Around the World Day

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent van Gogh

Around the World Day in the Junior School has to be one of the most inspiring days of the school year. Rather like the Senior School’s International Day it gives us all the chance to celebrate the diversity that exists within our one community. It also gave me the chance to gurn… (probably best not to ask). Often schools seek to flatten differences and to produce individuals who share the same ideas and perspective. At the BSP this would be impossible, even if we wanted it. We are quite simply too varied to be forced in one way. This is one of our great strengths as a community. We have a broad perspective and our pupils can only benefit from having the unique experience of interacting with others from all continents and many nations. None of this would not happen without the indefatigable support of the parent community who have quite clearly been busy assembling costumes, props, cooking delicacies and making exhibits for the last few weeks. It was a remarkable display and we will probably never really know how much it has influenced the pupils who were fortunate enough to experience all that there was to savour! An enormous thank you parents and friends for all that you did to make this day such a success.

If there is one thing that I hope our pupils understand by this, the half way point in the year, is that we all function better when we are able to co-operate and learn from one another. Support, dialogue and an appreciation of otherness allow our young people to develop as the thought shapers and leaders of the future. Our children will have the chance to change their communities for the better. We need to give them the confidence, knowledge and skills to do so. By learning about the many countries and cultures of the world they have a head start.

If ever there was a demonstration of how well equipped our pupils are to see clear solutions to difficult problems then it is provided by the contributions that they made today to Sky News on the thorny subject of Brexit. Might I suggest that the Westminster politicos take time to listen to what the next generation of Europeans, in this case British and French, are saying about the current political situation? I am firmly of the belief that most of the world’s issues could be thrashed out by a group of Year 6 pupils if they are given sufficient supplies of Haribo and a little time. It was a pleasure to welcome presenter Braydon to the School and look forward to seeing our unique take on this issue on air.

Half term beckons and so I was pleased to join with our Senior School pupils in the now traditional mid-year madness. A dazzling collection of socks were on show and our thanks go to the catering team for hot chocolate with marshmallows at break. Life may well be complicated sometimes but it is rare for anything to look too bad from the perspective of a marshmallow filled mug on the brink on half term.

Have a great half term pause. Enjoy whatever it is you are doing and I look forward to seeing everyone back in school on Monday 4th March.

Nicholas Hammond


Report Writing

It has been a week of reports. Year 11 and Year 13 will receive their reports on mocks today, many Senior School pupils had their interim assessments and we as a school have been inspected. We will be given the report on that in about six weeks or so.

So to start, a little quiz. Can you match the following reports to the correct person?

“He will never amount to anything.”

“A quiet student who needs to stop playing with his motorcycles and learn that music will not make him a livable wage.”

“He will study law, and we have no doubt that he will make a name for himself.

“A persistent muddler. Vocabulary negligible, sentences malconstructed. He reminds me of a camel.”

Your choices: David Bowie, Albert Einstein, Roald Dahl, Fidel Castro. (Answers at end of article)

Reports written about pupils can be, it seems, horribly inaccurate.

Over the course of my time in education I’ve read (and written) thousands of reports and they have changed. The reports written at the start of my career tended to be less rooted in evidence and were usually reflective of an opinion. Often a fairly sarcastic one. Modern reports are a little more data driven. Old ones tended to be a little more amusing, newer ones more informative. Some may mourn the passing of reports such as those written above, but I suspect the ones that we write today are more useful. Of course many schools finish the academic year with a report and over time many involved in education have asked for more information during the course of the year and thus it is not uncommon for interim or other reports to be generated.

There is perhaps a danger of both parents and pupils waiting for the report. Recent educational research suggests that the most successful pupils know where they stand in terms of their learning as they progress through the course of a year. They work consistently to address areas of weakness and they polish the areas of strength. They know how they learn and they know what they need to do to get better. This sort of understanding comes from careful thought about the comments written on school work and a pupil’s reaction to them. If you want to know how a pupil is doing then the exercise book is as good a place as any to start. If the pupil wants to improve their grades or simply learn more then they are well served by looking in the same place.

Perhaps the same is true of school inspection reports. The inspectors do not visit us very often. This week has seen us attempt in some ways to show all we do in a year in the space of a week. I’d argue that if you really want to see what we are all about and how we live our school values a look over an archive of newsletters or our Twitter feed gives a clear idea of what we are doing and how we are doing it. I know that the inspectors have seen many excellent things and they will leave us with constructive suggestions as to how we might improve because no school is perfect. There is always something that can be done to improve. That is a good thing for life would be very boring if there was nothing much to do.

(Quotes in order: Albert Einstein, David Bowie, Fidel Castro, Roald Dahl)

Nicholas Hammond


Less swagger, more purpose

Education updates – Educating confident, well-rounded and resilient children.

Damian Hinds (UK Secretary of State for Education) says that confidence and self-esteem are as important for future success as GCSEs and that no child should be denied access to the activities that help them to develop these attributes. He has also said that all children need to have the opportunity to develop something that he calls “public school swagger”. Whilst I agree with much of what Mr. Hinds says about providing all children with a wider range of activities to build resilient and well-rounded individuals, I do wonder why we have to engage with this rather hackneyed mud-slinging around what public schools do.

We probably ought to start with the phrase “public school”. In the UK a public school is rarely a school that is directly controlled by the government; it is an independent school. Historically there were seven public schools in the UK, they were governed by the 1868 Public Schools Act. There were lots of other schools in 1868, some called private schools and others called grammar schools and eventually all fee paying schools were lumped into the category “public” which led to the confusion as to what they in fact were or indeed are. Nowadays the term public school can be used in a pejorative manner which suggests that the pupils who attended them are privileged, out of touch and arrogant.
So back to this swagger business. Mr. Hinds believes that independent schools convey privilege on their pupils by providing a wider range of subjects and activities for them to experience. This self-confidence is handily described as swagger. So he makes the very good proposal that all schoolchildren in the British education system should have these benefits. I think that we would all agree with him that this is indeed a very good wish. Sadly such plans require considerable amounts of funding and there lies the flaw that will kill this initiative.

In the current political turmoil there is, I suspect, a natural tendency to want to find some villains. The people destined for Mr. Tusk’s Brexit hell may well display “public school swagger” through their ability to sound like an authority when in fact they didn’t really know very much at all. But I’ve met plenty of people who could do this who went nowhere near a public school. Curiously, I have also met many ex-independent school pupils and ex-public school pupils and ex-state school pupils who display far more laudable characteristics. At this particular overseas British style independent school I see more kindness than swagger; more integrity than arrogance and more community spirit than selfishness.

So if there is one person at the BSP who is swaggering, it is perhaps me. Sorry, but there you have it.

Nicholas Hammond


Snow day and slow education

I woke up to the radio
And the glare of a blanket of fallen snow…
It’s a snow day
Snow Day, Bleu

Snow daySnow Day. Two words guaranteed to raise a smile even with the most conscientious of students. A meteorological treat for the pupil who just needs to draw breath at the end of January if popster Bleu is to be believed. I hope that amongst the fun of constructing snowpersons and at least one snow bear, some learning was had on Wednesday. On Thursday we could not run our bus services so we were down on pupil numbers. These days provide some of the most exciting opportunities for creative education. I was lucky enough to be able to work with a Year 9 and Year 11 class at the same time. I normally teach the Year 9s but this time the Year 11s took the lead, they shared their skills in source analysis with the other pupils. They provided the technical knowhow while the Year 9s had the facts. It was a great lesson, nothing really to do with me, I only provided the materials. Education can come in many forms and I suspect that anyone looking carefully at the snow and ice this year will have learnt much about the wonders of the natural world. Learning can be best when it comes from an unexpected source. That said I was surprised on reading the suggestion that British shoe shop assistants are soon to be charged with providing basic arithmetic lessons in the summer holidays when fitting youngsters with their new shoes(1). Whilst I’m all for making the most of every learning opportunity I think this one might be a little optimistic.

Tomorrow, a dedicated band of thespians will meet to spend the day rehearsing for the Senior School show Grease. Again a fantastic opportunity for older pupils to set a great example to younger ones. More experienced performers will provide a lead for those in the chorus. In The Hague another example is to be found. A small group of students have been acting as the Australian delegation to the UN, a model one in this case but no less serious than the real thing. A place for Year 13s to show Year 10 and 11 students how to stand up in front of a packed lecture hall and make a thoughtful, well-constructed speech. And on Tuesday as the snow fell the jazz band were doing their thing in Le Vésinet. Once again an activity in which a cross section of the school community were found playing and learning together.

I’m not suggesting that we chuck it all in as teachers and let the students do it themselves. Indeed I’d never recommend ‘do it yourself’ education (I’m not keen on any form of DIY), but I do think that it isn’t a bad idea to just acknowledge the importance of student to student learning. Sometimes it is better to learn from someone who is slightly closer in age and experience. So if there is something good to come out of a snow day then this might be it.


Nicholas Hammond