Learning to say what we think

British media outlets reported this week that a Kent Grammar school has established an “unsafe space” in which to discuss matters that might be considered politically incorrect or are controversial. From Brexit, to the voting age and political correctness, nothing will be off the agenda for discussion in this place.  One pupil reacted to the news saying that she felt this plan would legitimise extreme views.  Such discussion is not new, after all Socrates was accused of corrupting the young of Athens with his unconventional and unsafe views.
Our School includes a diverse population.  Many views are represented here.  Our classrooms should be political in the sense that we should teach our young people to deliberate about political questions, they need to learn to weigh evidence, construct arguments and draw their own reasonable conclusions.  We have an extraordinary community in which our varied experiences add depth to our discussions and thus affect our learning.  Therefore we are in a privileged position in educating a group of young people who will I believe go on to play an important role in their community, wherever that may be.  We need to ensure that all our young people find a voice and that they learn to participate in debate to express their views in a civil and constructive manner.  There will be times when they express views that others find irrational or unbelievable, but this is to be expected and is all part of the wider learning process.  Some of our students will, over time, change their perspectives.  This can only happen in a supportive environment.  I’m not sure why an “unsafe space” is required. The idea of creating an unsafe space seems to me to be missing the point.  Anything that might encourage individuals to provoke for provocation’s sake is not required.  Our classrooms should be places where the vital lessons of consideration are learned.  
This school will, I believe, develop the leaders of communities in the future. The experience of being in a school in which there are many views has, it would seem, distinct advantages.  A quick look around the world today would suggest that discord occurs when insularity is dominant, when suspicion of other views trumps an understanding of another perspective.  Do I believe that we all have to think the same way? Of course I don’t.  Are we right to equip young people with the necessary skills to understand the world around them? Yes we are.  But the School can only do so much, there is a responsibility among our pupils to ensure that they make the most of this remarkable opportunity to seek to appreciate the reasons behind the views that others espouse.  When they succeed we may well find leaders that this world sorely needs.
Nicholas Hammond

School Values: Service

Earlier in the term I wrote about the School’s values and how they sprang from our crest and motto.  Today is an excellent day to witness us, as a school community, living our values.  Service can be expressed in many forms.  Harvest food collections for local food banks, wearing spots and donating toys are all ways of reminding ourselves that there is a far larger world beyond the gates of the BSP and that we who enjoy so much have an obligation to share with others who have less.

But service is not simply making a donation and in doing so salving one’s conscience.  We challenge students to think carefully about their giving; we encourage them to ask how much of their donation benefits the intended recipient and how much is lost along the way.  One of the refreshing elements of the United World Schools charity that we have worked in partnership with to provide education in Cambodia is that we know every cent of our fundraising goes to the school in Bak Kae.  All of the administration work done in London is paid for by City institutions, our fundraising benefits our partner school directly.

Today we have supported the long established BBC “Children in Need” appeal and the Chatou branch of the Red Cross.  Both causes are well deserving and it is satisfying to be able to spread our support.  In between the spot wearing and the cake sales and the fun that is to be had on days such of these I hope that every student has the opportunity to think about the importance of what they are doing.  Perhaps it will encourage them to join the many young people in this school who make volunteering and service projects a regular part of their week.  Much of this is done unnoticed and perhaps today we should take the time to quietly recognise those pupils who do think of others, from the Sixth Form students who gave up their summer holiday to travel to Nepal to work on earthquake reconstruction or Sri Lanka to work in a school, the pupils who go to local old people’s homes to play and to sing, those who sort through donations at Emmaus, to the pupils who sorted through old uniform items to be sent to the AIDS orphanage in South Africa and the others who give of their time and talent in so many different ways.

“There is more in you than you think” was a favourite maxim of the educational pioneer Kurt Hahn.  In service activities we see the very best of our young people and it is through service to others that they begin to understand how much they can achieve when teamwork and compassion are combined.  A lesson that is fundamental for the future of the world.  A lesson worth celebrating.

Nicholas Hammond


Football… it’s very simple

It is amazing where the game of football can be found.

This week our senior students have been competing in the annual ISST Football tournament.  Teams from around Europe have joined to compete and enjoy each other’s company; an example of how football can bring people together.   While in Ypres/Ieper yesterday with the Year 9 Battlefields Trip I saw a football in the excellent In Flander’s Fields Museum.  This ball had been given to British troops to kick over no man’s land which their commanders believed would be ground over which they would stroll or enjoy a kickabout rather than fight at a time when even football could do little to bring the nations together.

The British approach to education gives weight to the experiences that students have outside of the classroom almost as much as the lessons they experience within.  The term co-curricular is one that we here at the BSP have become more familiar with.  The idea that what we learn though competition and co-operation cannot be relegated to being an extra, it runs alongside the taught, formal curriculum.  If we are to be successful in our aim to shape well-rounded, capable young people then this is an important experience and the School offers many opportunities both sporting and otherwise   We acknowledge the importance of what was once a “hidden curriculum”; the lessons of being part of a squad, learning to win and to lose and beginning to appreciate the lifelong bonds fostered by membership of team or orchestra or dramatic company. As Headmaster I hope that every student gives themselves the opportunity to take part.  Whilst we should play sport to win, no-one actually loses in the long run if we accept that it is the experience that counts.

Tomorrow a dedicated group of parents will take to the Junior School pitches and will run football sessions.  Today I had the pleasure of seeing our students supporting others playing soccer in Bougival and I like others was eagerly awaiting news from our team playing in Surrey.  Yesterday I was with students looking at an artefact in a museum describing a period in history that we would do well not to forget.  Johan Cruyff perhaps summed this up most succinctly when he said: “It’s like everything else in football – and life. You need to look, you need to think, you need to find space, you need to help others.  It’s very simple in the end.”

We should remember that and we will remember them.

Nicholas Hammond