“If you can get young people to succeed in any area of activity, that sensation of success will spread over into a lot of others.” Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. 1921-2021

HRH Prince Philip,
Duke of Edinburgh

During the course of the day, we learned the sad news regarding the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh.  Over the course of his public life the Duke committed to a life in which service was the primary focus.  During the coronation ceremony in 1953 he promised to support the Queen in her leadership of both the Nation and the Commonwealth and this he did for the rest of his life.  In this endeavour he remained steadfast and unwavering.  Whilst not everyone agreed with everything that he said, or is reported to have said, it is undoubtedly the case that many have benefited from what may be his greatest legacy, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.  His vision and drive in this regard have been of inestimable value for young people all over the world who have had this life enhancing experience.  He was a little blunter about the benefits of the award scheme describing it as a “do it yourself kit in the art of civilised living”.  We are proud to offer the International Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at The British School of Paris.

A little-known element of Prince Philip’s life is that he spent some time being educated in St. Cloud not so very far away from us here in Croissy.  A child who boasted a heritage that was Greek, Danish, and Russian he was for many the epitome of an Englishman.  If we are to remember his contribution to the wider community, we are perhaps correct to recognise his unswerving commitment to service, be that to the World Wildlife Fund, Action on Hearing Loss, the National Playing Fields Movement or The Queen.  A child influenced by a worldwide community, who showed initiative, drive and who grew up to dedicate his life to service he perhaps provides a suitable model for our own pupils as they seek to discover the path they will take in life.

Our thoughts are with The Queen and the Royal Family at this time as they mourn the loss of a husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

http://www.britishschool.fr

“April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded…”

“April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.”

Mark Twain “Puddin’ Head Wilson and Other Stories”

There is an art to a really effective practical joke. I’d thought it was something of a lost art, a tradition that had gently slipped away. As it happens the obituary for this rather innocent form of fun is rather premature and it turns out present at the BSP. Perhaps the most effective school based practical jokes are those that are subtle, those that catch the eye of the hapless Headmaster just enough to persuade him to take the bait, the hook, the line and the sinker. I was well and truly caught yesterday lunchtime by a Year 11 pupil who had decided to enjoy a bottle of beer with his hot dog and chips. Of course, there was nothing more than water in the bottle, he’d planned his stunt carefully and yes, I fell for it entirely – much to the good-natured amusement of all who were in the refectory. I am sure there were many other celebrations of the Poisson d’avril tradition and I’m sure that they were well received.

I believe a school that is able to laugh together is a school that works more effectively than one in which laughter is not heard. Some well-placed humour can make a lesson move along at a new pace, it can be welcoming for new pupils and it is often the thing that is remembered long after a pupil has left the school. Sometimes, of course, the joke is not appreciated, or it is ill considered, and it does not help in the building of a healthy community spirit. It is perhaps days like the 1st April that give our pupils the chance to find out what makes a joke funny not just for them but for everyone. If each pupil gains an understanding of the fine line between funny and upsetting, then we will have given them a useful skill indeed.

Good humour will undoubtedly be required in the coming weeks. Remote schooling is no joke, but those who are able to meet the challenge with a regular smile will flourish. It is likely that there will be moments of frustration (my link is down and you are on mute spring to mind) and if that is the case then the support functions of the school, our pastoral team is ready to help.

The educational writer Dave Keeling has studied humour in schools, and should you be feeling that you might be in need of a laugh or perhaps more importantly to understand why you need to have a laugh or smile even when we aren’t in school – follow this link: https://consiliumeducation.com/itm/2020/04/27/laughter/

and if that was not enough my latest favourite subject based jokes (well three of them):

Why can’t you trust an atom? They make up everything.
‘What’s the difference between a joist and a girder? Joyce wrote “Ulysses” and Goethe wrote “Faust”
Who invented fractions? Henry the Eighth.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“A delight of quotations.”

“A delight of quotations.”

Beatrice Otto

Over the course of the last twelve months the School has, necessarily, become a community of smaller communities. In some respects this is positive; smaller communities of learners tend to move at a quicker pace than larger ones and teachers interacting with their pupils in small units develop a greater understanding of those they teach; so small is sometimes better. This is, of course true, but within this we need to be careful that we don’t forget to join together for larger events, celebrations and assemblies. Our assemblies this year in both Junior and Senior School have been virtual – they have been broadcast to tutor and classrooms and this is something that may well continue at times in the year when we normally cannot meet, it is one of the “gems” described last week. In the very near future our musicians will be sharing their talents with us through a virtual Spring Concert, and I’d encourage everyone to take a few minutes to join in, to be with the larger BSP community albeit virtual and above all to enjoy some excellent music making.

