Eight days is a very short time in which to put on a play. It could be regarded as being enough time to put on a bad performance but in most cases a director would want considerably more time with cast, chorus and crew to ensure the desired, assured performance. Those of us who were able to enjoy the recent Year 6 show Superstan know that for those who are possessed of superpowers eight days is indeed long enough not only to put on a show but to put on one of the very highest quality! Great work by the Year 6 actors, the Crew, the Year 5 Chorus, Mr. Lockwood and Mr. Young and all of the other staff who played their parts to provide such an extraordinary performance.
Quite simply it was brilliant.
As a play, Superstan might not enter the great canon of western literature but I will remember “how tickled I was ” not only by the splendid performances but the puns. Particularly the one about corduroy pillows (no I won’t repeat it, you had to be there). Puns are one of the great joys of languages and English is no exception. The educational world is not immune to its fair share of punning… Maths it seems is a favourite subject, after all it is worth noting that firstly decimals have a point and secondly that I always prayed before trigonometry tests. I was hoping for a sine from above. If you like something a touch more technical then the following might tickle you… Finding all possible logical relations between a finite collection of sets is not a matter of If but Venn.
Science is not immune. After periodic doubts about his vocational calling the young chemistry teacher concluded that he was out of his element. Literacy does not escape the “fun”. The poor speller tried to express his reluctance to repeat the spelling test but words failed him. Nor should teachers. There are two skeleton teachers at school. One is humerus, the other is very sternum. I could go on. No really, I could but in a spirit of human charity I won’t. As this is a short week, this is a truncated column. I hope that everyone enjoys a relaxing long weekend and that we all return ready to make the most of what little is left of the term. I hope that you can excuse the frivolous nature of this week’s theme but it may well have something to do with the proximity of the coming month, its first day in particular.
Please be assured that I will be spending the weekend working hard – on my hot cross puns.
1 RIP Ken Dodd. For those unfamiliar with the Squire of Knotty Ash you might like to start with: https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/stars-pay-tribute-to-true-comedy-legend-sir-ken-dodd-36695180.html then have a look at https://www.bigissue.com/ interviews/sir-ken-dodd-i-say-thank-happiness/
A strength of the British approach to schooling is that there is a place for creativity and originality. Whilst we work within the confines of a defined curriculum and exam board specifications it is always a delight to see students take a creative approach to the task in hand.
This week I witnessed some of the events held in celebration of National Poetry Day. Watching Year 9 students performing Shelley and Shakespeare was a treat. To then be privileged to have the chance to hear students recite their own poetry (in front of that most demanding audience, their peers) was inspiring.
At the end of the week we joined together to celebrate St. Germain’s own, Claude Debussy. We were given the opportunity to hear musicians perform in tribute to the great man. Whilst the river and valley in front of our school is justly famous for its painters it also boasts two giants of musical composition as both Debussy and Bizet lived overlooking the Seine. We make a bit of a fuss of Debussy in the Senior School, indeed as I write this piece I am sat in the Debussy Building. Rightly so, he was as good an example as we could hope for of having the courage to think in a new way. In a letter of 1908 he wrote: “I am trying to do ‘something different’ ” and this may well be an approach that we should encourage our young people to adopt. Thinking differently takes courage and requires young people to be resilient in the face of opposition. As adults we have to accept that our children or pupils will have different views and approaches to life’s obstacles. They will work in ways which may well be wildly different from the way that we would do things. Sometimes they are right, sometimes not. The musical establishment was challenged by Debussy’s approach to nontraditional scales, bitonality, and chromaticism, yet now his influence can be seen in music as diverse as Miles Davis and the film scores of John Williams. When he premiered La Mer in 1905 audiences were perplexed by this symphony that wasn’t. He drew on influences far from France’s shores being fascinated by instruments like the Javanese Gamelan and he actively sought to distance himself from more traditional composers drawing on impressionist painters and symbolist poets for creative impetus. Indeed he may very well be the only major artist to have gained inspiration in Eastbourne. In short he was curious about the world around him and ready to engage with a wide variety of ideas.
Over the course of this week I have had the opportunity to see our own students taking on challenging new forms of both art and performance. I hope that their example will influence others to make connections between ideas to develop their voice, their view. For this is the best gift that education can give, an ability to take the best of all that is given and to bring it together to the benefit of all. Having the confidence to do something different not simply for being different’s sake, but because you are moving thought or art onwards is a marvellous thing indeed. Well done to all who performed this week and don’t stop now.
There is a particular type of person who has the great talent of making the complicated understandable. Vincent van Gogh was all too right when he said “how difficult it is to be simple”. There is always a danger with simplification that we end up with platitudes.
Like many people who have lived in the city of Cambridge I have my own Stephen Hawking anecdote and like most others it involves a near miss with the professor as he barrelled along a narrow lane at high speed while I was an unsuspecting pedestrian. A brush with greatness perhaps. As the world marks the death of a great scholar we should perhaps reflect upon his contributions to the sum of human understanding. Anyone who has the courage to tackle cosmology, general relativity and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes is probably worth listening to especially if they are able to talk in terms that we can all understand. His “Brief History of Time” whilst often unread prompted non-physicists to think more deeply about the world that is around them. He inspired us to be intellectually curious. His numerous appearances on the television made him the world’s most popular scientist and his sense of fun shone through allowing us to appreciate that difficult questions are to be enjoyed more than feared.
