Five reasons to be cheerful

I recently had the great good fortune to hear Geoff Barton, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders speak at a conference.  Geoff is a fount of good sense in a sometimes turbulent educational world and he has recently blogged about 5 reasons to be cheerful at the end of this half term.  In a spirit of healthy plagiarism (if there is such a thing) I am taking his excellent idea and adapting it to a BSP purpose.

So, 5 reasons for us at The British School of Paris to be cheerful at the end of this half term:

1)     Learning has happened in spades (massive amounts)!

ApplesI am fortunate to be able to tour the schools on a regular basis and I am constantly impressed with the knowledge and eloquence of our young people.  From Nursery’s incredible work with apples to A level students in Year 13 pushing the limits of their knowledge and understanding it has been a successful half term by any measure.  Everyone can do something that they couldn’t do before!  Thank you to teachers and very well done to our pupils.

2)    New pupils are now established pupils

At the start of term we had nearly two hundred new students.  Such is the welcoming nature of the BSP these “newbies” have become “old hands”.  Our pupils are settled and are able to develop friendships, build on the talents and enjoy coming to their school.  Over the course of the half term there has been only one Monday morning where we have not welcomed a new pupil.  Our warmth and openness as a community means that no-one feels new for long!  Next half term we will welcome still more pupils, we look forward to all that they will bring to our community.

3)    We have an ever developing sense of responsibility for wider communities

This term we have made massive steps forward towards reducing single use plastic and whilst there is still work to do we are well on the way to achieving our goals.  We enjoyed the first batch of honey from the beehive.  Our Sixth Formers are currently in Cambodia visiting the school that we have built with the support of the tireless BSPS. We’ve contributed to local sports events and are proud to be part of Croissy’s Remembrance activities next term.  Our volunteers have given many hours to charities such as the Red Cross, Genetic Disorders UK (Jeans for Genes), Arbre À Pain and Emmaüs – Bougival. We make a difference both locally and globally.

4)    We are about to open a new multi-purpose hall

Whilst education can (and often does) occur anywhere it is always an advantage if learning happens in an inspiring environment.  The newly refurbished Redgrave Hall will give us the opportunity to perform in a space that will match the talents of our pupils.  It will give us room to hold lectures, assemblies and it will make parents’ evenings much more effective!  Most importantly it is a shared space, Junior School pupils will use it and Senior School pupils will use it. Sport, music, drama, public speaking and many other activities will take place in it. One thing that we have learnt over the last eighteen months is that we are fortunate in having a variety of spaces shared on two campuses and it is easy enough to move from one campus to another.  We are one school.

5)    We get to do it all again after the holiday

There is an enormous amount to look forward to next term.  Trips will still go out despite the weather, fixtures will be played, lessons will take place; there will be challenges and discovery.  There will be opportunities for pupils to show determination and endeavour.  We will continue to play a leading role in our community and we will seek to serve others with integrity and we will strive for excellence.  We are fortunate to work in a school which offers us all, be we pupils, teachers, support staff, administrators, governors, alumni, parents or friends such opportunities to learn from each other.

Have a great holiday.

Nicholas Hammond

A comma not a full stop

Half term is one of the educational world’s greatest ideas. Whilst it was probably invented to allow children to go back to pick potatoes from fields or make the last preparations for the coming winter on a farm, it now fulfils a very different and no less valuable purpose. After six and a half weeks of the school year it gives us all an opportunity to take stock, to reflect on what we have achieved at the start of the year and to look ahead. Having enjoyed the most wonderful weather over the past few weeks, we have perhaps been slightly tricked into thinking that we have only just returned to school and I for one have found that this half term has passed incredibly quickly.

Breteuil for coverThe second half of the Autumn Term is one of the most important periods of learning in any school year, for those in examination years it is nothing short of vital. It is most valuable time and we will use it wisely – it is here that the foundations of success are laid, thus we will need to be ready to be working at our maximum levels when we return. But we face a danger in this coming holiday, if we stop completely the habits we have built up this half term will take too long to re-establish. Young minds are like high performance engines, they need to be run regularly if they are to perform at their best. To ensure that we do not lose our vital academic momentum I need to ask for parental help. The forthcoming holiday is one in which pupils should have a well-earned rest. But such a rest does not mean letting all things academic slip or grind to a halt. As well as spending time on screen (seemingly everyone’s favourite pastime these days), our children should take time to read a book, talk to family and friends (face to face) and spend time in the fresh air. If you are travelling then a diary, scrapbook or blog will stimulate the mind now and be an interesting artefact later. Half term is a good time to sort out those files that might just be getting a little messy and a time to revisit the elements of work that perhaps would benefit from some revision. If something can be done each day then the momentum will remain and starting next half term will be all the easier. At the risk of causing familial fallout I’d be grateful if you could remind your children that whilst half term is a holiday, it needs to be, at least to a small extent, a working one.

