Seventy one percent. Good as an exam result and even better as a return on an investment made. Over the last few months our young investors club have been tracking stocks and shares, scrutinising performance and ensuring that they have been making the very best of their fictional funds. The winning team managed to increase their initial stake by a whopping 71%. At a time when we are being told that world economies are bouncing back it is very good indeed to see our team reading the market so very well. Down in Nursery this week it was also exciting to see the planting of beans both in soil and hydroponically and what a treat to see these seeds grow with the correct levels of care. In both cases important lessons to be learned about patience, scrutiny and prudence.
Next week we will start to see a slow and steady resumption of more normal school activity. A few extra-curricular activities that we have not seen for a while will creep back allowing for days to be a little more enjoyable and varied. This is perhaps the first sign of green shoots, slight encouragement that we will soon enough be able to go back to our normal rich and varied school life. Whilst the Nursery beans may well have grown into fine strong plants by the time we are fully operational, this week has perhaps given us some cause for hope. As the term progresses our levels of activity will go up and down, rather like the investment club’s shares, but overall progress is clearly back towards normality. As we start to speak of activity weeks, trips, after school sport and even more music our optimism builds. All this needs to be tempered with an eye to still stringent rules to keep everyone safe.
If one lesson has been learned during the course of this year it is probably around patience. In a world where attention spans are getting ever shorter our young people have had to develop a fund of this valuable resource or at least learn to tolerate waiting. They have had to deal with uncertainty, suspense and restrictions on their activities, some will have found new outlets and others will simply be itching to be out there once again. Education rewards those who are ready to apply themselves with a view to making wise investments of both time and effort. It will be very interesting indeed to see how this generation who have learned through adversity will use these remarkable qualities. Great achievements will no doubt come their way, their determination and resilience will serve them well and will perhaps benefit not just themselves but others, and some of them will also know how to grow some really nice beans.
“There are so many things that kids care about, where they excel, where they try hard, where they learn important life lessons, that are not picked up by test scores.”
Grit, Angela Duckworth
Despite the very best efforts of the pandemic, we find ourselves looking at the start of a new summer term in school. Our juniors were able to return to school and have enjoyed life by the river this week and the seniors are set to return on Monday unless there are some major and unexpected announcements to be made this weekend. Whilst much is different, I am pleased to be able to report that the banks of the Seine remain a wonderful place for a school.
This is a short term: we have only forty school days left until we break for the summer. Before we know where we are we will be considering prize giving and thinking about the summer holidays. In the normal course of the school year, we would be gearing up for public exams but not so this year. Whilst it is not a year for “normal” GCSEs and A levels it will be a year that will be remembered for tests. Since I last wrote, I’ve had six tests, all a little eye watering, and not because I had forgotten to revise: I’m sure I am not alone in this well-travelled community in having an all too familiar relationship with the PCR test. This week I was informed that we will not be part of the national roll out of school-based testing, if there is a suspicion of symptoms then the best place to go is a local testing station or pharmacy for confirmation- the only consolation is that the queues are shorter than they were a few months ago.
Indeed, the only testing that we are likely to see this term are internal academic tests and the newly created mini-assessments. This comparative scarcity of summer term testing may well be the sign of changing educational attitudes and out of this mire of COVID we could see a new approach to assessment; one that relies on a steady, consistent approach rather than relying on the single measure of a summertime exam. This week the exam board AQA suggested that there would be no “leap back to normality” when it comes to the exams they have planned for 2021 and I think this is an approach that we should welcome. Whatever change looks like it will be important for us all to ensure that we do not replace the high-pressure approach of terminal exams with an equally harmful constant treadmill pressure of continuous assessed tasks. There is surely room for a degree of new thinking in this regard and as criticism of the current system has been made by none other than the Education Minister who oversaw the introduction of GCSE in 1998 it will perhaps come.
Although short, this term is important and for some it is their last term here at the BSP. No matter what is thrown at us we are committed to making it a most successful one whatever form it takes!
During the course of the day, we learned the sad news regarding the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh. Over the course of his public life the Duke committed to a life in which service was the primary focus. During the coronation ceremony in 1953 he promised to support the Queen in her leadership of both the Nation and the Commonwealth and this he did for the rest of his life. In this endeavour he remained steadfast and unwavering. Whilst not everyone agreed with everything that he said, or is reported to have said, it is undoubtedly the case that many have benefited from what may be his greatest legacy, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. His vision and drive in this regard have been of inestimable value for young people all over the world who have had this life enhancing experience. He was a little blunter about the benefits of the award scheme describing it as a “do it yourself kit in the art of civilised living”. We are proud to offer the International Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at The British School of Paris.
