Report Writing

It has been a week of reports. Year 11 and Year 13 will receive their reports on mocks today, many Senior School pupils had their interim assessments and we as a school have been inspected. We will be given the report on that in about six weeks or so.

So to start, a little quiz. Can you match the following reports to the correct person?

“He will never amount to anything.”

“A quiet student who needs to stop playing with his motorcycles and learn that music will not make him a livable wage.”

“He will study law, and we have no doubt that he will make a name for himself.

“A persistent muddler. Vocabulary negligible, sentences malconstructed. He reminds me of a camel.”

Your choices: David Bowie, Albert Einstein, Roald Dahl, Fidel Castro. (Answers at end of article)

Reports written about pupils can be, it seems, horribly inaccurate.

Over the course of my time in education I’ve read (and written) thousands of reports and they have changed. The reports written at the start of my career tended to be less rooted in evidence and were usually reflective of an opinion. Often a fairly sarcastic one. Modern reports are a little more data driven. Old ones tended to be a little more amusing, newer ones more informative. Some may mourn the passing of reports such as those written above, but I suspect the ones that we write today are more useful. Of course many schools finish the academic year with a report and over time many involved in education have asked for more information during the course of the year and thus it is not uncommon for interim or other reports to be generated.

There is perhaps a danger of both parents and pupils waiting for the report. Recent educational research suggests that the most successful pupils know where they stand in terms of their learning as they progress through the course of a year. They work consistently to address areas of weakness and they polish the areas of strength. They know how they learn and they know what they need to do to get better. This sort of understanding comes from careful thought about the comments written on school work and a pupil’s reaction to them. If you want to know how a pupil is doing then the exercise book is as good a place as any to start. If the pupil wants to improve their grades or simply learn more then they are well served by looking in the same place.

Perhaps the same is true of school inspection reports. The inspectors do not visit us very often. This week has seen us attempt in some ways to show all we do in a year in the space of a week. I’d argue that if you really want to see what we are all about and how we live our school values a look over an archive of newsletters or our Twitter feed gives a clear idea of what we are doing and how we are doing it. I know that the inspectors have seen many excellent things and they will leave us with constructive suggestions as to how we might improve because no school is perfect. There is always something that can be done to improve. That is a good thing for life would be very boring if there was nothing much to do.

(Quotes in order: Albert Einstein, David Bowie, Fidel Castro, Roald Dahl)

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Less swagger, more purpose

Education updates – Educating confident, well-rounded and resilient children.

Damian Hinds (UK Secretary of State for Education) says that confidence and self-esteem are as important for future success as GCSEs and that no child should be denied access to the activities that help them to develop these attributes. He has also said that all children need to have the opportunity to develop something that he calls “public school swagger”. Whilst I agree with much of what Mr. Hinds says about providing all children with a wider range of activities to build resilient and well-rounded individuals, I do wonder why we have to engage with this rather hackneyed mud-slinging around what public schools do.

We probably ought to start with the phrase “public school”. In the UK a public school is rarely a school that is directly controlled by the government; it is an independent school. Historically there were seven public schools in the UK, they were governed by the 1868 Public Schools Act. There were lots of other schools in 1868, some called private schools and others called grammar schools and eventually all fee paying schools were lumped into the category “public” which led to the confusion as to what they in fact were or indeed are. Nowadays the term public school can be used in a pejorative manner which suggests that the pupils who attended them are privileged, out of touch and arrogant.
So back to this swagger business. Mr. Hinds believes that independent schools convey privilege on their pupils by providing a wider range of subjects and activities for them to experience. This self-confidence is handily described as swagger. So he makes the very good proposal that all schoolchildren in the British education system should have these benefits. I think that we would all agree with him that this is indeed a very good wish. Sadly such plans require considerable amounts of funding and there lies the flaw that will kill this initiative.

In the current political turmoil there is, I suspect, a natural tendency to want to find some villains. The people destined for Mr. Tusk’s Brexit hell may well display “public school swagger” through their ability to sound like an authority when in fact they didn’t really know very much at all. But I’ve met plenty of people who could do this who went nowhere near a public school. Curiously, I have also met many ex-independent school pupils and ex-public school pupils and ex-state school pupils who display far more laudable characteristics. At this particular overseas British style independent school I see more kindness than swagger; more integrity than arrogance and more community spirit than selfishness.

So if there is one person at the BSP who is swaggering, it is perhaps me. Sorry, but there you have it.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Snow day and slow education

I woke up to the radio
And the glare of a blanket of fallen snow…
It’s a snow day
Snow Day, Bleu

Snow daySnow Day. Two words guaranteed to raise a smile even with the most conscientious of students. A meteorological treat for the pupil who just needs to draw breath at the end of January if popster Bleu is to be believed. I hope that amongst the fun of constructing snowpersons and at least one snow bear, some learning was had on Wednesday. On Thursday we could not run our bus services so we were down on pupil numbers. These days provide some of the most exciting opportunities for creative education. I was lucky enough to be able to work with a Year 9 and Year 11 class at the same time. I normally teach the Year 9s but this time the Year 11s took the lead, they shared their skills in source analysis with the other pupils. They provided the technical knowhow while the Year 9s had the facts. It was a great lesson, nothing really to do with me, I only provided the materials. Education can come in many forms and I suspect that anyone looking carefully at the snow and ice this year will have learnt much about the wonders of the natural world. Learning can be best when it comes from an unexpected source. That said I was surprised on reading the suggestion that British shoe shop assistants are soon to be charged with providing basic arithmetic lessons in the summer holidays when fitting youngsters with their new shoes(1). Whilst I’m all for making the most of every learning opportunity I think this one might be a little optimistic.

Tomorrow, a dedicated band of thespians will meet to spend the day rehearsing for the Senior School show Grease. Again a fantastic opportunity for older pupils to set a great example to younger ones. More experienced performers will provide a lead for those in the chorus. In The Hague another example is to be found. A small group of students have been acting as the Australian delegation to the UN, a model one in this case but no less serious than the real thing. A place for Year 13s to show Year 10 and 11 students how to stand up in front of a packed lecture hall and make a thoughtful, well-constructed speech. And on Tuesday as the snow fell the jazz band were doing their thing in Le Vésinet. Once again an activity in which a cross section of the school community were found playing and learning together.

I’m not suggesting that we chuck it all in as teachers and let the students do it themselves. Indeed I’d never recommend ‘do it yourself’ education (I’m not keen on any form of DIY), but I do think that it isn’t a bad idea to just acknowledge the importance of student to student learning. Sometimes it is better to learn from someone who is slightly closer in age and experience. So if there is something good to come out of a snow day then this might be it.

1 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/30/education-clarks-shoes-tory-shop-child-development

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Brexit – what about education?

Of the many litres of newspaper ink that have been spilt analysing the potential consequences of the UK’s impending departure from the European Union, comparatively little has been used to predict the consequences for education.

Up to a point this is unsurprising. Trade and border controls may well seem more pressing. Education is rarely at the forefront of political thinking or diplomatic negotiation. Education is also one of those areas of life where the nations of Europe have maintained their own approach, kept their own systems and done their own thing. There hasn’t been an attempt to create a pan European system, no single exchange rate for education. Strange really because in my experience young people are relatively similar the world over. They share the same hopes, often want the same things and generally have a similar outlook. Despite this commonality of spirit European nations have steadfastly looked to children to follow a locally designed curriculum.

British-School-of-Paris-1263Looking ahead (or perhaps that should be staring over the edge), it is difficult for anyone to say with any degree of certainty what a post-Brexit Europe will look like. I suspect for those of us in France not much will change once the magic date has been passed. Certainly we have been led to believe that there will be a grace period after any withdrawal. For our young people I fear there will be a limiting of opportunity. British primary and secondary education will continue on as normal, nothing much to change there. For the universities it is already different, fewer European graduate students are applying to do their research in the UK. The massive expansion of the British University sector is highly unlikely to continue, who knows some of the institutions that have overreached in the boom period may well disappear from the educational map. Students will need to apply with even more care than was the case before. This is regrettable but it is not a game changer. I suspect that universities in the UK will have to consider their pricing structure carefully and current levels of fees may well change (for the better). There may be visa issues to contend with and residence qualifications may change. European university degree courses, often taught in English may become more popular with UK students who seek a different experience. Brexit may make things a little more difficult but the opportunities for young people will remain. Both GCSE and A level qualifications will maintain their position as qualifications that are recognised by higher education institutions the world over.

When it comes to the day to day, Brexit will not change much at school. Lessons will be delivered, learning will happen, Thursday will still be chip day. There will probably be more time spent in queues at the Eurostar terminal for those of us with UK passports and I have no doubt that I will face an ever growing pile of forms to fill in when appointing a new member of staff but I’m sure that a way will be found to make this possible. But what do I know? Consequently I am delighted to be able to announce that we will be joined in School on 20th February by our local députée Marie Lebec who will be talking to us about Brexit and the French administration’s approach. A parents’ session will be held and details will follow. I’m sure that députée Mme Lebec, a key player in the government’s Brexit strategy team, will provide us with more clarity about what might happen next.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

http://www2.assemblee-nationale.fr/deputes/fiche/OMC_PA721852

Learning from our mistakes

Broken might be better

Kinsugi is the Japanese tradition of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum. This craft tradition sees breakage and repair as being an essential element of the history of an object. The visible sign of damage followed by enhancement is something to be celebrated.

This idea has great relevance in learning. Whilst we all like to find the correct answer the first time, ideas that really stick with us are often the ones that we have had to think about longest and the hardest. Whilst it is demoralising to receive an essay or set of answers or solutions that has been worked on for hours covered in red, green, purple or pink ink (I’ve seen them all), this is the piece of work that will provide the greatest number of learning opportunities. Getting things wrong can be a reason for eventually getting things right. The old adage is so very right, we really do learn from our mistakes. This week I have been particularly impressed with the attitude of a member of my Year 9 history set. Last term was not a vintage one. This term I have a different student in front of me. A lively, and engaged individual who will achieve at a far higher level than before. I believe that over the holiday thought has been given to comments made by teachers in assessment grades and advice has been taken. As a consequence progress is made.

Kett building - January 2019 sunriseThe modern world with the ever prevailing pressure of perfect social media personas is about as far from kinsugi as can be imagined. The cult of perfection it peddles is one of the present’s most pernicious features. Our young people live in the eye of this perfect storm. Mistakes are not permitted. Flaws are to be seen as fatal. So pity those who have started this term with mock exams. There won’t be perfect scores at this point. No instabragging material. But mistakes made now will, if used constructively, be the best of learning tools. The same is true throughout the school. Mistakes, if used to improve, are an essential and powerful tool for learning. Challenges when overcome improve confidence levels, develop growth mind set and quite simply allow pupils to believe in themselves a little bit more. We are as Socrates said, the measure of all things. However, on occasion, it takes a little time and practice to gain that measure. Achieving a C grade or a B in mock exams or work done during the term suggests that there is growth and learning still to come. If you can do everything that is thrown at you at the start of the course then what is the role of education? Our mistakes and our shortcomings are not to be hidden away, rather they should be the material of reflection. They are so often the key to real understanding.

Over the coming term we will be encouraging all pupils to reflect on what has gone wrong. We will seek to support them in applying their own gold dusted lacquer on their learning, the bits that have not gone well and that could be made better. It will be a term of “if at first you don’t succeed then try, try again”. This is not the easiest path for parents or pupils. In the long run it might well be the most productive.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Let us remember: one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai

By rights, this would be the column in which I look forward to all that a new year will bring. Normally I’d be talking about resolutions, new beginnings and thinking about all we have to look forward to. I’d mention some of the events or happenings that we are looking forward to. It would be a positive, enthusiastic preview. But having been subjected to a near constant diet of concerning news over the holiday, I really do wonder what 2019 will bring. We seem to be living in a world in which dialogue has broken down and one in which co-operation is a long forgotten concept. So before writing I took the only course of action available in such dire circumstances and went for a walk. Having enjoyed the crisp winter air and having had time to think about what I should be thinking I’m writing in a more positive manner about what lies ahead and more importantly what we as a school can do to make things better for the future.

BSP pupils will go on to be leaders and opinion formers. They will be influential in whichever community they join. I’ve said it before and I will no doubt say it again, but it is important to recognise this fact. As future leaders and opinion shapers one of the skills that I hope they develop this year is the vital skill of oracy. If this world needs one thing, it is a group of young people who can speak truth to power. We need a generation who can challenge and who have the ability to stand up for what they believe to be right. Not at the cost of others, but for the good of all. If this is to be achieved then we as educationalists and parents need to ensure that every young person develops a voice and is ready to use that powerful instrument for change. Many of our pupils already have this skill; the Eco School group with their campaign to make the School single use plastic free, our prefects, our young managers, our charity committee members and the Student Councils have all developed a voice. This year I hope that every pupil uses the opportunities that they have for debate in class and in co-curricular activities to develop their voice. They should take an example from their peers rather than looking at the tawdry example set by many in public life and in some cases holding high office. They should develop constructive ways of engaging with discourse in both the real and the virtual world. They, I believe, have something important to say about the world that they are set to inherit. Furthermore, the world needs to hear it.

soap boxSo, if I have one resolution this year, it will be to ensure that I encourage our young people to develop their voice. To give them opportunities to speak and provide them with space to develop the ideas that may well save the planet. If I manage to achieve this it is likely to have a more lasting effect than my normal resolutions that never make it past January (usually the 2nd of January).

A very warm welcome to all new members of the school community. We have had new starters this week and there are more on Monday. We all look forward to getting to know you and working with you.

With every good wish for a joyful and constructive New Year.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“A living art of teaching…”

“A living art of teaching… has a thread of strength running through it that stimulates individual students to participate.” – Rudolph Steiner

jumpersI never thought there would be a clear connection between Marxist intellectuals and novelty festive wear. Turns out there is. The link is the Christmas Jumper. The modern “tradition” of wearing hideous festive woollies seems to have emerged in the last decade and is now a regular fixture of the run up to Christmas. It has even been put to good use by the Save the Children Fund who sponsor a Christmas Jumper Day on the 14th of December. So far so itchy.

There have been plenty of festive pullovers in evidence at this term end but it is the people wearing the jumpers I would like to focus on today. Over the past few weeks we have been treated to wonderful concerts, there have been quizzes, Christmas lunch extravaganzas, parties and plays. Once you have the opportunity to learn about the personalities behind the knitwear it soon becomes clear that there is more to our pupils than just a silly sweater. Indeed, at the end of a very busy term it is good to reflect upon the many diverse achievements that have been won over the course of the term. Particular thanks are due to Year 8 Zara who designed our splendid polar bear Christmas e-card this year.

Last week I saw the Nursery Christmas show; how humbling to see the youngest members of our school community singing and dancing with such assuredness. In September they were having their first experience of the School and now they are quite at home! Key Stage 1 and 2 have had busy terms in which they have moved on in their learning and have enjoyed days out to farms and days in with Egyptians. They have impressed us all with their singing too in their Christmas Shows. The Seniors have not been left behind. Our girls’ football team had a magnificent season, we’ve seen excellent expeditions and trips. University offers are rolling in and our Christmas Show gave our musicians a chance to shine. It has been a wonderful term and there have been so many high points that it is impossible to list them within my newsletter word count. But if you want to see what has been achieved, then take a look at our social media feeds, enjoy the recordings of shows and glance back over the term’s newsletters. As well as having questionable taste in jumpers our pupils have given of themselves and their talents to assist others in the local community through a variety of service projects, collection campaigns and fundraisers. Be it sorting stuff at Emmaüs or playing a musical instrument for older people in their care home, our pupils do it. It is easy to be distracted by the miles of acrylic yarn but make no mistake, our young people are made of a far more powerful moral fibre. They understand that service and integrity are as important as excellence.
One and all they deserve every congratulation on all that they have achieved. I hope that you and they have a joyful Christmas and Happy New Year.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

1. See The Invention of Tradition E. J. Hobsbawm and T. O. Ranger if you wish to find out more…

Christmas Time

“Gleðileg jól!”

Time travels more speedily when it is the end of term. There is also less of it in the run up to Christmas. Put the two together and you gain an appreciation of how life has been in the last ten days or so. The end of term is now upon us and it does not seem so very long ago that we were returning from the summer holidays.

This has been a fulfilling and exciting term. Our young people have worked hard and played hard and the results are plain to see. For many the Christmas holiday will be a well-earned break, a chance to spend time with friends and relatives. For others it will be a time to draw breath and to prepare for the January exams.

This week I read with great interest that the Italian education minister Marco Bussetti had called on schools to avoid overloading pupils with homework during the festive period. Italian students have one of the heaviest homework burdens in Europe and he gave a clear steer to Heads that they should ensure that there is time for pupils to enjoy time with their family and relatives (for those looking for a country with a lighter burden try Finland). This week also saw the centenary of the birth of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The great author was a man who used his time to the full. He had a punishing working day rising at 1am, working until 9am when he had a short break before continuing on until 7pm. Then he went to bed (sometimes with a pitchfork by his side). There is probably a happy medium between the do no work plan and the Solzhenitsyn approach. So what should our pupils (who do not face the looming spectre of mocks) do this holiday? How best to spend the coming days?

The answer is perhaps to be found in the approach to holiday time found in another country, Iceland. Jólabókaflóð is a tradition borne from the privations of the Second World War when Iceland was unable to import goods. Friends started to exchange books rather than give gifts. Once they had been exchanged on Christmas Eve people went home and spent the evening curled up with a good book. After the war Icelandic publishers saved up their new titles for the Christmas period and the Jólabókaflóð or Book Flood emerged as a custom. Books are still exchanged the night before Christmas. It is perhaps no co-incidence that Icelanders read more books per capita than any other nation in the world.

JS Library photo for coverI hope that everyone receives a book to read this Christmas. Perhaps more importantly I hope that everyone finds time, if only a small amount, to read between now and the start of the next term. If that is the case then we can all probably agree with the words of the song that this is “the most wonderful time of the year”.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

Faddism

Clearly something that is to be avoided, but something that is very tempting to those in education. Barely a week goes by without some great new educational idea being introduced on an unsuspecting world. Some initiatives are adopted wholesale, others fall by the wayside pretty quickly. A trip down memory lane will bring up such marvellous ideas as learning outcomes, verbal feedback stamps and sitting in form order. This week, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools turned her withering gaze upon the formerly popular primary education scheme, Brain Gym. The programme has been around for
a while now and gained a loyal band of adherents convinced of its benefits. The scheme started in California in the late 1980s and was used widely in Europe; indeed in 2008 it received the official stamp of approval with the then Department for Children, School and Families.

It gained an enthusiastic following and I am sure it was enjoyed by many who took part in it. There is little to suggest that it actually helps with learning (if you want to read an entertaining demolition try Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science analysis). All reservations put aside I’m sure that for some it was a way of finding success at school and maybe in turn
it drew pupils to further academic progress. Who knows? Scientifically unsound, it could still have some value. I firmly believe that a tiny amount of success in school can lead to the sort of momentum that grows greater and even greater success.

Over the course of the week I read a piece of what seems to be a well-researched, thoughtful academic paper which called into question certain educational beliefs that I have held dear for many years. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren’s report ‘The achievement well-being trade-off in education’ suggests that many recent attempts to put children at the
centre of leaning and teaching methods are ill-founded.

He questions the view that pupil-led learning, enjoyment and performance form a virtuous circle (he clearly must have loved his school days). He hypothesises that we have all read our Rousseau incorrectly and suggests that “effective learning is often not enjoyable”. Having read all this I was starting to worry that I’d got it all wrong and had been heading off into a happy land of educational mediocrity. I was relieved to note towards the end of the paper that he wasn’t suggesting a return to Gradgrindian education but rather explaining that there may well be times that pupils will be less than happy about doing their homework and other elements of their learning. He advocates making pedagogical trade-offs depending on whether we are looking for education to provide the state with income or to produce fulfilled adults. All in all, I think we may be on the right track here at the BSP. I’ll probably read it again just to check though…

ShowI finished my week seeing the Reception and Key Stage 1 Christmas Show. An extravaganza of talent and indeed joy. Most of the joy was in the audience. Well done to all the performers and thank you to their teachers who have worked so hard to bring the show to fruition. Experiences like this are both joyful and valuable. The good thing is there are plenty more to come in the coming weeks.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

“No-one is bigger than the team” – John Kirwan and Sean Fitzpatrick, 1999

U18 girsl foot ASPWe are entering the time of year where sports players shift their attention from autumn sports to winter sports. I had the pleasure of watching the boys’ 1st XI play their final game on Saturday morning and round off their season with an emphatic win. Regular readers of the newsletter will be aware that our girls’ 1st XI had their most successful season on record remaining unbeaten in the regular season. This magnificent achievement is testament to their extraordinary team spirit and skill. They have been coached effectively and have worked together to produce exceptional results. I suspect that all of the players in this all-conquering side will remember this season as being one of the best, no matter how long they continue to play the game. Chapeau.

An ability to be an effective team player is valuable skill indeed. Over the course of a pupil’s time at school they will be put into a team. Sometimes they will be with their
friends and often they won’t. In many ways I favour the latter. As an educational experience there can be little that is more valuable than to be placed in a situation
where one is forced to co-operate with other people, to communicate clearly and to support a collective endeavour. At the BSP many opportunities to be part of a team
exist. Obviously there are sports teams but the cast of a play is also a team. Our orchestras and ensembles are also areas of mutual co-operation and I am looking forward to seeing these teams in action at the end of term concerts. But the experience of co-operation is not limited to co-curricular activities. We regularly build teams in the
classrooms. Group work when I was at school was always a bit of an excuse to skive off and let someone else do the heavy lifting. Now group work tasks are established that
really test students’ knowledge and develop their team working skills. Today I observed some Year 12 Economics students work in teams for ten minutes to produce mini presentations on a topic that they had not known before they started. This is a real and meaningful learning challenge which develops both skills and knowledge. The results were very impressive. I would never have envisaged a Hackathon team – but we have one.

I am not a huge fan of management books but James Kerr’s “Legacy” is something of an exception. Whilst on the surface it is about rugby we have used it as a staff to consider the way in which we approach our roles in the various teams that we belong to. Kerr, in looking at the recent culture of leadership in All Black rugby provides us as teachers or adults working in a school with many useful lessons concerning the way we play our part. It is well worth a look. I believe that we have learned from it.

So be it a Maths Challenge team or a rock band, the cast of a musical or being the substitute on the bench, I hope that every member of this school has the opportunity to be part of a team each term. We won’t all have an unbeaten season but we will develop a vital life skill.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster