“The more you know…”

“The more you know, the less you have to carry. The less you know, the more you have to carry.”

Mors Kachinski

In my Year 9 class we discussed the Kachinski quotation – we considered the many competencies needed by a successful historian – many members of the class demonstrated these very qualities. It was a good discussion. There has been a drift in education to a dominant view that without exams educationalists have no way of deciding how to assess pupil potential. I’ve never been a great advocate of the exams only route although I do see a necessity for pupils to be asked to demonstrate both what they know and what they can do. This does not have to happen in an exam hall, it can happen in many forms. I’m not against exams being taken, far from it. So far so contradictory. Apologies.

What disappoints me about high stakes exams is that so little knowledge and so few skills are tested in them. In my own subject, any terminal exam at the end of a two-year course will leave out more than it can ever possibly include. That seems to be a lost opportunity. Work produced by the pupil during the year surely has a value in deciding at what level a pupil should be graded. What role is there for oral examination? Languages have these but they have never been spread across the UK curriculum. Why not? Being able to speak clearly about a subject is surely as important as being able to write clearly about it?

This week the Secretary of State for Education began to unveil the approach to GCSE and A level exams this summer. It seems that the examination boards will publish banks of assessment work and schools will have the opportunity to use or ignore as they see fit. Here at the BSP we are in a fortunate position. Many of our Year 11 and Year 13 pupils took their mock exams formally in January. In the normal course of events, they would take final exams in June. In the UK few pupils had the opportunity to sit formal mocks in January and have not been in school this term (they return from 10th March) so these summer tests may be the closest they will come to formal exams for some time. The approach that we will take is still to be decided but it may well seek to preserve as much of our normal structure and use the tests not as an absolute and final statement on performance but one of the many pieces of evidence that we have regarding the competencies of our pupils. I believe that I am not alone in believing that the consolidation of learning through revision is one of the most valuable aspects of the exam process and therefore it is worth preserving but surely a portfolio approach is the most appropriate?

Perhaps this year’s situation will give those who decide these things some food for thought. If pupils are permitted to demonstrate their abilities and talents through different activities, then university admissions staff and future employers may well have a far more rounded view of both their level of skill and knowledge.

This morning I met some academic high achievers from Nursery as my photo records. They were able to tell me the names of the planets and explain all that was to be seen in their pictures. I would argue that this is as good a way to assess learning as any other. I’m sure if we were to revisit this knowledge in the future that having enjoyed making their picture and having looked at it for some weeks on the classroom wall, they will remember the names of the planets. An undisputed A* for these two I’m sure you will agree.

Nicholas Hammond



“She sells seashells…”

“She sells seashells on the seashore.”

English traditional nursery rhyme

I think that it was last week I had a discussion with a colleague in which he said that he was disappointed that there would never be another snow day at school. This once in while “treat” was something of a rite of passage, a day when things are different, and the normal rules don’t quite apply. In a new age of remote learning the snow day simply becomes a day online. We can discuss what is lost and what is gained and may never draw a firm conclusion. Certainly, the fall of snow caused the usual levels of excitement, in particular for those who had never seen it before. I took my fair share of hits on Wednesday while doing my duty on the green pitch so will be quite happy to see the back of the white stuff for another year.

One thing that a fall of snow does is that it allows a variety of different classes the opportunity to examine snowflakes in depth. The science of snow has been much in evidence this week and indeed so has the art of snow. Perhaps having a snow fall during the Junior School’s Year 6 STEM week was particularly useful as it is a timely reminder of the magnificence of the world around us and the importance of seeing it scientifically so to understand it better. If you look in this newsletter and our social media feed, you will see some magnificent examples of gear and pulley use hidden under miniature fairground rides. Wonderful stuff from our Year 6 pupils. Incidentally, as we celebrate women in science week, did you now that the quotation today is often thought to refer to Mary Anning the notable fossil collector and early palaeontologist who was the first to identify the ichthyosaur?

Slumber has also been a topic for our younger pupils today. As part as a gentle easing into the half-term holiday sleep wear in many different guises was on show today. How good to be able to be together to relax with friends and enjoy movies as a treat at the end of what has been a busy and different half-term. The pancakes also looked very good…

So, snow, science, and slumber. The less somnambulistic will have realised that in the very best traditions of Sesame Street this column is brought to you by the letter “S”. There are another two I’d like to mention before I sign off for the half-term: students and staff. This has been a half term in which we have seen challenges. All have been met with enthusiasm by our young people. From the trials of what I think were the only “real” mock exams to be taken in the entire world to learning with masks on all the time, I have been impressed with the way that our students have met everything thrown at them with customary BSP good humour. To staff a massive thank you for all you have done to keep lessons on track, spirits high, paths clear, administration smooth and learning exciting.

So, my final S of the half term is simply success. We have much to celebrate. Pupils are to be congratulated on the work that they have completed. They can reflect on all the things that they now know that previously they did not and all that they can do that previously they could not. Schools are simple places to understand when success surrounds.

See you next half-term. Stay safe.

Nicholas Hammond



“Time is a sort of river of passing events…”

“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”

Marcus Aurelius

It is perhaps inevitable that the longer you spend by the banks of the Seine the more it influences how you view the school year. Just as the school year follows a rhythm and flow so too does the river. In summer, the pace is languid, and the banks are covered by willows trailing their branches in the water. In winter it is faster flowing, it is a more turbulent picture with skeletal trees framing the view.

This week has seen the river rise ever higher in its channel, for the first time in a little while people have glanced anxiously at it. Earlier in the week the council arrived and put up red and white barrier tape. I’m not quite sure it will stop anyone from falling in, but I suppose it gives a warning to anyone who is considering a midwinter swim that it might be a little rash to do so.

There are two reasons for the river’s height at present. It has rained a lot and this week also saw some of the highest tides of the year at the Seine’s estuary. When tides are at their peak the river cannot discharge with is customary efficiency. Now that the tides are lowering, the river levels should begin to fall. What has taken a comparatively short time to rise will take far longer to fall. We have altered the river’s course, have provided protection, and do a good deal to manage it but sometimes, despite our best efforts we just reach the limit.

Rather like the Seine I have the distinct feeling that there are many people in our community who feel as if their own personal banks are ready to be breached, that their load is at its peak and that, well, things may just overflow. Despite our best efforts to channel anxiety and concern we are up to the top of our banks. Not surprising given the circumstances. As a school community we have all been making the best of what we can do rather than what is denied to us. We’ve all had to undergo the privations of separation and the bounds of restriction. Like the river, levels of frustration have crept ever higher. We can see what is going on but there seems little we can do to prevent the inevitable.

We have five days left before the half term break. I know that year groups and departments will be easing back a little next week, our half-way point in the academic year. The Junior School is looking forward to pyjama and movie days and Year 6 have their STEM week of activities. I hope that we can spend a little time in the coming days simply enjoying the subjects we study and not worrying about the never ending race of finishing the syllabus, doing the next assessment piece, or meeting another deadline. We will (I hope) have time for all that in the coming half term as spring begins to emerge on the banks of the Seine and levels of hope recharge.

Just as spring will inevitably arrive so too will the concerns of our current situation subside like the winter river. Storms may still appear before normal levels return but until then we may well have to follow the current as best we are able.

Nicholas Hammond