A little-known element of Prince Philip’s life is that he spent some time being educated in St. Cloud not so very far away from us here in Croissy. A child who boasted a heritage that was Greek, Danish, and Russian he was for many the epitome of an Englishman. If we are to remember his contribution to the wider community, we are perhaps correct to recognise his unswerving commitment to service, be that to the World Wildlife Fund, Action on Hearing Loss, the National Playing Fields Movement or The Queen. A child influenced by a worldwide community, who showed initiative, drive and who grew up to dedicate his life to service he perhaps provides a suitable model for our own pupils as they seek to discover the path they will take in life.
Our thoughts are with The Queen and the Royal Family at this time as they mourn the loss of a husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather.
“April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.”
Mark Twain “Puddin’ Head Wilson and Other Stories”
There is an art to a really effective practical joke. I’d thought it was something of a lost art, a tradition that had gently slipped away. As it happens the obituary for this rather innocent form of fun is rather premature and it turns out present at the BSP. Perhaps the most effective school based practical jokes are those that are subtle, those that catch the eye of the hapless Headmaster just enough to persuade him to take the bait, the hook, the line and the sinker. I was well and truly caught yesterday lunchtime by a Year 11 pupil who had decided to enjoy a bottle of beer with his hot dog and chips. Of course, there was nothing more than water in the bottle, he’d planned his stunt carefully and yes, I fell for it entirely – much to the good-natured amusement of all who were in the refectory. I am sure there were many other celebrations of the Poisson d’avril tradition and I’m sure that they were well received.
I believe a school that is able to laugh together is a school that works more effectively than one in which laughter is not heard. Some well-placed humour can make a lesson move along at a new pace, it can be welcoming for new pupils and it is often the thing that is remembered long after a pupil has left the school. Sometimes, of course, the joke is not appreciated, or it is ill considered, and it does not help in the building of a healthy community spirit. It is perhaps days like the 1st April that give our pupils the chance to find out what makes a joke funny not just for them but for everyone. If each pupil gains an understanding of the fine line between funny and upsetting, then we will have given them a useful skill indeed.
Good humour will undoubtedly be required in the coming weeks. Remote schooling is no joke, but those who are able to meet the challenge with a regular smile will flourish. It is likely that there will be moments of frustration (my link is down and you are on mute spring to mind) and if that is the case then the support functions of the school, our pastoral team is ready to help.
The educational writer Dave Keeling has studied humour in schools, and should you be feeling that you might be in need of a laugh or perhaps more importantly to understand why you need to have a laugh or smile even when we aren’t in school – follow this link: https://consiliumeducation.com/itm/2020/04/27/laughter/
and if that was not enough my latest favourite subject based jokes (well three of them):
Why can’t you trust an atom? They make up everything. ‘What’s the difference between a joist and a girder? Joyce wrote “Ulysses” and Goethe wrote “Faust” Who invented fractions? Henry the Eighth.
Over the course of the last twelve months the School has, necessarily, become a community of smaller communities. In some respects this is positive; smaller communities of learners tend to move at a quicker pace than larger ones and teachers interacting with their pupils in small units develop a greater understanding of those they teach; so small is sometimes better. This is, of course true, but within this we need to be careful that we don’t forget to join together for larger events, celebrations and assemblies. Our assemblies this year in both Junior and Senior School have been virtual – they have been broadcast to tutor and classrooms and this is something that may well continue at times in the year when we normally cannot meet, it is one of the “gems” described last week. In the very near future our musicians will be sharing their talents with us through a virtual Spring Concert, and I’d encourage everyone to take a few minutes to join in, to be with the larger BSP community albeit virtual and above all to enjoy some excellent music making.
