The Junior School returns but not as we know it…

It did not take long for the USS Indianapolis to sink. Having been struck by a torpedo the massive ship sank in just twelve short minutes. Sailing alone there were no escorts to pick up the survivors who found themselves adrift in the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 900 of the ships company made it into the water. Four long days later the survivors were rescued. Only 317 had survived the ordeal. The crew of the Indianapolis have the dubious honour of having experienced the worst recorded shark attack in human history.

Reporting of the COVID 19 outbreak often sounds rather like we are living through an experience similar to that faced by those unfortunate sailors. The truth is likely to be far less extreme. We have had to modify our plans and our normal way of life. For some this has been a time of great sadness and for others significant anxiety and we are very right to be wary of taking the next step. Care is required to ensure that we remain as safe as we can, and we need to do all we can to ensure that we don’t jump from one dangerous situation to another.

The Junior School opened its doors to pupils this week and a small number have chosen to attend. We have been fortunate in having an opportunity to develop our approach and it is certainly the case that the school day is very different indeed. In the coming weeks I suspect that numbers wanting to return will build and this will bring with it more challenges to be met. Space remains the biggest challenge of all. All pupils are allocated a metre square so the classrooms I once saw as generous in size have been made much smaller – only 9 pupils per teaching space. We can’t have groups larger than 15 so our hall is not as much use as it normally is. School is very different, and I have to say I’d rather not be wearing a mask as I type this column… .

I have no way of predicting how the pandemic will develop for our community. It will be the case that a flexible approach will be necessary both from the School and from families. It is almost certain that some year groups will move to a carousel approach to attendance as the term progresses. Both the staffing and space constraints required for appropriate distancing mean that a rota system will be necessary, and it looks like remote learning will remain in place for some time to come. Apologies in advance for the inconvenience this may cause but it is all done with a desire to keep both pupils and staff safe and to remain within the guidelines that have been established.

The School, like so many other institutions is adjusting to the demands of a new way of operating and we all need to be ready for one or two bumps along the road. Plans will change, but when we make changes it will be to ensure that we don’t end up jumping from a sinking ship into shark infested water. I hope that you can remain patient as everything starts up once again. Thank you for your ongoing support in these somewhat turbulent waters – it is greatly appreciated.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Taking a longer view

Tomorrow is the 8th of May. I apologise for stating the obvious but having grown up in the UK I am not used to having a public holiday in the middle of this month. Our day of leisure is a calendrical marking of the end of World War Two and normally I would be attending a ceremony by Croissy’s town hall but not this year. As the veterans of the Second World war grow ever older it falls to other generations to consider how it should be marked and the lessons that can be learned. Such is true of all history. The past changes, new perspectives emerge. Our view of World War II probably tells us as much about us as it does about the period we are looking at. The participants’ view was very different. The critic Frank Kermode talked about the difficulty of understanding when we are “middest”, comprehension and clarity are more likely to come the further away from an event we get. Attempting to understand in the midst of the maelstrom is a challenge indeed.

As we move to enjoying long summer afternoons my thoughts turn to cricket. A game I enjoyed playing with no great success. I particularly relished being sent to the outer fringes of the playing area as, more often than not, one was untroubled by a fast approaching ball. The benefit of being on the edge was that I had the privilege of seeing the action as both participant and spectator, hours of waiting and watching for seconds of action. The tea interval was also a high point. Next week we will start our long walk from the boundary to the cricket square as confinement (we are told) will be relaxed. But we are far from carrying on as normal, it will take time for us to get things right, we will be both in the midst and trying to make sense of all that we have experienced. As confusing a time for our young people as it is for us. We will do all we can to support them.

This week my Year 9 historians looked at the story of the now famous wartime poster “Keep Calm and Carry On”. A sentiment that seems to us to typify the stoic approach of the greatest generation. Curiously, the poster wasn’t actually used. The Ministry of Information decided that it was too old fashioned, to redolent of outdated ways of thinking so it was shelved. They decided to use a quotation from Herbert Morrison the War Minister, a more dynamic “Go To It” and even presented the words in a flashy font. Interestingly, the poster that lay unused is the one that we believe reflects the wartime spirit.

