Building to a crescendo

Along with greying hair, an expanding waistline and more forgetfulness than I like to remember a sign of middle age is one’s ability to feel a seething inner rage over the use of language. I’ve stewed over less and fewer and please don’t allow me to delve into the ire inspiring subject of “like”. It isn’t rational or reasonable but it just seems to happen. Recently I have focused on the use of the word crescendo. Events, in all walks of human endeavour, build to a crescendo these days. I have always believed that a crescendo is a musical direction to gradually increase loudness. The word has a clear root in Latin and for me has simply meant to gain volume or perhaps momentum. Imagine my surprise when I checked in the dictionary and found, horror of horrors, that in the early Twentieth Century it became acceptable to use the word to describe a climax as well as the build up to it. The world is indeed about to go to the dogs…

sports day school running crescendo

Looking at the last week we are certainly seeing a crescendo in school activity. We have yet to reach the apex of activity but we are not far off. The end of a term and the end of the school year is always a flurry of excitement, a crescendo if you please. Happily when looking at all that has gone on this week and all that is still to come the word works in both senses. This week has seen a magnificent Junior School play and a Senior School sports day, two significant events in any school year. Congratulations to all who have taken part and a huge thank you to staff for making such marvellous events occur among all of the other tasks at the end of a busy school year.

It is easy to be carried along on the tide of activity that marks the end of the year. I do hope that during all of the excitement that is to come our pupils find a moment to consider all that they have achieved, all that they have done for others and all that they hope still to do. This is a bittersweet time. We will see pupils leave and as a consequence friendships interrupted but in an age of connectivity it is perhaps easier than ever to maintain contact with those we no longer see each day.

If the weather forecasters are to be believed then next week will be a scorcher. The Senior School uniform regulations will be modified to allow the wearing of school sports apparel and I recommend a hat, anything with a brim and within reason will do.
If I still have your attention can I also give a plug for the BSPS Summer Fair that will take place on Saturday 29th June? This splendid event takes place on the Senior School Lawn and promises to be a fun filled affair. Please do come along and enjoy all that is taking place. Similarly, this weekend is the national Fête de la Musique and as part of the local festivities BSP students will perform with one of our local partner schools in St. Germain this evening at 7.00pm on the marketplace and BSP community band Rouge Dog Riot will be performing with their customary crescendos outside the restaurant Les Enfants de Cœur here in Croissy at 8.00pm. I’m sure that all our musicians would appreciate your support.

Nicholas Hammond


Cold, damp and not Love Island

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves.

André Gide

It may come as a surprise that I am not a regular watcher of the TV show Love Island. That said I do have something of a guilty secret regarding the 2006 series of Celebrity Love Island which I put down to being sleep deprived following the birth our second child. The current iteration of the show has received stellar viewing figures; some 4.2 million individuals tune in to watch the contestants’ antics on a regular basis. As such it is simply the latest version of a well-worn concept – put a group of people together, deprive them of their normality and see what they do. So far so Lord of the Flies. I like to think that I watched all those years ago with a profound sense of irony, I’m not so sure that our young people have such an opportunity. Young people growing up today have little choice but to be bombarded with a near constant barrage of images of perfection and success that they are challenged to match. Heavily curated lives and chemically enhanced appearances seem to be the norm and who would blame our young people if they are led to believe that this image is one that is to be admired. Perspective is sometimes difficult to achieve.

During the last fortnight we could be accused of having done much the same thing as the TV producers hunting ratings. Years 6-9 have been taken off to an unfamiliar environment, set a series of often demanding challenges and expected to get along with each other when tired, wet and perhaps a little bit uncomfortable. I had the great privilege of seeing Years 7-9 in the Alps this week. I saw sailing and raft building and I am still attempting to recover from numerous dunkings in a glacial river at the hands of Year 9. It has been the wettest week ever for our expeditions and I have to acknowledge the amazing work done by the instructor team from Alp Base who have found still more inventive ways to challenge and inspire while the rain teams down. Weaseling? Apparently good in the rain… ask a Year 8 or Year 9 and they will fill you in. Huge thanks also to the members of staff who have taken time away from home to accompany these trips; without them this extraordinary opportunity would simply not happen.