Another aspect of the current situation is that I have not been able to visit as many classes as I might have liked to. This week I was delighted to have had the opportunity to make a suitably socially distanced visit to Year 5. The topic of the lesson was suspense. We started with a passage from Michael Morpurgo and then the pupils had the opportunity to write their own suspense filled paragraphs. (see JS pages) These included tripping over stray racoons and an evil wizard, I hesitate to say that you couldn’t make it up because, patently, they did. The enthusiasm for both telling a good story and ensuring adverbs, adjectives and subordinate clauses were used correctly and when it is permissible to break grammar rules was palpable. All this enthusiasm for suspense is starkly contrasted with the wearisome “will they, won’t they” behaviour of national leaders who seem keen to move closer to more stringent confinement measures but stop short of school closure. This is suspense that we could probably do without!

As I left Year 5 and having had a lovely chat about liminality and boundaries in the Romano-Celtic world with Year 3 (they started it) I was left wondering about our little communities of learning once again. As an aficionado of collective nouns particularly those describing groups of birds, I did wonder what the relevant term for a group of enthusiastic Year 5 creative writers is – a scribble? A folio? What about our historically minded Year 3s – a dig? An archive? As we head towards the end of the term some of the older year groups may not show quite the same levels of zest as their younger counterparts – is a grump of Year 13s fair or should we be thinking more positively, a flight as they look to the end of their school career? At lunch I have certainly seen a gobble of Year 9s. For those who are interested I’m reliably informed that the collective noun for a group of politicians is an equivocation, strangely apt I’d say. As it is the weekend and it is good to think happy thoughts can I remind you that the collective noun for a group of guillemots is a bazaar?

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Kindness is in our power…”

“Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not.”

Samuel Johnson

It is always interesting to see how language adapts to new situations and events. COVID gems was new to me this week, apparently these gems are the things that you want to take from the turmoil of the recent months and keep as part of your usual routine.

I suspect that we have all had moments over the last twelve months where we have simply given thanks for the small, usually unnoticed things around us that make our world just a little more bearable. Birdsong has been a favourite, local walks, and in France, cheese. I was delighted to note that during confinement French households have consumed 32% more goats’ milk cheese and 9.4% more cows’ milk cheese. For those who like a little more detail, I can also tell you that the biggest single rise in consumption of any cheese was seen by mozzarella. Whilst it won’t have been counted in the overall figures it has been a real treat to have fresh cheese as part of our regular lunch, a “COVID gem” that we will continue with after the hurlyburly’s done.

This week has been French week in the Senior School. We’ve enjoyed French themed lessons, Gallic moustaches in unexpected locations and French music to accompany our lunch. Chapeau to the Year 13s who inspired this festival of all things Francophone. We sometimes take it for granted but we spend our days in an extraordinary environment, the place that inspired the Impressionists to take their easels out into the open air. I suspect that this week and next will be two of the most impressive weeks for tree blossom. If you have the opportunity (and it is within your ten-kilometre radius) then I do recommend a suitably socially distanced look. The National Trust (the UK conservation charity) suggested last year that we should plant blossom rich tree circles as a memorial to those who have lost their lives as a consequence of COVID. Perhaps it is time for us to add to the number of trees in our local environment. In a matter of weeks, the blossom will be gone, and our term will be drawing to a close. For most it will have been a term uninterrupted by COVID closure although I fear some alteration to the structure of the week for those in Years 11, 12 and 13. We await information and will pass it on as soon as we have it.

I’ve written before about doing things differently at the moment. This applies as much for careers advice as any other element of school life. So, a thank you to the members of our community who are providing online support to a number of our older pupils. Our Governors are getting in on the act too, providing career advice via the alumni Linkedin page. Wisdom is soon to be dispensed so watch this space for more detail.

At the end of all of this, the biggest COVID gem that we could carry out from the wreckage will be a sense of kindness. These have been difficult times and one of the most heartening elements is that people have been kind to one another. As we come to the end of a long(ish) term and patience in certain quarters may be wearing thinner it is important that we remind ourselves about the importance of kindness, not only to those around us but to ourselves too. So, take time to enjoy the blossom and have a restful weekend.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Never believe that a few caring people…”

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

Margaret Mead

This time twelve months ago we were looking somewhat fretfully at what was going to happen next and the daffodils had just appeared in the student garden in front of the Lighthouse Building. I did not anticipate the scale or scope of the pandemic. Naively, I predicted last March that we’d be back to normal by September. That prediction may turn out to be correct, but I’d got the wrong September. So, you heard it here first, we’ll be back to normal in September 2021. Possibly.

