Whilst I have been the first to say that exam results aren’t everything the current debate raging in England and Wales following the Prime Minister’s most recent proclamation on grammar schools gives pause for thought. In a classic piece of English compromise academically selective grammar schools were abolished in the 1960s and 1970s, apart from in the places they weren’t (163 grammar schools remain)! A brave new era of comprehensive education followed. Earlier this month the British Prime Minister announced that new grammar schools were to be actively considered.
If you like grammars they are engines of social mobility which give suitable life chances to those who merit academic exclusivity. If you are against them they are discriminatory and condemn young people to a life of fewer opportunities based on nothing more substantial than a good day in the exam hall.
At the BSP we are not academically selective. We welcome one and all whatever their academic prowess to make the best of what they have, to be the best that they can be. Each year we are as pleased to acknowledge the achievement of the students who struggled to pass but did achieve that goal, as of those who cruise seemingly effortlessly through assessments. We are delighted for any Year 13 student who gains a place at their first choice of university. We have a fair share going to Oxford and Cambridge, but our ambition is not bound to particular institutions for their reputation alone; we want the best place for the individual student and generally we can help this to happen. Simply stated, academic selection is not the key to school success. Academic success comes from having access to good teaching, supportive friends and interested parents. Differentiated teaching, a range of subject choices and high expectations play their part too. An academic hothouse has both a glass ceiling and glass walls. I prefer to see minds grow in a place without the constrictions of such boundaries.
Education is about more than simply grades on a certificate. It is about the lessons that are taught both in and out of the classroom. A fine set of exam grades will never hinder but it is also vital that other skills are developed alongside the markers of academic success. I am par-
ticularly interested in the mindset that pupils develop while they are here. Are they positive? Do they leave us willing to discover all that the world holds for them? Do they consider those around them? Are they capable of independent thought? I think our young people do leave here with these characteristics and that is surely more important that a league table position or school A* pass rate bragging rights.
When I’m asked about our approach to selection I’m happy to be clear:
We are proudly non-selective and unashamedly academically successful. Perhaps Mrs May should come and visit…
It is probably the most difficult lesson of the year. Every new school year brings a variety of challenges.
But little is more difficult than the first lesson of the year. It is the time when a teacher finds out about their new class. Instant impressions are made on both sides of the teacher’s desk. Students weigh up the approach that will work for the coming year. Teachers discover who will be the ones who will put their hand up first and who will require some encouragement over homework. Thus it is that the opening words of the class set the tone for the
whole year. Similarly, the first piece of work handed in generally speaks volumes about what will happen during the course of the year. Like 775 small ships leaving the harbour, our students have commenced their voyage of learning. They will be guided well.
In a similar manner the Headmaster’s first letter home, first magazine article or indeed tweet is meant to set the scene for the year to come. A speedy glance over fiction’s most famous heads gives some inspiration. Professor X the principal of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters exhorted his young charges in less than cheery fashion: “The future: a dark desolate world. A world of suffering, loss on both sides.” Not exactly the uplifting start I sought, so I tried Thomas Arnold, the great Headmaster of Tom Brown’s Rugby School: “Real knowledge, like everything else of value, is not to be obtained easily.” Perhaps true, but not exactly cheery. Fortunately there were suitably surreal words to be found from Harry’s Headmaster, Dumbledore: “Welcome to a New Year at Hogwart’s! Before we begin our banquet I would like to say a few words and here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” So much for literary inspiration.
Having spent time over the course of these past few days touring the school, it has been wonderful to witness the excellent start that has been made by the students at the BSP. There have been a few tears and there have been some nervous looks now and then, but the overwhelming attitude on display has been of cheerful engagement with new friends, subjects and routines. It has been a privilege to see the way that our young people have started school this year. Resolutions have been made and many are still intact at the end of this first full week.
This year we will be encouraging our students to take advantage of all the opportunities on offer here, challenging them to discover through their study and their interactions more about the world in which they live. We will recognise not only excellence but both determination and endeavour. Our aim is to mould young people who will act with an integrity that will see them take a leading role in whatever community they live. You as parents will see this in the pages of our newsletter, through visits to the school and hopefully you will hear it from your children.
Over the coming months we will be asking pupils to reflect upon the values that this school upholds. We firmly believe that through living and working in our diverse and international community we can change attitudes far beyond the school gates.