“In the midst of every crisis lies a great opportunity” – Albert Einstein

Back in the days when Australia wasn’t as easy to access as it recently has been, children in 1970s Britain had their view of this continent shaped by Australia’s greatest ever export: Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. She was a sort of Australian Lassie or Flipper – an animal who was a lot smarter than the humans around her. In the years before Neighbours and Crocodile Dundee the stories of a courageous kangaroo and her young companion gave us in the Northern hemisphere a clear view of life in wild and rugged Australia. Sight of park rangers and the Royal Flying Doctor Service made this picture of life in the bush all the more intriguing. Similarly alien to the young British viewer was the concept of the School of the Airwaves that sometimes received a fleeting mention before our bold kangaroo went and rescued someone who had fallen into a hole in the ground and couldn’t get out.

Australia’s School of the Air started in 1951 and was made possible by the pedal radio. The premise was simple. Each state provided children based on remote farmsteads and cattle stations with a programme of study, supplied materials and made regular broadcast via shortwave to those in the outback. Pupils had contact for an hour or so per day and then worked through the tasks that had been set. Work to be assessed was sent back via the aerial medics. Academic studies suggest that those who were supported effectively by a parent or interested adult could achieve at the same academic level as those in schools. The service modified in 2005 as internet technology improved and broadcasting continues. Australia was not alone in offering such a service, the US, Canada and just about anywhere that has wilderness within its borders does much the same.

Distance learning is nothing new. Correspondence courses were popular in the 19th Century, the Open University in the UK has enjoyed enormous success since 1969 and France’s CNED all provide remote learning. Students who learn remotely are often described as being independent and self-motivated, characteristics that are viewed as being useful. But it is undeniable that those who study alone do not experience everything else that schools offer – opportunities for interaction, social growth and collaborative working. Classrooms offer the chance to balance the logical mind and imagination, accept and develop as a consequence of criticism, encourage reflective thinking and enable us to ask for help, also desirable traits. Winston Churchill once said that “the only time my education was interrupted was when I was in school.” He may well have been right if his education was focused only on the passing of exams rather than developing the whole person.

The current predicament posed by isolation is not, in educational terms, a disaster. What would be a real shame is if we as a society or community forget all too soon the spirit of co-operation, collective responsibility and support that we feel today. Our young people have the chance to see the best of what humanity can do. What the generation of young people touched by this crisis will do with the knowledge that they have shown independence and self-motivation as well as having had the benefits of a communal educational experience? An opportunity exists for the next generation to effect significant and positive change. I hope to have the opportunity to remind them, in person, of what we can achieve when we are together in isolation.

Nicholas Hammond



“Hell is other people” – Jean-Paul Sartre

Whilst philosophers have wrangled over the real meaning of Sartre’s famous line if we take it at face value, I think we can assume that he would be having a ball this week. Not that existentialists were really into having fun. Contrary to Sartre’s comment, this week has been far from fun and it is clear that the current restrictions on movement and congregation will be with us for some time. Isolation is the new norm. Community is temporarily suspended. Hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass seems prudent.

Qarrtsiluni. An Inuit word meaning “sitting together in the dark, waiting for something to happen”. It sums up the goings on of this week very nicely although don’t ask me to pronounce it. Whilst the number of people that we are permitted to sit with is small, the questions have been huge and events momentous so it seems appropriate. Very slowly we seem to be moving to a place in which we have a view of what might happen next and it won’t be to everyone’s taste. It is clear that there will be no public exams for Year 11 and Year 13 this year. I should be pleased, I’ve been one of the ones banging on about getting rid of GCSEs for years and COVID-19 does it in a matter of weeks (I’m not going to lie, I feel strangely cheated). I hope that all affected this year will be properly rewarded for their work and feel sure an appropriate arrangement will be put in place. But I wonder what will happen next year? Perhaps this will be an opportunity seized and something really exciting will happen as a consequence of this terrible situation. Will the lack of A levels be the moment for us to create a system in which university places will be awarded post rather than pre-qualification? The powers that be have a moment to consider profound, deep and meaningful change. Will they show the courage that our pupils have this week in setting about their work? I rather hope that if we learn anything from this event it is that we don’t have to keep doing things the same old way. This virus has taught us a brutal lesson about the interconnectedness of humanity and has reminded everyone of the basic duty that we owe to friends and strangers alike. Handwashing, sneeze-catching and thoughtful distancing are fundamentals and we are perhaps long overdue for a reminder that small acts of consideration really do matter. Community really is everything.

