributing to a larger whole. There are peer communities, friendship groups and classes. We have year groups, houses and activity groups. There are the mysteriously named Key Stages and we have a Junior School and Senior School community. Attached to the school we have other communities, we work in partnership with certain groups, and we have other groups such as the BSPS. It would be remiss of me not to mention the alumni community, a group that is more likely to be found virtually but is alive and active in a variety of places around the world. Community is important.

The sociologist Etienne Wenger describes a community as having three key components:

• mutual engagement whereby diversity is em braced;
• joint enterprise whereby mutual accountability is explored;
• and a shared repertoire which involves styles, stories and of course actions.

Over the course of this week we have had a productive time in school where young people from some 50 nations have worked and played together. I’ve been delighted to see dioramas being brought into school, teams training together and lots of hard work being done in classrooms. We’ve all spared a thought for Year 11 who have started their GCSEs this week. We are all engaged in the common pursuit of learning. Our aim is to develop all that is good in young people and ensure that they have the character to succeed in the future. If the community is to flourish, then we have to accept difference in thought and belief and welcome our diversity. As a I look around, I see a welcoming and tolerant community. I’m sure there is work to be done but we are, I believe, starting from a good place.

This week we were delighted to welcome former BSP student Liselotte back to school. She shared her knowledge and expertise and enthusiasm with our Senior School pupils. I hope that they were inspired by this recent former pupil who has succeeded in so many areas. They have a model on which to build their own success.

Tomorrow we have our first Festival of Discovery with teachers and friends of the school sharing their knowledge and expertise freely. For one day you too can join a new community and join in with our mission of learning. Please don’t be shy, it is still possible to sign up for a few sessions and our caterers are standing by to supply us with fish and chips at lunchtime. The School is a welcoming community and we’d love to see you.

Someone once described a school as a mixed age learning community. Tomorrow we most certainly will live up to that description and I do hope I’ll see you as you come through the school gate ready for some serious fun!

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr