Eurovision and Exams

With a high-high-ho and a high-high-hey (Latvia’s pirate song in 2008, don’t ask) what Eurovision might teach us…

As Year 13 are Walking Out(1) for their study leave and the campus recovers from their Hawaiian shirted Storm minds inevitably turn to examinations. One simply can’t Look Away. It is cruel indeed that just as the weather takes a turn for the better we oblige our young people to hit the exam hall… mostly they Keep on Going. Whilst my university finals are the stuff of recurring nightmares not The Dream. In Truth I don’t remember much about the exams I took at sixteen and A levels are a bit of a blur. I also did a fairly obscure set of exams called S levels just before I left school, these I remember. Mainly because all my friends and Friend of a Friend had finished their tests and were enjoying an early summer holiday. One question in particular sticks in the memory after all those years – “Is Europe a useful historical concept?” I really enjoyed that question, not something that I can say about every exam I have sat. I do hope that at some point this summer our students find one of those questions that they believe is made for them and for a few minutes lose themselves in the sheer absorption of showing what they know.

exam chair

One concept of Europe that is Bigger than Us and indeed is ever expanding is that given by the annual Eurovision Song Contest which sees its grand final this weekend. Whilst I am less than enthusiastic about this musical shindig, I share a Home with a genuine Eurovisionophile. In the happy world of Eurovision the joys spreads from Iceland to Australia (and the most elastic definition of the continent ever seen). Indeed the smart money (Soldi) seems to be heading down under with Kate Miller-Heidke and her vertiginous performance of Defying Gravity (words really don’t do it justice).

Having been an unwilling witness to the semi-finals I believe that the Eurovision performers may well have something to teach our exam candidates. They, like a well prepared student know what is expected of them. The format is clear (who knew the rules for Eurovision specifies set dimensions and number of backing performers?) They have revised their performance with the utmost care so they Like It and their fate hangs on a single performance. As it is on stage so it is in the exam hall (with probably less dry ice). I believe that our pupils have been taught. They have certainly been working hard in the past weeks. They are Kings (Roi) of past papers by way of rehearsal and Replay. Now is the time to perform. Now is the time for them to Dare to Dream. I hope that following all this hard work stress levels do not get too great. If they do there are plenty here in school who can support. If our candidates can approach their task with the same joie de vivre that is demonstrated by those who sing and dance and play for their country in Tel Aviv this weekend then this will be a memorable exam season indeed, it will be a performance without Limits.

Exams are one way to unlock new opportunities. There are others. We live in an age when high stakes testing has become the norm for young people, they Run with Lions. I believe that exams are a useful way to assess ability, but not the only way. Happily this attitude is changing (like a Chameleon?) Perhaps we can devise a way in which we celebrate our academic skills and knowledge with the brio of a Eurovision Song Contest performer. Altogether now, Say Na, Na Na.

Nicholas Hammond


(1) All italicised words are song titles in the Eurovision Contest this year. Armenia, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Israel, Italy, Australia, Belarus, France, Cyprus, The Eurovision slogan this year, Austria, Lithuania, Malta and San Marino. Apologies if I missed out your favourite!

Forging friendships

“Whilst there are some irksome aspects to school, I think you will find to your eventual delight that the experience has broadened your horizons.”

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles 2016

Whilst it seems like yesterday, thirty years ago I spent a year in Minnesota as an exchange student. Last weekend, thanks to the wonders of social media, my fellow exchangees caught up with me. Decades down the line, the personalities haven’t changed that much even if the hair (or lack of it) has. Sadly there are pictures and no I won’t be sharing.

In many ways that year abroad was a formative experience. It probably galvanized my desire to be a teacher and it opened my eyes to the world. As a group we met during the year to share our experiences and benefit from simply being together. It was in a time before the internet so we put on shows, reviews, played games and generally had a good time in each other’s company. It was a privilege to find out more not only about the US, but about other places, other ways of doing things, other ways of seeing. We finished the year with two extended trips where these friendships were reinforced and then we left. Whilst I carried memories, I didn’t keep in touch. So it is really a privilege to have the opportunity to connect once more. Much of this week’s comment has been about the South African Elections and the value of democracy. Great to have a report from the polling station, an Aussie view and a Finnish perspective. The learning hasn’t stopped.

