“Wooooah we’re half way there…” Jon Bon Jovi
I suppose it could have been a lot worse. Not the flood or the snow storms of the last few weeks but the choice made by our Senior School Head Girl and Head Boy to decide to mark the midway point in our academic year with the wearing of wacky socks. If we had followed Bon Jovi’s sartorial lead then it could have been Lycra tights and leather jackets – the traditionalist in me would never have coped. That said we are as the song says “half way there” and odd socks remind us that today we have a foot in the old half of the year and a foot in the new half of the year. This is perhaps a good time to consider and celebrate what has been achieved and what is still to come.
Since September there has first and foremost been an awful lot of learning. I have the privilege of visiting classes being taught and there are few things more satisfying to see than excellent classroom practice resulting in academic progress. For some this is the time of year when language and learning support falls away and they work independently, for others there is a realisation that they have the capacity to do even better in the months to come. It is a time when, with the promise of warmer weather ahead, students start to blossom. At the upper end of the school the Year 12s start to consider what lies beyond the school gates and our Year 6 pupils view the prospect of Senior School. For those who are experiencing school for the first time it is a time to consider the amazing progress that has been made, the independence that has been developed and the confidence that is being shown. Tears at the door to the school are long distant and that is good to see.
So what comes next? To say more of the same would be both glib and complacent. Improvement is always desirable but genuine progress takes time and is not always easily gained, that said we will be looking to build on the first half in the second. As important as getting better is going wider – now that students are confident in their year groups it is time for them to try new things, to go beyond what is required of them in set tasks, to read around, to debate, to discuss, to challenge themselves. Opportunity abounds at the BSP and it would be quite frankly daft to miss out on an activity or new experience now that regular routines are established. With the prospect of spring being more than a mid-winter dream I hope that all in our community will look to think more widely.
The coming months will bring expeditions, competitions, matches, exams and a wealth of experiences. Our aim is to guide our young people wisely and to develop all that is good within them. They bring energy, enthusiasm and openness. Together we are right to believe that the next half can be even more productive than the first.
Have a good half term break.
“No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious.” – George Bernard Shaw
Round Britain Quiz is something of a BBC Radio 4 institution. In the programme pairs of contestants are set fiendishly difficult questions which are rather like cryptic crossword clues; what links a grumpy detective with an explorer’s ship by way of an Indian car and a trip around the earth would be the sort of thing that leads to brain strain over the next few minutes. The pairs of contestants are then marked by the judges on the quality of the answer they give. Points are deducted for wrong answers or for clues having been given to help them on the way(1).
This week has been one in which many students have had to exercise a degree of patience. Disruptions to our normal routine caused by uncontrollable external factors have, once again, played a significant role in our week. For some, this has meant that they could not reach school. In an ideal world, students would use the many resources at their disposal to continue their reading, further their general understanding and develop their skills. Hard for many of our primary pupils but hopefully an approach to education that grows as students move through their school careers. Independent learning is one of those concepts that pops up in educational circles on a regular basis and a developed approach to it would no doubt have meant that this week was put to very good use. Perhaps next week it will be clear that those who could not come to school this week were able to use the materials that they had to hand and the near infinite resources to be found on the web to good effect. Teachers have loaded materials onto Frog our virtual learning environment and onto Showbie, it would be good to think that these materials have been well used. Those who have been in school have had a different experience and a positive one as a consequence of the adaptability of our teaching staff that will stay in the memory for a long time to come.
Being able to make the most of whatever situation is a useful attitude to develop in our students. A willingness to try to make the best of what is to hand. A spirit which is open to seeking the positive in every context and trying to learn from the challenges we face. An acceptance that motivation and decision making cannot be outsourced to social media but comes from within. I’d like to think that these capacities are developed, at least in part, before our students leave us for the next step in their educational journey. It is an approach to life-long learning and personal development that we believe is so important it forms one of our core school values.
The answer to the question; what links all of this? Endeavour.
Competition, we are often told, is a very good thing. Indeed in a school environment we often use it to develop character, to achieve a better result or to win a match. A little less often we speak of academic competition, of being the best in a particular subject or activity. For some reason many people feel this is something that should be hidden, it sometimes is considered “nerdy”. I hope we celebrate this kind of excellence in our community. Indeed in a school of this size I believe that we can ill afford to separate off students with such labels, we need all our athletes to be nerds and our musicians and actors to be boffins. We need students who are ready to be Renaissance women and men, students who will be the measure of all things. The Ancient Greeks were particularly good on academic and artistic competition and we do right to follow their example and put ourselves forward to use our talents and intellects to compete with other schools. Interestingly, at this time of year we have the opportunity to celebrate those who have excelled in matters academic or perhaps more importantly those who have taken the very bold step to step up the mark and represent the school in an academic competition.
Our mathematicians are training hard ready to engage in their forthcoming Olympiad, the historians have been debating and passing resolutions in The Hague and poets are sharpening pencils ready for COBIS competitions. They will gain accolades and satisfaction in equal measure. They will learn valuable lessons and they will bring these lessons back to school for the benefit of all. There is one sort of academic competition that is perhaps even more valuable than those already outlined. I was in a Year 5 maths lesson this week. Questions were being thrown out by the teacher and hands were being raised. Within the class there were some who found the tasks difficult; they had a go, they used their mini whiteboards, they built triangles with matchsticks and they worked on the interactive whiteboard. Initially tentative, as the lesson progressed their confidence grew. It was a competition the most challenging of all, that is a competition within themselves. A fight against that wheedling voice that erodes a young person’s confidence; the one that says “you can’t”. I am pleased to report that they won this particular battle. Learning was, as they say in all the best commentaries, “the winner”.
There are academic competitions to be won each day; some come along o
nly once every hundred years. I heartily recommend you take a look at The Never Such Innocence website www.neversuchinnocence.com to see the competition offer being made the
re. Many of our pupils have been introduced to the music, art and writing challenges the charity is running this year and I hope that significant numbers will enter for we have the talent to impress their judges. Others may be tempted by the range of opportunities thrown out by the RAF 100 committee*. Competitions such as these stimulate and take learning out of the classroom, they impress upon our young people that a creative approach to solvi
ng problems is a valuable skill to learn. Students also experience the challenges and satisfaction of more independent work. Winners or not, these academic competitions allow our young people to be stretched, challenged and ultimately rewarded.