Over the course of the last twelve months the School has, necessarily, become a community of smaller communities. In some respects this is positive; smaller communities of learners tend to move at a quicker pace than larger ones and teachers interacting with their pupils in small units develop a greater understanding of those they teach; so small is sometimes better. This is, of course true, but within this we need to be careful that we don’t forget to join together for larger events, celebrations and assemblies. Our assemblies this year in both Junior and Senior School have been virtual – they have been broadcast to tutor and classrooms and this is something that may well continue at times in the year when we normally cannot meet, it is one of the “gems” described last week. In the very near future our musicians will be sharing their talents with us through a virtual Spring Concert, and I’d encourage everyone to take a few minutes to join in, to be with the larger BSP community albeit virtual and above all to enjoy some excellent music making.
Another aspect of the current situation is that I have not been able to visit as many classes as I might have liked to. This week I was delighted to have had the opportunity to make a suitably socially distanced visit to Year 5. The topic of the lesson was suspense. We started with a passage from Michael Morpurgo and then the pupils had the opportunity to write their own suspense filled paragraphs. (see JS pages) These included tripping over stray racoons and an evil wizard, I hesitate to say that you couldn’t make it up because, patently, they did. The enthusiasm for both telling a good story and ensuring adverbs, adjectives and subordinate clauses were used correctly and when it is permissible to break grammar rules was palpable. All this enthusiasm for suspense is starkly contrasted with the wearisome “will they, won’t they” behaviour of national leaders who seem keen to move closer to more stringent confinement measures but stop short of school closure. This is suspense that we could probably do without!
As I left Year 5 and having had a lovely chat about liminality and boundaries in the Romano-Celtic world with Year 3 (they started it) I was left wondering about our little communities of learning once again. As an aficionado of collective nouns particularly those describing groups of birds, I did wonder what the relevant term for a group of enthusiastic Year 5 creative writers is – a scribble? A folio? What about our historically minded Year 3s – a dig? An archive? As we head towards the end of the term some of the older year groups may not show quite the same levels of zest as their younger counterparts – is a grump of Year 13s fair or should we be thinking more positively, a flight as they look to the end of their school career? At lunch I have certainly seen a gobble of Year 9s. For those who are interested I’m reliably informed that the collective noun for a group of politicians is an equivocation, strangely apt I’d say. As it is the weekend and it is good to think happy thoughts can I remind you that the collective noun for a group of guillemots is a bazaar?
“Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not.”
It is always interesting to see how language adapts to new situations and events. COVID gems was new to me this week, apparently these gems are the things that you want to take from the turmoil of the recent months and keep as part of your usual routine.
I suspect that we have all had moments over the last twelve months where we have simply given thanks for the small, usually unnoticed things around us that make our world just a little more bearable. Birdsong has been a favourite, local walks, and in France, cheese. I was delighted to note that during confinement French households have consumed 32% more goats’ milk cheese and 9.4% more cows’ milk cheese. For those who like a little more detail, I can also tell you that the biggest single rise in consumption of any cheese was seen by mozzarella. Whilst it won’t have been counted in the overall figures it has been a real treat to have fresh cheese as part of our regular lunch, a “COVID gem” that we will continue with after the hurlyburly’s done.
This week has been French week in the Senior School. We’ve enjoyed French themed lessons, Gallic moustaches in unexpected locations and French music to accompany our lunch. Chapeau to the Year 13s who inspired this festival of all things Francophone. We sometimes take it for granted but we spend our days in an extraordinary environment, the place that inspired the Impressionists to take their easels out into the open air. I suspect that this week and next will be two of the most impressive weeks for tree blossom. If you have the opportunity (and it is within your ten-kilometre radius) then I do recommend a suitably socially distanced look. The National Trust (the UK conservation charity) suggested last year that we should plant blossom rich tree circles as a memorial to those who have lost their lives as a consequence of COVID. Perhaps it is time for us to add to the number of trees in our local environment. In a matter of weeks, the blossom will be gone, and our term will be drawing to a close. For most it will have been a term uninterrupted by COVID closure although I fear some alteration to the structure of the week for those in Years 11, 12 and 13. We await information and will pass it on as soon as we have it.
I’ve written before about doing things differently at the moment. This applies as much for careers advice as any other element of school life. So, a thank you to the members of our community who are providing online support to a number of our older pupils. Our Governors are getting in on the act too, providing career advice via the alumni Linkedin page. Wisdom is soon to be dispensed so watch this space for more detail.
At the end of all of this, the biggest COVID gem that we could carry out from the wreckage will be a sense of kindness. These have been difficult times and one of the most heartening elements is that people have been kind to one another. As we come to the end of a long(ish) term and patience in certain quarters may be wearing thinner it is important that we remind ourselves about the importance of kindness, not only to those around us but to ourselves too. So, take time to enjoy the blossom and have a restful weekend.
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.”
This time twelve months ago we were looking somewhat fretfully at what was going to happen next and the daffodils had just appeared in the student garden in front of the Lighthouse Building. I did not anticipate the scale or scope of the pandemic. Naively, I predicted last March that we’d be back to normal by September. That prediction may turn out to be correct, but I’d got the wrong September. So, you heard it here first, we’ll be back to normal in September 2021. Possibly.
On reflection I am not entirely sure that I really want to go back to where we were in March 2020 in the days BP (Before Pandemic). Much has changed as a consequence of this international emergency, some of it for the better. I’ve written before of the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder – we’ve missed many activities and when normal service is resumed, I hope that all pupils will make the most of what is on offer here. From orchestra to chess, from football to investors club there is something to excite the interest of everyone. We have seen the importance of fruitful human interaction when it has been denied to us and I hope that we all continue to harness the spirit of working together to achieve great things. It would be encouraging for humanity to think that we will take our responsibility to all that is around us more seriously and simply avoid slipping back into what we did, and how we did it BP.
This week the Senior School marked International Women’s Day with an assembly. Follow up work has also been done regarding a production intended to stimulate debate and thought. As a co-educational school I really do hope that we allow our young people the space to consider a huge range of possible avenues of both study and future employment and we move beyond rigid or proscribed views of who should do what. Post pandemic there may even be a reassessment of the way that certain professions and occupations are viewed and rewarded. Only time will tell.
Debate still continues in the UK around the question of exams and their most effective form. This week the Interim Chief Regulator of OFQUAL, Simon Rebus has given an indication that there are likely to be amendments to the way that exams are sat in summer 2022 as a consequence of the events of this last year. Change it seems will occur. It would be good if we were given the new assessment materials for this season’s mini-assessments, our pupil are rightly keen to show their worth. Being able to allay worries would be good before skipping ahead to next year.
There are clear signs of change as a consequence of the last twelve months, exciting debate has been stimulated and new ideas are emerging. Just to make sure that some things stay the same, I made my way over to the Lighthouse building just to check that the daffodils are out once more. They are. Whilst change is necessary, in some cases vital it is also very good to have the reassurance of things being well, a little bit back to normal.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”
That change is life’s only constant is perhaps true. Thursday saw Year 6 take a trip into the past. I suspect that having experienced it they are pleased to find themselves firmly back in the twenty-first century as the frankly terrifying Miss Brodie and her cohort of stern colleagues disappear into the past. Victorian Day happens every year, good to see that our characters from the past could once more come to visit to the delight and shivers of terror of our pupils. This event is part of the annual cycle of school life that was in its normal and appointed place. A pleasant change in this year of upheaval.
Over the course of the week, we received a little more information about the way that our older pupils will be examined and graded in the summer. No major exams, teacher assessed grades and something new in the form of mini assessments. The grade that emerges at the end of the process will have the same value as it always had, but there is a changed process to produce it. I’m hopeful that (at least in part) some of this change remains as it is without doubt a fair way to examine both knowledge and skills. In the short term nothing changes, pupils need to keep working and doing their best.
The pandemic has changed the way that the School operates, and it remains to be seen how long lasting this impact will be. Brexit too will affect the school’s future operations. A brief look at the school’s history will simply confirm that we are a school that has near constantly changed throughout its history. The children of today differ significantly from those that I taught at the beginning of my career; they are exposed to so much more at an earlier age than was the case back in the mid-90s. Education was different then, not quite Victorian but certainly not quite like now. Next year the twin influences of the coming together of pandemic and political change means that we will be a slightly smaller school. We predict that the much spoken ‘bounce back’ will take time in the world of education. A change like that can be dealt with if the school has a clear set of values guiding all that it does. Our values are clear and provide our young people with a moral compass that will guide them to a worthwhile and meaningful life.
One major change this week is that a BSP institution moves into well-earned retirement. For many Amar Ait Mahand was their first contact with the school. Amar joined us 29 years ago as a carpenter on the maintenance team. If you ever tour the Senior School you will still see his careful and well-crafted creations in many buildings, still working well, still doing the job for which they were designed. Later he moved to be our guardian and he has issued late slips, kept visitor registers and maintained a CCTV enabled eye on our security and safety more recently. We wish him every success in his changed life as a retiree, may it be both long and contented.