All who were not absolutely engrossed in the conker competition at last week’s welcome event couldn’t help but notice that we have a Senior School sports hall that is more ventilated than normal. Happily this is not the result of some sort of natural disaster, but is a planned refurbishment. All things being equal we should be using our shiny new multi -purpose hall this time next year. It will become a key building on the senior campus and will be a focus for numerous activities.
Much has been written about educational buildings, a notable author on the subject being Dr. David Thornburg who talks of buildings and learning spaces being campfires, watering holes, caves and mountain tops. Our new hall will have all four spaces. The main hall with retractable seating and excellent sound system will allow us to perform and tell stories through drama, music and communal gatherings such as assemblies. It will be our campfire space. Storytelling is the base of all education and it is only appropriate that we have space in which to express ourselves. We will not forget the hall’s original purpose and we will enjoy a better playing surface and extended climbing wall. In front of the current skeleton structure will be a gathering space, the watering hole where we can meet, exchange information and celebrate success be it sporting or artistic. It will also be the place where teachers, parents and students meet to discuss progress at parents’ evenings.
The cave is a place to reflect, to be quiet and to contemplate – a private space. Under our hall will be space for lockers and pleasant changing facilities, a place to ready oneself for a learning experience. On the second floor of the new extension will be a fitness room. Whilst anything but cave-like it will be a place for the individual to pit themselves against themselves, a place of personal challenge.
But what of the mountain top? Our hall will become the place where, each week, we celebrate the values of the School, where we acknowledge those who have challenged themselves and demonstrated leaps in their leaning, the place where the lessons of both victory and defeat are acknowledged. It will be the venue for our prize giving ceremony, a rite of passage for those leaving to pursue learning outside the school gates.
The building of a new hall is a confident statement about our school. We are investing heavily in the future with the development of an edifice that will become a place that for different reasons will be remembered by the pupils who have passed through its doors. Indeed, after much planning it is satisfying to see this expression of our confidence as a school and furthermore our commitment to the development of young people through the provision of excellent facilities.
Once upon a time I was a young teacher and like many new entrants to the profession I was assigned by my school a more experienced colleague to tell me what I should be doing. Now it might be called professional mentoring, then it was definitely being told what to do. Ernie was a wise man and well versed in the art of the classroom. One particular piece of advice he gave me has stuck in my mind to this day. During one of our sessions he opined that as teachers we had to do two things; number one, teach and number two, help our pupils pass exams. It was very clear that to Ernie these were two wholly separate operations. He firmly believed that whilst exams were there to be passed (and at the highest grades) education was something very different indeed. Truth be told, I probably agree with him. But the world turns and at present there is a particular focus on exam grades as a measure of both school and individual academic performance. I know that to access the best universities and to have a chance at obtaining a fulfilling career that grades are the key to unlocking many doors. It is therefore with enormous pride that I read of the wonderful grades earned by last year’s Year 13 and Year 11 pupils in their A level and GCSE examinations respectively. (See Appendix 1 for full results) As a measure of the dedication, diligence and determination of our pupils these grades tell part of a story. The fact that 89% of the Sixth Form cohort gained entrance to their preferred university is a credit to them, their teachers and their parents. But results are only part of a wider narrative. A student who defines themselves through their grades alone is missing the point of education. A teacher who focuses on exams and nothing else is not fulfilling their vocation and a parent who over pushes does their child a disservice. Recent exposure of UK schools excluding pupils following a less than absolutely stellar public exam performance have been found out and their approach rightly challenged.
I am delighted to celebrate what has been achieved by our students, their results do us proud, but it would be seeing only part of the story if we did not also remember their wonderful musical performances, their assured presence in plays and their energy and spirit on the sports field. They gave of their time to support charity projects, they climbed mountains and they learned valuable lessons about co-existing in a community with many nationalities and cultural influences. They left the BSP as rounded individuals ready to make a difference in the world. Exam success only is not good education. I look forward to the academic year with great enthusiasm for seeing our young people grow academically, emotionally and socially through a wide participation in the life of this school, through making the most of the opportunities on offer. Along the way they should also earn excellent grades.
‘La rentrée’ probably comes in a variety of different forms around the world. For the very youngest it is a step into the unknown, a mixture of apprehension and excitement; for others it may seem a little like slipping back into a familiar routine. It is certainly a time for making new friends and catching up with old ones, a time for making new resolutions about working hard, thinking carefully and writing neatly.
From a Headmaster’s perspective it is about seeing everyone back into school enthusiastic about the year to come. And so it has been this year. Whilst much was the same as last year there was a major difference for me this year – dancing. I don’t dance at the best of times and never before I have danced at the beginning of the School year, so this was a new experience for me, veteran of far too many school year starts for comfort. On Wednesday I joined with Year 6 and Year 13 to take part in the national “La Rentrée en Musique” celebrations. We were joined by our School Patron, The British Ambassador Lord Llewellyn who brought along the fantastically talented vocal group Billet d’Humeur. Indeed, a marvellous way to start a year with a song in the heart and spring (however rhythmically challenged) in the step. If nothing else it reminded me that every school year is a chance to leap out of the ordinary, to challenge ourselves to take on something new and an opportunity to learn from others.
Over the course of the coming academic year I hope that all of our students will commit to learning something new outside of the classroom. School provides myriad opportunities, from community service volunteering to board games by way of sport, music and drama to name but a few. There is an activity for everyone. It is essential that all of our pupils recognise these activities are a vital part of their education. Similarly our young people have the chance to learn from each other. This year we have representatives of over fifty nations in the school, we have the chance to engage with each other to broaden our horizons. I know that they will commit to lessons and study; I would strongly encourage them to embrace the co-curricular programme and learning by being an active member of the community.
Not every day this year will be a dancing day, but I hope to see our students continue this term with lightness of step and willingness to embrace the unexpected and the new as they did on Wednesday morning. Such a mindset allows for education of the most exciting kind.