“Talking about music…”

“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”

Steve Martin

This is normally a time when we look back on the year, back on the term, it is usually a time to reflect on and bask in what has been achieved. That is all well and good, but the end of term also gives a chance to look at what we have done for the first time, all that has been different and to evaluate innovations. I’ve been guilty of writing about how everything is back to normal now. What I haven’t really considered are some of the things that we’ve done for the first time.

This week we’ve done many of the things we might normally have done, there has been a splendid Year 6 party, I was pleased to see the Nursery Class doing some paleontology in the Debussy building and Year 11 will enjoy their end of year ball this evening. These are the usual markers that the end of term is fast approaching. An innovation was the recent Fête de la Musique. How marvellous it was to see so many pupils involved in performance and appreciation. Such talent and such courage. It is an act of bravery to stand up in front of your peers and perform. To slip into cliché, it is character building stuff. I happened to be showing a visitor around the school during the fête and he was simply astounded at both the talent and enjoyment on show. The Junior School enjoyed a fantastic concert with almost all involved in performing as an end of term celebration. Another joyful, confidence building occasion.

Music is an integral part of our life in school. It is in the curriculum; it is a key element of the co-curricular programme, and it will enhance both the Junior School and Senior School Prize Givings next week. Please do come along and enjoy what promise to be fantastic occasions. Our end of year celebrations are joyful affairs and a celebration of all that has been achieved.

Over the course of the coming summer holiday, I hope that some of our young people will take inspiration from those with whom they share classrooms. How good would it be for more pupils to decide to learn an instrument, to join a choir or engage in the life affirming activity of making music? We have a superbly talented group of peripatetic music teachers who can offer lessons, we have inspiring curricular classes to join and there is even a parents’ choir if you are wondering how you can get involved. There isn’t a great deal of time left in this term but there is just enough to consider taking up an instrument next year or finally signing up for a choir (even if it is just to find out if you like it). If nothing else, I would encourage you to come along to a Prize Giving and hear our marvellous musicians in action.

Nicholas Hammond



“O Sport, pleasure of the Gods…”

“O Sport, pleasure of the Gods, essence of life, you appeared suddenly in the midst of the grey clearing which writhes with the drudgery of modern existence, like the radiant messenger of a past age, when mankind still smiled.”

Pierre de Coubertin; “Ode to Sport” (1912)

Different schools have different sorts of sports days. For some it is an uber competitive event with student athletes looking to win for their own glory, to go down in the annals of the school as being the champion. Back in the 1980s there was a trend in certain London boroughs to have non-competitive sports days which excited certain elements of the media no end. One of my educational heroes, Kurt Hahn, was famous for the way that he organised sports days by sharing equipment between the most and least talented to make a race that was equal, or perhaps fair. Races in which all had a chance to compete well.

Both the Junior School and Senior School enjoy a sports day. These are wonderful, joyous events in which those who wish to compete have the opportunity to do so and those who wish to play their part rather than break records are also celebrated.

When I was at school, I was in the taking part camp rather than the breaking records group. I remember slogging around the track gaining a point for my house which seemed to be a good use of time at the time. At university I took part in the annual inter-college athletics event and was very proud of myself when I recorded the university’s shortest ever javelin throw. I wasn’t so worried, I gained a point for my college and had time to try the steeplechase which was a new experience. Yes, last in that one too. Possibly important to note is that I didn’t stop real athletes from taking part. And yes, I did enjoy the taking part. I am always really interested in seeing elite athletes and those who are truly talented do their thing, but I feel a real affinity with the plodders, stumblers and trundlers.

Over the course of our sports days, we see the best and the best of our communities. We cheer those who are scaling the heights, breaking records and achieving sporting excellence. We also cheer those who are doing their best for their house by simply getting round the track or throwing something sharp or heavy as far as they are able. That is what makes our sports days so very special.

Unlike any other sports day I have been involved with, the Senior School version also involves art, music and board games as part of the events. As we look towards Paris hosting the Olympic Games we should perhaps recall that the early modern games offered medals for a diverse range of activities including poetry (won in 1912 by Baron de Coubertin, founder of the modern games), architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. This year we won’t be offering medals in these areas but having enjoyed the fête de la musique, who knows what the future may hold?

Sport brings us together. It provides opportunities for us to find out of what we are capable, and it challenges us to find meaning and enjoyment through physical activity. It is an important part of our school year and a lesson for life. a different note, I hope to see you at the Summer Fair tomorrow. Please support the barbeque stand.

Nicholas Hammond



“Say, canst thou make thyself?”

-Self Knowledge, Samuel Taylor-Coleridge

Taking one of the most formidable exams ever set might not be everyone’s idea of fun. So, when I suggested to a group of our Lower VI (Year 12) students that they should have a go at a version of this fiendish intellectual puzzle I wasn’t sure of the reaction. Perhaps because this is the BSP once they ’d hurdled the initial uncertainty about what it was they had been asked to do they set about the tasks with no small degree of, well, gusto.

The challenge is a simple one. Along with other students, with whom you share little by way of subject choice, create a presentation through the lens of your chosen academic discipline and theirs to entertain, inform and demonstrate your intellectual curiosity. The question is in the form of a single word.

This exam was first set by All Souls College in Oxford as their famous Fifth Paper in 1914, they only gave up on the idea in 1990 during which time such luminaries of the intellectual firmament as T.E. Lawrence and Isaiah Berlin had taken the test. Those candidates had a three-hour essay and ours may well be a little lighter on the time front and somewhat heavier on the collaborative front, but the challenge remains a steep one. I’ll have the privilege of seeing the results of this exercise with my colleagues next week and I have every confidence that the presentations will be excellent. When they have delivered, these pupils will have learned something about the way they think, the way they collaborate and how confident they are in demonstrating intellectual curiosity.

As a school, we are unashamedly ambitious for our pupils. We want them to realise their potential and sometimes this means that we have to put them in positions in which they may feel a little uncomfortable. In this case the discomfort is very short-lived and intellectual rather than anything else. During the course of any week, we would anticipate that pupils feel challenged from time to time. Next week, Year 9 will start their tech project, some will find it easy, and others will have to meet a challenge. The end of the summer term is traditionally the time we have sports days, a more physical challenge for some and a time when pupils find out of what they are capable.

When pupils have the opportunity to reflect upon the experiences that they have found challenging, be that intellectual or physical they learn valuable lessons about their capacity and about their limits. Our school values provide them with a compass, a means of navigating the situations that they find in front of them. Determination, endeavour and resilience are all virtues that we hold to firmly, believing that they will serve pupils well in the future. We aren’t asking them to push themselves into situations that scare, but we do want them to know when they should be developing elements of their personality or character so that they can be full and useful members of wider society.

Nicholas Hammond



“Do nothing in haste…”

“Do nothing in haste; look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

Edward Whymper, mountaineer, artist and writer

Over the course of the last week I’ve spent a fair amount of time on a coach. I’m currently writing as we wind our way through the Alps to Grenoble and thence north to Paris. Unlike most of the times this week we’ve been on the bus it is quiet, as most of Year 8 are gently dozing having woken very early to start the run home following an action-packed week in the Alps. What a week it has been with horse trekking, via ferrata, rock climbing, white water rafting, mine visiting and big ridge hill walking being our curriculum. Real lessons, but in an unfamiliar environment. Learning of a different nature, but to the same purpose.

Whilst little may have been written down many lessons have been learned. There’s been little done on screen and a notable absence of PowerPoint. Despite, or perhaps because of this, progress has been made and growth realised. All of the pupils who have been out on residential trips this week – Years 6 to 9 – have had the opportunity to build their resilience, pursue excellence and exercise their curiosity. All should know a little more about their character, what makes them function and therefore what they may need to reflect upon as areas for development. Many will have pushed themselves beyond what they previously defined as their limits. It has been a privilege to see them develop this week. Over the course of the last few days I have seen pupils confront their fears, challenge themselves and consider more than their individual needs. This sort of lesson is hard won and immensely valuable. It is important that our young people are given the opportunity to develop through challenge and to discover through testing their limits, or what they thought were their limits. Much has been written by educationalists about the importance of resilience, well it has been evident by the bucketload this week. Pupils have stumbled and sometimes found it difficult to take the next step, but they have picked themselves up and carried on. Some have gone further than they ever thought possible. They even survived without iPads and mobile ‘phones. It is a valuable experience.

What counts now is what happens next. In part this is the responsibility of the pupil, to consider how lessons learned in the mountains or on a sailing boat can be transferred to support classroom based learning or social situations in everyday life. It is also important that we as a school follow up on these developments and remind pupils of what they have achieved and what they now know. After all this is a curriculum that is all about developing valuable life skills, those character strengths that may not simply lead to a fulfilling career but also to a life of flourishing. So in what is left of the year we will be talking about all that has been learnt.

Expeditions of this nature cannot take place without the support of staff members who give up their time to facilitate these valuable learning lessons for our young people. My sincere thanks go to all who have been away this week (and indeed this year) to ensure that pupils have the chance to learn differently. As Dr. Martin Luther King said “intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education.”

It may well have been a long coach journey today, but I am sure that this slightly tanned, somewhat weather-beaten and happily exhausted year group would tell you, it was well worth going. As Edward Whymper (who first claimed so many of the peaks we have just left) aptly sums up, we went with the aim of developing character. Coming back, I’m sure we have succeeded, at least to some extent, in this endeavour. But it will take time for these lessons to take root and become habit. This is a lifelong project of self-improvement, this week has given it a boost.

Nicholas Hammond



“If you’ve heard this story before…”

“If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me, because I’d like to hear it again.”

Groucho Marx

We have had stories for as long as we’ve lived in communities. It seems that we are all interested in hearing a good story be it fictional or factual. As the embers of the fires burnt down, the stories would have started, possibly as a means of passing on vital information, of building identity and keeping memories alive. Homer, the bard who originally performed Gawain and the Green Knight and the Norse poets who declaimed the sagas all provided their share of entertainment and wisdom. Look carefully enough and you’ll see a story just about everywhere.

You’ll find stories in most classrooms on most days. Not just ones that are in books but ones that are written by the pupils themselves. Stories are told between pupils and to teachers. We tell ourselves stories. I’d probably not remember much about genetics but for the story of Mendel and his sweet pea plants, physics was livened up when I learned about the innovative way in which Nils Bohr passed his university oral exams and I liked the whole Archimedes’ story – maths was just that little bit more fun. No surprise that I chose history as a discipline, it is of course, a form of academic storytelling.

Stories help us to learn languages and allow for the development of understanding without even noticing that it is going on. They ignite curiosity and teach us about behaviours in society. They can be funny, salutary and developmental. Whilst modern literary analysis has identified that there are only seven basic plotlines that seems two be enough to keep us educated and entertained.

Sir Michael Morpurgo is a master storyteller. A knighted teller of tales and singer of songs. It was an absolute pleasure to have the chance to welcome him to the BSP this week. His stories have entertained and perhaps more importantly have taught us, shown us, many of the values and virtues that make us better people. His stories are stories of hope. Hearing him read his newest poems and talk about how he gains inspiration from things around him (even boring grown ups at a dinner party) was an important reminder that we learn better when we take some notice of those around us and when we keep hope in our hearts.

We were fortunate to hear one of Sir Michael’s newest poems about the human cost of war. He has written movingly about previous conflicts, but this poem addressed the eternal questions of the futility and waste of war. Sadly, the conflict being addressed is all too close. We’ve heard the stories and today we bid farewell to two young gentlemen who joined our community as a consequence of conflict. Andrii and Ivan have been quietly active members of our community for a little over a year now, they have been good humoured, hardworking and committed to the activities programme. As well as following our curriculum and adding to our lessons they have followed the Ukrainian curriculum in the evenings and now they return home to take up well deserved places at university. Just as Sir Michael’s stories remind us that there can be hope in dark times, these two unassuming yet courageous students have built a quiet narrative of strength and integrity for us to witness. If we ever needed a story of fortitude, of good humour and of hope then this is it. As you take your leave lads, we wish you every good fortune. You will go home to build a community in which bright futures will follow dark storms and hope will grow ever taller and ever stronger like a glorious sunflower bringing joy to all who witness it. Your nation can be proud of you. So, here’s to stories, particularly those with happy endings.

