“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”
Since learning about the discovery of a long lost Cimabue masterpiece in Compiègne, I have been looking closely at all of the pictures we have hanging on the walls at school. Sadly no early renaissance masterpiece to be found but many splendid examples of pupils’ artistic skills. Who knows, in centuries to come some of these works might be seen as the early signs of an emerging Renoir, Morisot or O’Keefe. A quick visit to the Senior School Japanese Art Club and Printmaking Workshop on a Friday will convince even the most sceptical critic that we have artists of the highest calibre. Whenever you go to the Junior School the vibrancy and sheer joy communicated by the work to be found there is tonic for the soul.
I’m sure that there will be many questions raised about the authenticity of this newly found picture, such is the way of international art markets. If you ever watch the BBC’s Fake or Fortune the question of integrity seems to be one that is a matter of educated opinion and normally has something to do with the chemical composition of paint. Everyone seems to have a view and decisions are made in closed rooms by shadowy figures. Some paintings are accepted as genuine, others are deemed fakes. Authenticity and integrity have been much discussed in other places this week. In some cases it has been more a case of a lack of both. With this comes an inevitable scrutiny of word choice and terminology. The British House of Commons was recalled for a vitriolic session on Wednesday and we have heard much from New York this week. It took a sixteen year old to speak plainly and clearly about the crisis that the world faces. Integrity is one of our school values and it is often the one that we find most difficult to explain to our young people. This week has perhaps given us both positive and negative models for them to consider. I hope that they are inspired when they see words that are used with integrity rather than cynicism.
Over the course of the year I will no doubt have to deal with incidents among friends when words are used without thought or care or integrity. Indeed this is one of the most significant causes of upset in any school and always has been. Social media gives people the opportunity to express themselves without the filter provided by face to face interaction and I hope that all of our young people can use events of this week to reflect upon the power of words both positive and negative. Most importantly I hope that we as parents or teachers can support them in developing character that means they will stand apart, consider their actions and make the right decisions. Whilst I know that this won’t be particularly popular with the student body, can I make a suggestion? If your daughter or son has a social media account why not talk through what they are saying on it? You don’t need to snoop, a forensic examination is not required, and indeed I’d not even have the pages open while you talk. An open conversation about what is and is not kind often goes a long way.
“Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.”
I do like a break time cake sale. Therefore, it was with great pleasure that I heard the sound of tables being set up by the front steps of the Debussy building this morning. What a selection. What great work had been done by Year 7 on their cell cakes – perhaps in the near future this will feature as a Great British Bake Off or Meilleur Pâtissier de France technical challenge – the results were certainly far more appealing than the Maids of Honour that confounded contestants in the UK tent this week. A good deal of effort had been spent and I suspect the odd helping hand had been given. The result? A happy school community and money raised for a good cause. The same situation was to be found in the Junior School where there was an enthusiastic take up of denim additions to the school uniform. Once again much needed funding to support vital research was raised and fun was certainly had as a consequence.
It is on days like these that I am possibly at my proudest as a school head. There are days when it is all about academic achievement, others when sporting glory takes a front seat or musical virtuosity is to the fore. We have days when we can show our artistic skills through drama or art but for me one of the true hallmarks of a really great school is measured by the amount of kindness that can be seen through day to day interactions. Kindness should always be found in schools. Sometimes it will be the welcoming of a new classmate who is understandably feeling nervous about their first day at school, other times it is shown through baking a cake. However it comes is immaterial. Surely learning the value of kindness is one of the most valuable lessons that we can teach or learn.
Like many British Schools we have a culture of support for charities. As a school community we have built, staffed and equipped two school in rural Cambodia – much of the funding coming from the activities of the BSPS, our parents and friends group. We regularly support other good causes during the course of the year such as L’Abre à Pain, animal rehoming centres and Love in a Box through events, collections or non-uniform days. Our older students give their time to the local branch of the Red Cross, work with the Emmaüs community and provide entertainment in old people’s homes. Valuable lessons about human relations come from these experiences. These opportunities give us time to pause and to reflect upon the opportunities that we as a school community enjoy, they also allow us to see things differently. I also thank parents in anticipation for the inevitable frustration of the mid-evening request for cake baking just after the shops have shut!
Tomorrow is the BSPS Fair. This is an occasion at which kindness is central. A time for new families to be welcomed, a time for all to support our Cambodian partner schools and a number of other charities. Perhaps just as important a time to catch up, to meet and to have a pleasant afternoon on the banks for the River Seine. I hope to see you there.
“I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly , I know a hawk from a handsaw.”
A member of the bunting family the Yellowhammer has a distinctive bright yellow head and equally characteristic song. It is the subject of a John Clare poem and was described by Enid Blyton in Five go off in a Caravan. Olivier Messiaen, used its song in at least four of his major works and it may have inspired the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Sadly, we see very few here in Croissy where we are far more likely to encounter a Kingfisher, Cormorant or Green Woodpecker. Currently, it is one of far too many on the red list of endangered birds in the UK and Ireland. This week we also found out that it is the codename for the UK Government’s Brexit strategy document. What the Yellowhammer has done to deserve this particular honour I do not know.
There are schools that spend significant quantities of funds on producing glossy strategy brochures in which they proudly announce their five or ten year plan, generally to achieve a nebulous position – often self -proclaimed – as the best school in… or the best school at, well you fill in the blank. Some contain really interesting proposals about changes to educational approach or the development of character in pupils. There is usually a shiny new building to fill the front cover. Truth be told, I’ve written my fair share of these documents and I have looked ahead into the future and endeavoured to predict what the future might hold. This is a difficult game for circumstances change. I joined the BSP five years ago. Whilst Brexit was discussed it was far from reality, there has been a change of direction in French politics and the world may well be stumbling towards another financial meltdown. How many school strategic plans foresaw the rapid changes of the last five years? Not many I suspect. We have a short working document that guides our approach during the year, it outlines our priorities such as curriculum reviews, well-being initiatives, development of new educational spaces and the creation of new opportunities. It is far from glossy, it has margin notes, coffee stains and is a little bit dog-eared because it is a living document that guides the school management team’s activities. I call it an improvement plan because I believe that every institution has the capacity to improve and a duty to strive to be better. All that is contained in that document is driven by our school values. Were we to set strategic objectives, achievement of and development through our values seem to me to be an excellent template for progress. Our aim is a simple one – to provide the most useful and effective education for the pupils at the BSP whatever that means for them as individuals. For some this will mean a place at a highly selective university, for others it will mean something different. We must push where it is required and we challenge all pupils to achieve. We are proudly non-selective and our results speak volumes about the success of our approach.
From my study window I sometimes see herons fishing in the Seine. I am a great admirer of the heron and if my improvement “strategy” was to be given an avian epithet it would be Operation Heron. I want our young people to have the self-belief to stand in fast flowing waters of modern life with confidence and patience. I want them to know when to act decisively and above all I want them to be able to find their place in the world wherever that may be. I hope that this is a school strategy that we can all agree is to the benefit of our pupils.
If you are new to our community or if you are a returner I hope that you are looking forward to the new school year as much as I am. There is much in store to be excited by. Not everyone looks forward to the start of term. In Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” the narrator Charles Ryder talks about the start of the Oxford term in melancholic tones, but that term started in rain, a sodden British October, and we start in September sunshine. There can be few places as glorious as the Seine Valley, at this time of year. I hope that pupils are inspired by their surroundings.
During the summer we were able to celebrate some excellent examination results. Our oldest pupils taking A levels achieved a stunning set of results with more than 34% of results at the highest levels while Year 11s also demonstrated their academic prowess recording a 9-5 pass rate of 84%. I’m sure that those facing public exams next summer will be inspired by this performance and will seek still greater success in twelve months’ time. I know that staff will be supporting them closely at this most important time in their school career. The same is true of those who join us at “the other end of the school” as this week was, for some, the very first step on the educational ladder. I’m sure all in our community join with me in wishing our Nursery and Reception classes well as they take the first steps in their school journey.
From the youngest members of our community to the oldest our aim as a school is very simple – we are here to see all children realise their potential and exceed their own expectations. Schools are straightforward and uncomplicated places. They exist for the education of young people. Things become complex when the systems take over so at the start of term it is perhaps good to remind ourselves of what is at the core of school life. All young people at the BSP should be able to learn effectively and they should find both joy and satisfaction in their achievements. If there are barriers to this achievement then we as a staff should be looking to assist them to overcome these obstacles. In that endeavour we are helped by parents and guardians. Sometimes we refer to outside experts. We will report, feedback and where necessary meet with you. Please let us know if there are any concerns that you have at this point in the year and we can start to address them.
There has been a good deal written in the UK over the past 10 days about inclusivity and tolerance (or a lack of it). Here at the BSP we have an open and welcoming community. This I believe is to be celebrated and we will do just that with the BSPS Fair on Saturday 21 September. I do hope you will come along. Have a wonderful school year.