Another aspect of the current situation is that I have not been able to visit as many classes as I might have liked to. This week I was delighted to have had the opportunity to make a suitably socially distanced visit to Year 5. The topic of the lesson was suspense. We started with a passage from Michael Morpurgo and then the pupils had the opportunity to write their own suspense filled paragraphs. (see JS pages) These included tripping over stray racoons and an evil wizard, I hesitate to say that you couldn’t make it up because, patently, they did. The enthusiasm for both telling a good story and ensuring adverbs, adjectives and subordinate clauses were used correctly and when it is permissible to break grammar rules was palpable. All this enthusiasm for suspense is starkly contrasted with the wearisome “will they, won’t they” behaviour of national leaders who seem keen to move closer to more stringent confinement measures but stop short of school closure. This is suspense that we could probably do without!
As I left Year 5 and having had a lovely chat about liminality and boundaries in the Romano-Celtic world with Year 3 (they started it) I was left wondering about our little communities of learning once again. As an aficionado of collective nouns particularly those describing groups of birds, I did wonder what the relevant term for a group of enthusiastic Year 5 creative writers is – a scribble? A folio? What about our historically minded Year 3s – a dig? An archive? As we head towards the end of the term some of the older year groups may not show quite the same levels of zest as their younger counterparts – is a grump of Year 13s fair or should we be thinking more positively, a flight as they look to the end of their school career? At lunch I have certainly seen a gobble of Year 9s. For those who are interested I’m reliably informed that the collective noun for a group of politicians is an equivocation, strangely apt I’d say. As it is the weekend and it is good to think happy thoughts can I remind you that the collective noun for a group of guillemots is a bazaar?
“Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not.”
It is always interesting to see how language adapts to new situations and events. COVID gems was new to me this week, apparently these gems are the things that you want to take from the turmoil of the recent months and keep as part of your usual routine.
I suspect that we have all had moments over the last twelve months where we have simply given thanks for the small, usually unnoticed things around us that make our world just a little more bearable. Birdsong has been a favourite, local walks, and in France, cheese. I was delighted to note that during confinement French households have consumed 32% more goats’ milk cheese and 9.4% more cows’ milk cheese. For those who like a little more detail, I can also tell you that the biggest single rise in consumption of any cheese was seen by mozzarella. Whilst it won’t have been counted in the overall figures it has been a real treat to have fresh cheese as part of our regular lunch, a “COVID gem” that we will continue with after the hurlyburly’s done.
This week has been French week in the Senior School. We’ve enjoyed French themed lessons, Gallic moustaches in unexpected locations and French music to accompany our lunch. Chapeau to the Year 13s who inspired this festival of all things Francophone. We sometimes take it for granted but we spend our days in an extraordinary environment, the place that inspired the Impressionists to take their easels out into the open air. I suspect that this week and next will be two of the most impressive weeks for tree blossom. If you have the opportunity (and it is within your ten-kilometre radius) then I do recommend a suitably socially distanced look. The National Trust (the UK conservation charity) suggested last year that we should plant blossom rich tree circles as a memorial to those who have lost their lives as a consequence of COVID. Perhaps it is time for us to add to the number of trees in our local environment. In a matter of weeks, the blossom will be gone, and our term will be drawing to a close. For most it will have been a term uninterrupted by COVID closure although I fear some alteration to the structure of the week for those in Years 11, 12 and 13. We await information and will pass it on as soon as we have it.
I’ve written before about doing things differently at the moment. This applies as much for careers advice as any other element of school life. So, a thank you to the members of our community who are providing online support to a number of our older pupils. Our Governors are getting in on the act too, providing career advice via the alumni Linkedin page. Wisdom is soon to be dispensed so watch this space for more detail.
At the end of all of this, the biggest COVID gem that we could carry out from the wreckage will be a sense of kindness. These have been difficult times and one of the most heartening elements is that people have been kind to one another. As we come to the end of a long(ish) term and patience in certain quarters may be wearing thinner it is important that we remind ourselves about the importance of kindness, not only to those around us but to ourselves too. So, take time to enjoy the blossom and have a restful weekend.
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.”
This time twelve months ago we were looking somewhat fretfully at what was going to happen next and the daffodils had just appeared in the student garden in front of the Lighthouse Building. I did not anticipate the scale or scope of the pandemic. Naively, I predicted last March that we’d be back to normal by September. That prediction may turn out to be correct, but I’d got the wrong September. So, you heard it here first, we’ll be back to normal in September 2021. Possibly.