Next week, we will go to it. School will be different; the world is indeed different. That said we should not forget the message of the other poster – we will require reserves of patience as a new normal is created. Hope in times like this is important. During the second war the foundations of the UK National Health Service were laid and Butler’s reformist 1944 Education Act was passed. A new country was planned, and new world envisioned. In the “middest” they believed in looking to a better future. I can only hope that we can do the same.

Do have a relaxing long weekend.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” – Marcus Aurelius

Who’d be a politician during a pandemic? Whilst it isn’t a particularly fashionable view, I have the utmost admiration for anyone who chooses a political career when it is motivated by a desire to improve the lives of others. Many have pointed to the success of female leaders in this time of crisis which can only be an inspiration to our young people. When I was at school, I thought that being an MP or similar would be a fantastic job but right now I wouldn’t be rushing to stand for office, even if there was a party that I thought would accommodate my own particular blend of views. As Édouard Philippe said earlier this week, he is in a no-win situation. He oversees an economy that needs to be restarted and has responsibility for keeping citizens safe. A tough balancing act to accomplish successfully.

Thank you to all parents who completed the intentions survey. It is useful to have a guide, however vague as to the number of pupils we can anticipate joining us once school opens. Little is certain with regard to the process of reopening other than it is likely to be phased and will include regular interludes for handwashing. We are receiving advice from Éducation nationale regarding pupil safety and will not be announcing any details about resumption until after the announcements scheduled for 7th May.

Whilst I wouldn’t be a politician at present, being a parent feels similar. All families have to weigh up risk and benefit when contemplating a return to school. Same decision, different scale. Any child attending school will (almost certainly) be at greater risk of infection than a child who stays at home. As a consequence, families choosing to keep children at home will continue to be able to access remote learning materials and these materials will form the basis of our offer in school. We will operate in a very different way. Drop off will be phased or staggered. The school day may be shorter. There will be one-way routes around the school and distancing of one metre will have to be observed. We will not be playing ball games at break time and access to the school library will be severely limited. Teachers will be wearing masks and pupils will have to remain at their desks or in designated areas. Much of what we currently enjoy will be curtailed. Temperature checks will take place at points of entry and those displaying symptoms will have to return home. Most upsetting of all, I can’t promise chips on a Thursday. It looks like sandwich lunches to be eaten “al-desko”.

This is a time of mixed emotions for families. We should be prepared for turbulence in the coming weeks. Our community is a resilient one. I know that decisions are made by individual families considering the safety of others and the School will do all it can to protect those who choose to attend. These are difficult times, but we are stronger when we are together in isolation.

Have a great long weekend.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Butch Cassidy and the COVID Kid

There is a scene in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” where the former bank robbers take a job guarding a silver mine in Bolivia. The grizzled, world weary, tobacco spitting manager tells the pair that the trip up the mountain guarding the payroll is far safer than going back down the mountain(1) . I was given similar advice on a hill-walking course; apparently more accidents occur in the final kilometre of a walk than anywhere else on route. Going up the hill (it seems) has its challenges but coming down can be even more dangerous. Over the past few days we have been hearing a good deal about flattening curves and peaks being passed. This is all great news. However, we are still far from seeing the end of these challenging times and now, perhaps more than ever we must be both patient and prudent.

Earlier this week the Education Minister spoke about the possibility of schools opening in the week commencing 11th May. Like any politician his canvas is necessarily broad, and we are only now starting to find out exactly what school opening will look like. For some, school will not be open until the end of May and others will have to wait until June. If the infection rate grows then we may all be confined once more. Some regions may open before others. The only thing that is certain is, well, uncertainty. I can’t imagine that we will have pupils coming through the School’s gates on 11th May, indeed other pronouncements suggest this will be a day for staff preparation, with pupils returning later in the week. As yet we know nothing about the conditions of a return, will it be masks or no masks? What social distancing will be required? What will we be able to serve for lunch? The last one is straightforward – sandwiches for the first few days at least. There are most certainly more questions than answers and I hope that the entire community can remain patient as we work out what is possible and above all what is safe. We do not want to create more problems for the medical services by returning to school before it is wise to do so.

Thank you for the many positive comments about our remote learning arrangements. It is good to see that so many of our pupils are benefitting. It is also clear that there are many parents who should be considering a career change such is the excellent support being offered on the home front. As the weeks roll on we hope to make greater use of the more dynamic elements of the platforms that we are currently using. I am fairly certain that even when we return we will be making use of the lessons learned from remote school in our daily approach

Helen Keller said, “We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world”. Sadly, we are likely to be living alongside COVID-19 for many months to come. Despite the slowing of infection rates, I suspect that we will face challenges, disappointment and frustrations during this summer term. We need to take care. We need to continue to work together to remain safe. We need to be equally cautious and optimistic. This will be a term like no other, but it will be a term in which we are likely to learn more about ourselves, our strengths and frailties. As a community and as individuals we will be stronger than ever before if we remain together in isolation.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

1. Having found the clip in question it seems that my memory has failed me – apparently up the mountain is dangerous, Butch and Sundance just think that down the mountain is dangerous (about 1:30 into the film)

“Boredom is when there is absolutely nothing to do. Lethargy is…”

“Boredom is when there is absolutely nothing to do. Lethargy is when there are things to do that you can’t be bothered doing. Most people suffer the latter, but they call it the former because it lets them off the hook.”

Christopher Jamison

 This week I could write a very short column and sum up all that really needs to be said in two short words.  Eight letters would suffice.  I’m not going to do that because I think the community as a whole should be recognised more fulsomely for all that has been achieved in the last three weeks and let’s face it, I’m at my desk with nowhere to go. 

It turns out that novelists and film makers don’t quite have it right.  We have been told in many stories that when the world faces a crisis, communities disintegrate, and anarchy follows.  As yet, in this quiet corner of Croissy I have not had to fight off looters threatening to ransack the house to find our secret stash of lavatory paper.  There have been no reports of shopping cart hijacks outside the local Carrefour.  From what I can see via the media most places seem quite calm.  We must all hope that such rationality continues.

This has been a time when neighbours have introduced themselves and have sought to help each other out.  People around the world have posted amusing parodies on social media and A listers have turned their talents to reading bedtime stories and sonnets.  Who wasn’t touched by stories of New Zealanders putting bears in their windows to entertain younger children denied a trip to their favourite play park?  Thank you Michael Rosen for We’re going on a Bear Hunt and for reminding us that we’re not scared.  If our pupils have learned anything since this whirlwind struck it is that we are better off working together than looking out for ourselves.  Will they have the courage to continue to live this way once confinement is over?

Perhaps I have been doing this job too long.  There is a danger of cynicism creeping in.  Who would have believed that Year 13s and Year 11s would have continued to study without the shadow of looming exams to motivate? They have and hats off to them, they have studied and learned for learning’s sake.  Who would have thought that pupils of all ages would embrace their remote schooling and engage with study as successfully as they have?  Shame on me for doubting, I should have known that BSPers are better than that.

And now we have to meet another challenge.  The holidays, usually a time to switch off or do different will not be normal this time.  Yes there will be some time for lie-ins and the rhythm of the school day will not be there to structure the day, but having seen the way that the last three weeks have been approached I can cast cynical thoughts aside.  I’m issuing a challenge to all of our pupils (and any interested parents) to meet the demands of the Headmaster’s Housebound Holiday Challenge, to go above and beyond what they would normally do in downtime in eight demanding categories.  Over the next two weeks we have the chance to learn skills that may well last for a lifetime.  From learning a Shakespeare speech, to knitting by way of acts of kindness you can gain a prestigious accolade and will be able to show off for the rest of your life whatever it was that you learned to do while in confinement.  If you are to complete the challenge, then structure will be required.  Bear in mind the words of the monk Christopher Jamison.  Structure is the enemy of lethargy; if you create a rhythm for the day and ensure that time is differentiated by activity then this holiday will be both enjoyable and productive. 

Thank you all for the last three weeks.  We have truly shown what can be achieved, what wonderful things can be achieved when we are together in isolation.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“In the midst of every crisis lies a great opportunity” – Albert Einstein

Back in the days when Australia wasn’t as easy to access as it recently has been, children in 1970s Britain had their view of this continent shaped by Australia’s greatest ever export: Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. She was a sort of Australian Lassie or Flipper – an animal who was a lot smarter than the humans around her. In the years before Neighbours and Crocodile Dundee the stories of a courageous kangaroo and her young companion gave us in the Northern hemisphere a clear view of life in wild and rugged Australia. Sight of park rangers and the Royal Flying Doctor Service made this picture of life in the bush all the more intriguing. Similarly alien to the young British viewer was the concept of the School of the Airwaves that sometimes received a fleeting mention before our bold kangaroo went and rescued someone who had fallen into a hole in the ground and couldn’t get out.

Australia’s School of the Air started in 1951 and was made possible by the pedal radio. The premise was simple. Each state provided children based on remote farmsteads and cattle stations with a programme of study, supplied materials and made regular broadcast via shortwave to those in the outback. Pupils had contact for an hour or so per day and then worked through the tasks that had been set. Work to be assessed was sent back via the aerial medics. Academic studies suggest that those who were supported effectively by a parent or interested adult could achieve at the same academic level as those in schools. The service modified in 2005 as internet technology improved and broadcasting continues. Australia was not alone in offering such a service, the US, Canada and just about anywhere that has wilderness within its borders does much the same.

Distance learning is nothing new. Correspondence courses were popular in the 19th Century, the Open University in the UK has enjoyed enormous success since 1969 and France’s CNED all provide remote learning. Students who learn remotely are often described as being independent and self-motivated, characteristics that are viewed as being useful. But it is undeniable that those who study alone do not experience everything else that schools offer – opportunities for interaction, social growth and collaborative working. Classrooms offer the chance to balance the logical mind and imagination, accept and develop as a consequence of criticism, encourage reflective thinking and enable us to ask for help, also desirable traits. Winston Churchill once said that “the only time my education was interrupted was when I was in school.” He may well have been right if his education was focused only on the passing of exams rather than developing the whole person.

The current predicament posed by isolation is not, in educational terms, a disaster. What would be a real shame is if we as a society or community forget all too soon the spirit of co-operation, collective responsibility and support that we feel today. Our young people have the chance to see the best of what humanity can do. What the generation of young people touched by this crisis will do with the knowledge that they have shown independence and self-motivation as well as having had the benefits of a communal educational experience? An opportunity exists for the next generation to effect significant and positive change. I hope to have the opportunity to remind them, in person, of what we can achieve when we are together in isolation.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Hell is other people” – Jean-Paul Sartre

Whilst philosophers have wrangled over the real meaning of Sartre’s famous line if we take it at face value, I think we can assume that he would be having a ball this week. Not that existentialists were really into having fun. Contrary to Sartre’s comment, this week has been far from fun and it is clear that the current restrictions on movement and congregation will be with us for some time. Isolation is the new norm. Community is temporarily suspended. Hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass seems prudent.

