“Tell me and I forget…”

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin

If you had told me at the start of this week that I would be a witness to multiple deep space astronaut rescue missions, I would not have believed you. It has been a funny old week. At a time when we are looking at the application of AI technology it has been refreshing, this week, to be witnessing initiative, problem solving and clear thinking of a more human nature. That’s not to say that we haven’t been blending our traditional approaches with more technologically advanced approaches. You may have seen evidence on our social media feeds of the Year 4 dragon, programmed to flap wings. Years 5-8 have all been in coding workshops led by the RAF STEM team building robots and programming them to perform complex manoeuvres including a challenging rescue mission. This was learning by doing, it built resilience and encouraged initiative.

Watching Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 pupils discover through challenge is always interesting. The combination of Lego and computer processors is always going to capture imaginations, but I was delighted to see how our own young engineers were able to work together to come up with solutions to the problems that they were set. There is much to be learned by occasionally coming off timetable to delve deeper into a challenge. Similarly, it is always good to be reminded that behind the vast majority of technological innovations there are the very human qualities of collaboration, resilience and creative thinking. For digital natives it is perhaps a useful reminder that the digital power we wield today is the product of human ingenuity, it didn’t simply arrive here fully formed.

Older pupils have been enjoying working under a slightly warmer sun this week as they engage with all important geography fieldwork in Girona, a chance to put classroom theory into more practical action. They will be processing their results in the weeks to come and they will have to apply what they’ve learned in Spain later this year in the exam hall. In many cases having the chance to engage with the subject in a non-classroom environment provides new perspectives and ideas about the subjects that have been learned in the classroom. Be that with ranging pole in hand or sending a robot into space it all makes a profound impact.

Alongside all of this personal challenge and development it was great to have the first school time opening of the School’s thrift shop. It is good to see pupils aided by both staff and parents creating such a professionally appointed space from which good will be generated. Whilst we should and do strive for excellence in all that we do it is nothing unless it is infused with integrity and a concern for others. This is blended learning at its very best.

I do hope that you have a great weekend.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“The thing that we possess, that machines don’t…”

“The thing that we possess, that machines don’t, is the ability to exhibit wisdom.”

Herbie Hancock

One sign of a successful education is that a young person has developed the ability to express their thoughts and ideas in a rational and constructive manner. There is little need to analyse the woeful start of current public discourse and I regularly am frustrated by the examples set by those in power who resort to dead cat, dog whistle or other forms of base political rhetoric. It was therefore a pleasure to have been invited to Year 12’s recent debates. The debate teams had been given a wide variety of subjects to argue over and the standard of discourse was very high indeed. Those who have been in The Hague this week at the Model United Nations have been similarly eloquent and have expressed their views with wit and rigour. Proper debate requires a good deal of research, thought and consideration. All of which are approaches we value here at the BSP.

Our young people should and do think for themselves. Over the last few weeks, the idea that we should be engaging with such ancient and antiquated notions as rhetoric and research have been called into question. The rise of accessible AI driven research tools such as ChatGPT have been the source of much media interest. Once again, the death of the teacher has been predicted and academic work as we know it pronounced revolutionised. Schools out… and not just for summer? Mike Sharples the Emeritus Professor of Educational Technology at The Open University believes that university students are already using ChatGPT to write their essays, and scientific journals are considering banning the use of AI in their research papers. There is a degree of panic.

I suspect that some of our pupils will have had a look at the services, to satisfy curiosity as much as to use the facility in earnest. I thought that I’d ask it to write the rest of this column and so posed it the simple question Will ChatGPT make teachers redundant? The answer was… well I’ll let you decide:

ChatGPT, as a language model AI, is a tool that can assist teachers in various tasks such as answering students’ questions, providing feedback, and even creating lesson plans. However, it is important to note that ChatGPT is not a substitute for human teachers. Teachers play a vital role in providing guidance, mentorship, and personal interaction to students. Furthermore, they are responsible for creating a positive learning environment, fostering critical thinking, and developing students’ social and emotional skills.

AI-powered tools such as ChatGPT can help teachers to improve their effectiveness and efficiency by automating some of their tasks and providing them with valuable data and insights. However, it is important to use these tools in a complementary way, not as a replacement for human teachers. AI-based tools can never replace the human touch, understanding, compassion and motivation that a teacher can provide.

Well, that’s good news… if the machine says it, it must be true. Have a great weekend.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Now were he impostor and called himself prince…”

“Now were he impostor and called himself prince, look you that would be natural; that would be reasonable. But lived ever an impostor yet, who, being called prince by the king, prince by the court, prince by all, denied his dignity and pleaded against his exaltation?”

‘The Prince and the Pauper’, Mark Twain

It turns out that you can’t fool Reception for very long. This week I had the great honour of attending the Reception Ball in the Debussy Building. I was accompanied by the Queen, there was dancing, courtly behaviour, and a lavish spread (orange juice and a biscuit). But it didn’t take long for Reception to realise that I wasn’t in fact a King. Given the recent experiences of the British monarch perhaps I’m quite pleased not to be one. Their dancing was rather better than mine.

In my conversations with young people, they often express a worry that they aren’t living up to the images that they see each day. Having been identified as an imposter I can understand that many feel that they too are imposters. Many worry that they are not meeting expectations; we live in a world that promotes some sort of perfection as normal. Instagram, Tik Tok and a host of others bombard them on a minute-by-minute basis. Some feel that the success they earn is in some way undeserved, that any minute they will be found wanting or will come up short. They need to be resilient; they need to be prepared. We need to provide the opportunities for our young people to prove to themselves that they have more in them than they might believe. We need to ensure that both competition and comparison are handled carefully so as to get the best from them, so often their effect is negative.

As the weather gets steadily worse and the nights don’t seem to shorten this is a challenging time of year. It is a time when enthusiasm may flag. It’s the time that we need to ensure that we are making the most of all opportunities on offer, to engage with the extra-curricular programme as enthusiastically as lessons. This is a time when we can learn an enormous amount about ourselves, about who we really are. It is the time that our oldest pupils may also start to look beyond the school gates at what lies in store for them, university offers are rolling in and plans are being made for future studies around the world and in some cases close to home. This year we will see our pupils take their A levels to a wide variety of institutions around the world. They will grow, they will develop, and I hope that having had their BSP experience will be comfortable in their own character, able to play their part in whatever comes next.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“And now we welcome the new year…”

“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

It is true that the school year has a particular rhythm, it moves along at a pace that is to be expected. There is the excitement of the start of the new term in September, the busy joyfulness of the end of the autumn term and the predictably slightly flat start of the spring term in January. Whilst this may well be the case for most schools and many school years, that hasn’t been the case this year. My thinking has been modified over the last few days because we’ve been busy, we’ve welcomed new pupils, enjoyed having visitors and are looking ahead to what is in store for the rest of the term. It has been anything but flat as a start of term. We’ve started the year at a sprint.

First and foremost, welcome to our new families. The BSP is a warm community, and we are all looking forward to getting to know you. One of the unique features of life at the BSP is that no-one stays “new” for very long, in our dynamic environment we are well used to making joiners feel welcome very quickly and ensuring that they feel at home as soon as possible. Where questions arise then please ask – an answer is usually easy to give. We are delighted to have so many new families joining us at what is for some the start of the academic year and for others is a mid-year transfer.

Spare a thought for our hardworking Year 11 and Year 13 pupils who have had the New Year treat of exams over the past week. These exams are important wayposts on the journey to academic success and fantastic results in the summer. Arguably they are a greater challenge than the real thing as preparation is short, not every course had covered all of the material and skills have yet to be honed in readiness for the summer. Results now will be used carefully and give teachers the opportunity to tailor provision to the needs of students; whilst a good result is satisfying, spotting where more work is required is perhaps an equal achievement at this point in the year.

It has been a week of visits as well as a time for settling back into school life. We were delighted to welcome Mme Alexandra Dublanche, her Choose Paris Region team and our Croissy Mayor, M. Davin so they could see the school and be able to make our offer more widely known. I know that all left school with no doubt that ours is a unique and vibrant environment, and who would not when treated to an impromptu performance of Pitter Patter Raindrops by Reception, a chance encounter with a class of Victorian children and their rather terrifying teachers (Year 2) and a high-level discussion about the habits and lifestyles of penguins (Nursery)? We also had the chance to show our school to Mr. Greg Mulheirn our new British Embassy representative on the Governing Board. Mr. Mulheirn is well versed in school governance having served in this capacity at the British School of Tokyo. He comes with a wealth of experience and will work with us alongside his day job as liaison representative for the Rugby World Cup and 2024 Olympics.

While the weather may well be miserable, the BSP is warming up. It is going to be a great year and this weekly newsletter will chronicle our achievements.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“In winter’s tedious nights…”

“In winter’s tedious nights sit by the fire
With good old folks and let them tell thee tales.”

Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 5, Scene 1

What a finish, what a finale to the term! Christmas in a school community is always a very special time and this year as we were able to celebrate fully and mask free there was, certainly for me, a feeling that this celebration was just that little bit more special. Last week we enjoyed concerts, plays, international day and two talent shows. Only at the BSP do we have enough talent to fill two whole talent shows! This newsletter should give you a flavour of all that was enjoyed – please do watch the recording of the Christmas concerts – they are the perfect accompaniment to any festive meal.

Now we have a moment to pause, many families will enjoy time together, relatives will be visited, stories will be told. It is a magical time of year and I hope that one and all enjoy this holiday. Amongst all that excitement it would be good to think that there is a little time to be quiet, to read, to walk, to enjoy time indoors and time outdoors and for those who need to, a chance to revise.

As we look forward to the coming year and all that there is to anticipate I think we can afford to do so with a sense of optimism, whilst there are problems in this world, our young people have the capacity to change their world.

In our last Senior School assembly of the year, I quoted Maya Angelou, and perhaps it is right that I allow this great poet to have the final word this year. We should enjoy our holiday and move to a new year with optimism:

“Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.”

With every good wish for the holidays.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“I will honour Christmas…”

“I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”

Charles Dickens

According to the 1944 Education Act, schools in England are required to have a daily act of collective worship which is broadly Christian in nature. Outside of a relatively small band of faith schools I’d be surprised if many schools follow this element of the Act. Here in France there are different rules. It’s not that you can’t have religion in schools, it’s the case that you have to opt in if that’s what you want. Last week, data published from the last British census tells us that less than half of the British population considers itself to be Christian – this is a significant change from 10 years ago when 59.3% professed adherence. We are a school community in which there are different beliefs however we don’t subscribe to any particular religious faith. In this we are following the lead provided by the republican nature of the local educational tradition and trusting in our school values.Religions and religious belief are often the subject of criticism outside of schools. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion is clear that religion “teaches us that there is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding” (2006). If this is the case, then it is perhaps fair to ask the question why are we so keen on celebrating Christmas? There is an obvious link with ancient festivals such as Saturnalia and other religious celebrations but surely there is more than that to all of this. Perhaps the true appeal of Christmas must lie in the fact that it promotes virtues that are universal, shared and representing common ideas about humanity. And it is a time of year when we need a bit of cheer. I’d like to think that amongst the materialism, Mariah Carey, and the terrible movies that are inescapable at this time of year we are thinking about those who will not enjoy time with family or whose lives are blighted by illness, want and despair. If ever I need confirmation that our community does look outward, it is in the annually astonishing repose to the Love in a Box appeal. Thank you to all the families who have filled boxes and whose generosity will bring joy at this time of year. Similarly all who supported last week’s Christmas Fair, a huge thank you. As a consequence of your generosity there are children in our partner schools who will have access to education where previously there was no school. Now that’s a gift.

Whatever beliefs we have or don’t have, this is as good a time as any to think of others and indeed to celebrate all that has been done through the course of the year and what lies ahead. BSP pupils have achieved a massive amount on a personal and a collective level in the last twelve months. We’ve returned to exams in person, our trips are back on, we have a wide range of activities available and we do not need to wear masks all the time. School life feels normal – and I am particularly grateful for that. There is much to celebrate. I hope that you will be able to join us for our seasonal concerts (or have already joined us this afternoon for the magical Reception and KS1 performance), there are plenty more to choose from. Each one promises to be a moment to escape the pressures of the world around us and bask in the spirit of human generosity that marks this time of year, whatever our particular way of viewing the world.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“The value of life…”

“The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use that we make of them… whether you find satisfaction in life depends not on your tale of years, but on your will.”

