“Talking about music…”

“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”

Steve Martin

This is normally a time when we look back on the year, back on the term, it is usually a time to reflect on and bask in what has been achieved. That is all well and good, but the end of term also gives a chance to look at what we have done for the first time, all that has been different and to evaluate innovations. I’ve been guilty of writing about how everything is back to normal now. What I haven’t really considered are some of the things that we’ve done for the first time.

This week we’ve done many of the things we might normally have done, there has been a splendid Year 6 party, I was pleased to see the Nursery Class doing some paleontology in the Debussy building and Year 11 will enjoy their end of year ball this evening. These are the usual markers that the end of term is fast approaching. An innovation was the recent Fête de la Musique. How marvellous it was to see so many pupils involved in performance and appreciation. Such talent and such courage. It is an act of bravery to stand up in front of your peers and perform. To slip into cliché, it is character building stuff. I happened to be showing a visitor around the school during the fête and he was simply astounded at both the talent and enjoyment on show. The Junior School enjoyed a fantastic concert with almost all involved in performing as an end of term celebration. Another joyful, confidence building occasion.

Music is an integral part of our life in school. It is in the curriculum; it is a key element of the co-curricular programme, and it will enhance both the Junior School and Senior School Prize Givings next week. Please do come along and enjoy what promise to be fantastic occasions. Our end of year celebrations are joyful affairs and a celebration of all that has been achieved.

Over the course of the coming summer holiday, I hope that some of our young people will take inspiration from those with whom they share classrooms. How good would it be for more pupils to decide to learn an instrument, to join a choir or engage in the life affirming activity of making music? We have a superbly talented group of peripatetic music teachers who can offer lessons, we have inspiring curricular classes to join and there is even a parents’ choir if you are wondering how you can get involved. There isn’t a great deal of time left in this term but there is just enough to consider taking up an instrument next year or finally signing up for a choir (even if it is just to find out if you like it). If nothing else, I would encourage you to come along to a Prize Giving and hear our marvellous musicians in action.

Nicholas Hammond



“O Sport, pleasure of the Gods…”

“O Sport, pleasure of the Gods, essence of life, you appeared suddenly in the midst of the grey clearing which writhes with the drudgery of modern existence, like the radiant messenger of a past age, when mankind still smiled.”

Pierre de Coubertin; “Ode to Sport” (1912)

Different schools have different sorts of sports days. For some it is an uber competitive event with student athletes looking to win for their own glory, to go down in the annals of the school as being the champion. Back in the 1980s there was a trend in certain London boroughs to have non-competitive sports days which excited certain elements of the media no end. One of my educational heroes, Kurt Hahn, was famous for the way that he organised sports days by sharing equipment between the most and least talented to make a race that was equal, or perhaps fair. Races in which all had a chance to compete well.

Both the Junior School and Senior School enjoy a sports day. These are wonderful, joyous events in which those who wish to compete have the opportunity to do so and those who wish to play their part rather than break records are also celebrated.

When I was at school, I was in the taking part camp rather than the breaking records group. I remember slogging around the track gaining a point for my house which seemed to be a good use of time at the time. At university I took part in the annual inter-college athletics event and was very proud of myself when I recorded the university’s shortest ever javelin throw. I wasn’t so worried, I gained a point for my college and had time to try the steeplechase which was a new experience. Yes, last in that one too. Possibly important to note is that I didn’t stop real athletes from taking part. And yes, I did enjoy the taking part. I am always really interested in seeing elite athletes and those who are truly talented do their thing, but I feel a real affinity with the plodders, stumblers and trundlers.

Over the course of our sports days, we see the best and the best of our communities. We cheer those who are scaling the heights, breaking records and achieving sporting excellence. We also cheer those who are doing their best for their house by simply getting round the track or throwing something sharp or heavy as far as they are able. That is what makes our sports days so very special.

Unlike any other sports day I have been involved with, the Senior School version also involves art, music and board games as part of the events. As we look towards Paris hosting the Olympic Games we should perhaps recall that the early modern games offered medals for a diverse range of activities including poetry (won in 1912 by Baron de Coubertin, founder of the modern games), architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. This year we won’t be offering medals in these areas but having enjoyed the fête de la musique, who knows what the future may hold?

Sport brings us together. It provides opportunities for us to find out of what we are capable, and it challenges us to find meaning and enjoyment through physical activity. It is an important part of our school year and a lesson for life. a different note, I hope to see you at the Summer Fair tomorrow. Please support the barbeque stand.

Nicholas Hammond



“Say, canst thou make thyself?”

-Self Knowledge, Samuel Taylor-Coleridge

Taking one of the most formidable exams ever set might not be everyone’s idea of fun. So, when I suggested to a group of our Lower VI (Year 12) students that they should have a go at a version of this fiendish intellectual puzzle I wasn’t sure of the reaction. Perhaps because this is the BSP once they ’d hurdled the initial uncertainty about what it was they had been asked to do they set about the tasks with no small degree of, well, gusto.

The challenge is a simple one. Along with other students, with whom you share little by way of subject choice, create a presentation through the lens of your chosen academic discipline and theirs to entertain, inform and demonstrate your intellectual curiosity. The question is in the form of a single word.

This exam was first set by All Souls College in Oxford as their famous Fifth Paper in 1914, they only gave up on the idea in 1990 during which time such luminaries of the intellectual firmament as T.E. Lawrence and Isaiah Berlin had taken the test. Those candidates had a three-hour essay and ours may well be a little lighter on the time front and somewhat heavier on the collaborative front, but the challenge remains a steep one. I’ll have the privilege of seeing the results of this exercise with my colleagues next week and I have every confidence that the presentations will be excellent. When they have delivered, these pupils will have learned something about the way they think, the way they collaborate and how confident they are in demonstrating intellectual curiosity.

As a school, we are unashamedly ambitious for our pupils. We want them to realise their potential and sometimes this means that we have to put them in positions in which they may feel a little uncomfortable. In this case the discomfort is very short-lived and intellectual rather than anything else. During the course of any week, we would anticipate that pupils feel challenged from time to time. Next week, Year 9 will start their tech project, some will find it easy, and others will have to meet a challenge. The end of the summer term is traditionally the time we have sports days, a more physical challenge for some and a time when pupils find out of what they are capable.

When pupils have the opportunity to reflect upon the experiences that they have found challenging, be that intellectual or physical they learn valuable lessons about their capacity and about their limits. Our school values provide them with a compass, a means of navigating the situations that they find in front of them. Determination, endeavour and resilience are all virtues that we hold to firmly, believing that they will serve pupils well in the future. We aren’t asking them to push themselves into situations that scare, but we do want them to know when they should be developing elements of their personality or character so that they can be full and useful members of wider society.

Nicholas Hammond



“Do nothing in haste…”

“Do nothing in haste; look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

Edward Whymper, mountaineer, artist and writer

Over the course of the last week I’ve spent a fair amount of time on a coach. I’m currently writing as we wind our way through the Alps to Grenoble and thence north to Paris. Unlike most of the times this week we’ve been on the bus it is quiet, as most of Year 8 are gently dozing having woken very early to start the run home following an action-packed week in the Alps. What a week it has been with horse trekking, via ferrata, rock climbing, white water rafting, mine visiting and big ridge hill walking being our curriculum. Real lessons, but in an unfamiliar environment. Learning of a different nature, but to the same purpose.

Whilst little may have been written down many lessons have been learned. There’s been little done on screen and a notable absence of PowerPoint. Despite, or perhaps because of this, progress has been made and growth realised. All of the pupils who have been out on residential trips this week – Years 6 to 9 – have had the opportunity to build their resilience, pursue excellence and exercise their curiosity. All should know a little more about their character, what makes them function and therefore what they may need to reflect upon as areas for development. Many will have pushed themselves beyond what they previously defined as their limits. It has been a privilege to see them develop this week. Over the course of the last few days I have seen pupils confront their fears, challenge themselves and consider more than their individual needs. This sort of lesson is hard won and immensely valuable. It is important that our young people are given the opportunity to develop through challenge and to discover through testing their limits, or what they thought were their limits. Much has been written by educationalists about the importance of resilience, well it has been evident by the bucketload this week. Pupils have stumbled and sometimes found it difficult to take the next step, but they have picked themselves up and carried on. Some have gone further than they ever thought possible. They even survived without iPads and mobile ‘phones. It is a valuable experience.

What counts now is what happens next. In part this is the responsibility of the pupil, to consider how lessons learned in the mountains or on a sailing boat can be transferred to support classroom based learning or social situations in everyday life. It is also important that we as a school follow up on these developments and remind pupils of what they have achieved and what they now know. After all this is a curriculum that is all about developing valuable life skills, those character strengths that may not simply lead to a fulfilling career but also to a life of flourishing. So in what is left of the year we will be talking about all that has been learnt.

Expeditions of this nature cannot take place without the support of staff members who give up their time to facilitate these valuable learning lessons for our young people. My sincere thanks go to all who have been away this week (and indeed this year) to ensure that pupils have the chance to learn differently. As Dr. Martin Luther King said “intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education.”

It may well have been a long coach journey today, but I am sure that this slightly tanned, somewhat weather-beaten and happily exhausted year group would tell you, it was well worth going. As Edward Whymper (who first claimed so many of the peaks we have just left) aptly sums up, we went with the aim of developing character. Coming back, I’m sure we have succeeded, at least to some extent, in this endeavour. But it will take time for these lessons to take root and become habit. This is a lifelong project of self-improvement, this week has given it a boost.

Nicholas Hammond