We were visited by Vikings this week. Happily not much obvious pillaging took place, and the buildings are still standing. Year Four had the opportunity to learn about this fascinating group of people from the past, to understand how and why their reputation is not always as clear cut as popular culture might suggest. It isn’t all long boats and raids, but there is a fair amount of migration and farming. One element of Viking culture that just about every historian can agree on was the importance of the oration given at a Viking’s funeral. The eulogy outlined the highlights of a life lived and was often expressed in terms of virtue rather than achievement. Courage, wisdom, integrity and excellence were all prized greatly in this particular culture.
When I have the chance to speak to our oldest pupils about their university applications it sometimes feels that we are dealing with these eulogy values rather than the achievements that might find their way onto another application form. The wider purpose of education is to develop these characteristics, to build the capacity to live a life to the full, to flourish. Last weekend I was delighted to see so many members of the community representing the school in the Paris Schools football tournament. In the middle of the week it was equally good to see others taking time to play rugby and netball against a visiting team at a time when there are plenty of other things on. The team from Bede’s will remember the warmth and hospitality that they experienced and the competitiveness of our teams. Great to see a sense of community, a striving to discover our limits, endeavouring to win and in doing so demonstrating both excellence and integrity. Eulogy values indeed.
This week also saw the commemoration of a great supporter of the school. Mr. James Harman was a governor of the school for twenty-eight years. He gave his time and his expertise selflessly and to the great benefit of the community, not only in his specialist area of financial management but in many areas of the school’s life. He will be missed by his family and his contribution to the development of the BSP will be remembered for many years here.
Today I was visited by a pupil who is keen that we find a way to demonstrate our concern for the safety of young people in Iran. It was clear that this was a request that was being made, not for any political viewpoint, but out of concern for young people in that particular country. If we are thinking about eulogy values then I am encouraged by the empathy, care and kindness shown by our group of young people.
It is always good to see our pupils take to the stage. There can be few things that provide a greater challenge for any young person than performing in front of their peers and others, notably parents. This week our Year 13 drama students performed for us (and the examination board). Using little by way of scenery or props they demonstrated the power of movement and words expressing powerful themes as well as an obscure reference to an orange bear. The performances were engaging and convincing. I’m sure that they will be rewarded with a great set of marks as this show counts towards their A level exam. We were fortunate to share in the experience.
School life is, at least to some extent, a series of performances. Teachers provide a series of mini shows lesson by lesson, whilst many pupils adopt a range of characters as they make their way through the school day. There are performances in front of friends and there are many dramas that are played out day by day. Schools also have their costumes and their props. We all have our respective roles and when we don’t play them according to the script things tend to go wrong.
Without overplaying this comparison it is perhaps worth stating that all pupils have the opportunity to write their own script and to be the author of their future. We are entering the final act of this term; we have only 20 teaching days until the holiday and there is an enormous amount to enjoy before then. For some there will be anxiety about forthcoming mock exams, the good news is that there is time to prepare for mocks, time to gain support and time to do the necessary work. For others, thoughts will be turning to the Christmas Concerts, Talent Shows and International Day. This is the start of a special time of the year. A few will be looking to the end of the term knowing it is time to move on to a new school and a different stage. We believe that they will leave with skills and knowledge that they did not have before and a group of friends with whom they will maintain contact.
This weekend is another one filled with opportunity. Our senior school sports players play a block fixture at the ASP, our charity shop will open tomorrow morning and quietly and perhaps unheralded there will be academic work completed. A group of intrepid Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award candidates will be orienteering on Saturday morning. Good luck and “good success” to all who represent the school in whichever field.
This week has also seen a most successful anti-bullying week campaign and it was indeed heartening to see plenty of odd socks being worn on Monday morning in support of this excellent initiative. Later on in the week the Senior School witnessed not only a heather formed moustache (Movember)but a collection of lavatories for our toilet twinning initiatives. It is inspiring to see our young people supporting these worthy causes. If you want to support the toilet twinning initiative, please feel free to spend more than a penny – 60 Euros will support a toilet in the developing world. I think our cake sale has raised enough to provide others with facilities where once there were none.
Periodically I am stopped in my tracks by a statement or question from a pupil. It is generally the sort of question that makes you consider what you are doing, it makes you wonder if you are doing the right thing or have missed the mark. Both Junior School and Senior School have been engaging in a period of remembrance over the past few weeks, it is an important part of the year and I hope challenges thinking. My pupil questioner is in Year 9 and returned yesterday from a trip to the battlefields of the First World War. She let me know that she’d been studying war poetry in English, the music of war and the history syllabus was, unsurprisingly, focused on World War I. In addition assemblies have been about remembrance and the art department has once more added to the remembrance installation on the front lawn. She mused that this was a lot of war. I would agree it is, by any measure, a lot of conflict. Too much? Possibly so but working out what is enough is not an easy challenge to meet.
When I was at school conflict seemed a long way away, but during my teaching career I’ve been aware of war creeping ever closer and affecting ever greater numbers of families. Most recently we’ve seen war in Europe in a way that was unthinkable to people like me who have consigned the idea of a war on this continent to being in the bracket of “nigh on impossible.” That we need to be reminded of the horror of conflict between nations is without question and November gives us a fixed point each year to consider its impact on a variety of levels.
This year we have extended the horizon to consider conflict in wider forms. In school most conflict is between individuals and its seeds are often found in cyberspace, the same may well be true of global politics. The danger of distilling complex discussion into soundbites and 140-character messages is risky – this is a place where nuance is necessary, reflection important and consideration vital. We as a school should be providing this space and teaching independence of thought. Sadly, it seems to be the case that we allow ourselves to be far more belligerent, far more aggressive when installed behind a keyboard than is the case when we come together to discuss and seek to appreciate different points of view. That we need a reminder of where all this could end up is without doubt, and so tomorrow I will be reflecting not only upon war and the horror it brings but also how conflict can emerge from poor choice of words and from thoughtlessness. I hope pupils who have had the opportunity to consider the scars that conflict causes will decide to use their words with care and kindness. We must practise patience.
Year 9 have seen a good deal of war this week but next week there will be less, I can only hope that all that has been said, and seen, and considered will lead to a safer, more tolerant, and accepting world.