I am not sure if it is a peculiarity of British politics or if other countries have a season of party conferences that coincides with the start of the academic year. During these conferences political parties decamp from London to discuss what they need to do to win the next election or to decide what is best for the country. The Liberal Democrats congregated a couple of weeks ago, the Labour Party met this week and the Conservative party will confer next week. As the Headmaster of a British School I am always keen to see what each of the major parties has to say about education.
Politics and education rarely sit comfortably together; one is generally short term, the other is intrinsically long term. That is not to say that there have been no political movements that have resulted in beneficial progress. Political parties have widened access to education providing wide swathes of the population with opportunities they were once denied. The problem for education comes when politicians seek to bend the curriculum to their own view. In Britain, the watershed moment for education came back in 1976 when the then Prime Minister, James Callaghan made the now notorious (at least with educationalists) “Secret Garden of the Curriculum Speech”. During his discourse he claimed control of the curriculum as a political issue. Subsequently, there have been few governments that have not sought to influence, both the structure of the British educational system and its content. Allowing politicians control of what is taught in schools (and indeed how it is taught in schools) almost inevitably leads to the curriculum being used as a political football. The last Conservative Government engaged in one of the widest reforms of the curriculum ever seen, with large scale changes to GCSE and A level the result.
The Labour Party’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, talked this week of structural and systemic reform of the national educational system and made no real mention of the curriculum (phew), while the Lib Dem’s Layla Moran launched an attack on grammar schools, excessive testing, some independent schools and the inspection body Ofsted. Now we await the Conservatives from Brighton. I’m rather hoping that the curriculum is not on Damian Hind’s agenda. If previous speeches give any clue, preserving the status quo with regard to exam rigour, giving head teachers greater autonomy and reducing teacher workload via different assessment methods are likely to feature.
Much of what is being said at the party conferences this year moves British education back to where we were when I started teaching (except with better buildings and more IT). I remain hopeful that one day we will have politicians who understand that education cannot be run on a “between elections” timetable and that all change has an impact on the children who live through their ideological whims.
Education is a long, slow and steady process. Politics isn’t. Perhaps the boldest move that any politician could make at this point is to leave well alone.
As a firm believer in the benefits of school uniform I avoid encouraging individuals to wear their uniform in anything other than the orthodox manner. So standing at the gate this morning seeing pupils coming in wearing a top half uniform and a lower half in jeans was an uncomfortable experience. In the normal course of events this approach to bending the rules would be seen by me as the first step towards anarchy. However, it seems that we are not facing a student revolution but an expression of our pupils’ approach to helping others. Jeans for Genes is a worthy cause indeed and our young people deserve to be congratulated on the way that they have embraced such a good cause by having fun.
Over the course of the coming weeks there will be other charity days. We carefully endeavour to support local, national and international charities. Our pupils have the opportunity to nominate causes to support through the Student Councils. Older students are able to engage in a wide variety of service projects and I believe that they gain much in doing so. One of our duties as a school is to develop the leaders of the future. Many of our young people will go on to lead in whichever community they decide to live. Some will be politicians, others diplomats. We will have captains of industry and educational trailblazers. Some will lead in the business community or will take their talents to improve areas of the world where development is needed. All of this is a long way from wearing jeans instead of your school uniform. That said I believe that the seeds of a life of service are sown best at school. Good habits need to be established early in life if they are to remain. We are conscious that beyond our school gates life for many can be challenging and tough. We enjoy opportunities here that few in the world can match. We are therefore right to consider others and to share our talents. A commitment to service is vital if a fulfilling life is to be lived.
The idea of modelling is en vogue in the educational world. The theory is simple. If adults do something then children copy. Hardly ground breaking but a difficult one to live up to. The BSPS has donated hundreds of hours to running events enjoyed by the wider school community. In doing so they have raised enough money to pay (in large part) for a school in Cambodia where previously there had not been one. Along the way I am sure that they have had some fun, but it has also been hard work. They provided our bar on Saturday and will have raised still more for excellent causes and that is a pretty good model to follow.
So I’ll swallow my uniform reservations once a year. If you provided a cake then thank you and if you have to find yet another Euro for some good cause in the coming months, remember that you are not only making a valuable contribution to help another person, but you will be giving your own child a greater understanding of the world around them.
Your support is appreciated.
Mr Nicholas Hammond
In every school there is one key piece of information that you simply have to know. You won’t find it in the handbook, it won’t be mentioned in any information session and it isn’t in the prospectus but make no mistake, it is crucial. I’ll share a secret. At the BSP that piece of information is that Thursday is chip day. Some people plan their week around the humble frite, looking forward to it all week. I think that just about everyone enjoys Thursday lunchtime. If an army marches on its stomach, a school learns better with a full tummy. We are fortunate indeed to work with a dedicated and talented catering team led by our head chef, Khalifa.
During my teacher training I wrote a dissertation on the lunch hour in schools. It is an element of school life that I have always been interested in. Lunch, one could say, is a subject close to my stomach. School lunches have changed a good deal since I was at school and definitely for the better. Each day our team here at the BSP create a wide variety of meals; we consume 120 baguettes and deliver almost 900 covers per day. Veau Marengo, goulash, paupiettes, baked salmon and aubergine crumble all feature on our menu. There is a salad bar and cheese and dessert. Gordon Gekko may have said that “lunch is for wimps”; I couldn’t agree less. I am delighted to see pupils taking full advantage of what is on offer, the school day is a long one and fuel is required. We are particularly fortunate that our fuel is especially delicious.
School lunchtime is about more than simply the pleasures of the table. The lunch hour is a period of the day when pupils have the opportunity to define their use of time. For some it is an opportunity to let off steam, to kick a ball about, skip or play complicated games of tag. Others choose to seek calm in the library. A wide range of clubs and activities are on offer. We learn valuable lessons at lunchtime; how to be patient, what a balanced diet looks like and how to converse in a civilised manner. We learn to deal with a little independence in what is otherwise a very structured day. Taking a break at lunchtime allows us to concentrate a little more effectively in the afternoon.
This year I would like us as a community to think about only taking what is sufficient for our needs and in doing so cutting down on the food waste that we produce. All of our food waste is dehydrated and turned into compost – we make a lot of compost. Laudable as this is, it breaks my heart to see platefuls of food being thrown away. Perhaps this might be a topic of conversation when you next sit down as a family, I would greatly appreciate the support.
On the subject of food, I do hope to see lots of you at our welcome event tomorrow – the weather forecast is promising and there can be few greater pleasures than enjoying fish and chips down by the river. Do come along.
The start of term is an exciting time. New friends, new subjects, new timetables. Possibly a new school bag and a whole case of sharp pencils. I think that most people in our community, however experienced, will feel a touch of nervousness at the start of a new year. We have new teachers and new pupils; they will have felt a twinge of anxiety, indeed a few of the “old hands” will also have had their fair share of apprehensive thoughts as well. At the end of every summer holiday I start to wonder if I’ll remember how I go about teaching and what my new class will be like. Parents too are not immune from this and there are often understandable concerns about a new place or a new academic year. Don’t worry we’ll do our very best.
Overall, there have been far more smiles than tears. Standing out at the front of both schools as I have been this week, it has been a pleasure to see smartly uniformed and purposeful young people heading in through the school gates. Any new term is a time of new experiences. A chance for new resolutions. During the coming week or two new routines will become familiar and we may well lose our sense of appreciation of our wonderful, inspiring campuses; uniforms may just be worn with a little less care and those carefully sharpened start of term pencils will be ever so slightly blunted. When that does happen, I hope that we can all reflect on our good intentions for the year and regain that all-important sense of purpose. We will sharpen up. Before we know where we are it will be Christmas (sorry for bringing that up).
Between now and then there is an awful lot to fit in. There will be lessons, plenty of learning as well as other activities. Our aim is to ensure that all members of the community have a rich experience this year. We will be encouraging all pupils, from the youngest to the oldest to take part in as much of school life as is possible. Parents too can join in the fun by coming to our welcome back fish and chip supper on Saturday 15 September, it is a great way to celebrate the end of our first full week of school so please join us.
This year our pupils will enjoy a wider range of facilities than ever before. The Junior School has a replacement green pitch and the Redgrave building should be ready for next half term. But buildings are only a part of the story, the real magic occurs when young people with a wide variety of experiences join together in learning. From what I have seen of those young people in this short week I predict that we are in for a vintage year.