I think it was Winston Churchill who said that as Prime Minister he wielded far less power over the country than a Headmaster exercises over his school. King Canute may well have understood the real limits of his power a little better.
Headmasters like to think that they have the power to control what happens in school. Closer examination will reveal that this is not quite the case. Over the past ten years pupils have been given a greater role in the development of their school. The opinions expressed in the research conducted by Rubin and Silva (2003) make it clear that not all pupils are happy to have their school run for them – “Without the voice of students, schools serve no purpose. They are nothing but institutions where adults run and tell you what you need to know in order to continue this tradition of, this cycle of ‘we have master’s degrees and we know what’s best for you so just shut up and deal with it’.” Here at the BSP we regularly seek the opinions of our pupils in formal and other ways. Sometimes the pupils’ voice is so strong that before you know it the school is looking at important matters in a new way.
Let me introduce you to the Senior School Eco Team. Over the course of the last year they have acted as our environmental conscience. They have approached their task with enthusiasm. They have collected paper for recycling, checked that teachers have turned off classroom lights, worked in the school garden and have given assemblies. They have expressed their overriding concern for our environmental wellbeing not by talking but by acting. They have led the initiative on the introduction of honey bees to the school, they have challenged us to become a plastic bottle free school and they will be encouraging parents to purchase a range of environmentally friendly products at the coming Summer Fair. This week they engaged in a letter writing campaign to President Macron regarding the use of pesticides in France. He may believe that he is controlling the country, but I would counsel him against such certainty now that he faces the dynamism of the Eco Team. I am pleased to report that they were firm yet deferential in tone; there will be no Presidential telling off.
When I meet students who are willing to give of their time for the benefit of others I am given hope for the future. We are a world desperately in need of such commitment and responsibility from our young people. It is to their very great credit that they have the maturity to act in this way. Please do take some time when you come to the Fair on 30th June to look at their stall and have a chat about what else they have planned to “green” our campus. I have no doubt their campaign to persuade us to act in an environmentally responsible manner will continue to grow in the coming years (whatever I may think). I have no doubt that they will make a difference. Where Canute may have failed, the Eco Team will succeed the tide will be turned.
On my way to school this week I saw two adverts that struck me as being interesting. One was on a bus and advertised a forthcoming exhibition of artefacts from the television programme Game of Thrones and the other was an advertisement for the film Ocean’s 8.
So what was it in particular about these two adverts? It comes down to authenticity. I’ve never watched Game of Thrones so I need to be careful, but from what I see this is a form of pseudo-historical fiction which looks rather like the dark ages in Europe. I’ve never read the George Martin books of the series but I know they are enormously popular and as fiction I am sure that they have every reason to be. That said, I wonder how often this powerful fictional account can be confused with what actually happened in Europe after the fall of Rome and before the start of the medieval period. Does it even matter as long as more people are encouraged to learn more about the past? Ocean’s 8 is of course a reboot of the successful movie franchise but with a predominantly female cast rather than the earlier male dominated version. I’m sure that the plot is close to the previous films and it is entirely right that there should be all-female star cast lists in Hollywood. But I did wonder whether or not the all-female star cast should have their own film rather than a reboot. They certainly have the acting ability to create a different story. Perhaps the point is that this film represents a taking over or taking back.
Education is meant to broaden the mind to create individuals who will ask valid questions about orthodoxies, be it to how we view the past or the role of women in society. I’d like to think that we are educating a group of young people who will think for themselves and will not simply accept at face value what they are told by advertisers, politicians or indeed anyone else with something to promote. One of the biggest challenges that schools face is to develop critical thinkers in an age when attention spans are shortening. We are approaching the summer holidays, eight weeks of time when our young minds will be available to advertisers for hours at a time. I hope that many will choose to read a book that they will lose themselves in. Perhaps they will look to find a classic film to watch rather than the latest blockbuster offerings. Perhaps they will have the opportunity to visit a museum and see some real archaeological artefacts rather than props from a TV show. I’d like to think that they will spend time with their extended families and friends and will take time to consider all of the ideas that they hear, if only to reject them. Most of all I hope that over the course of this year we have given them the tools to start thinking for themselves, making their own decisions and deciding what authentic really looks like.
The benefits of not being in school are not often praised by people like me. That said I can’t help but notice that the Junior School and the Senior School can sometimes seem a little empty of pupils at this time of year. Last week Year 6 were in the Ardèche, next week Years 7, 8 and 9 will travel to the French Alps. The lessons learned when out of school are just as valuable as those that are learned within our walls. New experiences lead to new knowledge but one of the great elements of learning away from school is the opportunity that exists to build character.
There are many educational approaches that build knowledge. One of the hallmarks of the British educational system is that we are also interested in building the wider personality. That does not mean that we have a blueprint that is applied to all students to create the same person. Rather, by putting our young people in new, challenging or simply different situations they have the chance to consider how they will work with others, demonstrate empathy and work as a team. Some will emerge as leaders, others will take a supporting role. Some will find a talent for new activities, others will develop their sense of determination and stick out situations that they may find a little uncomfortable. Character will have been developed and we hope that this will be put to good use when they return to academic studies. In our experience, the students who go on to be successful are those who are able to work with others, take the initiative and see a task through. The lessons learnt hurtling down the Ardèche in a canoe may very well be as valuable as algebra learnt in the classroom. Lessons learned while in unfamiliar environments are the lessons that will make our young people the individuals who will add value to every encounter and every group of which they are a part.
The same process occurs, albeit in a slightly different form when pupils go on a day trip from school. I’ve always believed that taking a journey on communal transport is a learning opportunity. Going in a car is just not the same. Similarly, having the chance to visit, as Year 1 did, the butterfly farm gives the opportunity to experience an unfamiliar place in the company of others who may well be seeing something for the first time; it is very different from a family visit. Over the coming weeks many year groups will have the chance to visit places together and I hope that they will all return enriched.
Taking pupils out of the classroom results in an awful lot of paperwork. I am grateful to parents who show their very real patience in supplying the same information many times for different trips and of course to our staff who have to plan, risk assess and create supporting materials before they even get on the bus. Without them education at the BSP would be all the poorer and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all staff who lead or accompany trips. The impact of this time out of school is not possible to measure in grades or marks, it develops something far more important than that – people.
Hits and surprises as judges reveal the Man Booker’s shortlist of five golden decades…
– The Guardian, Monday 28 May 2018
During the 1980s there were wide discussions in British Schools about the role of competitive activities, usually sport in schools. The newspapers had great fun with the situation and made it sound like the end to competitive sport and games in schools. A quick trip to a school in the UK will, almost without exception, find competitive sport as part of the curriculum and an integral part of any extra-curricular offer. In many independent schools sport and therefore competition remains an integral part of the school experience. Whilst they receive less publicity there are also literary, debating, artistic, mathematical and music competitions to name but a few. We participate in many such contests each year. Such competitions have a long history. In Ancient Greece, playwrights competed and poets performed. They also invented the Olympics. Competition for the Greeks was a natural part of life. Today we have poetry medals, architecture prizes and an ever expanding list of prizes for literature (see above). Not much has changed.
We have enjoyed significant success in academic and artistic competitions this year and there are more to come. Early this week I had to award the Headmaster’s Prize for Art. Many in the school community ran in the recent 10km race from Chatou to Saint-Germain and indeed we scooped the team prize. Winning is great. But where there are winners, there have to be losers (not a word we tend to use much in schools). In the modern world the “loser” tag is a potent one. Perhaps we should remember that many have to lose in order for one to win. In an examination there is often only one person who can be top of the class; for them to be the winner the rest of the examinees must play their part. We don’t usually consider them to be losers, nor should we, for if the examination or the competition was well judged then all will have risen to the challenge, all will have benefitted. I once worked in a school with an unbeaten rugby team. For me this was as much an indication that we needed to find some stronger opponents as being a reflection on the team’s skills.
Carefully managed competition is a good thing. It is important that our pupils understand that losing is not always as bad as it may seem for we can learn much in defeat. That said we should encourage them to strive to win. At the end of term there will be academic prizes for those who have come top. We have had sports dinners and other awards ceremonies. Does this mean that we do not value the efforts of those who do not take the victor’s laurels? No, of course it doesn’t. Whilst I’d always make sure that young people understand the value of taking part, I don’t see an enormous problem with playing to win or aiming to come top. We must also have an understanding that no-one can (or should be) top of everything all of the time.
As we enter the season of exams, of sports days and of other competitions I hope that we can all find time to celebrate achievement not only of those who win the deserved prizes but to all who have achieved.