On reflection I am not entirely sure that I really want to go back to where we were in March 2020 in the days BP (Before Pandemic). Much has changed as a consequence of this international emergency, some of it for the better. I’ve written before of the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder – we’ve missed many activities and when normal service is resumed, I hope that all pupils will make the most of what is on offer here. From orchestra to chess, from football to investors club there is something to excite the interest of everyone. We have seen the importance of fruitful human interaction when it has been denied to us and I hope that we all continue to harness the spirit of working together to achieve great things. It would be encouraging for humanity to think that we will take our responsibility to all that is around us more seriously and simply avoid slipping back into what we did, and how we did it BP.

This week the Senior School marked International Women’s Day with an assembly. Follow up work has also been done regarding a production intended to stimulate debate and thought. As a co-educational school I really do hope that we allow our young people the space to consider a huge range of possible avenues of both study and future employment and we move beyond rigid or proscribed views of who should do what. Post pandemic there may even be a reassessment of the way that certain professions and occupations are viewed and rewarded. Only time will tell.

Debate still continues in the UK around the question of exams and their most effective form. This week the Interim Chief Regulator of OFQUAL, Simon Rebus has given an indication that there are likely to be amendments to the way that exams are sat in summer 2022 as a consequence of the events of this last year. Change it seems will occur. It would be good if we were given the new assessment materials for this season’s mini-assessments, our pupil are rightly keen to show their worth. Being able to allay worries would be good before skipping ahead to next year.

There are clear signs of change as a consequence of the last twelve months, exciting debate has been stimulated and new ideas are emerging. Just to make sure that some things stay the same, I made my way over to the Lighthouse building just to check that the daffodils are out once more. They are. Whilst change is necessary, in some cases vital it is also very good to have the reassurance of things being well, a little bit back to normal.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”

Lao Tzu

That change is life’s only constant is perhaps true. Thursday saw Year 6 take a trip into the past. I suspect that having experienced it they are pleased to find themselves firmly back in the twenty-first century as the frankly terrifying Miss Brodie and her cohort of stern colleagues disappear into the past. Victorian Day happens every year, good to see that our characters from the past could once more come to visit to the delight and shivers of terror of our pupils. This event is part of the annual cycle of school life that was in its normal and appointed place. A pleasant change in this year of upheaval.

Over the course of the week, we received a little more information about the way that our older pupils will be examined and graded in the summer. No major exams, teacher assessed grades and something new in the form of mini assessments. The grade that emerges at the end of the process will have the same value as it always had, but there is a changed process to produce it. I’m hopeful that (at least in part) some of this change remains as it is without doubt a fair way to examine both knowledge and skills. In the short term nothing changes, pupils need to keep working and doing their best.

The pandemic has changed the way that the School operates, and it remains to be seen how long lasting this impact will be. Brexit too will affect the school’s future operations. A brief look at the school’s history will simply confirm that we are a school that has near constantly changed throughout its history. The children of today differ significantly from those that I taught at the beginning of my career; they are exposed to so much more at an earlier age than was the case back in the mid-90s. Education was different then, not quite Victorian but certainly not quite like now. Next year the twin influences of the coming together of pandemic and political change means that we will be a slightly smaller school. We predict that the much spoken ‘bounce back’ will take time in the world of education. A change like that can be dealt with if the school has a clear set of values guiding all that it does. Our values are clear and provide our young people with a moral compass that will guide them to a worthwhile and meaningful life.

One major change this week is that a BSP institution moves into well-earned retirement. For many Amar Ait Mahand was their first contact with the school. Amar joined us 29 years ago as a carpenter on the maintenance team. If you ever tour the Senior School you will still see his careful and well-crafted creations in many buildings, still working well, still doing the job for which they were designed. Later he moved to be our guardian and he has issued late slips, kept visitor registers and maintained a CCTV enabled eye on our security and safety more recently. We wish him every success in his changed life as a retiree, may it be both long and contented.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“The more you know…”

“The more you know, the less you have to carry. The less you know, the more you have to carry.”

Mors Kachinski

In my Year 9 class we discussed the Kachinski quotation – we considered the many competencies needed by a successful historian – many members of the class demonstrated these very qualities. It was a good discussion. There has been a drift in education to a dominant view that without exams educationalists have no way of deciding how to assess pupil potential. I’ve never been a great advocate of the exams only route although I do see a necessity for pupils to be asked to demonstrate both what they know and what they can do. This does not have to happen in an exam hall, it can happen in many forms. I’m not against exams being taken, far from it. So far so contradictory. Apologies.