Michel de Montaigne

Time is always tight in these last few weeks before the end of term. There are rehearsals for concerts, talent show auditions, sports fixtures and plenty of other activities. Often regarded as the most wonderful time of the year, it is undoubtedly one of the busiest times. Tomorrow is a red letter (or perhaps red and green letter) day in our calendar. This year’s Christmas Fair is back to its joyful, Christmassy best and it promises to be a splendid way to kick off your festive merrymaking (and seasonal shopping). The BSPS have been working hard to ensure that this much-loved event returns in style. I do hope that you can join us. It is a great way to start your celebrations.

As this newsletter evidences, we try, as far as we can to let people know what we are doing and celebrate our community’s achievements. That said schools are sometimes places where good things happen that go unreported. Last weekend I had the good fortune to take a moment to sit down and listen to a radio programme. As a child of a pre-internet age, I’m still an ardent radio listener but I find it ever more difficult to simply sit still and listen to a programme as there is generally some form of distraction. ‘The Poetry Detective’ is a programme on BBC Radio 4, this episode told the story of poetry that have been carved on rocks near John O’Groats in the far North of Scotland. I won’t spoil the story by giving too much away but it was clear to the person who had discovered these lost words that this was a project not done for all to see but was being done for its own sake. It is a great story, if you can find a moment to listen, I recommend it, click here. In the coming days there will be plenty of opportunities for both sparkling and shining – stages are set, and the orchestra is tuning up. The magic of this time of year is well and truly upon us and as part of our celebrations I will be asking pupils to tell me if there are accomplishments that have given them particular satisfaction over the past twelve months. I’m interested in those performances that have not been recognised in a formal sense but have provided personal satisfaction. This isn’t an exercise in pride but more one of recognition, one in which growth of character is celebrated. Our young people face a world in which there are many challenges to be met and they will only do so successfully if they recognise in themselves the power that they hold to make our planet a better place. That is not something that you find under a tree wrapped up and delivered seemingly by magic, but within oneself and sometimes at a price. These possibly small triumphs may never make it into the newsletter but are no less worthy of our acknowledgement. There is satisfaction in the recognition of something that is done well, even if it isn’t going to be seen by everyone else.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Wisdom is welcome wherever it comes from.” – Bandamanna Saga

We were visited by Vikings this week. Happily not much obvious pillaging took place, and the buildings are still standing. Year Four had the opportunity to learn about this fascinating group of people from the past, to understand how and why their reputation is not always as clear cut as popular culture might suggest. It isn’t all long boats and raids, but there is a fair amount of migration and farming. One element of Viking culture that just about every historian can agree on was the importance of the oration given at a Viking’s funeral. The eulogy outlined the highlights of a life lived and was often expressed in terms of virtue rather than achievement. Courage, wisdom, integrity and excellence were all prized greatly in this particular culture.

When I have the chance to speak to our oldest pupils about their university applications it sometimes feels that we are dealing with these eulogy values rather than the achievements that might find their way onto another application form. The wider purpose of education is to develop these characteristics, to build the capacity to live a life to the full, to flourish. Last weekend I was delighted to see so many members of the community representing the school in the Paris Schools football tournament. In the middle of the week it was equally good to see others taking time to play rugby and netball against a visiting team at a time when there are plenty of other things on. The team from Bede’s will remember the warmth and hospitality that they experienced and the competitiveness of our teams. Great to see a sense of community, a striving to discover our limits, endeavouring to win and in doing so demonstrating both excellence and integrity. Eulogy values indeed.

This week also saw the commemoration of a great supporter of the school. Mr. James Harman was a governor of the school for twenty-eight years. He gave his time and his expertise selflessly and to the great benefit of the community, not only in his specialist area of financial management but in many areas of the school’s life. He will be missed by his family and his contribution to the development of the BSP will be remembered for many years here.

Today I was visited by a pupil who is keen that we find a way to demonstrate our concern for the safety of young people in Iran. It was clear that this was a request that was being made, not for any political viewpoint, but out of concern for young people in that particular country. If we are thinking about eulogy values then I am encouraged by the empathy, care and kindness shown by our group of young people.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“…more than a place in space, it is a drama in time.” – Sir Patrick Geddes

It is always good to see our pupils take to the stage. There can be few things that provide a greater challenge for any young person than performing in front of their peers and others, notably parents. This week our Year 13 drama students performed for us (and the examination board). Using little by way of scenery or props they demonstrated the power of movement and words expressing powerful themes as well as an obscure reference to an orange bear. The performances were engaging and convincing. I’m sure that they will be rewarded with a great set of marks as this show counts towards their A level exam. We were fortunate to share in the experience.

