Half term is one of the educational world’s greatest ideas. Whilst it was probably invented to allow children to go back to pick potatoes from fields or make the last preparations for the coming winter on a farm, it now fulfils a very different and no less valuable purpose. After six and a half weeks of the school year it gives us all an opportunity to take stock, to reflect on what we have achieved at the start of the year and to look ahead. Having enjoyed the most wonderful weather over the past few weeks, we have perhaps been slightly tricked into thinking that we have only just returned to school and I for one have found that this half term has passed incredibly quickly.
The second half of the Autumn Term is one of the most important periods of learning in any school year, for those in examination years it is nothing short of vital. It is most valuable time and we will use it wisely – it is here that the foundations of success are laid, thus we will need to be ready to be working at our maximum levels when we return. But we face a danger in this coming holiday, if we stop completely the habits we have built up this half term will take too long to re-establish. Young minds are like high performance engines, they need to be run regularly if they are to perform at their best. To ensure that we do not lose our vital academic momentum I need to ask for parental help. The forthcoming holiday is one in which pupils should have a well-earned rest. But such a rest does not mean letting all things academic slip or grind to a halt. As well as spending time on screen (seemingly everyone’s favourite pastime these days), our children should take time to read a book, talk to family and friends (face to face) and spend time in the fresh air. If you are travelling then a diary, scrapbook or blog will stimulate the mind now and be an interesting artefact later. Half term is a good time to sort out those files that might just be getting a little messy and a time to revisit the elements of work that perhaps would benefit from some revision. If something can be done each day then the momentum will remain and starting next half term will be all the easier. At the risk of causing familial fallout I’d be grateful if you could remind your children that whilst half term is a holiday, it needs to be, at least to a small extent, a working one.
Whilst I realise that this column will win me few friends in the pupil body, I know that if half term is used to refresh rather than to simply flop then it will be time well spent and in the long run it is sure to pay handsome dividends. Minds that have been kept active will need little start up time in November and that is a great advantage. Who knows, reading a book might even turn out to be quite interesting…?
Have a wonderful half term.
One of my favourite films is Les Visiteurs, a comic film from the 1990s. As is the case with most franchises the first one is great, the following films stretch the joke a little too far to be really funny. But for all that, the original film makes a valuable point; when we visit, we are very much strangers in that community. We can understand a good deal but there will be differences between our place and others. We often learn when we have the chance to visit other places and when we have the chance to make contact with other views. I’ve written before about the importance of getting out of the classroom to learn, similarly important is to bring people in to tell us something new or from a different perspective.
For most people the words ‘school visit’ conjure up the time that parents and children take an initial tour around the school before joining. These tours are often led by a Sixth Form student who gives a pupil-eye view of what goes on at the BSP. The participants achieve an impression of the place, a flavour of what we offer. It is, inevitably, a partial view. But prospective parents and pupils are not our only visitors. Each week we welcome a wide range of visitors to our campuses and indeed these visitors are vital for us to develop a wide understanding of the world around us. Unlike Coleridge we believe that our visitors aid creativity rather than disrupting like the person from Porlock.
This week is a case in point. Today we welcomed representatives from London universities who talked to the Sixth Form, Dr Fleury one of our governors who was advising on careers in medicine, Mr Butterworth was discussing engineering and Ashley an alumnus who happened to be in Paris dropped in to revisit the school of his youth… Over the course of the week we have also been visited by an educational consultant, Mr Stone who spent much of the week observing lessons and activities prior to his providing us with a quality assurance report next week. We’ve welcomed representatives from the local Mairie to discuss future projects and a British architect who was involved in the initial planning of our soon to be completed Redgrave Multi-Purpose hall. I’ve probably missed a few others but you get the picture. The School cannot be an island entire of itself as Donne didn’t exactly say.
Perhaps the most unusual visitor this week was the magpie that has taken to participating in Year 10 PE lessons. Bold as brass he has been perching on balls, goals and striding up the touchline like an avian Klopp or Mourinho. Perhaps he just wants to take part as well.
Over the coming months we will be making contact with many of our alumni and inviting them to link with us via social media. In doing this we aim to harness the reservoir of talent in the BSP Community to act as mentors or to record short films for us about their careers and the subjects that matter to them. Visiting in this modern age can take many forms and we are happy to join with people digitally as well as in the flesh (or feather).