What disappoints me about high stakes exams is that so little knowledge and so few skills are tested in them. In my own subject, any terminal exam at the end of a two-year course will leave out more than it can ever possibly include. That seems to be a lost opportunity. Work produced by the pupil during the year surely has a value in deciding at what level a pupil should be graded. What role is there for oral examination? Languages have these but they have never been spread across the UK curriculum. Why not? Being able to speak clearly about a subject is surely as important as being able to write clearly about it?

This week the Secretary of State for Education began to unveil the approach to GCSE and A level exams this summer. It seems that the examination boards will publish banks of assessment work and schools will have the opportunity to use or ignore as they see fit. Here at the BSP we are in a fortunate position. Many of our Year 11 and Year 13 pupils took their mock exams formally in January. In the normal course of events, they would take final exams in June. In the UK few pupils had the opportunity to sit formal mocks in January and have not been in school this term (they return from 10th March) so these summer tests may be the closest they will come to formal exams for some time. The approach that we will take is still to be decided but it may well seek to preserve as much of our normal structure and use the tests not as an absolute and final statement on performance but one of the many pieces of evidence that we have regarding the competencies of our pupils. I believe that I am not alone in believing that the consolidation of learning through revision is one of the most valuable aspects of the exam process and therefore it is worth preserving but surely a portfolio approach is the most appropriate?

Perhaps this year’s situation will give those who decide these things some food for thought. If pupils are permitted to demonstrate their abilities and talents through different activities, then university admissions staff and future employers may well have a far more rounded view of both their level of skill and knowledge.

This morning I met some academic high achievers from Nursery as my photo records. They were able to tell me the names of the planets and explain all that was to be seen in their pictures. I would argue that this is as good a way to assess learning as any other. I’m sure if we were to revisit this knowledge in the future that having enjoyed making their picture and having looked at it for some weeks on the classroom wall, they will remember the names of the planets. An undisputed A* for these two I’m sure you will agree.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“She sells seashells…”

“She sells seashells on the seashore.”

English traditional nursery rhyme

I think that it was last week I had a discussion with a colleague in which he said that he was disappointed that there would never be another snow day at school. This once in while “treat” was something of a rite of passage, a day when things are different, and the normal rules don’t quite apply. In a new age of remote learning the snow day simply becomes a day online. We can discuss what is lost and what is gained and may never draw a firm conclusion. Certainly, the fall of snow caused the usual levels of excitement, in particular for those who had never seen it before. I took my fair share of hits on Wednesday while doing my duty on the green pitch so will be quite happy to see the back of the white stuff for another year.

One thing that a fall of snow does is that it allows a variety of different classes the opportunity to examine snowflakes in depth. The science of snow has been much in evidence this week and indeed so has the art of snow. Perhaps having a snow fall during the Junior School’s Year 6 STEM week was particularly useful as it is a timely reminder of the magnificence of the world around us and the importance of seeing it scientifically so to understand it better. If you look in this newsletter and our social media feed, you will see some magnificent examples of gear and pulley use hidden under miniature fairground rides. Wonderful stuff from our Year 6 pupils. Incidentally, as we celebrate women in science week, did you now that the quotation today is often thought to refer to Mary Anning the notable fossil collector and early palaeontologist who was the first to identify the ichthyosaur?

Slumber has also been a topic for our younger pupils today. As part as a gentle easing into the half-term holiday sleep wear in many different guises was on show today. How good to be able to be together to relax with friends and enjoy movies as a treat at the end of what has been a busy and different half-term. The pancakes also looked very good…

So, snow, science, and slumber. The less somnambulistic will have realised that in the very best traditions of Sesame Street this column is brought to you by the letter “S”. There are another two I’d like to mention before I sign off for the half-term: students and staff. This has been a half term in which we have seen challenges. All have been met with enthusiasm by our young people. From the trials of what I think were the only “real” mock exams to be taken in the entire world to learning with masks on all the time, I have been impressed with the way that our students have met everything thrown at them with customary BSP good humour. To staff a massive thank you for all you have done to keep lessons on track, spirits high, paths clear, administration smooth and learning exciting.

So, my final S of the half term is simply success. We have much to celebrate. Pupils are to be congratulated on the work that they have completed. They can reflect on all the things that they now know that previously they did not and all that they can do that previously they could not. Schools are simple places to understand when success surrounds.