Nicholas Hammond



“Creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy…”

“Creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy, and I actually think people understand that creativity is important – they just don’t understand what it is.”

Sir Ken Robinson

A high point of this week was a visit to the magnificent Junior School Art and D&T Gallery. All years (and parents) were represented and the work on show was truly uplifting and inspiring. There were some arresting pieces produced on a grand scale and other more delicate and nuanced works that repaid careful examination. Every painting, drawing and sculpture was the product of careful endeavour, and the results are remarkable.

Art is one of a few school subjects that has the potential to spread itself across all others. Increasingly educationalists talk not only of STEM but STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) and those who spent time looking at the go-carts or the fairground rides in the exhibition will know quite how well these subjects fit together.

One particular strength of the British curriculum is the opportunity it provides to pursue art beyond primary and lower secondary. If you are curious about the standard of work produced by our seniors then please do come along to their exhibition later in the year. Engaging in “practical” art gives pupils the chance to look at the world afresh and with a different perspective. I’m sure that messages around environmental stewardship are better understood though art rather than through a (possibly) drier approach. This year’s Davos forum took as its theme Growth. Sadly, my invitation seemed to have been lost in the post, so I have found out about discussions via the magic of the internet. Following on from one of the many discussions that took place two “top ten” documents were published: The ten most important skills in 2023 and The ten skills that will be required in the future. Number one on the 2023 list; analytical thinking. Number two; creative thinking. The emerging skills list put creative thinking ahead of analytical thinking. Of course, creative thinking does not simply mean “doing art” but by doing art we are, on occasion, given new and novel insights into solving problems. If you want to understand a landscape then draw it, if you need to learn the organs of the body sketch them out. Art can provide an opportunity to find a flow state, a chance to lose oneself in a task, a therapeutic action in anxious times. When pupils are challenged to be creative, they learn how to fail fast and how to build on their mistakes; art and other creative subjects improve personal resilience. We may not all be “good” at it, but it is undoubtedly good for us.

We do not often have the chance to meet our creative heroes but next week there is a chance to hear from an author who rightly deserves our admiration as a creative force. Sir Michael Morpurgo is one of the world’s great storytellers and we are fortunate that he will be joining us here in Croissy. It promises to be a wonderful chance to lose yourself in an evening of stories. I do hope that you will come along and hear from the author of War Horse, the international bestselling book.

I do hope that you have a good weekend.

Nicholas Hammond



One of our pupils just finished his A levels…

One of our pupils just finished his A levels.  He studied the music of the 1970s, Scandinavian culture, Eurovision and outlandish fashion…. What grades did he get? A,B,B,A.

And so it ends, with a week of fancy dress and some letting off steam before the exam season gets going.  Tonight, there will be a ball, laid on by our sixth form team, admin and support colleagues and the indefatigable BSPS This morning there was a special breakfast and in between it all a few last words of wisdom. The final advice has been given and Year 13 move into the exam season proper. 

During the Spring Term both Year 11 and Year 13 pupils enjoyed their normal lessons, but as this moment of exam leave has crept ever closer there has been a subtle change as week-by-week teachers transitioned to ‘exam preparation mode’. This is a sad necessity, and with it sees a slight departure from our routine academic ethos. Normally, we would want to avoid the ‘do we need to know this for the exam?’ type mentality, and revel in that process of learning our subjects, simply for the intellectual joy that it brings. That changes in the exam term. We now find ourselves embroiled in a tactical game, allied with the pupils, against an exam board opponent.  Whether it be “how exactly do you write a ‘six-marker’?” or “what mnemonic can we use to remember the names of the alkanes?”, we narrow our focus on precisely what is needed for every possible question. This might sound reassuring, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Patience and discipline are required to set about the hundredth past paper question of the week with fresh energy and intelligence. This style of learning is not the most stimulating, but repetitive practice is good preparation for doing well at the final test. I think we need to acknowledge with the pupils that they’ve got a tough job to do.

Why do we push them to do well? For me, public exams be they GCSE or A level are about giving young people an opportunity to validate their efforts. I want them to learn how their careful planning, exhaustive practice, collaboration, creativity and simple hard work can materialise into something.  On results day I want them to be able to reflect with pride that they did something positive for themselves. We ought to give them the best possible chance at experiencing that sense of purpose and subsequent reward. It’s not about whether they can remember the chambers of the heart, or quote accurately from Shakespeare, it’s about whether they have grown as learners and as people by the end of it. I hope that having this experience of a high-stakes moment in their lives will build their resilience and make them better equipped to tackle the next challenge, whether it be their A Levels, completing a degree, building a company, getting a job or training for a marathon – all of these things bring emotional rewards and psychological growth – their personal journey is what gives us the motivation to keep pushing them, not a string of numbers on a spreadsheet.

So as our pupils leave the warm embrace of the classroom for the more austere environment of the exam hall it is important that we praise the work that is done in preparation as heartily as the results that come from it.  And should help be required in the meantime, it remains on hand in school. 

I’d wish them good luck but I’m sure they won’t need it.

Nicholas Hammond



“And all the people rejoic’d, and said” – Zadok the Priest, G.F. Handel

At the BSP we promote life-long learning. We want our learners to leave the school inspired to maintain their natural curiosity about the world around them and equipped for life’s challenges. We want to provide the skills and inspiration for a life-long journey of learning, fulfilment and flourishing. But how long is life-long? I’m always inspired reading about people who take up new skills in their retirement, of the octogenarian who decides to do the degree that they always wanted to. Why? I suppose that it is something to do with the purity of motivation, of learning for learning’s sake. This is study not for career advancement, but for fulfilment and flourishing, because the subject is fascinating.

If we were to look at someone who has, perhaps as a force of circumstance, engaged in a process of life-long learning we should consider King Charles III. Tomorrow he will be crowned King amid the customary ceremony and pageantry associated with a royal event. Behind the ritual is an individual who has spent his life learning from others, most notably his mother who provided a lesson in service and quiet dignity. His has been a long apprenticeship and now he takes his place. Along the way he has demonstrated a curiosity about the world around him. He began to champion organic farming and environmental causes long before they were fashionable. He established the Prince’s Trust to support the learning and development of young people, he paints, plays the ‘cello, trumpet and piano and has a developed interest in hedge laying. He is the only British monarch to have a degree (in history) and was the first to attend a school (all previous monarchs had been tutored privately). He has learned Welsh, has qualified as a pilot and a diver and has appeared in both stage plays and TV shows (and not only as himself). And he’s authored a children’s book. His school report as Prince of Wales would be glowing in its “all roundedness”.

Education, learning and curiosity have been at the heart of King Charles’ endeavours. He has been unafraid to promote ideas that have yet to receive wider acceptance. He pointed out the dangers of pollution and plastics as early as 1970 and he has supported many others in their education. He is crowned at a time when attitudes around the Commonwealth are changing to monarchy, but he provides, if nothing else, a consistent thread of thought, behaviour and wise counsel as a national figurehead that seems less likely than one who has not “studied for the job”. As he said himself: “As you may possibly have noticed from time to time, I have tended to make a habit of sticking my head above the parapet and generally getting it shot off for pointing out what has always been blindingly obvious to me.”

Above all King Charles seems to have a reassuringly clear-sighted view of both our limitations and our potential. Having had the immense privilege of seeing extraordinary things and witnessing remarkable technological developments he is realistic about our human failings: “As human beings, we suffer from an innate tendency to jump to conclusions; to judge people too quickly, and to pronounce them failures or heroes without due consideration of the actual facts and ideals of the period.”

Perhaps King Charles is also a rarity among monarchs as one who has the courage to admit that things go wrong and we are all, all too human.

So, it seems we are in good hands. Three cheers for that.

Nicholas Hammond



“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

It is often said that we live in a complex world and that our existence is ever more complicated. In the Senior School assembly this week we had the chance to think a little about the benefits of simplicity and recognising that often complicated problems have relatively simple solutions. I told the following story to illustrate my point. Over the holidays I was fortunate enough to go to a restaurant to celebrate a relation’s birthday. During the meal a magician came to the table to perform a trick. He asked for a watch to use and I duly gave up my timepiece. He put the watch in the back and smashed it on the side of the table with a hammer. He opened the bag with a flourish and rather than seeing the watch miraculously still intact there was a smashed watch… not quite what he had in mind. The magician was apologetic and not only offered to replace the watch but said that he would pay for my dinner too. He said I could have anything on the menu and so I chose the lasagne. Can you guess what was in the lasagne? You’ll never guess… That’s right, meat, pasta and cheese, it was lovely.

Sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one. We are starting the final term of the year and the start of a term is a good time to set some goals. Simple goals. I’ve encouraged the Senior School pupils to not overcomplicate this term. Those who have public exams should prepare for them. Regular, structured revision we all know is better than a cramming session the night before. We all know that we should seek to achieve a balance in our activities if we are to get the most from the term. We all know that it is good to establish regular sleep patterns, spend time out of doors, read books, talk to friends face to face, make the most of all that Paris has to offer and of course a little time on screen doesn’t do any harm. I know that this is all obvious but isn’t it amazing how often we are prepared to give complex or fanciful explanations to avoid confronting a simple truth?

The summer term is truly special, it should be enjoyable, and it should be fulfilling. There are no first term nerves, winter is behind us and there are few places that can be as pleasant as the riverside in Croissy during the summer. I hope that our pupils make the most of their talents, the opportunities that are on offer, and the chance to spend time with their friends. Whilst there are exams, they can be taken in as part of the term, they are not all that exists this term. For some, this will be the last term that they spend with us, it is important that it is as enjoyable as it is productive. Put simply this is the very best term in which to work hard and play hard. And for those of you who are worried about my watch, it didn’t really happen…

Have a wonderful, balanced, enjoyable and fulfilling summer term.

Nicholas Hammond



“I am just a child…”

“I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.”

Stephen Hawking

Questions are to be found at the heart of every school. We’ve had a week of questions, some are the sort of questions that everyone recognises, others are the questions that we ask of ourselves. Today a panel of students went to the British Embassy to grill the British Ambassador and other pupils have asked questions of themselves through performance.

Let’s consider the most obvious type of questions. In many lessons there will be an element of questioning. Many lessons start (and end) with a question-and-answer session, a vital element of the lesson for a teacher who is assessing levels of prior knowledge and working on recall skills. It is also a valuable way of assessing if work presented by pupils is work they have actually done, rather than outsourcing their thinking to an AI programme.

Most teachers are happy to have an element of volunteering to answer, but it is ever more common to see the teacher making the choice of who should answer rather than asking for hands to be raised. There is often some sort of lottery to this – lollypop sticks with names written on them are a favourite. These are often relatively closed questions. In some lessons, PSHE springs to mind, it is more common to see open ended questions being asked, the “what ifs?” and “what do you think?” type of question. Many academic subjects will ask for questions that outline a point of view or explain a situation. My Year 9 historians were grappling with the thorny issue of what is a war crime in their last lesson, not as easy as it might seem. Some pupils relish the chance to speak about their knowledge, for others it is more of an ordeal. We seek to create a classroom atmosphere that encourages all to “have a go”. Questions and the debates that they provoke are where young people can test their ideas and subsequently make decisions about what it is they believe to be true. It is a valuable element of the learning process.

In an age of fake news and misleading information it is vital that we equip our pupils with the wherewithal to ask the right questions. This is surely one of the greatest skills that we can provide. Alongside this external questioning, it is also important that we challenge and question ourselves to provide an honest answer as to whether we are doing our best. This week we had the Senior School Spring Concert. It was a joyful affair, but I could not but help be filled with admiration with those performers who had put themselves in a position in which they asked the question “How will I do in this situation?”. Standing up to improvise a solo, playing in a small ensemble, singing in a small group to friends and the school community is a nerve-wracking affair and they answered the question with distinction. For even the most seasoned performers there are questions that emerge every time they take the stage and that our young people are willing to do this is testament to their strength of character.

Of course, there is one question that must be asked at this point in the term. It’s one with a simple answer. Are you ready for a holiday? After a busy and successful term such as this the answer is a resounding yes. The holiday is well deserved and falls just as we are likely to benefit from better weather. I hope that you have a good break and look forward to seeing everyone back in school for the summer term.

Nicholas Hammond