“I think the only expectation is that I put on myself to do everything right and to put myself in a position to perform as best that I can.”
Ashleigh Barty is a supremely gifted athlete and her announcement this week that she is withdrawing from the uber competitive arena that is professional tennis can only be applauded as courageous. Elsewhere this week at the World Education Summit, Professor Yong Zhao likened a child’s progress through education to that of a dead bird.
At this point I would forgive you for wondering where all this is going. Professor Zhao has a distinguished educational pedigree, and he was calling into question the idea that it is education’s job to provide young people with the skills that they require for life in the future. According to Professor Zhao this is impossible because there are simply too many variables when looking at the future. Put plainly, we don’t know what skills or knowledge will be required. He took his thinking further explaining that children are rather more like live birds than dead ones as they fly in all sorts of directions and follow their own routes. To that end the constrictions of the traditional curriculum and associated testing mean that young people follow a path defined by the present that is (supposedly) preparing them for the future. In his mind, they should be prepared to create, shape, and mould their future. In proscribing levels to be reached (marks and grades) we may well be ignoring or failing to develop other talents and skills. Therefore, rather than preparing our pupils to live in the future he urges educators to provide pupils with the knowledge and skills to create their future.
Ashleigh Barty mentioned in her announcement that she may well look to take her talents into coaching. Here is a young person who has dedicated herself in the single-minded pursuit of excellence in one endeavour. She is bowing out at the top of her game, and she appears likely to take her sublime skills and put them to the benefit of others. Having met the demands of the most exacting of measures she provides us with a clear warning as to the dangers of such a single-minded pursuit in an environment where criticism from behind a screen and with the safety of a keyboard is all too easy and oh so damaging. Her example is admirable, and I hope our young people are taking note of the dignity that this athlete has shown in coming to this momentous decision. How easy it would have been to carry on, to go through the motions. To do what is expected. When I ask parents what they want for their children from school most say that they want their children to be happy, well-adjusted, and successful. It is notable that happiness usually sits at the top of the list.
I can’t help but think that Prof Zhao has a point, and that Ashleigh Barty provides us with a lesson in knowing yourself – one of the most important lessons our pupils can learn. I’m not certain that a sudden migration from subject content, skills testing, and exams is quite what we are after, but balance is required. We will never really know What the future holds, and we will never know what skills young people will need to create it. If we are successful in providing knowledge, skills, and character then we will be moving in the right direction. I hope that Prof. Zhao would be encouraged by the way our young people are prepared to take flight.
If variety is the spice of life, then its importance in school is vastly underrated. Variety is more than the spice, it is a crucial, a core ingredient. I would go so far as to say that if we don’t have variety in school then we go stale very quickly indeed. So, to start, a quick quiz…
What links: a government minister, a pipe cleaner buttonhole decoration, a tug of war, an assembly held in person, pupils interviewing school governors, Irish dancing, a whole school macarena and a huge cake icing competition? The answer is as I am sure you have guessed, a week at the BSP. This week in fact.
Over the last two years we have, for very good reasons, been circumspect in the offer that we have made to our pupils. We’ve stayed in bubbles, our assemblies have been by Teams or recorded, and we have had our lessons. It is the bits around the edge that have been missing, the things that don’t happen every week, but do happen from time to time. These are the things that are often most memorable. It is great to have them back. In this variety we find great enjoyment.
It isn’t every day that a pupil has the chance to ask questions of a senior politician, but this week our pupils engaged Minister Franck Riester in debate. In the Junior School the first “in person” assembly was held in two years and how good it was for the community to come together for celebration and reflection. All those involved in and all those who watched the BSP Great International Bake off will not forget the creations that were produced in a hurry. Add to that Sports Relief activities and you get the picture of what has been a varied and enjoyable week. I certainly appreciated the staff team’s mighty victory in this morning’s tug of war, and it isn’t every day I have the chance to sport a magnificent pipe cleaner creation in the buttonhole of my jacket. These things don’t happen every day, but they do stay in the memory.
We have learnt a good deal about school and about ourselves over the past two years. We’ve got on with school and we should be thankful that we have not missed many days of learning. We should also be thankful that as we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, we can return to a bit of variety in our routine. This will undoubtedly enrich our experiences in school. We need something different every now and again. Next week we will be treated to the Year 6 show and from what I’ve seen of the rehearsal it will be a barnstorming epic – Ye Ha!
“There’s nothing that’s more unfair or unjust than people using their power to try to make other people feel small, to tell them who they are or what they are capable of, to say their identity doesn’t belong.”