Perhaps one of the more intriguing aspects of his personality was his seeming delight in getting things wrong. Hawking was renowned for making wagers about what could and could not be proved. He never thought that the Higgs-Boson particle would be found, it was. He lost $100 and there are numerous other examples. He knew that science often moved forward when thinkers could admit to being wrong. In this we perhaps learn something of the way in which the professor explored his subject. Learning for him was not only integral to his life but gave joy and sustenance to his very core. If that meant being wrong, so be it. Knowledge moved on despite not always having the right answers. As long as we, humanity, knew something that we didn’t know before the question he tried to answer he was satisfied. Being wrong in his view led to greater understanding. Perhaps schools should be more like Hawking, we should value being wrong a little more than we currently do.Like Einstein he applied his enormous intellect to matters far from the world of physics and perhaps more readily relevant to us. We are perhaps sensible to pay as much attention to the wisdom that he communicated about more earthly matters as to what he shared about the mystery of the universe. After all anyone who could be so wise as to give these three pieces of advice is worth paying attention to,“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.” You will be missed, Professor.
School Governors can seem to the rest of the school community to be a pretty mysterious bunch. They pop up in school on a sporadic but regular basis and whilst I know what they do it may be the case that many in our community do not. At this point in any conversation regarding school governance I usually make a facetious comment about governors and bidets, but as I like my role and they are in school next week I’m not writing it, ask me if you are interested.
The Governing Board at the BSP comprises of individuals who provide the school with specialist support and also more general wisdom. They are, in short, our critical friends. Their knowhow covers a wide range of areas including subjects as diverse as law, finance, real estate, medicine, higher education, safeguarding, fundraising and communication. We have three Head teachers who ensure that we are making the right choices educationally. We don’t pay them, they do this because they believe that the BSP is an institution worthy of their support and we are grateful for the enormous amounts of time that they devote to helping us improve. Some of our governors have children at the school, some have children who attended the school and some have never had a child at the BSP. A number are retired, many fit their gubernatorial service around very busy working schedules.
The School’s management team meets with governors in various committees and at the Board meetings held four times a year. Governors regularly visit lessons, meet with students and staff, involve themselves in fundraising and attend school events. They even have to attend training sessions to ensure their skills are honed to perfection. Whilst not always obvious they are a constant source of support and this is a good opportunity to recognise their contribution to our community. As a school we value integrity; there is no doubt that our governors ensure that we who work at the School are always seeking to improve and that the School is run with the best interests of the young people it educates as its priority.
While considering the subject of higher authority, can I remind those who drop off around the Senior School site that the Mairie has instituted restrictions for car use on the quayside? The restrictions issued on Monday mean that parents should not drive cars on the road in front of the Senior School. We have been reassured that there is no danger to pedestrians and cyclists but we can no longer use buses on this stretch of road. Following flood and snow this is perhaps a minor inconvenience.
Thank you to all parents involved with Around the World Day today, it was a magnificent event and I was disappointed to be unable to join in to the extent that I would have wished, similarly a very big thanks to all who opened their homes to host players for the ISST rugby competition. We are fortunate indeed to have your support in all that we do.
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” – The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley
During half term I had the chance to spend time in the city that I grew up in. Unsurprisingly my thoughts turned to my own educational experiences there and how they differed from what we see in schools today. I grew up attending a local comprehensive school, it was large by the standards of the day but would come nowhere close to the super-size schools found in British cities today. It offered what seemed a broad enough curriculum at the time but it would now seem limited. Lessons were similar between subjects with little opportunity for collaborative work and very limited computer use. There was a computer in the school but I saw very little of it! Buildings were old and as I remember cold (and sometimes leaky), extra-curricular activities limited although there was the opportunity to play some sport and to act. All in all I found it difficult to reflect on the experience with great positivity. But such a jaundiced view is unfair, on deeper reflection it struck me that one thing above all else stood out and that was the dedication of the teachers who worked at the school. They did lead trips; they did want to see us succeed; they made the very best of what was on offer. I was fortunate, I found teachers who nurtured my love of their subject. Some of my contemporaries did not and perhaps this is where there is a difference, modern schools are far less likely to miss those who are finding academic work difficult. There is more support; schools are in this respect better places.
During a school career there are many teachers. Teachers have their own approaches and this I think leads to richer schools. A one method school is a tedious environment to study in. Such variety of approach means it won’t always be the smoothest of journeys but it is important that our students learn to work with different approaches and temperaments; after all this is what they will find to an even greater extent in the world outside the school gates. As we contemplate the start of the second half of the academic year I hope that our students look to build on what has been achieved and will with the assistance of their teachers move on to still greater success in the months to come. This drive to improve has to come from the students (at least to some extent) and if it does it will be supported by their teachers. This has always been the case; to that extent not much has really changed. Education is and always will be about the quality of the relationships that exist between the teacher and their pupils. When a teacher senses or sees a spark of enthusiasm then they will do all they can to nurture this and see it develop, it is this that makes schools (both now and then) exciting places to be.