“In winter’s tedious nights sit by the fire With good old folks and let them tell thee tales.”
Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 5, Scene 1
What a finish, what a finale to the term! Christmas in a school community is always a very special time and this year as we were able to celebrate fully and mask free there was, certainly for me, a feeling that this celebration was just that little bit more special. Last week we enjoyed concerts, plays, international day and two talent shows. Only at the BSP do we have enough talent to fill two whole talent shows! This newsletter should give you a flavour of all that was enjoyed – please do watch the recording of the Christmas concerts – they are the perfect accompaniment to any festive meal.
Now we have a moment to pause, many families will enjoy time together, relatives will be visited, stories will be told. It is a magical time of year and I hope that one and all enjoy this holiday. Amongst all that excitement it would be good to think that there is a little time to be quiet, to read, to walk, to enjoy time indoors and time outdoors and for those who need to, a chance to revise.
As we look forward to the coming year and all that there is to anticipate I think we can afford to do so with a sense of optimism, whilst there are problems in this world, our young people have the capacity to change their world.
In our last Senior School assembly of the year, I quoted Maya Angelou, and perhaps it is right that I allow this great poet to have the final word this year. We should enjoy our holiday and move to a new year with optimism:
“Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise.”
“I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”
According to the 1944 Education Act, schools in England are required to have a daily act of collective worship which is broadly Christian in nature. Outside of a relatively small band of faith schools I’d be surprised if many schools follow this element of the Act. Here in France there are different rules. It’s not that you can’t have religion in schools, it’s the case that you have to opt in if that’s what you want. Last week, data published from the last British census tells us that less than half of the British population considers itself to be Christian – this is a significant change from 10 years ago when 59.3% professed adherence. We are a school community in which there are different beliefs however we don’t subscribe to any particular religious faith. In this we are following the lead provided by the republican nature of the local educational tradition and trusting in our school values.Religions and religious belief are often the subject of criticism outside of schools. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion is clear that religion “teaches us that there is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding” (2006). If this is the case, then it is perhaps fair to ask the question why are we so keen on celebrating Christmas? There is an obvious link with ancient festivals such as Saturnalia and other religious celebrations but surely there is more than that to all of this. Perhaps the true appeal of Christmas must lie in the fact that it promotes virtues that are universal, shared and representing common ideas about humanity. And it is a time of year when we need a bit of cheer. I’d like to think that amongst the materialism, Mariah Carey, and the terrible movies that are inescapable at this time of year we are thinking about those who will not enjoy time with family or whose lives are blighted by illness, want and despair. If ever I need confirmation that our community does look outward, it is in the annually astonishing repose to the Love in a Box appeal. Thank you to all the families who have filled boxes and whose generosity will bring joy at this time of year. Similarly all who supported last week’s Christmas Fair, a huge thank you. As a consequence of your generosity there are children in our partner schools who will have access to education where previously there was no school. Now that’s a gift.
Whatever beliefs we have or don’t have, this is as good a time as any to think of others and indeed to celebrate all that has been done through the course of the year and what lies ahead. BSP pupils have achieved a massive amount on a personal and a collective level in the last twelve months. We’ve returned to exams in person, our trips are back on, we have a wide range of activities available and we do not need to wear masks all the time. School life feels normal – and I am particularly grateful for that. There is much to celebrate. I hope that you will be able to join us for our seasonal concerts (or have already joined us this afternoon for the magical Reception and KS1 performance), there are plenty more to choose from. Each one promises to be a moment to escape the pressures of the world around us and bask in the spirit of human generosity that marks this time of year, whatever our particular way of viewing the world.
“The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use that we make of them… whether you find satisfaction in life depends not on your tale of years, but on your will.”
Michel de Montaigne
Time is always tight in these last few weeks before the end of term. There are rehearsals for concerts, talent show auditions, sports fixtures and plenty of other activities. Often regarded as the most wonderful time of the year, it is undoubtedly one of the busiest times. Tomorrow is a red letter (or perhaps red and green letter) day in our calendar. This year’s Christmas Fair is back to its joyful, Christmassy best and it promises to be a splendid way to kick off your festive merrymaking (and seasonal shopping). The BSPS have been working hard to ensure that this much-loved event returns in style. I do hope that you can join us. It is a great way to start your celebrations.
As this newsletter evidences, we try, as far as we can to let people know what we are doing and celebrate our community’s achievements. That said schools are sometimes places where good things happen that go unreported. Last weekend I had the good fortune to take a moment to sit down and listen to a radio programme. As a child of a pre-internet age, I’m still an ardent radio listener but I find it ever more difficult to simply sit still and listen to a programme as there is generally some form of distraction. ‘The Poetry Detective’ is a programme on BBC Radio 4, this episode told the story of poetry that have been carved on rocks near John O’Groats in the far North of Scotland. I won’t spoil the story by giving too much away but it was clear to the person who had discovered these lost words that this was a project not done for all to see but was being done for its own sake. It is a great story, if you can find a moment to listen, I recommend it, click here. In the coming days there will be plenty of opportunities for both sparkling and shining – stages are set, and the orchestra is tuning up. The magic of this time of year is well and truly upon us and as part of our celebrations I will be asking pupils to tell me if there are accomplishments that have given them particular satisfaction over the past twelve months. I’m interested in those performances that have not been recognised in a formal sense but have provided personal satisfaction. This isn’t an exercise in pride but more one of recognition, one in which growth of character is celebrated. Our young people face a world in which there are many challenges to be met and they will only do so successfully if they recognise in themselves the power that they hold to make our planet a better place. That is not something that you find under a tree wrapped up and delivered seemingly by magic, but within oneself and sometimes at a price. These possibly small triumphs may never make it into the newsletter but are no less worthy of our acknowledgement. There is satisfaction in the recognition of something that is done well, even if it isn’t going to be seen by everyone else.