Around here there tends to be a week in March when the weather turns, and the skies seem to be rather bluer than greyer. This week was that week. Whilst spring has not fully happened, we’ve been given a quick sight of what is to come. We know that there will be some turbulent weather before the winter is finally done with us but at least we know that spring is coming.
The half term is well underway, and it is a real pleasure to see pupils engaging in a wide range of activities and paying the right levels of attention to their academic work. The week has been a busy one and I apologise for picking out only a couple of examples of the widespread and evident commitment to activities.
This week sees the Senior School production Legally Blonde take to the stage, we’ve sports players heading to play fixtures in Brussels and our Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditioners are off in the wilds. It all feels a bit 2019, almost dare I say it, normal. We have received clarification of the new protocols for schools and I think that we will all welcome the changes that have been suggested.
One of the other notable happenings of this week has been the running of the Sport Relief 5km challenges along the riverbank. I remember cross country running at school. It was a fairly miserable experience and I appreciate that pounding the path is not everyone’s idea of a good time. I was therefore impressed to see the levels of commitment that were shown by such a wide variety of pupils to this event – unsurprising to see talented runners giving it their all, perhaps still more impressive to see those who don’t find running so easy “getting involved”. These events provide a real challenge, and it is important that during a school career we experience activities that we do not find easy, that we experience activities that we might not at first enjoy. In doing so we appreciate that no-one is so perfect as to be good at everything.
Many young people face what is often called confirmation bias; the feeling that in comparison to the false perfection they see on social media they are less worthy and consequently less comfortable about being themselves than they should be. It is all too easy to become bound by what other people define as successful, beautiful, or talented. We are proud to be a school in which we both challenge and support. A school in which we recognise the development of character alongside the certificates of academic success. We have a broad spectrum of experiences and abilities. I was so proud to see the levels of support being given pupil to pupil as each individual made their way along the riverside. For some it was easy, for others it was a genuine challenge. On stage tonight we will have the chance to see the cast of Legally Blonde do their stuff once more. Some are confident, others will find being up there much more difficult, but all will grow. For some it will be the start of a life-long enthusiasm for the theatre, others may never tread the boards again. I hope that by giving these experiences to a wide range of pupils they understand themselves a little better and that they learn how to be content within themselves and not being defined by the often unrealistic and commercially driven expectations made by others.
Having slogged up the river bank this week I can tell you there is a real satisfaction in just making it to the finish!
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.”
Schools all around the world make statements about what it is they stand for and they often accompany these statements with explanations of how they go about achieving their goals. What is less often asked is what schools stand for when they are placed in a wider context, in the context of society. For me it is simple, schools are a symbol of hope. A school in whatever form is a sign of a society that chooses to invest in its future. A sign that it is ready to create young people who understand what they see around them and, hopefully, are able to make the right decisions about what the future may look like. Our pupils are the decision makers and leaders of the future. They will be faced with the challenge of cleaning up the mess being created right now.
At the BSP I’m filled with hope when I see young people from a wide variety of backgrounds working and playing together. I’m even more hopeful when I see them learning together, when they are seeking to understand each other, when they not only learn together but learn from each other.
In recent days hope has been in rather short supply. The world around us is a place where despair, anxiety, anger and concern are more often experienced or reported. Some in our community are directly affected. But among all this there is hope. In the last few days our community has responded to the appeal for humanitarian aid in a staggering fashion and the rapid organisation of this collection by Mrs Kopczynska and Mr Bates is a very real symbol of our investment in hope as a community. These donations turn hope into practical assistance. We have joined with a wider effort to ensure that those in need will be looked after, that those who face strife will be provided with shelter, the shivering will find warmth and those who feel that they are ignored are being seen. The response from this community to the plight of displaced persons has been inspiring. Thank you to the many hands that have sought to support this project. Hope vanishes when we stop seeing there being a point in investing in the future. We have made a small investment and who knows how much more will be required in the coming weeks. We are indebted to the Polish community who will ship our donations to the border tomorrow.
On a different note as we move to a less restricted COVID regime and with the first signs of spring pointing to the coming summer so we edge slowly back to normality. We are once again starting to enjoy the opportunity to play sports, to meet and even perform – yes this year’s Senior School show, Legally Blonde, a production not to be missed, premieres this coming week so please do secure your places by clicking the link on page 3.
Whilst I fear that we may need to provide further support for those affected by conflict and I’m realistic enough to think that there may well be additional COVID hurdles to overcome, the announcements of this week suggest that our future and that of the world may be a hopeful one. As long as schools and their communities continue to invest in the future then the world at large has every reason to remain hopeful that better times may lie ahead.