Qarrtsiluni. An Inuit word meaning “sitting together in the dark, waiting for something to happen”. It sums up the goings on of this week very nicely although don’t ask me to pronounce it. Whilst the number of people that we are permitted to sit with is small, the questions have been huge and events momentous so it seems appropriate. Very slowly we seem to be moving to a place in which we have a view of what might happen next and it won’t be to everyone’s taste. It is clear that there will be no public exams for Year 11 and Year 13 this year. I should be pleased, I’ve been one of the ones banging on about getting rid of GCSEs for years and COVID-19 does it in a matter of weeks (I’m not going to lie, I feel strangely cheated). I hope that all affected this year will be properly rewarded for their work and feel sure an appropriate arrangement will be put in place. But I wonder what will happen next year? Perhaps this will be an opportunity seized and something really exciting will happen as a consequence of this terrible situation. Will the lack of A levels be the moment for us to create a system in which university places will be awarded post rather than pre-qualification? The powers that be have a moment to consider profound, deep and meaningful change. Will they show the courage that our pupils have this week in setting about their work? I rather hope that if we learn anything from this event it is that we don’t have to keep doing things the same old way. This virus has taught us a brutal lesson about the interconnectedness of humanity and has reminded everyone of the basic duty that we owe to friends and strangers alike. Handwashing, sneeze-catching and thoughtful distancing are fundamentals and we are perhaps long overdue for a reminder that small acts of consideration really do matter. Community really is everything.

Right now seems to be a good moment to pay tribute to the outstanding work being done throughout the BSP. To the teachers who have delivered excellent lessons, to the pupils who are engaging in such a positive manner and to the support of administrative staff whose work is often unseen. To the parents who are exercising patience beyond the norm – bravo. The weekend beckons and I hope it will give us space to change the routine, to rest and to decompress. These are challenging times but together we can make the best of them. Very soon we will know exactly what challenge it is that we face. In the meantime, I would encourage our young people to just keep going. The Finns have a word for it, sisu. It is remarkable that our pupils, when told that their exams had been cancelled, arrived at lessons with the enthusiasm that they show every day, their endeavour is to be saluted. They have sisu in shovelfuls.

Hell isn’t other people. We are surrounded by remarkable people. We remain together in isolation.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Update on public examinations announcement

Dear Parents and Guardians,

This evening, Wednesday 18th March, in his daily COVID-19 focused press conference the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced that the public examinations due to be taken in May or June of this year will not take place. In other words, it seems that GCSE and A level exams are unlikely to take place this summer as planned.

As of the time of writing we have no further information as to what the consequences of this decision means for our pupils. The Prime Minister made a clear promise that young people will be able to obtain the qualifications that they need to move to the next stage of their education.

The Prime Minister’s announcement was reinforced by a statement from the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP:

“I can confirm that we will not go ahead with assessments or exams, and that we will not be publishing performance tables for this academic year. We will work with the sector and have to ensure children get the qualifications that they need.”

Whilst there will no doubt be a huge collective sigh of relief at this decision, many questions remain. At the risk of sounding like a right old bore it is vital that pupils in Key Stage 4 – Year 10 and 11, and Key Stage 5 – Year 12 and 13 maintain the excellent work habits that they have shown during this week’s remote learning.

Now is not the time to start the summer holiday, now is the time to carry on with sensible, conscientious and steady academic study. If students stop working now, I fear that there will be grave consequences down the line. We all need additional information before we decide to change our approach.

Tomorrow is another day and it is important that we approach it in the way that we have approached today – calmly, sensibly and following the timetable as normal.
As soon as I have more information, I will pass it on.

Yours sincerely,

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“All shall be well…”

“All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Julian of Norwich

Most parts of the world and most cultures have, if you dig away enough, a culture of isolation that can be found hidden away deep in their societal fabric. The hermit, the anchoress or the solitary is a surprisingly common figure. Simeon Stylites sat atop a column in the Syrian desert for much of his life, while Yoshida Kenkō, wrote while isolated on a hillside. Julian of Norwich was the first English woman to write a book after being walled up in a small church just off modern day King Street. She also lived through the turmoil of the Black Death. Thoreau is often held up as a modern-day hermit and his seminal Walden outlines his attempt to live deliberately. More recently French author and adventurer Sylvain Tesson’s Consolations of the Forest describes a different approach to this self-imposed solitude. Not so very long ago the small Austrian town of Saalfelden was advertising for a hermit. Their 350-year-old hermitage built into the cliff-side above the town is one of the last still in use in Europe. Next week, our community will be in isolation. We will all start something of an eremitic existence as school closes. We will be hermits of sorts.

Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond

What is perhaps striking is that almost all of the individuals cited above used their solitude to a creative purpose. Their period of isolation resulted in something that remains important to people today. Normally human existence is seen as communal. We believe that we thrive in company and that being with others is a good thing indeed. Now we are forced to think differently. We are not quite on our own, but we will not be in close community. We will have contact with each other, but it will be via a tablet, a ‘phone or perhaps even a nice letter. We have time to consider our own thoughts, not that of the crowd and I wonder if we will benefit from this time. It could be time spent to good purpose rather than dedicated to the altar of Netflix. If we are to grow as a consequence of this externally issued challenge, then we need to be both purposeful and deliberate in what we do. Happily, we have all the benefits of a modern tech rich society to ensure that lessons and tasks are delivered, and they will start to arrive at nine o’clock on Monday next week. I’m sure that very soon the novelty of being away from friends and no longer having the stimulation of the classroom environment will prove to be a challenge and this is where I hope that our young people will be determined to do their best, to maintain their focus and make the most of a period of time in which they can develop their skills and aptitudes. I hope they will use this as a time to think, to read and to reflect. In the case of Years 11 and 13, it is another “r” that springs to mind – revise.

We may not see great art, profound wisdom or new insights during the coming weeks of school closure.

But who knows? I live in hope, and hope is something that we all should share at a time when we are working together, in isolation, to meet this most serious of challenges.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“You have brains in your head…”

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

Theodor Geisel
World Book Day at the JSC

This week saw the anniversary of a ground-breaking author’s birth. An author who has affected lives and entertained in equal measure. An author who has influenced and educated but is probably not often recognised for having this massive influence. I write of course of Theodor Geisel. No, me neither. Geisel published his first book And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street in 1937 but he did not rise to fame until the publication of a book commissioned by an educational specialist designed to encourage children to read independently. He was given a list of 300 words and had to write his book using those words only. Happily, the words “cat” and “hat” were on the list and the rest is, as they say, Green Eggs and Ham (which uses a miserly 50 words and only 1 with more than one syllable). I wonder how many in our community count Dr. Seuss’ books as being some of the first that they enjoyed. One of the reasons for his ongoing popularity is that Dr. Seuss’ books are some of the first to be read independently. They are often the books that we read to adults with pride when we were a little younger. They are a sign of independence, and with it, freedom from Mum and Dad having to read to you.

It will come as no surprise that this week has been dominated by questions of “what if?” Our plans for maintaining educational services in the event of a COVID-19 shutdown are well advanced. If we are instructed to lock our doors, then pupils will have to rediscover their love of independent learning as we will move to a system of remote teaching and learning. Happily, technology means that we will be able to have contact during the period of lockdown and support will be on hand, particularly for those who face exams later in the year. Ultimately any system of remote schooling or distance learning relies on pupils to be motivated to learn. We have learned significant lessons from our colleagues in the Far East who have been locked out since 16th January and we know that there will be some teething problems and inevitable frustrations. But putting all of that aside the biggest challenge we face is that this style of study calls for pupils to engage fully with it. Lessons on-line call for clear focus and real commitment. Studying this way is far more difficult than sitting in a classroom. Our young people will have to be ready to tap into the excitement they felt when reading independently for the first time. They will have to use all the good habits of independent learners – self-monitoring, using scaffolding, being reflective, using feedback constructively to ensure that they make the most of this valuable time.

If we have to close, and that is a big if, our young people will have to work with both independence and enthusiasm. They will have to be ready to self-motivate and they will also have to demonstrate academic maturity. We cannot treat this as another holiday, we need to maintain as much study momentum as we are able. Perhaps variety is the key here. Some screen time, some time working on an exercise book or paper and other time spent reading would seem to me to be an ideal combination.

Whilst I sincerely hope that we remain open I would be interested to see just how independent our learners can be. I suspect I would end up impressed.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr