“an instinctive desire for authenticity” – Coco Chanel

On my way to school this week I saw two adverts that struck me as being interesting. One was on a bus and advertised a forthcoming exhibition of artefacts from the television programme Game of Thrones and the other was an advertisement for the film Ocean’s 8.

So what was it in particular about these two adverts? It comes down to authenticity. I’ve never watched Game of Thrones so I need to be careful, but from what I see this is a form of pseudo-historical fiction which looks rather like the dark ages in Europe. I’ve never read the George Martin books of the series but I know they are enormously popular and as fiction I am sure that they have every reason to be. That said, I wonder how often this powerful fictional account can be confused with what actually happened in Europe after the fall of Rome and before the start of the medieval period. Does it even matter as long as more people are encouraged to learn more about the past? Ocean’s 8 is of course a reboot of the successful movie franchise but with a predominantly female cast rather than the earlier male dominated version. I’m sure that the plot is close to the previous films and it is entirely right that there should be all-female star cast lists in Hollywood. But I did wonder whether or not the all-female star cast should have their own film rather than a reboot. They certainly have the acting ability to create a different story. Perhaps the point is that this film represents a taking over or taking back.

Education is meant to broaden the mind to create individuals who will ask valid questions about orthodoxies, be it to how we view the past or the role of women in society. I’d like to think that we are educating a group of young people who will think for themselves and will not simply accept at face value what they are told by advertisers, politicians or indeed anyone else with something to promote. One of the biggest challenges that schools face is to develop critical thinkers in an age when attention spans are shortening. We are approaching the summer holidays, eight weeks of time when our young minds will be available to advertisers for hours at a time. I hope that many will choose to read a book that they will lose themselves in. Perhaps they will look to find a classic film to watch rather than the latest blockbuster offerings. Perhaps they will have the opportunity to visit a museum and see some real archaeological artefacts rather than props from a TV show. I’d like to think that they will spend time with their extended families and friends and will take time to consider all of the ideas that they hear, if only to reject them. Most of all I hope that over the course of this year we have given them the tools to start thinking for themselves, making their own decisions and deciding what authentic really looks like.

Nicholas Hammond

Time out on trips is time well spent

ArdècheThe benefits of not being in school are not often praised by people like me. That said I can’t help but notice that the Junior School and the Senior School can sometimes seem a little empty of pupils at this time of year. Last week Year 6 were in the Ardèche, next week Years 7, 8 and 9 will travel to the French Alps. The lessons learned when out of school are just as valuable as those that are learned within our walls. New experiences lead to new knowledge but one of the great elements of learning away from school is the opportunity that exists to build character.

There are many educational approaches that build knowledge. One of the hallmarks of the British educational system is that we are also interested in building the wider personality. That does not mean that we have a blueprint that is applied to all students to create the same person. Rather, by putting our young people in new, challenging or simply different situations they have the chance to consider how they will work with others, demonstrate empathy and work as a team. Some will emerge as leaders, others will take a supporting role. Some will find a talent for new activities, others will develop their sense of determination and stick out situations that they may find a little uncomfortable. Character will have been developed and we hope that this will be put to good use when they return to academic studies. In our experience, the students who go on to be successful are those who are able to work with others, take the initiative and see a task through. The lessons learnt hurtling down the Ardèche in a canoe may very well be as valuable as algebra learnt in the classroom. Lessons learned while in unfamiliar environments are the lessons that will make our young people the individuals who will add value to every encounter and every group of which they are a part.

The same process occurs, albeit in a slightly different form when pupils go on a day trip from school. I’ve always believed that taking a journey on communal transport is a learning opportunity. Going in a car is just not the same. Similarly, having the chance to visit, as Year 1 did, the butterfly farm gives the opportunity to experience an unfamiliar place in the company of others who may well be seeing something for the first time; it is very different from a family visit. Over the coming weeks many year groups will have the chance to visit places together and I hope that they will all return enriched.

Taking pupils out of the classroom results in an awful lot of paperwork. I am grateful to parents who show their very real patience in supplying the same information many times for different trips and of course to our staff who have to plan, risk assess and create supporting materials before they even get on the bus. Without them education at the BSP would be all the poorer and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all staff who lead or accompany trips. The impact of this time out of school is not possible to measure in grades or marks, it develops something far more important than that – people.

Nicholas Hammond

Hits and surprises…

Hits and surprises as judges reveal the Man Booker’s shortlist of five golden decades… 
– The Guardian, Monday 28 May 2018

During the 1980s there were wide discussions in British Schools about the role of competitive activities, usually sport in schools. The newspapers had great fun with the situation and made it sound like the end to competitive sport and games in schools. A quick trip to a school in the UK will, almost without exception, find competitive sport as part of the curriculum and an integral part of any extra-curricular offer. In many independent schools sport and therefore competition remains an integral part of the school experience. Whilst they receive less publicity there are also literary, debating, artistic, mathematical and music competitions to name but a few. We participate in many such contests each year. Such competitions have a long history. In Ancient Greece, playwrights competed and poets performed. They also invented the Olympics. Competition for the Greeks was a natural part of life. Today we have poetry medals, architecture prizes and an ever expanding list of prizes for literature (see above). Not much has changed.

Maths QuestWe have enjoyed significant success in academic and artistic competitions this year and there are more to come. Early this week I had to award the Headmaster’s Prize for Art. Many in the school community ran in the recent 10km race from Chatou to Saint-Germain and indeed we scooped the team prize. Winning is great. But where there are winners, there have to be losers (not a word we tend to use much in schools). In the modern world the “loser” tag is a potent one. Perhaps we should remember that many have to lose in order for one to win. In an examination there is often only one person who can be top of the class; for them to be the winner the rest of the examinees must play their part. We don’t usually consider them to be losers, nor should we, for if the examination or the competition was well judged then all will have risen to the challenge, all will have benefitted. I once worked in a school with an unbeaten rugby team. For me this was as much an indication that we needed to find some stronger opponents as being a reflection on the team’s skills.

Carefully managed competition is a good thing. It is important that our pupils understand that losing is not always as bad as it may seem for we can learn much in defeat. That said we should encourage them to strive to win. At the end of term there will be academic prizes for those who have come top. We have had sports dinners and other awards ceremonies. Does this mean that we do not value the efforts of those who do not take the victor’s laurels? No, of course it doesn’t. Whilst I’d always make sure that young people understand the value of taking part, I don’t see an enormous problem with playing to win or aiming to come top. We must also have an understanding that no-one can (or should be) top of everything all of the time.

As we enter the season of exams, of sports days and of other competitions I hope that we can all find time to celebrate achievement not only of those who win the deserved prizes but to all who have achieved.

Nicholas Hammond