I’d forgotten one of my favourite Scottish words – driech until this week, but if I was to choose a word that sums this week then at first sight it is a pretty good one. For those not in the know it means bleak, miserable, dismal, cheerless, wearysome or dreary and this week that certainly covers the weather. There was a good article in yesterday’s Scotsman newspaper outlining the 30 best Scottish dialect words if you want to mine more deeply a rich descriptive vein of vocabulary.
It has also been a challenging week for many families as unexpected obstacles have been faced on top of the weather being so very awful. From my study I have a view of the river and it is rising steadily, we are a good way off a flood warning but who knows, later this month I may be able to write to you about new school rules concerning canoeing to school. We will see, at least it will make a change from that other stuff I have clogged your inbox with.
One thing that never seems to be dampened, no matter how savage the downpour is the enthusiasm that some pupils have for playing either football or basketball outside. I’m always amazed by this commitment to sport although I do wonder how effective they are when back in the classroom. Yesterday, I was doing my lunch duty (bizarrely perhaps one of the parts of the week that I enjoy the most) when I was struck by the remarkable cheerfulness of our pupils. Just to spice things up a little I had reversed the normal queuing system and asked every child to wash their hands before going to eat, they proved willing to, they were cheerful as they waited a little longer than normal and I hope as a consequence that they all ate with suitably clean hands. Perhaps it reinforced the message that hand washing is super important at the moment. All at least appeared to be more than willing to cope with this change of routine and I was really impressed with the number of thank-yous I received having handed out the paper towels. We are fortunate to have such sensible, polite and responsible young people. It is good to be reminded that not all is doom and dreary. Similarly, I had the pleasure of being in the Junior School assembly this morning and it was truly heartening to see the enthusiasm with which each of the houses applauded and celebrated the success of the others – well done to the Vipers who won the laurels this week. Driech? Not a bit of it. Hush your wheest Hammond!
Tomorrow is, of course, a leap day. A quadrennial treat for everyone. A particularly enthusiastic Happy Birthday to anyone who will enjoy the rare treat of a birthday this year. I wonder what use will be made of this extra day; whatever you are doing I hope that you have a marvellous 29th of February. And with that I will haver no more.
There are certain topics that we as teachers and you as parents
probably dread. The moment the topics of sex or death rear their heads,
there is a real temptation to run for cover and hope that someone else can
field the awkward topics on our behalf. To the aforementioned topics we
can probably add, for the coming weeks at least, disease.
I probably don’t need to state the obvious by saying that we live in a 24-hour rolling news culture and as a consequence we may just as adults be guilty at times of hyper-magnifying certain issues because there is no escaping them. Presently it is impossible to escape from reporting on the coronavirus outbreak and the steadily mounting death toll trailing in its wake. I’ve done my fair share of letter writing about it this week, no doubt soothing some and enraging others.
The current situation is concerning because there are few clear
answers and no solution has been found to containing this new strain of human coronavirus. We are bombarded with ideas
about the epidemic and war-like casualty charts only serve to alarm still
further. If we can avoid speculation then we will probably be all the
better for it, we need to seek out reputable sources of information bearing in
mind that even the most enlightened health organisations can take a top down
approach to problems such as this one. This is a time when we have to be
aware of the mental health of young people as well as their physical
well-being. Many young people will feel worried about this evolving,
uncertain situation and we need to offer them realistic reassurance.
Some viruses do not take a hold and fulfil their potential – bird ‘flu caused
far less impact than was expected and not every cough or cold is
coronavirus. We need to be prudent and realistic. Hand washing is
important as is trapping germs in a tissue and binning the offending
item! I hope that it goes without saying that anyone who exhibits ‘flu
like symptoms should seek appropriate advice and should stay away from
school. If you have been to a high-risk area then please also stay away
until we know more about the challenge that we face.
There is a danger in our response to an
outbreak like this that we discriminate against the most vulnerable. We need to
speak openly about the dangers of labelling or jumping to conclusions about who
is responsible for the disease. The coronavirus can affect anyone regardless of
gender, ethnicity or sex. If we are caring and supportive then we will improve
the chances of prevention and recovery.
Right now, there are highly qualified epidemiologists and public health professionals looking at spread patterns and possible cures for this particular ‘flu strain. Modern medical science moves at an impressive pace and it is likely that we will be given more credible support very soon. We need to ensure that we are choosing our sources of information carefully, at some point in the near future we may well need to respond speedily to an important piece of advice so it is important that we ensure we can see with clarity. We can talk positively to our pupils about the measures that have been taken, we can stress the importance of basic hygiene and we can reassure our young people that the best minds in the world are seeking to solve the challenge we face.