See you next half-term. Stay safe.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Time is a sort of river of passing events…”

“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”

Marcus Aurelius

It is perhaps inevitable that the longer you spend by the banks of the Seine the more it influences how you view the school year. Just as the school year follows a rhythm and flow so too does the river. In summer, the pace is languid, and the banks are covered by willows trailing their branches in the water. In winter it is faster flowing, it is a more turbulent picture with skeletal trees framing the view.

This week has seen the river rise ever higher in its channel, for the first time in a little while people have glanced anxiously at it. Earlier in the week the council arrived and put up red and white barrier tape. I’m not quite sure it will stop anyone from falling in, but I suppose it gives a warning to anyone who is considering a midwinter swim that it might be a little rash to do so.

There are two reasons for the river’s height at present. It has rained a lot and this week also saw some of the highest tides of the year at the Seine’s estuary. When tides are at their peak the river cannot discharge with is customary efficiency. Now that the tides are lowering, the river levels should begin to fall. What has taken a comparatively short time to rise will take far longer to fall. We have altered the river’s course, have provided protection, and do a good deal to manage it but sometimes, despite our best efforts we just reach the limit.

Rather like the Seine I have the distinct feeling that there are many people in our community who feel as if their own personal banks are ready to be breached, that their load is at its peak and that, well, things may just overflow. Despite our best efforts to channel anxiety and concern we are up to the top of our banks. Not surprising given the circumstances. As a school community we have all been making the best of what we can do rather than what is denied to us. We’ve all had to undergo the privations of separation and the bounds of restriction. Like the river, levels of frustration have crept ever higher. We can see what is going on but there seems little we can do to prevent the inevitable.

We have five days left before the half term break. I know that year groups and departments will be easing back a little next week, our half-way point in the academic year. The Junior School is looking forward to pyjama and movie days and Year 6 have their STEM week of activities. I hope that we can spend a little time in the coming days simply enjoying the subjects we study and not worrying about the never ending race of finishing the syllabus, doing the next assessment piece, or meeting another deadline. We will (I hope) have time for all that in the coming half term as spring begins to emerge on the banks of the Seine and levels of hope recharge.

Just as spring will inevitably arrive so too will the concerns of our current situation subside like the winter river. Storms may still appear before normal levels return but until then we may well have to follow the current as best we are able.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“If you don’t know where you are going…”

“If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there.”

Lewis Carroll

Earlier this week I was asked what job I wanted when I was a school pupil. The answer (for anyone interested) was a veterinarian, I later modified this to museum curator (preferably one of the big ones with lots of different departments). Clearly plans changed from all creatures great and small and I chose to study archaeology. As it turned out I am neither a vet nor a curator. This is the time of year when our older pupils start to receive offers from universities, what was theoretical last term is becoming all the more real now. Progress along the road of life is not necessarily linear or predictable, some will be delighted with the success of their applications but in an ever more competitive world others will take a knock or two before they find their way. A few may be left wondering what might have been. If previous years are anything to go by most will end up on a path that they find both exciting and fulfilling.

Mr. Potter did some valuable research for me regarding career aspirations in Reception. It turns out that babysitter; racing car driver; fast jet pilot; snowman; rock star; builder and mummy; superhero; motorcycle racer; ballerina, daddy; artist; policeman, and vet are the careers of choice for some of our younger pupils. I wonder what, after fourteen or so years of education, they will consider. Judging by their energy, the sky is most definitely the limit although I do worry about the longevity and career prospects for snowmen.

Amanda Gorman recites her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)

If we are to believe social media, there are lots of very capable and popular people doing glamorous and exciting things each day. The truth is often more prosaic but there is little doubt that pressure to be seen to succeed is more and more prevalent than ever. The public version of lives lived receives a rather different form of curation than I ever envisaged in the late 1980s. I don’t generally follow many people on social media but one channel that I have looked at recently is that of US Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. I’m not quite sure how I would advise pupils how to be a poet, who combines high level intellectual endeavour and a career as a top model, but she has managed it and inspirationally positive about the possibilities of life. The beauty of this is that I don’t have to try and explain how to do all of these things, the answer is there explained in her magnificent words. She is also very candid about her mother’s reaction to her declaration in response to the question; what do you want to be? I’m not sure her mother predicted quite the success that she has earned.

Current events may well lead some of our pupils to consider careers in medicine or public service. Others will grasp all that is offered by new technology or academia and we will have our share of creatives. I hope that we will see the growth of a courageous generation who are well equipped to meet the challenge of what is to come, certainly we as a school community look forward to both challenging and supporting our young people to grow and to flourish. In Amanda Gorman they have a role model who perhaps offers something more than the usual social media celebrities.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr