“A proverb is much matter distilled into a few words.”
A truncated week. Whilst a bank holiday is always something of a treat, everyone endeavours to cram the normal five-day week into only four. Consequently, it is a week with a greater level of intensity. That combined with the appearance of the sun, (hiding all month) has led to this being a week to remember, it has been a week distilled.
Our Year 11 students had their last day in school before an extended half term break. They have worked hard all year. Their main task has been to build a portfolio of academic evidence and to complete this marathon task they have recently sat a series of mini- assessments. All this evidence will be used by teachers to devise the GCSE grades that will be passed on to the awarding bodies. In a normal year they would have had a month of longer exams. This year the exam season has been condensed. It remains to be seen if the experience of this year and the last will lead to the required changes to our public examination system. We have certainly learned a good deal about the value of assessment by other means and I hope that this will not be forgotten.
I recently spoke with one of the school’s alumni community. He told me something that I had heard before; that whilst he hadn’t spent long at the BSP the experience of studying in this international community had been both formative and life changing. Three years is not a great proportion of a life, it isn’t even that long in an education, but being part of this community is an experience that can have life changing consequences. For some in Year 11 the end of the exam period is a marker; it flags a coming change, perhaps of school, country or even continent. Their time here will soon come to an end before they move to the next chapter of their life. Time in the coming days will move at a different pace and experiences will be magnified. Over time the significance of this experience will come to be understood and appreciated.
A focused approach is sometimes necessary if success is to be achieved. A sense of purpose helps, and it is undoubtedly these traits that have propelled Year 12 Aden to success in the Junk Couture competition. Another group who deserves congratulations are Year 9 who have sat their school exams this week. They are looking forward to some days out of the classroom next half term. They will experience many of the activities that they would have enjoyed in a normal year but haven’t. Different educational experiences, more concentrated but no less valuable. Our Duke of Edinburgh Awards groups are also having the opportunity to enjoy something that looks like normality albeit in individual tents and socially distanced. This opportunity to spend a short time in the company of others facing challenge is again an example of how the time compressed activity can bear valuable fruit for personal development.
In keeping with the theme of concentrated experience, we break for a short half term today. As the sun has made an appearance it promises to be a time for batteries to be recharged ready to make the most of the remaining weeks of this most extraordinary of years.
Over the course of the last year there have been many newspaper articles about the benefits of being outdoors, the therapeutic effects of forest bathing and the joy of hearing birdsong. Nestled as we are on the leafy banks of the Seine, we have an opportunity to enjoy all of the above on a daily basis. Time in the open air is clearly time well spent so it is always encouraging to see pupils coming into school on foot or by bike. Not everyone has the opportunity to come to school under their own steam, but I wonder if the opportunity to spend time outdoors is a benefit that lasts into the rest of the school day. Our Junior School lost word hunters have the chance to see kingfishers, acorns, bluebells, willows, and starlings. The school day acknowledges the importance of having some fresh air with regular breaktimes allowing pupils to both take a breath and stretch the legs. Thinkers throughout history have promoted walking outdoors as an aid to academic success and a route to wisdom. Certainly, Aristotle favoured walking as a means of helping thought, indeed it is from him that we gain the word peripatetic. Rousseau was similarly enthusiastic describing those who stroll as “always merry, light-hearted, and delighted with everything.” Rebecca Solnit has written inspiringly about the profound benefits of simply putting one foot in front of the other.
As well as the obvious health benefits of walking and the way that it may aid the process of thought, walking gives us a way of describing progress. Phrases such as taking the next step, stepping out of our comfort zone and being in step are part of our everyday speech. Our Year 13 have begun to think about what the future may hold for them. Yesterday they finished their formal lessons and now they take a significant stride forward on their educational journey. A bright future lies ahead, and we look forward to hearing of their successes to come. They have had a different experience form those who have been in previous Upper VIth (Year 13) year groups. They’ve had a year of wondering exactly what they would be doing by way of exams and how their university applications would be dealt with. Happily, they have been able to enjoy more days in school than most of their peers across the world with only Iceland, Belarus and the Faroes having been in isolation for fewer days. They have coped impressively in challenging circumstances; it is likely that they will reap the benefits of this experience in later years. Their resilience and experience of dealing with uncertainty is likely to be a benefit as they encounter the challenges that they may face in the future.
So, to our Year 13s – stride out from school with confidence. You have the skills, values, and strength of purpose to change the world, so make sure that you steer your steps towards the right path. Never forget that you can always turn your route back to school – a welcome will always be ready here.
There isn’t a school prize for the most amusing thing that has been written in the course of the year but if there were, two strong candidates for the award can be found in the newsletter today. Wonderful, inventive, and playful work from Arnav and Austen that really will brighten your day – even if you like Marmite. Who knew that there was a suitable rhyme for IBAN, not something that had ever crossed my mind that’s for sure? Belloc’s Cautionary Tales are of course meant to amuse but buried in many are some valuable words of wisdom. This is perhaps a useful theme to explore at this time of tentative reopening.
During the course of the week, we have had recreational sporting activities for pupils after school. There have been discussions about Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions and plans have been conceived regarding the Key Stage 3 activity week later this term. All of this seems very normal, these are the sort of discussions that take place every year but overhanging each and every discussion this year is the question of how cautious should we be? I suspect there are few in our community who would call for an immediate and full resumption of all the School’s activities (even if that were possible) and similarly there would be few who do not recognise that simply not resuming these opportunities is detrimental to the mental welfare of our young people. As a school we are very keen on maintaining outdoor activities where possible although unseasonal rain and hail make this a little more challenging than normal. Possible relaxation of rules around congregating makes it likely that there will be more opportunities to mix with others, certainly a good thing as lack of contact with peers has been a major challenge for our young people this year. Sadly, such relaxations of guidelines are not always easy to interpret, and we will be doing our utmost in school to make decisions in the best interests of pupils and with the correct degree of caution and confidence. Please be patient.
How much freedom or independence we should allow young people is one of the most difficult of all parenting or educational questions. The recent British Play Survey suggests that we are becoming ever more cautious as to when we allow children independence – the study suggests that children are now older (10.7 years on average) when they are permitted to play outside unsupervised by an adult (outside school). A generation ago, and perhaps with rose tinted spectacles, the age reported was 8.9 years. There is, of course, no right answer to this most difficult question, much depends on the individuals involved, but we do need to consider the importance of allowing children the opportunity to develop their sense of self and level of independence. In a year when outdoor play is more important than ever, deciding what is the correct level of independence is difficult to achieve. There are many new dangers and also more distractions to keep children indoors but perhaps in this brave new, soon to be COVID lessened world, we should consider what the right level is for our young people.
Seventy one percent. Good as an exam result and even better as a return on an investment made. Over the last few months our young investors club have been tracking stocks and shares, scrutinising performance and ensuring that they have been making the very best of their fictional funds. The winning team managed to increase their initial stake by a whopping 71%. At a time when we are being told that world economies are bouncing back it is very good indeed to see our team reading the market so very well. Down in Nursery this week it was also exciting to see the planting of beans both in soil and hydroponically and what a treat to see these seeds grow with the correct levels of care. In both cases important lessons to be learned about patience, scrutiny and prudence.
Next week we will start to see a slow and steady resumption of more normal school activity. A few extra-curricular activities that we have not seen for a while will creep back allowing for days to be a little more enjoyable and varied. This is perhaps the first sign of green shoots, slight encouragement that we will soon enough be able to go back to our normal rich and varied school life. Whilst the Nursery beans may well have grown into fine strong plants by the time we are fully operational, this week has perhaps given us some cause for hope. As the term progresses our levels of activity will go up and down, rather like the investment club’s shares, but overall progress is clearly back towards normality. As we start to speak of activity weeks, trips, after school sport and even more music our optimism builds. All this needs to be tempered with an eye to still stringent rules to keep everyone safe.
If one lesson has been learned during the course of this year it is probably around patience. In a world where attention spans are getting ever shorter our young people have had to develop a fund of this valuable resource or at least learn to tolerate waiting. They have had to deal with uncertainty, suspense and restrictions on their activities, some will have found new outlets and others will simply be itching to be out there once again. Education rewards those who are ready to apply themselves with a view to making wise investments of both time and effort. It will be very interesting indeed to see how this generation who have learned through adversity will use these remarkable qualities. Great achievements will no doubt come their way, their determination and resilience will serve them well and will perhaps benefit not just themselves but others, and some of them will also know how to grow some really nice beans.