Right now seems to be a good moment to pay tribute to the outstanding work being done throughout the BSP. To the teachers who have delivered excellent lessons, to the pupils who are engaging in such a positive manner and to the support of administrative staff whose work is often unseen. To the parents who are exercising patience beyond the norm – bravo. The weekend beckons and I hope it will give us space to change the routine, to rest and to decompress. These are challenging times but together we can make the best of them. Very soon we will know exactly what challenge it is that we face. In the meantime, I would encourage our young people to just keep going. The Finns have a word for it, sisu. It is remarkable that our pupils, when told that their exams had been cancelled, arrived at lessons with the enthusiasm that they show every day, their endeavour is to be saluted. They have sisu in shovelfuls.

Hell isn’t other people. We are surrounded by remarkable people. We remain together in isolation.

Nicholas Hammond



Update on public examinations announcement

Dear Parents and Guardians,

This evening, Wednesday 18th March, in his daily COVID-19 focused press conference the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced that the public examinations due to be taken in May or June of this year will not take place. In other words, it seems that GCSE and A level exams are unlikely to take place this summer as planned.

As of the time of writing we have no further information as to what the consequences of this decision means for our pupils. The Prime Minister made a clear promise that young people will be able to obtain the qualifications that they need to move to the next stage of their education.

The Prime Minister’s announcement was reinforced by a statement from the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP:

“I can confirm that we will not go ahead with assessments or exams, and that we will not be publishing performance tables for this academic year. We will work with the sector and have to ensure children get the qualifications that they need.”

Whilst there will no doubt be a huge collective sigh of relief at this decision, many questions remain. At the risk of sounding like a right old bore it is vital that pupils in Key Stage 4 – Year 10 and 11, and Key Stage 5 – Year 12 and 13 maintain the excellent work habits that they have shown during this week’s remote learning.

Now is not the time to start the summer holiday, now is the time to carry on with sensible, conscientious and steady academic study. If students stop working now, I fear that there will be grave consequences down the line. We all need additional information before we decide to change our approach.

Tomorrow is another day and it is important that we approach it in the way that we have approached today – calmly, sensibly and following the timetable as normal.
As soon as I have more information, I will pass it on.

Yours sincerely,

Nicholas Hammond


“All shall be well…”

“All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Julian of Norwich

Most parts of the world and most cultures have, if you dig away enough, a culture of isolation that can be found hidden away deep in their societal fabric. The hermit, the anchoress or the solitary is a surprisingly common figure. Simeon Stylites sat atop a column in the Syrian desert for much of his life, while Yoshida Kenkō, wrote while isolated on a hillside. Julian of Norwich was the first English woman to write a book after being walled up in a small church just off modern day King Street. She also lived through the turmoil of the Black Death. Thoreau is often held up as a modern-day hermit and his seminal Walden outlines his attempt to live deliberately. More recently French author and adventurer Sylvain Tesson’s Consolations of the Forest describes a different approach to this self-imposed solitude. Not so very long ago the small Austrian town of Saalfelden was advertising for a hermit. Their 350-year-old hermitage built into the cliff-side above the town is one of the last still in use in Europe. Next week, our community will be in isolation. We will all start something of an eremitic existence as school closes. We will be hermits of sorts.

Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond

What is perhaps striking is that almost all of the individuals cited above used their solitude to a creative purpose. Their period of isolation resulted in something that remains important to people today. Normally human existence is seen as communal. We believe that we thrive in company and that being with others is a good thing indeed. Now we are forced to think differently. We are not quite on our own, but we will not be in close community. We will have contact with each other, but it will be via a tablet, a ‘phone or perhaps even a nice letter. We have time to consider our own thoughts, not that of the crowd and I wonder if we will benefit from this time. It could be time spent to good purpose rather than dedicated to the altar of Netflix. If we are to grow as a consequence of this externally issued challenge, then we need to be both purposeful and deliberate in what we do. Happily, we have all the benefits of a modern tech rich society to ensure that lessons and tasks are delivered, and they will start to arrive at nine o’clock on Monday next week. I’m sure that very soon the novelty of being away from friends and no longer having the stimulation of the classroom environment will prove to be a challenge and this is where I hope that our young people will be determined to do their best, to maintain their focus and make the most of a period of time in which they can develop their skills and aptitudes. I hope they will use this as a time to think, to read and to reflect. In the case of Years 11 and 13, it is another “r” that springs to mind – revise.

We may not see great art, profound wisdom or new insights during the coming weeks of school closure.

But who knows? I live in hope, and hope is something that we all should share at a time when we are working together, in isolation, to meet this most serious of challenges.

Nicholas Hammond



“You have brains in your head…”

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

Theodor Geisel
World Book Day at the JSC

This week saw the anniversary of a ground-breaking author’s birth. An author who has affected lives and entertained in equal measure. An author who has influenced and educated but is probably not often recognised for having this massive influence. I write of course of Theodor Geisel. No, me neither. Geisel published his first book And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street in 1937 but he did not rise to fame until the publication of a book commissioned by an educational specialist designed to encourage children to read independently. He was given a list of 300 words and had to write his book using those words only. Happily, the words “cat” and “hat” were on the list and the rest is, as they say, Green Eggs and Ham (which uses a miserly 50 words and only 1 with more than one syllable). I wonder how many in our community count Dr. Seuss’ books as being some of the first that they enjoyed. One of the reasons for his ongoing popularity is that Dr. Seuss’ books are some of the first to be read independently. They are often the books that we read to adults with pride when we were a little younger. They are a sign of independence, and with it, freedom from Mum and Dad having to read to you.

It will come as no surprise that this week has been dominated by questions of “what if?” Our plans for maintaining educational services in the event of a COVID-19 shutdown are well advanced. If we are instructed to lock our doors, then pupils will have to rediscover their love of independent learning as we will move to a system of remote teaching and learning. Happily, technology means that we will be able to have contact during the period of lockdown and support will be on hand, particularly for those who face exams later in the year. Ultimately any system of remote schooling or distance learning relies on pupils to be motivated to learn. We have learned significant lessons from our colleagues in the Far East who have been locked out since 16th January and we know that there will be some teething problems and inevitable frustrations. But putting all of that aside the biggest challenge we face is that this style of study calls for pupils to engage fully with it. Lessons on-line call for clear focus and real commitment. Studying this way is far more difficult than sitting in a classroom. Our young people will have to be ready to tap into the excitement they felt when reading independently for the first time. They will have to use all the good habits of independent learners – self-monitoring, using scaffolding, being reflective, using feedback constructively to ensure that they make the most of this valuable time.

If we have to close, and that is a big if, our young people will have to work with both independence and enthusiasm. They will have to be ready to self-motivate and they will also have to demonstrate academic maturity. We cannot treat this as another holiday, we need to maintain as much study momentum as we are able. Perhaps variety is the key here. Some screen time, some time working on an exercise book or paper and other time spent reading would seem to me to be an ideal combination.

Whilst I sincerely hope that we remain open I would be interested to see just how independent our learners can be. I suspect I would end up impressed.

Nicholas Hammond