There is a big difference between what has been going on down in the Ecrins National Park and what has been happening on “the island”. There has been a distinct lack of preening and a whole lot of getting stuck in. Above all our pupils have demonstrated an awareness of each other; I saw the quiet word when someone was a little nervous, the sharing of a packed lunch when another was still hungry and the lending of kit when someone was shivering. Communal living is not easy at the best of times and it is much more difficult when all your stuff is wet. This kindness, this willingness to recognise the needs of others is perhaps the most valuable lesson that will be taken from the week away. So a massive well done to all involved, you have shown that there really is more to life than vacuous celebrity and rampant narcissism. Even if you never step foot on a via ferrata again you’ve done it now and I hope that you remember the value of working together.

Nicholas Hammond


The Next Generation

…citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn’t want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and we, all of us, living and yet to be born, must be forever profoundly grateful.

Stephen Ambrose

Over the years they have been described in many ways. The journalist Tom Brokaw called them “the Greatest Generation”. We may call them heroes or simply veterans, they are, of course, the D-Day generation. In many cases they were little more than schoolboys when they were charged with the task of prosecuting a crusade against tyranny. Modest and self-effacing, these veterans returned to Normandy yesterday not to receive thanks but to pay tribute to their fallen comrades. If we are to look for a defining feature of this generation it is in their acceptance of service as a key element of their existence. This characteristic is perhaps best personified these days by the Queen. She has seen Prime Ministers come and go, indeed she sees the last of another today but her mission does not change. She seeks to serve; today this steadiness seems more relevant than ever.

Nursery pupil unearths a plaster dinosaur bone

This week our Nursery class were studying palaeontology, a period of prehistory that also relishes in generating generational epithets. Cenozoic and Mezoic. Cretaceous, Jurassic and Triassic to name but a few. An inspiring week has been enjoyed by our youngest pupils as they have hunted for fossils, curated a museum and explored dinosaur filled worlds. How lucky they are to be embarking on the journey of wonder that is education. Historians have given names to many periods of history. From the Neolithic to the Industrial Era by way of the Dark Ages and the less stylishly titled Early Modern Period we delight in giving names to time. Similarly we try to personify groups with other titles such as Generation X or Y, millennial, slacker or snowflake.

Having looked at the ninety year olds on my television screen and having watched our own three year olds learning in such vibrant a fashion, I could not help to wonder what label would be given to them as a generation. Will their title be in response to environmental catastrophe, or a reaction to conflict or will it reflect a technological leap – the AI Generation? Or perhaps they will be the Responsible Generation? Will they be the group who question our behaviour as a species? Who knows? As a teacher (and indeed as a parent) there is only so much that can be done, the really important decisions made by the next generations are taken on trust. We can provide examples, give lessons but what is to be done is to be decided. We have to trust in those who are to come. Thus it is our job to prepare them well.

There are parallels between the growing generation and the greatest generation. Our school is a crucible of nations, cultures and ideas. In having had the opportunities to learn together and play together I believe that we are preparing people who will value cooperation above conflict, compassion above selfishness and service before self. It is our role to nurture these traits as best we are able. Being in the fortunate position of visiting many parts of the School each week I think we are certainly heading in the right direction.

Nicholas Hammond


Child-led learning and responsibility

“You say it best when you say nothing at all.”

Overstreet, Schlitz and Keating, 1999

Everyone seems to have an opinion on how much responsibility a child should be given and at what age. Famously Maria Montessori came up with a list of tasks that could be completed by age and perhaps, in her centenary year, we should pick the best bits of her ideas about child-led learning.

There have also been many articles of late about helicopter parenting, snowflakes and how young people no longer take responsibility for, well, anything. Back in my day when life was sepia toned, children were expected to be able to do just about everything that a grown up could. We could re-shoe horses, compose a symphony and stop a ship from sinking while writing sonnets… in Latin. Today, they’d have to use an app (and that is just typical) say the cynics. I certainly enjoyed a far greater level of freedom as a young person than many children would enjoy today; perhaps my parents were simply far less responsible than I am, perhaps it really was a different world. Some observers would say that we are guilty of “spoon feeding”, of doing too much, saying too much, of expecting not enough and indeed there may well be some truth in this opinion.

