“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Who doesn’t like a treasure hunt? Tales of lost riches are common in fiction and even in real life we speak of discovery with some excitement whatever our age. In education we discuss strategies for discovery-based learning, allowing pupils to find out for themselves and to make progress through doing. Over the last months where we have been necessarily more confined to campus, we have perhaps been more appreciative of what is to be found on our doorstep by looking more closely. You do not have to go far to discover.
Discovery in the classroom is not always as easy to achieve as may be thought. Some teaching has to be more didactic, more teacher led but there are usually some opportunities to allow for students to find out for themselves. The British curriculum is particularly strong when it comes to creative subjects, an area where there is an opportunity for pupils to discover their style. The educationalist Kurt Hahn wrote that in every young person there is more than they thought. The journey of education is not simply focused on subjects, skills and acquiring knowledge but it also about learning of what we are capable, developing self-control and unearthing an unbridled curiosity about the world around us. This self-discovery is at the heart of education. Interestingly it is sometimes discovered in those times when formal teaching is not happening.
Two notable annual events occurred yesterday. The Nursery Class visited the Debussy Building where they discovered the story of the school dog Cleo. Something of a celebrity in the late 1950s when she appeared in adverts for Hush Puppy shoes and Vittel water she was also a much-loved part of the school establishment. Nursery were able to follow a trail, discover clues about Cleo and eventually build a word from letters that they found as they went. There was, of course, a valuable reward in the form of biscuits at the end of the search. In this case there was both discovery and delight.
The Senior School had their sports day. Always a day for some to discover that there is indeed more in them than they know. Some found that they were perhaps a little faster than they might have thought or that they can leap just a little bit higher. Others simply discovered that despite their worries they can run 800m without stopping and that spectators at the BSP cheer as heartily for the final finisher as they do for the winner.
Over the course of the year, restrictions have meant that we have had to curtail some of the activities of discovery that we would normally enjoy, opportunities that would often lead to discovery. As we look to the end of term and perhaps allow ourselves a little hope that we may return to something like normal next year, we plan to restore these activities, provide these opportunities, and allow our young people to discover even more about themselves.
Our first week of warmer weather and following it the storms arrived. The Year 6 pupils have been to visit the Senior School and Year 11s have morphed into Sixth Formers for the next two weeks. The School bees are roaming far and wide as if making up for lost time during our dismal May. It is perhaps one of the first weeks in which things have almost felt normal. We are doing the things that we do each year, and this is positive indeed. Next week the Nursery class will come to the Senior School to learn about Mrs. Cosyn’s dog Cleo. Familiarity is re-establishing itself. At the end of the week we have had some officially permitted mask free outdoor play thanks to the slight relaxation of rules.
Some elements of this scene are not quite back to normal. Senior School departments have been busily gathering evidence for the exam boards to use in the award of grades later in the summer, we are still temperature testing and there remains a nagging feeling that just one case will result in a year group staying at home. Now is not the time to simply assume that we are beyond risk, care is still required.
Something to look forward to is the opening of our new outdoor performance space. Not the snappiest of titles but in the spirit of “what it does on the tin” it will have to do until we have an official naming of the space. If you would like to have a view of this new addition to our suite of facilities, then please enjoy Mr. Porter’s exciting drone footage.
Learning out of doors is undergoing something of a renaissance. I’m sure that what has been done to this previously underused area of the school will become a place that figures large in the memories of pupils long after they have left the school. It will be a place that is used for quiet thought during the bustle of the school day, it could be the venue for a first musical performance or perhaps it will be a place where dramatic skills are given space to take flight. I can certainly see it become a place for debate and mock elections, who knows orators may hone their skills in this space.
Perhaps the most important comment to make about this new development is that the initial design was devised by our own Design & Technology students who pitched their plans to the Governors’ Campus Development Committee. It was constructed in part using recycled stone from our campus by our maintenance team and whatever happens there in the future it will be the product of pupil endeavour. It was funded by donations made by parents, former pupils and friends of the school. From start to continued use it is a BSP production that will be enjoyed for years to come. A great community effort. One more stage in the return to normality.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
Much has been written recently about students learning from their mistakes. I’ve read plenty about the importance of letting pupils get things wrong as long as it is done in a supportive, safe environment. However, at this time of exams getting things wrong doesn’t necessarily gain the credit that might be imagined. When reports are written, teachers will tend to focus on what is right and getting things wrong isn’t celebrated. Any teacher will tell their pupils that the most important part of an exam are the lessons spent going back over tests, the process of learning from mistakes. Most pupils will probably say that these are some of the least exciting lessons of the year, after all the mark has been decided and it is a long time before they will take another test.
In a world of social media word and deed are recorded and remembered. This week a group of university students at Oxford voted to remove a portrait of the Queen from their common room as in their eyes it represented British colonialism. The students are of course entitled to decide for themselves what hangs on the walls of their social space as long as their procedures are followed. It seems that the world’s media feel that it for them to comment, criticise and judge what is after all a relatively low-key action that affects no-one but a small number of college members. The College President has reassured all those who care to be concerned that the portrait is in safe keeping should there be a change of mind. Universities should be places of discussion and we must be very careful when we restrict those engaged in learning from discussion, debate and a little controversy. Some will not stick to the views that they held in their younger years and others will not change, but in cyberspace a record will be kept.
England cricketer Ollie Robinson is currently suspended from the national team as a consequence of offensive tweets made ten years earlier. As a player in a national team his tweets have become a matter of wider interest. When he made them they perhaps represented a young man who did not understand his position of privilege, nor perhaps did he understand that his view was unacceptable in the world around him. In some quarters of the media this attention has been deemed unfair and it has been said that he is carrying the can for errors of many others. There is no doubt that this is a complex issue, in some respects it always has been. Young people sometimes speak before they have truly considered the impact or offence their words may cause. Some may look at the actions of their earlier self and be bewildered and regretful by their lack of judgment and the offence or harm caused. We should not ignore, we should seek to learn.
As a community of diverse and wide experiences I hope that all pupils have the confidence to speak for themselves and I hope that they have the thoughtfulness to think of others and their own position of privilege before they speak or act. If we are able to create a community in which everyone has a voice, then we will have succeeded in creating a school of which all can be proud. Debate and disagreement are all part of the learning process. Making mistakes is understood as being a necessary part of coming to an understanding, but offence and harm can have no place. We do not have to agree but we do need to show respect and care for each other.