“Culture and education aren’t simply hobbies or minor influences.”
There is a lot being written in the UK educational press about the importance of Cultural Capital and how much pupils should be accruing through their time in school. In the UK this is a subject that is connected to the inspection framework and it is seen by many commentators as a way in which schools in affluent areas can game the inspection system (and life in general) at the expense of others who do not enjoy such a comfortable existence. Crudely put, Cultural Capital is the stuff you know and the stuff that you experience. Once acquired (the sociologists tell us) such knowledge and experience give you an advantage. You speak the same language as others who are “in the know”, refer to the same experiences and in doing so exclude those who don’t or haven’t. It takes on greater importance when social mobility is considered. Not surprising therefore that it is, post-election, a hot topic in the UK. Being here in France means that we don’t have to engage in all such educational debates, but I think that we should be thinking about this idea as a school and what we might do with it.
Whilst many of our Year 13 pupils head off to the UK for university many do not. When it comes for them to enter the world of work many will have lived in a number of different places and have developed a broader perspective on the world than those who have been rooted to a single home country. Having had an experience of living elsewhere may well be of interest to a future employer. It may well give them access to courses or careers that would not be available to someone who has not had an international upbringing. This advantage simply comes about as a consequence of being an internationally mobile family, it is not something that we are consciously using to set our pupils apart, it is simply a fact of who we are. We have an internationally rich community – we have more than 50 nations represented in the school, again this is who we are. The lessons that our young people learn about understanding, tolerance and diversity are I would argue the sort of social or cultural capital that all schools should be investing in. I don’t believe that we use our undoubtedly privileged existence to exclude anyone, far from it.
We are fortunate in being able to offer learning experiences that are broadening both in and out of the classroom. We live on the edge of or in a city that is culturally and artistically extraordinary, we would be foolish to deny ourselves access to the offer of Paris simply because it may lead us to be labelled as culturally privileged. Indeed, I’d go so far as to encourage families to make the most of being here, of visiting the opera, or the ballet, or the galleries, or the museums, or the theatres, or the sites of interest because to miss out would be a shame. There is little excuse of missing an opportunity such as this. These opportunities should not be used to exclude others, I believe that they simply allow our young people to grow as individuals who will eventually do good in their own communities. So, if you are staycationing this half term then why not make the most of Paris and build that available cultural capital?
Way back in 2006 it was almost impossible to be in a British school and not hear the word “bovvered” being bandied about. For those of you who don’t remember 2006 or were managing to avoid UK television at the time, the word was popularised by actor Catherine Tate in her comedy sketch show when playing the 15 year old malcontent Lauren Cooper. So popular was the catchphrase that it was word of the year and seemed to sum up the grumpy teenager with remarkable accuracy. Tony Blair even got in on the act. After all, young people once they reach the age of about thirteen seem programmed to have a couple of years of not being bothered by anything else around them.
I wonder if this might be changing. I have the impression in many of my daily interactions with young people that many are indeed bothered, very bothered indeed. A consideration of the last few weeks of school life illustrate this well. Take the Senior School show We Will Rock You, a group of students (ably led by staff) generated a show of real quality. The delegates to the Model United Nations Congress in The Hague demonstrated real concern for others and a wonderfully mature approach to conducting high level discussions about pressing world issues. Yesterday, there were pupils opting to do an additional maths test, whilst others were submitting an audition recording for a piano competition. Today we see athletes departing for fixtures in the Netherlands.
Our young people face a challenging future. I believe that the more bothered they are then the more likely they are to find success and fulfilment. The educational writer Hywell Roberts makes a great point when he says that “At the heart of the world’s best teaching you’ll find one admittedly made-up word -botheredness.” Both we and they need this. As teachers we are hopefully providing direction and a degree of inspiration, for the pupil it is accepting that from time to time there is some work to be done. If there ever was a time of the school year to remind ourselves about being bothered it is now when winter has stretched on, when coughs and colds are rife and when quite frankly half term can’t arrive too quickly. For our younger pupils it is all about maintaining that joy of learning and for our older ones it is about being ready to accept the challenge afforded by the coming exams. Right now it is all to easy to fall into the I can’t be bothered trap. It is important that it is avoided, whatever Lauren might think about it.