I’m the first to encourage young people to take responsibility. I couldn’t have been more impressed with those politics students who stood as election candidates and had to do that most difficult of tasks – standing up and talking in front of one’s peers. Similarly, all those who managed to manoeuvre their bicycles down to the green pitch by themselves on Wednesday morning. Last weekend one intrepid band of D of E Award participants took their own route, only to discover that they had to put it right. They must have done because they were in school on Monday. In the course of any day our pupils both take a lead and accept responsibility. Whilst there are often adults underpinning these activities, important habits develop. British education is all about the whole person and that sometimes means taking risks and this also means not always being right. Most difficult for teachers (and parents), it also means that we have to stand back and let young people “get on with it”. Sometimes education works best when we don’t helpfully interfere.

If there is one place where we have no choice but to allow independence, it is the exam hall. Once there parents cannot assist, teachers can’t advise and for once students are by themselves. Whilst I am no great fan of high stakes testing, one thing I do like about exams is that children have to think and do for themselves. They are accountable for the result that they get and perhaps more importantly they are responsible for what they do with the mark or grade later on. Do they take it as a spur to achieve or a reason to give up? If we want to know the real value of exams this is perhaps it; not the result but the reaction. Saul Alinsky may just have had it right when he said in his Rules for Radicals that one should never do for others what they can do for themselves. He wasn’t thinking about cleaning a pair of shoes or doing the laundry, nor was he talking about packing a bag for a forthcoming school trip but he might as well have been.

Nicholas Hammond


Eurovision and Exams

With a high-high-ho and a high-high-hey (Latvia’s pirate song in 2008, don’t ask) what Eurovision might teach us…

As Year 13 are Walking Out(1) for their study leave and the campus recovers from their Hawaiian shirted Storm minds inevitably turn to examinations. One simply can’t Look Away. It is cruel indeed that just as the weather takes a turn for the better we oblige our young people to hit the exam hall… mostly they Keep on Going. Whilst my university finals are the stuff of recurring nightmares not The Dream. In Truth I don’t remember much about the exams I took at sixteen and A levels are a bit of a blur. I also did a fairly obscure set of exams called S levels just before I left school, these I remember. Mainly because all my friends and Friend of a Friend had finished their tests and were enjoying an early summer holiday. One question in particular sticks in the memory after all those years – “Is Europe a useful historical concept?” I really enjoyed that question, not something that I can say about every exam I have sat. I do hope that at some point this summer our students find one of those questions that they believe is made for them and for a few minutes lose themselves in the sheer absorption of showing what they know.

exam chair

One concept of Europe that is Bigger than Us and indeed is ever expanding is that given by the annual Eurovision Song Contest which sees its grand final this weekend. Whilst I am less than enthusiastic about this musical shindig, I share a Home with a genuine Eurovisionophile. In the happy world of Eurovision the joys spreads from Iceland to Australia (and the most elastic definition of the continent ever seen). Indeed the smart money (Soldi) seems to be heading down under with Kate Miller-Heidke and her vertiginous performance of Defying Gravity (words really don’t do it justice).

Having been an unwilling witness to the semi-finals I believe that the Eurovision performers may well have something to teach our exam candidates. They, like a well prepared student know what is expected of them. The format is clear (who knew the rules for Eurovision specifies set dimensions and number of backing performers?) They have revised their performance with the utmost care so they Like It and their fate hangs on a single performance. As it is on stage so it is in the exam hall (with probably less dry ice). I believe that our pupils have been taught. They have certainly been working hard in the past weeks. They are Kings (Roi) of past papers by way of rehearsal and Replay. Now is the time to perform. Now is the time for them to Dare to Dream. I hope that following all this hard work stress levels do not get too great. If they do there are plenty here in school who can support. If our candidates can approach their task with the same joie de vivre that is demonstrated by those who sing and dance and play for their country in Tel Aviv this weekend then this will be a memorable exam season indeed, it will be a performance without Limits.

Exams are one way to unlock new opportunities. There are others. We live in an age when high stakes testing has become the norm for young people, they Run with Lions. I believe that exams are a useful way to assess ability, but not the only way. Happily this attitude is changing (like a Chameleon?) Perhaps we can devise a way in which we celebrate our academic skills and knowledge with the brio of a Eurovision Song Contest performer. Altogether now, Say Na, Na Na.

Nicholas Hammond


(1) All italicised words are song titles in the Eurovision Contest this year. Armenia, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Israel, Italy, Australia, Belarus, France, Cyprus, The Eurovision slogan this year, Austria, Lithuania, Malta and San Marino. Apologies if I missed out your favourite!

Forging friendships

“Whilst there are some irksome aspects to school, I think you will find to your eventual delight that the experience has broadened your horizons.”

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles 2016

Whilst it seems like yesterday, thirty years ago I spent a year in Minnesota as an exchange student. Last weekend, thanks to the wonders of social media, my fellow exchangees caught up with me. Decades down the line, the personalities haven’t changed that much even if the hair (or lack of it) has. Sadly there are pictures and no I won’t be sharing.

In many ways that year abroad was a formative experience. It probably galvanized my desire to be a teacher and it opened my eyes to the world. As a group we met during the year to share our experiences and benefit from simply being together. It was in a time before the internet so we put on shows, reviews, played games and generally had a good time in each other’s company. It was a privilege to find out more not only about the US, but about other places, other ways of doing things, other ways of seeing. We finished the year with two extended trips where these friendships were reinforced and then we left. Whilst I carried memories, I didn’t keep in touch. So it is really a privilege to have the opportunity to connect once more. Much of this week’s comment has been about the South African Elections and the value of democracy. Great to have a report from the polling station, an Aussie view and a Finnish perspective. The learning hasn’t stopped.

At the BSP my cherished experience of thirty years ago is so commonplace that it hardly merits a mention. With fifty six nationalities on campus every single class is a crucible for discussion and has the potential to influence thinking far beyond the confines of the classroom. This is one of the most important elements of our education. It forces perspectives to be wide; our daily life promotes global understanding. Last weekend I had the great privilege of accompanying some of our musicians to The Hague for a music festival; they performed with distinction and I was a very proud Headmaster. A quartet with representatives from Russia, The Netherlands, France and Italy meeting with players from Azerbaijan, Nigeria and Romania to name but a few of the other nations represented. Whilst the competition element was great perhaps more impressive was the ease with which all of the students mixed and enjoyed spending time together. Being a witness to such easy interaction and such fruitful communication gives me hope.

Some communication requires no words. Music is an important part of life here at the BSP and it was pure pleasure to hear our jazz band in full flight on Tuesday. Congratulations are due to Mr. Lockwood and all of his jazz messengers who demonstrated what can be achieved when the bar is raised and young people are pushed to excellence. It all looked so easy, a guarantee that there has been a massive amount of hard work in the background! Congratulations to Louie, Matthew and Cat who took their first solos this year and hats off to Freddie for holding the stage with his one man show!

A four day week in which we have crammed in five days of activity. Tonight we recognise the achievements of our sports players at the Senior Sports Dinner. It promises to be another evening of well-earned celebration. Be it music, sport or study this is where lifelong bonds of friendship are forged.

Nicholas Hammond


Sounds of the School Day

“When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy,
And the dimpling stream runs laughing by;
When the air does laugh with our merry wit,
And the green hill laughs with the noise of it;”

William Blake

The day, if I’m lucky, starts with birdsong soon interrupted by the odd voice that is carried up on the breeze. A clack of keyboards can be followed by the static crackle of the walkie-talkie. The kettle’s rumbling boil hails the gradual population of the school and then the ever increasing build of many human voices exchanging the latest news, gossip and chat all ready for the day to come. The sounds of feet on the stairs, a squeaky door hinge or a shutting door. Most days as I walk to the gate I’ll hear the distinctive thwack of foot on leather ball and more often than not the swish of a rippling net as Barnaby’s football finds the back of the net. More birds, more chatting voices, the odd squeal of brakes and the sound of cars rounds off this morning chorus with the distinctive metallic clang of the side gate. This week we have had the racket of lawn mowers and blowers and the clear indication that summer has started as pupils cheer excitedly for their teammates to score a rounder.

The summer term has its own distinctive sounds, of rounders being played on the front lawn. Anyone passing the Junior School green pitch will know that there are few more pleasant sounds than that of break time, a cacophony of sheer pleasure. A walk down a school corridor brings its own selection of sounds, of questions being answered, of discussions being had and work being done. Chip Thursday brings a sound of expectant and excited diners and any normal walk around the campus will have its fair share of good mornings and afternoons. Later in the term we will hear that weird sound of nearly silence when the public exams commence. Pens scratching on papers, discreet coughs – one can almost hear the sound of concentration as well as the invigilator’s careful pace. It is in silence that we find the finest focus, the most eloquence and the best ideas.

girl pupil plays music on the piano

This week I am accompanying some other noise makers or, perhaps more accurately described, musicians as they make their way to perform in a Europe-wide music competition. More pleasant noise. They will compete and join with other young musicians to produce glorious sound. Perhaps I can encourage you to start the next mid-week bank holiday by coming to the Jazz Band’s concert on Tuesday night. Not only will you have the opportunity to hear our Jazz Band hitting the high notes but also a chance to meet with other parents and friends of the School for what promises to be a great night. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit the Chanorier complex in Croissy then it is another reason for coming along and enjoying a cocktail and a concert. We start at 7.30pm (drinks from 7.00pm). Please come and enjoy the show.

It takes many sounds to make a school. I look forward to a term in which our joy in learning is expressed through sounds of enthusiasm and the necessary moments of silence.

Nicholas Hammond


In praise of doing the lot

It is a cutting phrase, the one that goes… “jack of all trades but master of none”. Knowledge and skills seem to be becoming ever more specialised, our focus ever narrower. It was therefore with great interest that I watched the 165th men’s university boat race last Sunday and the 74th women’s boat race. This venerable British institution sees the rowers of Oxford University pit themselves against those from Cambridge University in what amounts to a private challenge on the Thames from Putney to Mortlake. These crews are not the world’s best crews although there is a great deal of talent sitting in those narrow shells. They aren’t even the best university crews in the country, but they represent something interesting and perhaps this explains why hundreds of thousands line the banks of the river to watch and 6.2 million tune in to witness the spectacle on television. The race itself is absurd, it is very long and takes place on a tidal, meandering river. Winning the coin toss can be as important as making a good start or finishing strongly. It is sport, but not as we now know it. The amateur ideal is fused with a professional approach. Whilst I’m sure that there are some “degrees of convenience” being studied to facilitate participation, this isn’t a case of sports professionals masquerading as academics, nor is it the other way round. All of the participants are studying, even the one who is 46 years of age. They balance study and rigorous training. I was particularly interested in Callum Sullivan 19 year old musician and athlete. He must be a busy man. Other boat race rowers have shown a prowess in differing fields, notably Hugh Lawrie writer, comic, musician and actor; Sandy Irvine, mountaineer; Lord Melbourne the Australian Prime Minister.

So it would seem that it is possible to excel in more than one field. Whilst we may not quite match up to the last man who knew everything – Thomas Young who proved Newton wrong, helped decode the Rosetta Stone and was an accomplished gymnast or to Dorothy Dunnett, novelist, scholar and artist or to Hildegard von Bingen they may also point the way to successful engagement in many fields.

And so we come to the end of this Spring Term. A period of time in which we have seen many pupils do many fine things. There are schools in the world that are larger than ours, but I do not see this as a problem, rather it is a virtue. Our musicians who played in the excellent Senior School concert this week are also the pupils who turned out for sports teams, went to debate, have excelled academically and have been the backbone of numerous societies. Many have given back in the form of service activities and charity fundraising this term. This is as true for the Junior School as it is for the Senior School; life has been about so much more than what has gone on in the classroom. The size of our population means pupils have to do everything, and I think that this is healthy indeed. It has been a term well spent. A term in which an enormous amount has been achieved. From plays to pitches there has been so much to celebrate. So here’s to the “jacks of all trades”, I believe that you have gained mastery in many. There can be no better measure of a term well spent.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Nicholas Hammond


“Music is an outburst of the Soul.” Frederick Delius

Reality television and school inspections are two of my least favourite things. It was therefore with a degree of concern that I learned that the plot of the latest Year 6 show contained not only those modern plagues but also the presence of a power crazed Health and Safety Inspector. I should not have been worried, Year 6 put on a remarkably assured, extremely amusing and professional show. They danced, they sang, they acted and all were involved. Six days is all it took them to go from script to performance including all of the technical aspects of the show which they operated themselves. Great support was given by Year 5 as the chorus and a massive vote of thanks is due to the teachers who supported and inspired a most memorable performance. Indeed, I have never been told to get out of the hall by a pupil, but I have now… Nothing short of terrifying. A splendid effort from all concerned and a big thank you to the performers and crew from us, the audience, who enjoyed the show immensely.

I often am guilty of forgetting that we live on the edge of one of the most culturally and artistically rich environments in the world. There is, I suspect, a concert happening somewhere in Paris every single evening of the week. Yesterday was one of those rare times when I actually did something about it and booked to see a concert a little later in the year. Having the opportunity to see and hear music being performed live is something that I rather take for granted having lived and worked in schools for most of my adult life, so it came as a surprise to learn that the concept of a concert is a relatively recent one. If Wikipedia is to be believed the concert in the present form came into existence in the latter part of the Seventeenth Century, whilst informal music making in groups must have been going on for as long as humans have created instruments. Whilst the growth of audio recordings has meant that one can enjoy a concert in the comfort of home, there is nothing quite like the experience of seeing and hearing a live performance. The conductor Sir Thomas Beecham was clear that music has a role in what is an ever busier and more distracting world when he said that “The function of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought.” But then he also said “the English may not like music, they absolutely love the noise it makes.” For me it is sometimes the bits in between. The moment of stillness when the music has come to an end; if you need persuading have a look at this compilation from last year’s Proms:

Next week gives all in the school community the opportunity to experience a concert as our Senior School musicians will be performing on Tuesday evening. The Spring Concert programme focuses on the Baroque and Classical periods and will give us all a chance to enjoy the virtuosity of our pupils as they perform as individuals or ensembles. Please do come, it promises to be a fantastic evening. The whole school community is welcome, it is not simply an event for those who spend their time on the Senior School campus.

Nicholas Hammond


In celebration of the Periodic Table

Yesterday I was standing in front of the dried spice display in Carrefour (yes, I know it is ever the life of glamour) and it struck me that it resembled the periodic table. There were clear rows and columns, rather like the periods and groups of the table and I rather hoped that there was some great underlying logic in having the spiciest in one corner and most flavoursome in another. I’ll look in more detail next time I’m there.

This year is the 150 anniversary of the periodic table and 2019 has been designated as the year of the periodic table by UNESCO. Working in a school means that you are never far away from a periodic table. I think that I have seen it on walls, windows, in textbooks and on a mug since I have been at the BSP. I suspect it pops up in other places. There is a version in Mr. Potter’s study. As an historian the most contact I have had with it has been through Primo Levi’s extraordinary book. Like Harry Beck’s London Underground map it is a functional diagram that has become a cultural icon. It also inspired one of the greatest comic songs of all time, thank you Tom Lehrer(1).

As a non-chemist I find it incredible that we can reduce so much information into so concise a form. This is where Mendelev’s genius really lay. Anyone who can simplify the complex into the comprehensible gets my vote. As Vincent van Gogh said “how difficult it is to be simple”. Mendelev’s table stands the test of time because it is adaptable. New elements have fitted in. The underlying logic has proved accommodating to change and new discoveries. When comparing the oldest known versions of the table (held by the universities of St. Petersburg and St. Andrew’s) to today’s table it is clear that the structure proposed 150 years ago holds true. It is a piece of thinking that has stood the test of time in a subject in which change is a constant.

Like the Tube map, the periodic table has been appropriated for other purposes. The web provides plenty categorising superheroes, cupcakes and my favourite, typefaces. It would be a shame not be in on the act so having spoken with our Communications Department (who bring us this newsletter each week) we are proud to present the Periodic Table of the BSP. Here is (almost) everything that we do, all of the underlying elements that make our school, well, our school. We’ve probably missed a few and undoubtedly in the future there will be new elements to add. Happily we know that whatever they are we will find a way of fitting them in.

(1) Tom Lehrer – The Elements – Live from Copenhagen in 1967. Do watch until the end…

Nicholas Hammond