At the BSP my cherished experience of thirty years ago is so commonplace that it hardly merits a mention. With fifty six nationalities on campus every single class is a crucible for discussion and has the potential to influence thinking far beyond the confines of the classroom. This is one of the most important elements of our education. It forces perspectives to be wide; our daily life promotes global understanding. Last weekend I had the great privilege of accompanying some of our musicians to The Hague for a music festival; they performed with distinction and I was a very proud Headmaster. A quartet with representatives from Russia, The Netherlands, France and Italy meeting with players from Azerbaijan, Nigeria and Romania to name but a few of the other nations represented. Whilst the competition element was great perhaps more impressive was the ease with which all of the students mixed and enjoyed spending time together. Being a witness to such easy interaction and such fruitful communication gives me hope.

Some communication requires no words. Music is an important part of life here at the BSP and it was pure pleasure to hear our jazz band in full flight on Tuesday. Congratulations are due to Mr. Lockwood and all of his jazz messengers who demonstrated what can be achieved when the bar is raised and young people are pushed to excellence. It all looked so easy, a guarantee that there has been a massive amount of hard work in the background! Congratulations to Louie, Matthew and Cat who took their first solos this year and hats off to Freddie for holding the stage with his one man show!

A four day week in which we have crammed in five days of activity. Tonight we recognise the achievements of our sports players at the Senior Sports Dinner. It promises to be another evening of well-earned celebration. Be it music, sport or study this is where lifelong bonds of friendship are forged.

Nicholas Hammond


Sounds of the School Day

“When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy,
And the dimpling stream runs laughing by;
When the air does laugh with our merry wit,
And the green hill laughs with the noise of it;”

William Blake

The day, if I’m lucky, starts with birdsong soon interrupted by the odd voice that is carried up on the breeze. A clack of keyboards can be followed by the static crackle of the walkie-talkie. The kettle’s rumbling boil hails the gradual population of the school and then the ever increasing build of many human voices exchanging the latest news, gossip and chat all ready for the day to come. The sounds of feet on the stairs, a squeaky door hinge or a shutting door. Most days as I walk to the gate I’ll hear the distinctive thwack of foot on leather ball and more often than not the swish of a rippling net as Barnaby’s football finds the back of the net. More birds, more chatting voices, the odd squeal of brakes and the sound of cars rounds off this morning chorus with the distinctive metallic clang of the side gate. This week we have had the racket of lawn mowers and blowers and the clear indication that summer has started as pupils cheer excitedly for their teammates to score a rounder.

The summer term has its own distinctive sounds, of rounders being played on the front lawn. Anyone passing the Junior School green pitch will know that there are few more pleasant sounds than that of break time, a cacophony of sheer pleasure. A walk down a school corridor brings its own selection of sounds, of questions being answered, of discussions being had and work being done. Chip Thursday brings a sound of expectant and excited diners and any normal walk around the campus will have its fair share of good mornings and afternoons. Later in the term we will hear that weird sound of nearly silence when the public exams commence. Pens scratching on papers, discreet coughs – one can almost hear the sound of concentration as well as the invigilator’s careful pace. It is in silence that we find the finest focus, the most eloquence and the best ideas.

girl pupil plays music on the piano

This week I am accompanying some other noise makers or, perhaps more accurately described, musicians as they make their way to perform in a Europe-wide music competition. More pleasant noise. They will compete and join with other young musicians to produce glorious sound. Perhaps I can encourage you to start the next mid-week bank holiday by coming to the Jazz Band’s concert on Tuesday night. Not only will you have the opportunity to hear our Jazz Band hitting the high notes but also a chance to meet with other parents and friends of the School for what promises to be a great night. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit the Chanorier complex in Croissy then it is another reason for coming along and enjoying a cocktail and a concert. We start at 7.30pm (drinks from 7.00pm). Please come and enjoy the show.

It takes many sounds to make a school. I look forward to a term in which our joy in learning is expressed through sounds of enthusiasm and the necessary moments of silence.

Nicholas Hammond