On reflection I am not entirely sure that I really want to go back to where we were in March 2020 in the days BP (Before Pandemic). Much has changed as a consequence of this international emergency, some of it for the better. I’ve written before of the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder – we’ve missed many activities and when normal service is resumed, I hope that all pupils will make the most of what is on offer here. From orchestra to chess, from football to investors club there is something to excite the interest of everyone. We have seen the importance of fruitful human interaction when it has been denied to us and I hope that we all continue to harness the spirit of working together to achieve great things. It would be encouraging for humanity to think that we will take our responsibility to all that is around us more seriously and simply avoid slipping back into what we did, and how we did it BP.
This week the Senior School marked International Women’s Day with an assembly. Follow up work has also been done regarding a production intended to stimulate debate and thought. As a co-educational school I really do hope that we allow our young people the space to consider a huge range of possible avenues of both study and future employment and we move beyond rigid or proscribed views of who should do what. Post pandemic there may even be a reassessment of the way that certain professions and occupations are viewed and rewarded. Only time will tell.
Debate still continues in the UK around the question of exams and their most effective form. This week the Interim Chief Regulator of OFQUAL, Simon Rebus has given an indication that there are likely to be amendments to the way that exams are sat in summer 2022 as a consequence of the events of this last year. Change it seems will occur. It would be good if we were given the new assessment materials for this season’s mini-assessments, our pupil are rightly keen to show their worth. Being able to allay worries would be good before skipping ahead to next year.
There are clear signs of change as a consequence of the last twelve months, exciting debate has been stimulated and new ideas are emerging. Just to make sure that some things stay the same, I made my way over to the Lighthouse building just to check that the daffodils are out once more. They are. Whilst change is necessary, in some cases vital it is also very good to have the reassurance of things being well, a little bit back to normal.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”
That change is life’s only constant is perhaps true. Thursday saw Year 6 take a trip into the past. I suspect that having experienced it they are pleased to find themselves firmly back in the twenty-first century as the frankly terrifying Miss Brodie and her cohort of stern colleagues disappear into the past. Victorian Day happens every year, good to see that our characters from the past could once more come to visit to the delight and shivers of terror of our pupils. This event is part of the annual cycle of school life that was in its normal and appointed place. A pleasant change in this year of upheaval.
Over the course of the week, we received a little more information about the way that our older pupils will be examined and graded in the summer. No major exams, teacher assessed grades and something new in the form of mini assessments. The grade that emerges at the end of the process will have the same value as it always had, but there is a changed process to produce it. I’m hopeful that (at least in part) some of this change remains as it is without doubt a fair way to examine both knowledge and skills. In the short term nothing changes, pupils need to keep working and doing their best.
The pandemic has changed the way that the School operates, and it remains to be seen how long lasting this impact will be. Brexit too will affect the school’s future operations. A brief look at the school’s history will simply confirm that we are a school that has near constantly changed throughout its history. The children of today differ significantly from those that I taught at the beginning of my career; they are exposed to so much more at an earlier age than was the case back in the mid-90s. Education was different then, not quite Victorian but certainly not quite like now. Next year the twin influences of the coming together of pandemic and political change means that we will be a slightly smaller school. We predict that the much spoken ‘bounce back’ will take time in the world of education. A change like that can be dealt with if the school has a clear set of values guiding all that it does. Our values are clear and provide our young people with a moral compass that will guide them to a worthwhile and meaningful life.
One major change this week is that a BSP institution moves into well-earned retirement. For many Amar Ait Mahand was their first contact with the school. Amar joined us 29 years ago as a carpenter on the maintenance team. If you ever tour the Senior School you will still see his careful and well-crafted creations in many buildings, still working well, still doing the job for which they were designed. Later he moved to be our guardian and he has issued late slips, kept visitor registers and maintained a CCTV enabled eye on our security and safety more recently. We wish him every success in his changed life as a retiree, may it be both long and contented.
“The more you know, the less you have to carry. The less you know, the more you have to carry.”
In my Year 9 class we discussed the Kachinski quotation – we considered the many competencies needed by a successful historian – many members of the class demonstrated these very qualities. It was a good discussion. There has been a drift in education to a dominant view that without exams educationalists have no way of deciding how to assess pupil potential. I’ve never been a great advocate of the exams only route although I do see a necessity for pupils to be asked to demonstrate both what they know and what they can do. This does not have to happen in an exam hall, it can happen in many forms. I’m not against exams being taken, far from it. So far so contradictory. Apologies.
What disappoints me about high stakes exams is that so little knowledge and so few skills are tested in them. In my own subject, any terminal exam at the end of a two-year course will leave out more than it can ever possibly include. That seems to be a lost opportunity. Work produced by the pupil during the year surely has a value in deciding at what level a pupil should be graded. What role is there for oral examination? Languages have these but they have never been spread across the UK curriculum. Why not? Being able to speak clearly about a subject is surely as important as being able to write clearly about it?
This week the Secretary of State for Education began to unveil the approach to GCSE and A level exams this summer. It seems that the examination boards will publish banks of assessment work and schools will have the opportunity to use or ignore as they see fit. Here at the BSP we are in a fortunate position. Many of our Year 11 and Year 13 pupils took their mock exams formally in January. In the normal course of events, they would take final exams in June. In the UK few pupils had the opportunity to sit formal mocks in January and have not been in school this term (they return from 10th March) so these summer tests may be the closest they will come to formal exams for some time. The approach that we will take is still to be decided but it may well seek to preserve as much of our normal structure and use the tests not as an absolute and final statement on performance but one of the many pieces of evidence that we have regarding the competencies of our pupils. I believe that I am not alone in believing that the consolidation of learning through revision is one of the most valuable aspects of the exam process and therefore it is worth preserving but surely a portfolio approach is the most appropriate?
Perhaps this year’s situation will give those who decide these things some food for thought. If pupils are permitted to demonstrate their abilities and talents through different activities, then university admissions staff and future employers may well have a far more rounded view of both their level of skill and knowledge.
This morning I met some academic high achievers from Nursery as my photo records. They were able to tell me the names of the planets and explain all that was to be seen in their pictures. I would argue that this is as good a way to assess learning as any other. I’m sure if we were to revisit this knowledge in the future that having enjoyed making their picture and having looked at it for some weeks on the classroom wall, they will remember the names of the planets. An undisputed A* for these two I’m sure you will agree.
I think that it was last week I had a discussion with a colleague in which he said that he was disappointed that there would never be another snow day at school. This once in while “treat” was something of a rite of passage, a day when things are different, and the normal rules don’t quite apply. In a new age of remote learning the snow day simply becomes a day online. We can discuss what is lost and what is gained and may never draw a firm conclusion. Certainly, the fall of snow caused the usual levels of excitement, in particular for those who had never seen it before. I took my fair share of hits on Wednesday while doing my duty on the green pitch so will be quite happy to see the back of the white stuff for another year.
One thing that a fall of snow does is that it allows a variety of different classes the opportunity to examine snowflakes in depth. The science of snow has been much in evidence this week and indeed so has the art of snow. Perhaps having a snow fall during the Junior School’s Year 6 STEM week was particularly useful as it is a timely reminder of the magnificence of the world around us and the importance of seeing it scientifically so to understand it better. If you look in this newsletter and our social media feed, you will see some magnificent examples of gear and pulley use hidden under miniature fairground rides. Wonderful stuff from our Year 6 pupils. Incidentally, as we celebrate women in science week, did you now that the quotation today is often thought to refer to Mary Anning the notable fossil collector and early palaeontologist who was the first to identify the ichthyosaur?
Slumber has also been a topic for our younger pupils today. As part as a gentle easing into the half-term holiday sleep wear in many different guises was on show today. How good to be able to be together to relax with friends and enjoy movies as a treat at the end of what has been a busy and different half-term. The pancakes also looked very good…
So, snow, science, and slumber. The less somnambulistic will have realised that in the very best traditions of Sesame Street this column is brought to you by the letter “S”. There are another two I’d like to mention before I sign off for the half-term: students and staff. This has been a half term in which we have seen challenges. All have been met with enthusiasm by our young people. From the trials of what I think were the only “real” mock exams to be taken in the entire world to learning with masks on all the time, I have been impressed with the way that our students have met everything thrown at them with customary BSP good humour. To staff a massive thank you for all you have done to keep lessons on track, spirits high, paths clear, administration smooth and learning exciting.
So, my final S of the half term is simply success. We have much to celebrate. Pupils are to be congratulated on the work that they have completed. They can reflect on all the things that they now know that previously they did not and all that they can do that previously they could not. Schools are simple places to understand when success surrounds.