We learn when we connect with the stories of other people.
A Swiss company sells a mobile phone which is designed for making telephone calls and sending SMS messages. If their website is to be believed they are supplying an antidote for distraction and access to “non-virtual reality”. Their founder compares his product to a pair of spectacles, something that is a pleasure to own and useful. If market forces are to be trusted, there is good money in the dumb phone market; Punkt released their second generation dumb ‘phone last week. At almost the same time iPads were being updated with the latest iteration of the IOS operating system. As part of this change a new feature has been introduced which allows parents a greater level of control over the length of time their children spend on their machine. Mr. Pearey sent a communication to parents about this feature last week.
It is perhaps easy to believe that the BSP and many other schools embrace too quickly the latest technological marvel. The School was an early adopter of tablets but we have never seen technology usurping the very human, very real, often analogue process of education. Recent research regarding the efficacy of tablets in the classroom did not come as a surprise to us. We have always known that the iPad is an adjunct to established methods. We still have libraries, we write in exercise books, we debate face to face and we use pencils to draw. We also use iPads to research, discover and draw. I’m sure that the early adopters of exercise books were criticised by those who favoured slates. The iPad won’t replace the teacher, nor will it replace human thought. The 4th educational revolution is being written about but it has yet to really take hold.
Used thoughtfully the iPad allows for (amongst other things) greater levels of discovery. My Year 9 historians this week saw not only a photocopied map of Europe in 1890 but had access to the British Library’s collection of nineteenth century satirical maps. We did our research virtually but we recorded our results in a far more traditional manner. iPads push the walls of the classroom wider. Educational debate often focuses on a fruitless argument that pitches skills against knowledge. Young people need to have early exposure to technology and they also need to be educated as to what responsible use looks like. The iPad can develop both skills and knowledge. Every generation has a point of friction with the older generation. For me it was television, for the generation before it might have been transistor radios, I’m sure that the gramophone was viewed with suspicion. Balance is the key. Recently our Year 8s went to Normandy to study coastal geography, no iPad needed, they saw and they experienced. The subsequent write up may well have been done on their device.
Tech free evenings and weekends sound like a good idea to me and I am sure would fill many pupils with horror. Mindful use of machines seems a happy compromise, screen controls may be part of this. Prohibition is rarely successful, careful stewardship of a powerful resource would seem to be more prudent.
I am not sure if it is a peculiarity of British politics or if other countries have a season of party conferences that coincides with the start of the academic year. During these conferences political parties decamp from London to discuss what they need to do to win the next election or to decide what is best for the country. The Liberal Democrats congregated a couple of weeks ago, the Labour Party met this week and the Conservative party will confer next week. As the Headmaster of a British School I am always keen to see what each of the major parties has to say about education.
Politics and education rarely sit comfortably together; one is generally short term, the other is intrinsically long term. That is not to say that there have been no political movements that have resulted in beneficial progress. Political parties have widened access to education providing wide swathes of the population with opportunities they were once denied. The problem for education comes when politicians seek to bend the curriculum to their own view. In Britain, the watershed moment for education came back in 1976 when the then Prime Minister, James Callaghan made the now notorious (at least with educationalists) “Secret Garden of the Curriculum Speech”. During his discourse he claimed control of the curriculum as a political issue. Subsequently, there have been few governments that have not sought to influence, both the structure of the British educational system and its content. Allowing politicians control of what is taught in schools (and indeed how it is taught in schools) almost inevitably leads to the curriculum being used as a political football. The last Conservative Government engaged in one of the widest reforms of the curriculum ever seen, with large scale changes to GCSE and A level the result.
The Labour Party’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, talked this week of structural and systemic reform of the national educational system and made no real mention of the curriculum (phew), while the Lib Dem’s Layla Moran launched an attack on grammar schools, excessive testing, some independent schools and the inspection body Ofsted. Now we await the Conservatives from Brighton. I’m rather hoping that the curriculum is not on Damian Hind’s agenda. If previous speeches give any clue, preserving the status quo with regard to exam rigour, giving head teachers greater autonomy and reducing teacher workload via different assessment methods are likely to feature.
Much of what is being said at the party conferences this year moves British education back to where we were when I started teaching (except with better buildings and more IT). I remain hopeful that one day we will have politicians who understand that education cannot be run on a “between elections” timetable and that all change has an impact on the children who live through their ideological whims.
Education is a long, slow and steady process. Politics isn’t. Perhaps the boldest move that any politician could make at this point is to leave well alone.
As a firm believer in the benefits of school uniform I avoid encouraging individuals to wear their uniform in anything other than the orthodox manner. So standing at the gate this morning seeing pupils coming in wearing a top half uniform and a lower half in jeans was an uncomfortable experience. In the normal course of events this approach to bending the rules would be seen by me as the first step towards anarchy. However, it seems that we are not facing a student revolution but an expression of our pupils’ approach to helping others. Jeans for Genes is a worthy cause indeed and our young people deserve to be congratulated on the way that they have embraced such a good cause by having fun.
Over the course of the coming weeks there will be other charity days. We carefully endeavour to support local, national and international charities. Our pupils have the opportunity to nominate causes to support through the Student Councils. Older students are able to engage in a wide variety of service projects and I believe that they gain much in doing so. One of our duties as a school is to develop the leaders of the future. Many of our young people will go on to lead in whichever community they decide to live. Some will be politicians, others diplomats. We will have captains of industry and educational trailblazers. Some will lead in the business community or will take their talents to improve areas of the world where development is needed. All of this is a long way from wearing jeans instead of your school uniform. That said I believe that the seeds of a life of service are sown best at school. Good habits need to be established early in life if they are to remain. We are conscious that beyond our school gates life for many can be challenging and tough. We enjoy opportunities here that few in the world can match. We are therefore right to consider others and to share our talents. A commitment to service is vital if a fulfilling life is to be lived.
The idea of modelling is en vogue in the educational world. The theory is simple. If adults do something then children copy. Hardly ground breaking but a difficult one to live up to. The BSPS has donated hundreds of hours to running events enjoyed by the wider school community. In doing so they have raised enough money to pay (in large part) for a school in Cambodia where previously there had not been one. Along the way I am sure that they have had some fun, but it has also been hard work. They provided our bar on Saturday and will have raised still more for excellent causes and that is a pretty good model to follow.
So I’ll swallow my uniform reservations once a year. If you provided a cake then thank you and if you have to find yet another Euro for some good cause in the coming months, remember that you are not only making a valuable contribution to help another person, but you will be giving your own child a greater understanding of the world around them.
Your support is appreciated.
Mr Nicholas Hammond
In every school there is one key piece of information that you simply have to know. You won’t find it in the handbook, it won’t be mentioned in any information session and it isn’t in the prospectus but make no mistake, it is crucial. I’ll share a secret. At the BSP that piece of information is that Thursday is chip day. Some people plan their week around the humble frite, looking forward to it all week. I think that just about everyone enjoys Thursday lunchtime. If an army marches on its stomach, a school learns better with a full tummy. We are fortunate indeed to work with a dedicated and talented catering team led by our head chef, Khalifa.
During my teacher training I wrote a dissertation on the lunch hour in schools. It is an element of school life that I have always been interested in. Lunch, one could say, is a subject close to my stomach. School lunches have changed a good deal since I was at school and definitely for the better. Each day our team here at the BSP create a wide variety of meals; we consume 120 baguettes and deliver almost 900 covers per day. Veau Marengo, goulash, paupiettes, baked salmon and aubergine crumble all feature on our menu. There is a salad bar and cheese and dessert. Gordon Gekko may have said that “lunch is for wimps”; I couldn’t agree less. I am delighted to see pupils taking full advantage of what is on offer, the school day is a long one and fuel is required. We are particularly fortunate that our fuel is especially delicious.
School lunchtime is about more than simply the pleasures of the table. The lunch hour is a period of the day when pupils have the opportunity to define their use of time. For some it is an opportunity to let off steam, to kick a ball about, skip or play complicated games of tag. Others choose to seek calm in the library. A wide range of clubs and activities are on offer. We learn valuable lessons at lunchtime; how to be patient, what a balanced diet looks like and how to converse in a civilised manner. We learn to deal with a little independence in what is otherwise a very structured day. Taking a break at lunchtime allows us to concentrate a little more effectively in the afternoon.
This year I would like us as a community to think about only taking what is sufficient for our needs and in doing so cutting down on the food waste that we produce. All of our food waste is dehydrated and turned into compost – we make a lot of compost. Laudable as this is, it breaks my heart to see platefuls of food being thrown away. Perhaps this might be a topic of conversation when you next sit down as a family, I would greatly appreciate the support.
On the subject of food, I do hope to see lots of you at our welcome event tomorrow – the weather forecast is promising and there can be few greater pleasures than enjoying fish and chips down by the river. Do come along.
The start of term is an exciting time. New friends, new subjects, new timetables. Possibly a new school bag and a whole case of sharp pencils. I think that most people in our community, however experienced, will feel a touch of nervousness at the start of a new year. We have new teachers and new pupils; they will have felt a twinge of anxiety, indeed a few of the “old hands” will also have had their fair share of apprehensive thoughts as well. At the end of every summer holiday I start to wonder if I’ll remember how I go about teaching and what my new class will be like. Parents too are not immune from this and there are often understandable concerns about a new place or a new academic year. Don’t worry we’ll do our very best.
Overall, there have been far more smiles than tears. Standing out at the front of both schools as I have been this week, it has been a pleasure to see smartly uniformed and purposeful young people heading in through the school gates. Any new term is a time of new experiences. A chance for new resolutions. During the coming week or two new routines will become familiar and we may well lose our sense of appreciation of our wonderful, inspiring campuses; uniforms may just be worn with a little less care and those carefully sharpened start of term pencils will be ever so slightly blunted. When that does happen, I hope that we can all reflect on our good intentions for the year and regain that all-important sense of purpose. We will sharpen up. Before we know where we are it will be Christmas (sorry for bringing that up).
Between now and then there is an awful lot to fit in. There will be lessons, plenty of learning as well as other activities. Our aim is to ensure that all members of the community have a rich experience this year. We will be encouraging all pupils, from the youngest to the oldest to take part in as much of school life as is possible. Parents too can join in the fun by coming to our welcome back fish and chip supper on Saturday 15 September, it is a great way to celebrate the end of our first full week of school so please join us.
This year our pupils will enjoy a wider range of facilities than ever before. The Junior School has a replacement green pitch and the Redgrave building should be ready for next half term. But buildings are only a part of the story, the real magic occurs when young people with a wide variety of experiences join together in learning. From what I have seen of those young people in this short week I predict that we are in for a vintage year.
An academic year doesn’t really finish with the last day of term or even with the first day of the holidays it really finishes when you have been given your exam results. The UK system is perhaps unique in that it demands extreme patience from its students when it comes to results. Many A level students finished their exams in June but they have had to wait until mid-August for their results. Today it was the turn of the GCSE students who have also had to wait the best part of two months. Now that some exam boards publish online we don’t have the pleasure of seeing every student on results day. Today there were a good number of students who made the time-honoured walk through the school gates to collect their GCSE results. Some looked supremely confident, others were wracked by nerves. I’m glad to say that by the end of the morning we had had far more smiles than tears (and that was just the parents).
Much will be written in the coming days about how exams have become easier or how they have been made more rigorous. I’m not sure that this is the time to be having these discussions and I certainly think that the news media is often ill-informed. Many reporters resort to cliché and “it was harder in my day” comments. It is vital to remember that exams do not define the worth of a person. They are simply the passport to new courses and new opportunities. We shouldn’t make too many assumptions about a person based on how many Grade 9s they achieved, although those students who achieve this accolade deserve to feel pleased. Looking back over the performance of our students in their exams I am immensely proud of them. Many have taken these exams in a language which is not their mother tongue. Some have had to contend with settling into a new school at the very start of the exam course or even mid-course. All of our students have had to grapple with newly introduced exam specifications. Make no mistake, both GCSE and A level are academically challenging. Today’s results tell me a good deal about the sort of young people who make up the BSP community. They are adaptable, resilient and smart. Some have exam results that make this very clear, for others their achievements may not be so easy to see but they have achieved. Our teachers have provided excellent support and parents have provided the right sort of constructive encouragement. Alongside these grades are other stories of lessons learned while helping others or on the sports field or in an orchestra or on a stage or during a debate or out on expedition. School is about so much more than just a bunch of results.
Today our GCSE students have every right to reflect upon work done well. They should be proud of all that they have achieved and they are ready to move on with the educational journey. I hope that they are excited about what lies ahead. Our A level pupils now leave us for the wider world. They have given themselves a great start in adult life and have academic qualifications and social skills which will serve them effectively. They have done well indeed.
After a whirlwind last fortnight of the school year I have spent the last two days catching up with all of the things that should have been done before the end of term. Schools are very different places without the students. It is easier to accomplish certain things but it is nowhere near as interesting.
The coming weeks will see a good deal of building work on both of our campuses. The Junior School Green Pitch is being laid as I write and the contractors will probably be back home to Germany before the end of the day. On the Senior School site the air conditioning units are being fitted in the Braille building, there will be a massive amount of earth moved to lay new pathways around school and work continues apace on the Redgrave building. If you are strolling along the river bank in the coming weeks do not be alarmed if it looks as if the school is being dug up or demolished, it isn’t. I’m told that all will be ready for our return in September. The Redgrave project is likely to be concluded at the end of September and will open once all of the necessary safety checks have been completed.
Thank you to all parents, guardians and grandparents who came to the Junior School Final Assembly and to the Senior School Prize Giving. Both were appropriately joyous occasions and it was great to be able to send off our Year 6 and Year 13 students in such style. Thank you to all our musicians and other performers who contributed to make it such a memorable occasion.
Over the course of the holidays I hope that students are able to rest and recuperate. I’d encourage all to read a book (or more) and take some exercise. If the current excellent weather holds then I believe that we will have a memorable summer indeed.
The School remains open all through the summer period. At times there will be a skeleton staff so questions and queries may take a little longer to answer than normal and for this we apologise. The first set of public exam results will be out on Thursday 16th August so do look out for our posts regarding exam success. The GCSE results will be published a week later. Schoolblazer will operate their service throughout the summer holiday and would advise earlier rather than later orders to guarantee delivery for the start of term.
We look forward to welcoming students back to school in September. I hope that all travels are safe and enjoyable and that holidays are suitably memorable. I am looking forward to burying myself in a good book under the shade of a suitable tree, swinging gently in a hammock (at least for an hour or two…). I am also hoping to avoid seeing the back to school adverts in shops until the end of the month!
I’m not sure if you had noticed but we are coming to the end of the school year. A time of treats and trips. It has been an absolute pleasure to see so many Junior School visitors to the Senior School this week and I know that the pupils from the Senior School have enjoyed the opportunity to sit their exams in the Junior School’s air conditioned hall. We are fortunate to be an “all-through school” as this give us opportunities that would otherwise be lost. When I reflect upon this academic year it will be as one which has had many silver linings. Over the course of the year we have faced our fair share of challenges. The Senior School pupils have not had their sports hall and as a consequence our major performance space was lost as was our assembly area. The Junior School lost the use of the green pitch as a consequence of the Seine flooding and welcomed Senior School pupils to the hall for their exams. Vital sports play space has been compromised and teaching facilities modified.
As a consequence of these challenges we have become more flexible in our approach. We have used the local ‘stade’ more often, we have shared our Senior School and Junior School facilities and teachers have modified their approach to lessons to ensure that our learning has not been stymied. Along the way we have learned one or two things. These are the silver linings to the storm clouds. We broadcast Senior School assemblies and we will continue to do so. This proved popular with our tutors who could review what was said later in the week and the recordings are a useful learning tool. Our exam candidates have had the benefit of an air conditioned hall. Our Junior School sports players have been seen more often at the Senior School and IT facilities have been shared. Our teachers have been brilliant and creative in their approach to working with the facilities that we have had at our disposal.
I’m not sure that I would choose to have another year like this one. I know that our PE teachers probably would not (given how wet our year has been) but there are positives that we will take from our experiences this year. Expect to see more movement between the campuses and don’t be surprised if Junior School pupils are to be found learning on the Senior site and vice versa in the autumn term. Next year will see the opening of a new green pitch at the Junior School. We will inaugurate a new multi-purpose hall towards the end of the half term at the Senior School and students learning in the Braille building on the Senior site will be doing so in air conditioned classrooms from September. There is much to look forward to and there is even more that we can feel proud about having achieved. One of our school values is endeavour. There can be little doubt that this year has seen it by the bucket load.
I look forward to joining with you in our end of term celebrations over the coming days.