“A friend is a gift you give yourself” – R.L. Stevenson
Over the coming days there will be many tears shed over friendships that are to be interrupted. I have already chatted to a number of teary students, some older than you might expect, about the loss of their best friends. Life in a school with an international and mobile population can be cruel indeed. As a teacher there is not much that one can say. The modern world is a place in which international mobility is possible and indeed the experiences that pupils bring to our school having lived elsewhere is one of the most exciting elements of our community. Without mobility our view would be all the more blinkered. But it means people leave.
This year approximately 170 students will leave the school and we are already set to welcome at least 180 pupils next year. This ebb and flow is our circle of life. Few children join us in Reception and leave at the end of Year 13 as is the case in other schools. But what does this mean for the upset child? There is no getting away from it, losing a friend to another country is a traumatic event. The sense of loss is tangible and deeply felt. For the child moving away and for the “remainer” once the loss has been accepted there is the challenge of finding a new friend next year. Whilst the moment is difficult, young people learn from this experience. They become more resilient. They have to think about the value of friendship rather than assuming that friends will always be around. Talking to older students who might have been through the process more than once and having been the leaver and the “remainer” they tell me that they do keep in touch, Facetime and other apps help in this. Holiday opportunities certainly become more interesting! None of them said that they have become more guarded in their approach to making friends, they still value the support they receive and the fun that they have with their friends. I suspect that as a consequence of this change they are perhaps more at ease in new social situations, they find it easier to build networks and friendships, all invaluable assets in the modern world.
Last weekend a group of former pupils met up in London. For some it was twenty years since they last met, for others it had only been a matter of a few weeks since they had last been together. They picked up where they left off; perhaps the sign of real and lasting friendship. Our former pupils share a bond forged here on the banks of the Seine that is unique, they will never forget their school and I hope that they will never forget the friendships that they have made here. Yes, in the coming days tears will flow, this is the sign of good times shared that are coming to a halt, but they do not have to mean an ending. I’d like to think once a BSP student, always a BSP student; once a friend, always a friend.
With the passing of the summer solstice we can definitely say that the nights are drawing in again. As a former archaeologist and enthusiastic dabbler in all things historical I am always interested in seeing how the solstice is celebrated at notable archaeological sites such as Stonehenge or Carnac. Whether the commemorations that we see each midsummer bear any resemblance to the gatherings of past generations, who knows? That said the ingenuity of our ancestors in aligning monuments along astronomical lines never ceases to amaze me. On a similarly archaeological theme I was pleased to read that a long running archaeological project has published its findings. The National Hillfort Survey is a piece of research led by professional archaeologists supported by citizen scientists who have assisted with the collection of data. Hillforts or oppida are found all over Europe and were created by pre-Roman societies; Orléans is built on one. Usually found on top of a hill they consist of a series of earth banks or ramparts and they were originally seen as having a military function. Recent work suggests that the hillfort was not a defensive structure but rather a collective, community structure. A place in the landscape where people could gather and celebrate the passing of time. Perhaps in our own way the School fulfils the role of central place, a gathering spot for locally based families.
Tomorrow is our own midsummer celebration and I am sure that we are all looking forward to the Summer Fair when the community can come together to enjoy each other’s company, raise funds for the School, support our UWS project in Cambodia and collect donations for the Red Cross. Like a hillfort, the School tomorrow will fulfil a multitude of functions, all of them community based and all constructive. Such endeavours do not come without careful planning and lots of hard work so I am sure that you join with me in thanking the BSPS committee who have given unstintingly of their time to ensure fun for all tomorrow.
I hope to see you there. Unlike the solstice at Stonehenge you don’t have to be at the School at dawn to take part, we start at 12!
Look at any picture taken in a street about a hundred years ago and you are almost bound to see a sea of hats. Tall and top, fedora, trilby, cloche, cap, they all had their place. Take this same photo in the same street today and you might, if lucky, spot the odd one usually worn back-to-front. Hats it seems are out of fashion. The same trend is true in British schools, once upon a time there were caps, berets and boaters a-plenty; some went further and adopted more exotic styles. Most schools had some sort of compulsory headgear, usually detested by the school population. Go back a little further and it was even normal for teachers to wear a hat; I don’t predict a massive return of the mortar board at the BSP, but who knows?
Historical interpretations suggest that hat wearing took a real knock in the 1960s. Hair grew longer, more people owned cars and the times they were a-changing. JFK took a hat to his inauguration but he didn’t wear it. Personally, I am an enthusiastic wearer of hats. Those of you who have seen me out front of school in the rain will have witnessed my homage to Dr. Jones (Indiana), others will have seen the panama in summer. I have never played cricket without a hat. As a spectacles wearer, hats are to me useful objects. This weekend I hope to be wearing a stetson, or at least something that would not look out of place on the wild frontier; more about that next week perhaps.
Whilst I generally wear a hat to shield my specs, there is a far better reason to be wearing a hat in summer. Over the coming weeks the meteorologists suggest that we are going to be basking in high temperatures and bright, hot sunshine. Could I ask that we revive the habit of hat wearing while things warm up? The reasons for wearing hats are well publicised, on a hot playground I’d argue that a hat or cap is essential. We have school baseball caps and legionnaire’s caps but frankly anything within reason and with a suitable brim will do.
Most northern hemisphere education systems start their academic years in September and end sometime in June or July. Possibly, education is the only area of modern life that follows a nineteenth century agricultural year with students pausing their studies in the summer to head out into the fields to tend and to reap, or not. Now the summer often means exams. Some educationalists have made the argument that once exams or final tests have been taken there is little point in staying on for a few more weeks. This is an argument that I can understand from perhaps a public exam year group’s point of view, but for the other groups I’d say that the second half of the summer term offers a massive educational opportunity.
The latter part of term is a time for celebration and for exploration. A time when teachers and their classes can enjoy a little more “fluidity” in their studies. There are opportunities for collaborative projects; it seems that the better weather stimulates a greater interest in looking at the connection between subjects as well as delving deep into a single area of enquiry. Key Stage 3 depart on Saturday for the Alps. They will learn as much about themselves and indeed each other there as is possible in the course of an average school year. It is a critical learning week. They will be pushed but in a different way. They will forge friendships and develop a respect for each other. This is the time of year that allows schools to engage with what were once called character building activities.
Yesterday saw the Junior School having fun to raise money for good causes; who knows the lessons of yesterday may inspire some of our young people to choose a life of service. Later in the term we will see people perform on stage having worked as an ensemble to perform a play. There will be other opportunities for music and speech. Prizes will be given, balls held and parties enjoyed. It is a great time of year and one in which learning, albeit difficult to measure, takes place.
The end of term is often the time that we remember with the greatest clarity. It is a time when people leave and head off to new adventures, it is also a time when we have the chance to consider individual development through other means. To that end it probably should be seen as the most important time of the year.