Of the lakes of ink that have been devoted to the recent royal wedding some of the most thoughtful pieces have been in regard to what this seemingly most modern of relationships will mean for the future of the British monarchy and what it might mean for British society. It is fair to say that times have changed, it is not so very long ago that a member of the royal family marrying an American divorcee prompted a constitutional crisis. Happily such obstacles have not stood in the way of this particular union although the early reporting of the relationship showed the less impressive elements of the British press.
Even the most ardent of republicans seemed to be interested in what took place in Windsor last weekend. It was a royal wedding that differed from those that had gone before. Whilst it was undeniably British with the soldiers wearing distinctive uniforms, reams of flag waving supporters and seasonal flower arrangements picked from the Royal Parks, there were elements that were less expected. A Gospel Choir and a charismatic bishop promising to “get y’all married” to name but a couple. So will the marriage of Meghan and Harry fundamentally change the UK? Probably not. Is this a useful opportunity for Britain to reflect on what it means to be British? Undeniably. One sunny day in May will not change a nation, nor will it heal all the problems that the UK (like any nation) faces but it gives us a pause for reflection.
A couple of years ago, schools in the UK and British schools overseas were obliged to ensure that through the curriculum Fundamental British Values (FBV) were being taught. The concept of FBV is one that schools have spent much time considering. As a history teacher I am well aware that the UK has, at times, been involved in activities that now seem deeply troubling. It has been in the vanguard of the defence of liberty and championing of freedom. How history, tradition and thought is distilled into a few convenient value statements will I suspect be a source of debate for years to come.
If our school is to understand what FBV might be then we could do worse than look at some of the examples we saw last Saturday. There was an emphasis that the newlyweds are keen to be inclusive, they support the concept of service, speak out for those less fortunate and give of their time to help others. They have both championed educational causes, mental health organisations and have called for opportunities for all. Whilst Harry comes from one of the most privileged families in the world and Meghan is a successful actor they have both faced their fair share of challenges. They are resilient. They have an international outlook and like most things that are paraded as being British, they are in fact a coming together of culture, influences and traditions. It remains to be seen if with the increasing demands of public life they will change. The young people in this school are proud to share some of these admirable qualities. FBV in fact might not be a challenge to teach or indeed to define.
“Throughout human history, in any great endeavour requiring the common effort of many nations … we have learned – it is only through seriousness of purpose and persistence that we ultimately carry the day. We might liken it to riding a bicycle. You stay upright and move forward so long as you keep up the momentum.”
– Ban Ki-Moon
What distance actually represents “a long way” probably depends on the mode of transport that a person choses to take. By just about any measure 550km is a long way and by bicycle it can only be seen as a serious undertaking. This lunchtime the school community joined in waving off four intrepid staff members who are riding their bicycles from Croissy to London (and back) in 50 hours. The time limit is self-imposed – as far as I am concerned as long as they are ready to teach on Tuesday they can take as long as they like! Our quartet are raising funds for our partner school in Cambodia to ensure that the school has sufficient funds to provide further training for the teachers and for much needed equipment. If you would like to support Messrs Ball, Bates, Lockwood and Manville on their noble endeavour then stop reading and follow this link to donate https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/britishschoolparis To those who generously provided cake for the break time cake sales many thanks. So far the total is over 1200 euros and we are still counting…
Endeavour takes many forms and it is a value that we as a school prize. This week I had the distinct pleasure of watching the construction of a Sopwith Camel biplane by the Senior School Lego Club. What impressed me most was the way that the team applied themselves with quiet determination to complete what was a challenging project. They considered each other’s views and worked to a common goal. Their hard work has resulted in a model that speaks to us about the sacrifice made by so many. I am sure that it will be appreciated by those who will see it when it is displayed at the British Ambassador’s Residence in commemoration of the centenary of the RAF next week. Whilst mentioning the First World War it would be remiss of me not to mention the superb achievement of Georgie Green whose moving poem was the overall winner of the Never Such Innocence Competition for her age group. Her thoughtful work touched the judges as much as it did us and was a worthy winner. She will be collecting her award in London next week and we look forward to hearing about the ceremony which will take place just down the road from Buckingham Palace.
Endeavour is a value that at times can be seen as being a little old fashioned. It is not a word that is often heard in everyday conversation but here at the BSP it is often seen, appreciated and celebrated be it evident in poetry, Lego or by getting on your bike and pedalling a very long way indeed. So if you are thinking about donating don’t delay!
Enjoy the long weekend.
“I believe that every person is born with talent.” -Maya Angelou
There are certain days when I am reminded that I live an extraordinarily privileged existence. Yesterday I was able to have a meeting with M. Plazanet our Director of Finance while walking between our campuses. The sun was shining. We were treated to spring happening in the Seine Valley – an intense experience (spring that is not the meeting) and then we paused to enjoy the spectacular work of our younger students at the Junior School Art Exhibition before resuming our deliberations. Once I moved away from the day to day questions that make up normal life, I had the chance to consider something more important. As educators I and my colleagues can play a role in setting young people on their way. Parents play at least an equal role in providing not only the initial impetus but constant support. None of us know for certain where all this effort will end up. As parents and teachers we may have particular ideas, ambitions even but, truth be told we don’t know where all of this investment will end up. Our young people will develop their talents, they are like the trees and plants on our river bank in spring, and they will grow, all too quickly and in a way that we may never predict. Care needs to be taken to ensure that we do not expect young people to live the lives that we desire for them, they need to be guided to the realisation of their talents.
Gilles Caron* took some of the iconic photographs of the riots in Paris of May 1968. Without him this event would not be remembered in the way that it is. I wonder if his talent was spotted early, would his artistic eye have been evident while he was a student at the BSP? Yann Martel, the Booker Prize winning author may well have been a fiction prodigy, but were the seeds of his genius discerned while he was at the BSP? In a week where we saw remarkable artistic work rewarded by the Never Such Innocence judging panel, who knows where this talent will grow? I had the chance to ask this sort of question to another visitor. Professor Shawkat Toowara is a distinguished Yale academic. He’s also another alumni and he visited the School today to share his expertise, wit and insight with our older students. By his admission no-one could have known that he would become a world leader in his field or that he would be persuading students to come to lectures that have nothing to do with their nominated studies. But he does. Our aim as a school is to provide an environment in which children can grow. Our physical environment is stunning, our intellectual climate stimulating. We have an abundance of talent. There are plenty of examples of BSP students who have gone on to be leaders in their field, opinion formers and prize winners. We are never quite sure what it is many of our young people will achieve in the future; what I know is that having seen the quality and verve of our artists and our writers this week that the current generation will certainly go on to continue the BSP tradition of excellence and in doing so enhance the community in which they live.
*The Hôtel de Ville de Paris is currently exhibiting Gilles Caron’s work: https://quefaire.paris.fr/49910/exposition-gilles-caron-a-l-hotel-de-ville
This term started on (depending on who you ask) the patron saint’s day of Malta, Portugal, Georgia or England. On Wednesday ANZAC Day was widely celebrated commemorating the sacrifices of both Australian and New Zealand troops in this the centenary of the end of the First World War. Groups, be they national or cultural are often keen to build some form of identity around individuals, institutions or notable events. Around these talismanic totems spring customs which all build an identity and sense of belonging. Sadly, such identity building can be used to exclude as much as it is used to include.
This year we have more than fifty nationalities in the school. Many students will identify with what they see as their home nation. Others are less defined by nationality, indeed some claim no nationality at all, the “third culture kids”. We have young people who identify themselves according to their musical tastes or football teams. Happily we don’t as a rule have to deal with the cliques so clearly identified in the Senior School Musical earlier in the year. Where students express concerns about identity we seek to support them as they decide what it is that matters to them. I was recently asked to identify myself as being either a DC or a Marvel fan… there will always be newer and ever more specific classifications that we need to consider. In this week in which the latest Avengers film is released I chose Marvel…
Our young people have an opportunity as a consequence of our diverse and varied community to develop a broad world view. A perspective that is shaped by an understanding of other people rather than by suspicion and misunderstanding. I hope that by learning together our students have the confidence to reject narrowness of thought and build their own sense of international mindedness. What price can be put on the ability to see both sides of an argument? To understand where others are “coming from” is undoubtedly a rare gift. How valuable will it be to them to be able to understand what it is that drives other people’s thinking?
At the start of a school term teachers often take the opportunity to think about what it is they are aiming to achieve through their teaching. The development of skills and the transmission of knowledge generally register towards the top but in a school such as ours it would not be unusual to hear discussion of the development of character. We aim to make the best use of the variety of views and experiences that are to be found in our classrooms. Part of our job is to create space for our young people to develop as people and within it make the most of the international nature of our classes.
When I spend time with our students, be it in class, waiting in the lunch queue or simply as they go about their daily tasks I am filled with hope. They have the capacity to go on to play significant roles in their future communities. Their experiences here should allow them to lead lives of integrity and understanding. They will make our world a better place.
“I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity; an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial and above all, compassion.”
– Kurt Hahn
Many schools make claims about what they see as their own unique approach. There is more than one UK school that markets the learning taking place in their school as “adventurous”. Having just spent several action packed days among the volcanoes of the Auvergne with Year 5, I can confirm that some of the learning at the BSP is indeed an adventure.
To claim that all learning going on in any school is adventurous would be, I suspect, an overstatement. That said, this short week at the BSP has seen its fair share of both individual and collective adventure; from the first time soloists in our excellent Spring Concert, to intrepid cake makers and decorators raising money for charity. Our Jazz Bands took another step forward with their concert on Tuesday and Year 6 travelled in time. Unicorns have been spotted in Senior School today. A quick look at our Twitter feed will give numerous other examples of the ad-ventures that have been experienced both in and out of the classroom. Elsewhere other adventures have begun – the launch of the new school website is a new step and we look forward to hearing about your explorations of this online environment.
As we start our holiday please spare a thought for those who may not be going to particularly adventurous places – those preparing for public exams. Revision is rarely adventurous. Satisfying, affirming and interesting, yes. Action packed? Less so. That is perhaps why I am sceptical when I see a school claiming to be adventurous in every-thing they do. There is a place for adventure in our learning, similarly there is a place for finding fulfilment in the basics. During this term there have been many moments of adventure and also times when we have had to be more regular with our learning. This I believe is a good balance. Those who have been on trips or expeditions, played for teams, performed in concerts, debated, created art or acted in school musicals will have gained a taste for having learning adventures and they are to be congratulated on everything they have achieved. We would be wrong to forget all students from the very youngest to the oldest on all the unseen work, the graft of acquiring knowledge and developing skills. This foundation will give the base on which to build future adventures.
This week with Year 5 has shown me that learning can be not only an adventure, it can be volcanic… sometimes we go at the pace of slow moving magma, periodically we solidify and at others we are explosive. A life of constant adventure would (it seems to me) be a bit unrealistic. Whilst we need adventure, we also require time to consolidate. So, best of luck to all who embark on their exam preparation this holiday and to those who are travelling have a wonderful time.
Eight days is a very short time in which to put on a play. It could be regarded as being enough time to put on a bad performance but in most cases a director would want considerably more time with cast, chorus and crew to ensure the desired, assured performance. Those of us who were able to enjoy the recent Year 6 show Superstan know that for those who are possessed of superpowers eight days is indeed long enough not only to put on a show but to put on one of the very highest quality! Great work by the Year 6 actors, the Crew, the Year 5 Chorus, Mr. Lockwood and Mr. Young and all of the other staff who played their parts to provide such an extraordinary performance.
Quite simply it was brilliant.
As a play, Superstan might not enter the great canon of western literature but I will remember “how tickled I was ” not only by the splendid performances but the puns. Particularly the one about corduroy pillows (no I won’t repeat it, you had to be there). Puns are one of the great joys of languages and English is no exception. The educational world is not immune to its fair share of punning… Maths it seems is a favourite subject, after all it is worth noting that firstly decimals have a point and secondly that I always prayed before trigonometry tests. I was hoping for a sine from above. If you like something a touch more technical then the following might tickle you… Finding all possible logical relations between a finite collection of sets is not a matter of If but Venn.
Science is not immune. After periodic doubts about his vocational calling the young chemistry teacher concluded that he was out of his element. Literacy does not escape the “fun”. The poor speller tried to express his reluctance to repeat the spelling test but words failed him. Nor should teachers. There are two skeleton teachers at school. One is humerus, the other is very sternum. I could go on. No really, I could but in a spirit of human charity I won’t. As this is a short week, this is a truncated column. I hope that everyone enjoys a relaxing long weekend and that we all return ready to make the most of what little is left of the term. I hope that you can excuse the frivolous nature of this week’s theme but it may well have something to do with the proximity of the coming month, its first day in particular.
Please be assured that I will be spending the weekend working hard – on my hot cross puns.
1 RIP Ken Dodd. For those unfamiliar with the Squire of Knotty Ash you might like to start with: https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/stars-pay-tribute-to-true-comedy-legend-sir-ken-dodd-36695180.html then have a look at https://www.bigissue.com/ interviews/sir-ken-dodd-i-say-thank-happiness/