Whilst I realise that this column will win me few friends in the pupil body, I know that if half term is used to refresh rather than to simply flop then it will be time well spent and in the long run it is sure to pay handsome dividends. Minds that have been kept active will need little start up time in November and that is a great advantage. Who knows, reading a book might even turn out to be quite interesting…?

Have a wonderful half term.

Nicholas Hammond

Why we like to have visitors…

One of my favourite films is Les Visiteurs, a comic film from the 1990s. As is the case with most franchises the first one is great, the following films stretch the joke a little too far to be really funny. But for all that, the original film makes a valuable point; when we visit, we are very much strangers in that community. We can understand a good deal but there will be differences between our place and others. We often learn when we have the chance to visit other places and when we have the chance to make contact with other views. I’ve written before about the importance of getting out of the classroom to learn, similarly important is to bring people in to tell us something new or from a different perspective.

Michael StoneFor most people the words ‘school visit’ conjure up the time that parents and children take an initial tour around the school before joining. These tours are often led by a Sixth Form student who gives a pupil-eye view of what goes on at the BSP. The participants achieve an impression of the place, a flavour of what we offer. It is, inevitably, a partial view. But prospective parents and pupils are not our only visitors. Each week we welcome a wide range of visitors to our campuses and indeed these visitors are vital for us to develop a wide understanding of the world around us. Unlike Coleridge we believe that our visitors aid creativity rather than disrupting like the person from Porlock.

This week is a case in point. Today we welcomed representatives from London universities who talked to the Sixth Form, Dr Fleury one of our governors who was advising on careers in medicine, Mr Butterworth was discussing engineering and Ashley an alumnus who happened to be in Paris dropped in to revisit the school of his youth… Over the course of the week we have also been visited by an educational consultant, Mr Stone who spent much of the week observing lessons and activities prior to his providing us with a quality assurance report next week. We’ve welcomed representatives from the local Mairie to discuss future projects and a British architect who was involved in the initial planning of our soon to be completed Redgrave Multi-Purpose hall. I’ve probably missed a few others but you get the picture. The School cannot be an island entire of itself as Donne didn’t exactly say.

Perhaps the most unusual visitor this week was the magpie that has taken to participating in Year 10 PE lessons. Bold as brass he has been perching on balls, goals and striding up the touchline like an avian Klopp or Mourinho. Perhaps he just wants to take part as well.

Over the coming months we will be making contact with many of our alumni and inviting them to link with us via social media. In doing this we aim to harness the reservoir of talent in the BSP Community to act as mentors or to record short films for us about their careers and the subjects that matter to them. Visiting in this modern age can take many forms and we are happy to join with people digitally as well as in the flesh (or feather).

We learn when we connect with the stories of other people.

Nicholas Hammond

Join the real world – Humane technology anyone?

A Swiss company sells a mobile phone which is designed for making telephone calls and sending SMS messages. If their website is to be believed they are supplying an antidote for distraction and access to “non-virtual reality”. Their founder compares his product to a pair of spectacles, something that is a pleasure to own and useful. If market forces are to be trusted, there is good money in the dumb phone market; Punkt released their second generation dumb ‘phone last week. At almost the same time iPads were being updated with the latest iteration of the IOS operating system. As part of this change a new feature has been introduced which allows parents a greater level of control over the length of time their children spend on their machine. Mr. Pearey sent a communication to parents about this feature last week.

iPad photo for coverIt is perhaps easy to believe that the BSP and many other schools embrace too quickly the latest technological marvel. The School was an early adopter of tablets but we have never seen technology usurping the very human, very real, often analogue process of education. Recent research regarding the efficacy of tablets in the classroom did not come as a surprise to us. We have always known that the iPad is an adjunct to established methods. We still have libraries, we write in exercise books, we debate face to face and we use pencils to draw. We also use iPads to research, discover and draw. I’m sure that the early adopters of exercise books were criticised by those who favoured slates. The iPad won’t replace the teacher, nor will it replace human thought. The 4th educational revolution is being written about but it has yet to really take hold.

Used thoughtfully the iPad allows for (amongst other things) greater levels of discovery. My Year 9 historians this week saw not only a photocopied map of Europe in 1890 but had access to the British Library’s collection of nineteenth century satirical maps. We did our research virtually but we recorded our results in a far more traditional manner. iPads push the walls of the classroom wider. Educational debate often focuses on a fruitless argument that pitches skills against knowledge. Young people need to have early exposure to technology and they also need to be educated as to what responsible use looks like. The iPad can develop both skills and knowledge. Every generation has a point of friction with the older generation. For me it was television, for the generation before it might have been transistor radios, I’m sure that the gramophone was viewed with suspicion. Balance is the key. Recently our Year 8s went to Normandy to study coastal geography, no iPad needed, they saw and they experienced. The subsequent write up may well have been done on their device.

Tech free evenings and weekends sound like a good idea to me and I am sure would fill many pupils with horror. Mindful use of machines seems a happy compromise, screen controls may be part of this. Prohibition is rarely successful, careful stewardship of a powerful resource would seem to be more prudent.

Nicholas Hammond