School life is, at least to some extent, a series of performances. Teachers provide a series of mini shows lesson by lesson, whilst many pupils adopt a range of characters as they make their way through the school day. There are performances in front of friends and there are many dramas that are played out day by day. Schools also have their costumes and their props. We all have our respective roles and when we don’t play them according to the script things tend to go wrong.

Without overplaying this comparison it is perhaps worth stating that all pupils have the opportunity to write their own script and to be the author of their future. We are entering the final act of this term; we have only 20 teaching days until the holiday and there is an enormous amount to enjoy before then. For some there will be anxiety about forthcoming mock exams, the good news is that there is time to prepare for mocks, time to gain support and time to do the necessary work. For others, thoughts will be turning to the Christmas Concerts, Talent Shows and International Day. This is the start of a special time of the year. A few will be looking to the end of the term knowing it is time to move on to a new school and a different stage. We believe that they will leave with skills and knowledge that they did not have before and a group of friends with whom they will maintain contact.

This weekend is another one filled with opportunity. Our senior school sports players play a block fixture at the ASP, our charity shop will open tomorrow morning and quietly and perhaps unheralded there will be academic work completed. A group of intrepid Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award candidates will be orienteering on Saturday morning. Good luck and “good success” to all who represent the school in whichever field.

This week has also seen a most successful anti-bullying week campaign and it was indeed heartening to see plenty of odd socks being worn on Monday morning in support of this excellent initiative. Later on in the week the Senior School witnessed not only a heather formed moustache (Movember)but a collection of lavatories for our toilet twinning initiatives. It is inspiring to see our young people supporting these worthy causes. If you want to support the toilet twinning initiative, please feel free to spend more than a penny – 60 Euros will support a toilet in the developing world. I think our cake sale has raised enough to provide others with facilities where once there were none.

I hope that you have a good weekend.

Mr Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” – Leo Tolstoy

Periodically I am stopped in my tracks by a statement or question from a pupil. It is generally the sort of question that makes you consider what you are doing, it makes you wonder if you are doing the right thing or have missed the mark. Both Junior School and Senior School have been engaging in a period of remembrance over the past few weeks, it is an important part of the year and I hope challenges thinking. My pupil questioner is in Year 9 and returned yesterday from a trip to the battlefields of the First World War. She let me know that she’d been studying war poetry in English, the music of war and the history syllabus was, unsurprisingly, focused on World War I. In addition assemblies have been about remembrance and the art department has once more added to the remembrance installation on the front lawn. She mused that this was a lot of war. I would agree it is, by any measure, a lot of conflict. Too much? Possibly so but working out what is enough is not an easy challenge to meet.

When I was at school conflict seemed a long way away, but during my teaching career I’ve been aware of war creeping ever closer and affecting ever greater numbers of families. Most recently we’ve seen war in Europe in a way that was unthinkable to people like me who have consigned the idea of a war on this continent to being in the bracket of “nigh on impossible.” That we need to be reminded of the horror of conflict between nations is without question and November gives us a fixed point each year to consider its impact on a variety of levels.

This year we have extended the horizon to consider conflict in wider forms. In school most conflict is between individuals and its seeds are often found in cyberspace, the same may well be true of global politics. The danger of distilling complex discussion into soundbites and 140-character messages is risky – this is a place where nuance is necessary, reflection important and consideration vital. We as a school should be providing this space and teaching independence of thought. Sadly, it seems to be the case that we allow ourselves to be far more belligerent, far more aggressive when installed behind a keyboard than is the case when we come together to discuss and seek to appreciate different points of view. That we need a reminder of where all this could end up is without doubt, and so tomorrow I will be reflecting not only upon war and the horror it brings but also how conflict can emerge from poor choice of words and from thoughtlessness. I hope pupils who have had the opportunity to consider the scars that conflict causes will decide to use their words with care and kindness. We must practise patience.

Year 9 have seen a good deal of war this week but next week there will be less, I can only hope that all that has been said, and seen, and considered will lead to a safer, more tolerant, and accepting world.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr