“The Commonwealth Games is an event for everyone. I believe it continues because of the unity and appreciation in respect of diversity, different nationalities coming together to compete under one Commonwealth banner.”
I am sometimes asked why the school flies a European Union flag post Brexit and I’ll normally give a response focused on us being a school of many nationalities and that as a school in France we are still part of that grouping of nations. This week it isn’t there. Those who are particularly observant will have noticed that the circle of stars is not flying this week and we have another blue and yellow flag flying from the Debussy building. This week is the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and as we have a Commonwealth flag, I thought that we should fly it in recognition of the meeting taking place in Kigali, Rwanda.
The Commonwealth is an interesting group. 54 Nations, nearly as many as we have represented at the school, 2.5 billion people most under the age of 29 and a place where small nations are represented with 32 of the world’s 42 small states in membership. There are nations from Africa, Europe and the Pacific, the Americas and the focus of the group is on the future with the environment, justice, youth, and democracy all featuring prominently in discussions. Alongside the debate and thought there are the Commonwealth Games, the friendly games which will take place in Birmingham in July and August. A chance for athletes to come together to compete in a setting other than the Olympic games or a World Championship.
As nations form particular clubs and groupings, so it is with schools. The BSP is a member of a variety of representative organisations who lobby on our behalf and provide opportunities for discussion, training and the sharing of good ideas and approaches. HMC, the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference is focused on leading UK independent schools but has an International Division of which we are a part. COBIS, the Council for British International Schools provides a forum for discussion of international education and IAPS, the Independent Association of Prep Schools provides opportunities for discussions and representation of primary matters. We are also part of a more local network of schools, ELSA, the English Language Schools Association which is a grouping of anglophone schools in France. By being part of these organisations we can learn from other schools and develop our unique approach to education. We aren’t bound to be like the other schools in the group, we can share ideas and develop our own offer. Such is the benefit of being independent and having close ties with schools with similar interests.
Our school is fortunate indeed to have a wide representation of different nationalities. This is one of our strengths. We benefit from having pupils from different parts of the planet coming together to study and enjoy themselves. This is an experience that goes beyond the classroom and is invaluable for the development of a global mindset, something that will be of benefit in later life. We are proud of our British roots, and we are equally proud to be international in our outlook. The qualifications that are earned here will be valued around the world. Still more important the attitudes shaped by this most varied of populations will, I suspect, go on to make our world a better place.
“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”
Historians are rather keen on turning points, and whilst the events of this week may not prove historically significant, I do have the sense that we have passed the point of being midway through the term and are now careering towards the end of the school year with (at least from this desk) an alarming speed. It is a busy time of year. Those taking their GCSEs and A levels are approaching the end of this extended season of testing, the Key Stage 3ers have been to the Alps and returned with plenty of tales, the Year 6 have journeyed to Normandy and experienced a great week of learning out of doors. Internal tests are being handed back, teaching takes on a slightly different air and the sun shines. And there are reports, lots of them.
This may very well be a good time to visit a school. Spirits are high, good humour abounds and there are few places in the world better than being on the banks of the Seine in the shade of a generous plane tree. It was a pleasure to have the British Ambassador to France visit on Tuesday. Dame Menna Rawlings enjoyed a tour of the school with pupils, sampled a school meal and was grilled by Lower VI politics students. We were grateful for her taking time from a busy schedule to visit us; we are indeed honoured to have her as our School Patron. Also in school this week were our Governors, the group who provide oversight of the operations of the BSP. One of our Governors, Mrs. Rose Hardy visited the Junior School and was, of course, bowled over by the excellent work that she saw being done there.
Yesterday, I received a letter (always so much better to be sent a letter than an email). It was one that came in a rather impressive envelope and came from none other than President Macron, wishing the school well and sending his best wishes to the entire community following his re-election. It would appear that the good work of the school is being noticed in high places. It was particularly impressive to see that the President, a busy person if ever there was one, had taken the time to comment and sign in his own hand.
We are always grateful when busy people take time to recognise our efforts and wish us well. It is good to learn that even those whose every minute is mapped out for them can enjoy either being here with us or taking the time to notice what it is we are doing for the local community. This is perhaps a lesson for us all. No matter how busy we are, a kind word can go a long way. As we hurtle end of termwards, I hope that our young people have the opportunity to make sure that they enjoy the school, its environment, and community. This is truly a magical place of learning and there is nowhere else quite like it. When the current group of pupils are old and grey I’ll wager they will look back on the time that was spent here as being some of the most significant and influential in the formation of their character.
Last week I had a conversation that made me stop and think. Such exchanges are always good, a moment to take stock, to evaluate, to reconsider. The topic was comparison, and whilst we did not discuss the topic for any great length of time, it is a subject to which I’ve returned to over the course of the week.
In the conversation that stimulated this consideration we were comparing schools, in this case the comparison was of the most positive kind: “My children liked their last school because of the following reasons…” and they like the BSP because of these following but different reasons. How good to hear of pupils able to be so discerning as to pick out what they like and from what they benefit in such a reasoned and rational way. For me, it is a point of strength that we are not just like another school, and we are good in our own way; we have our own strengths.
Comparison is a dangerous business when it comes to education and learning. That said, it is impossible to ignore the process of exam taking that is going on at present. If ever there was an example of education’s obsession with comparison than the exam season is an obvious place to look. Exams are a mostly artificial construct in which (often) fabricated skills and swathes of knowledge are tested – most of what has been learned is not examined. Who knows, perhaps some days soon a system of teacher assessment supported by exams will be invented to ensure that we reward (and test) pupils on all they know rather than what they are asked about in a 90-minute slot. Still more challenging for our young people are the comparisons that they are forced to make between themselves and the airbrushed individuals that are shown on social media. The pressure to be popular has never been greater, and we as adults should be aware that the consequences of this insidious race to perfection can only ever have casualties. We need to continue to watch this, to challenge this, and to ensure that our young people are all capable of flourishing.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Queen Elizabeth in this, the aftermath of the Platinum Jubilee. Whilst I remain firmly convinced that comparison with others is not a good thing, we may well be profitably served by considering the example set by the Monarch. Service, good humour and an adherence to a clear moral code are the pillars of the Queen’s own brand of service. We should not compare because our situation is different. I do hope that over this last week BSP pupils have taken a moment to think about what the Queen has done and how they may learn from it. Whilst by no means blemish free Queen Elizabeth provides an exemplar for those considering life in the public eye. How appropriate indeed were the celebrations of this time last week – and how worthy of thanks are those staff members who worked so tirelessly to make the event a success.
This week in the Alps, our Key Stage 3 pupils will learn a good deal about how they match up to the challenges they will face. Some will go further, higher, and faster but all will have learned that there is more in them than they think, and that they have the capacity to succeed, even when they are challenged. We learn much about ourselves when we face challenge, it is not a question of how good am I in comparison, but as the Queen has shown us: is this best of which I am capable?