More important than Dora…

JL EtienneIt took Jean-Louis Etienne an epic 63 days to single-handedly drag a sled to the North Pole. Once at the Pole he had no-one to celebrate with so he shared his achievement with his cooking stove and his sledge. Thirty odd years later he has become one of the world’s most celebrated and well respected explorers. He joined the Senior School and Year 5 in the newly refurbished Redgrave Multi-Purpose Hall this morning to share his thoughts about his lifetime of achievements and to challenge us to think about the threats to the world that we face today. You can read about his inspirational story on his website which tells you much about the man behind the legend:

As a school we have joined with wider communities in behaving in a more environmentally responsible fashion. We’ve reduced our consumption of single use plastic, we harvest rainwater, we have energy efficient lighting and we have a beehive. What Dr. Etienne made clear was that whilst such measures are good, we as a global community have far to go. We should be in no doubt that the crisis that we face today will only be solved with the application and dedication of the next generation. Young people like ours have the key to saving the planet. I suspect that, having listened to Dr. Etienne some will have been inspired to consider being part of the solution. Whilst he claimed not to be a “superman” just a person who persisted with their dream, I find it hard to believe that there are not pupils who will be thinking differently today as a consequence of having met him.

If you don’t have a chance to look at the recording of the event here are six key points from the talk:
• Passion might mean that you start a project. Perseverance is the thing that will see the project to success. So follow your idea and don’t give up.
• Expect difficulties. Few things in life come easily and if you give up because the going gets tough you should never have started in the first place.
• Cold temperatures won’t kill you. Ill winds will.
• Language is a tool. Use it to increase your knowledge. Never stop exploring.
• Don’t push your boundaries. Discover your boundaries. Find opportunities to discover how great you really are.
• Change is sometimes necessary.

In summing up his thoughts, Dr. Etienne told some older students that his experiences of fundraising for expeditions have taught him that it is normally the case that a few well-chosen words make more of an impact than many. I thought that was excellent advice so I’ll stop now.

Nicholas Hammond

When will we ever learn?

It would be interesting to know if, one hundred years from today, British Schools will still spend so much time studying the First World War. To some extent modern British culture is considered to have been shaped by the First World War. At least in the public imagination it was a war of stiff upper lips and playing the game, of noble sacrifice gone wrong as warfare changed beyond all recognition to harness the industrial power of nations. Poetry, novels, plays and films have been written; it is a conflict that has stamped itself on the national psyche of the UK in a way that it hasn’t in other countries. The idea of lions led by donkeys and the dangers of unchecked nationalism also weigh heavy on our latter day interpretations.

This week I had the great fortune to go with Year 9 to the First World War battlefields of Northern France and Belgium. We were blessed with both exceptional weather and engaged, interested students. Many of them asked the inevitable questions about the futility and waste of war, after all, who could not be moved standing in front of a pristine war grave for a fifteen year old boy who died under fire? The answers don’t get any easier to find.

As we stood looking at the Menin Gate, bathed in early morning sunlight, I was struck that as teachers we have an obligation to ensure that the First World War does not slip into the mists of time. It was a modern conflict in which the world was forced to understand, for the first time, that targets could be found far from the immediate battlefield. It was perhaps the first mass media war with its own brands of propaganda and fake news. It had unexpected consequences, positive ones, such as votes for women. It was a crucible of nations with Canada, Australia and New Zealand asserting their independence from Britain, the old order was questioned. But at what price? Carnage, sorrow, dispossession. Without World War 1 the Middle East situation would be different indeed. These are not easy concepts for young minds but it is important that we challenge our pupils to consider the views they need to develop, to compel them engage with “difficult” subjects. In doing so we have to, as parents or as teachers, allow them to disagree from time to time.

I have written before that we are developing a new generation of leaders at this school. Our young people will, I am sure, go on to make a massive contribution to their communities (wherever they may be) and it is important that they are ready to apply the lessons of the past to their futures and the decisions that are made for them and on their behalf.

AlexWe are right to remember and right to commemorate. All who had the opportunity to hear Georgie Green’s poem in Notre Dame on Sunday cannot help but consider the cost of conflict and those who heard Nicholas Lo’s stirring playing have been given pause for thought. I hope that 100 years from now we are still commemorating Alex’s great, great grandfather and his comrades who gave so much.

Nicholas Hammond

“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.” – Edmund Hillary

Perhaps it is a consequence of living in a world governed by bells, timetables and a prescribed year that there is a danger of allowing the school year to roll along “as normal”. On Monday, teaching staff had an INSET (training) day. On Tuesday the half term started – the school picked up where it had left off ten days before with a few new faces. All very familiar, all very normal.

Despite this seeming familiarity an event occurred during the half term that has shaken many from this comfortable routine; former BSP teacher, Nicholas Lowndes, sadly died following an accident at his home. Nicholas Lowndes joined The British School of Paris in 1974 and he left our immediate community for retirement in 2015. Those who were not taught by him may have met him doing stalwart service on the second hand book stall at the summer fair. Nicholas was always going to make the most of retirement. Having already lovingly restored a house in Brittany, he had other plans. Some will know of his exceptional woodworking skills. There are few among us with the expertise to create a lute. Retirement was not an end to learning or talent development, it merely signalled a new phase in a life where learning remained central.

The loss of a long-serving member of staff is a matter for sorrow. Our deepest sympathies are with Mrs Lowndes our Junior School Librarian and wife of Nicholas and also with their children who all attended the BSP. I know that friends and colleagues will rally round and support; such is the way of this school.
Loss affects a community, but the institution carries on. Sometimes this is a comfort. Death is not necessarily a comfortable subject for adults and it is perhaps more alien for children. That acknowledged we should confront the subject. There are members of this community who have lost parents, siblings and a significant number will have lost grandparents. Loss can come in many forms and it is generally traumatic. But in a school, a place dedicated to making the most of talent and to the realisation of potential it also provides a powerful reminder. Very little in life is guaranteed and to that end we must make the most of every day that we wake up to. Whilst comfort, familiarity and routine are all good, we must never forget that we have, each day, the chance to do not just something extraordinary but many extraordinary things.

British-School-of-Paris-1280I wonder if, over the course of this coming week, we can reflect upon something that we have done that is worthy? Have we used the extraordinary opportunities that we have here? Have we used our talents wisely? Sometimes the jolt of tragedy serves to remind us that this life of ours is indeed precious. This half term we should avoid the trap of simply going through the motions and ensure that we continually strive for excellence. This may mean doing different. If we are able to achieve this then it will have been a half term well spent.

Nicholas Hammond

Five reasons to be cheerful

I recently had the great good fortune to hear Geoff Barton, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders speak at a conference.  Geoff is a fount of good sense in a sometimes turbulent educational world and he has recently blogged about 5 reasons to be cheerful at the end of this half term.  In a spirit of healthy plagiarism (if there is such a thing) I am taking his excellent idea and adapting it to a BSP purpose.

So, 5 reasons for us at The British School of Paris to be cheerful at the end of this half term:

1)     Learning has happened in spades (massive amounts)!

ApplesI am fortunate to be able to tour the schools on a regular basis and I am constantly impressed with the knowledge and eloquence of our young people.  From Nursery’s incredible work with apples to A level students in Year 13 pushing the limits of their knowledge and understanding it has been a successful half term by any measure.  Everyone can do something that they couldn’t do before!  Thank you to teachers and very well done to our pupils.

2)    New pupils are now established pupils

At the start of term we had nearly two hundred new students.  Such is the welcoming nature of the BSP these “newbies” have become “old hands”.  Our pupils are settled and are able to develop friendships, build on the talents and enjoy coming to their school.  Over the course of the half term there has been only one Monday morning where we have not welcomed a new pupil.  Our warmth and openness as a community means that no-one feels new for long!  Next half term we will welcome still more pupils, we look forward to all that they will bring to our community.

3)    We have an ever developing sense of responsibility for wider communities

This term we have made massive steps forward towards reducing single use plastic and whilst there is still work to do we are well on the way to achieving our goals.  We enjoyed the first batch of honey from the beehive.  Our Sixth Formers are currently in Cambodia visiting the school that we have built with the support of the tireless BSPS. We’ve contributed to local sports events and are proud to be part of Croissy’s Remembrance activities next term.  Our volunteers have given many hours to charities such as the Red Cross, Genetic Disorders UK (Jeans for Genes), Arbre À Pain and Emmaüs – Bougival. We make a difference both locally and globally.

4)    We are about to open a new multi-purpose hall

Whilst education can (and often does) occur anywhere it is always an advantage if learning happens in an inspiring environment.  The newly refurbished Redgrave Hall will give us the opportunity to perform in a space that will match the talents of our pupils.  It will give us room to hold lectures, assemblies and it will make parents’ evenings much more effective!  Most importantly it is a shared space, Junior School pupils will use it and Senior School pupils will use it. Sport, music, drama, public speaking and many other activities will take place in it. One thing that we have learnt over the last eighteen months is that we are fortunate in having a variety of spaces shared on two campuses and it is easy enough to move from one campus to another.  We are one school.

5)    We get to do it all again after the holiday

There is an enormous amount to look forward to next term.  Trips will still go out despite the weather, fixtures will be played, lessons will take place; there will be challenges and discovery.  There will be opportunities for pupils to show determination and endeavour.  We will continue to play a leading role in our community and we will seek to serve others with integrity and we will strive for excellence.  We are fortunate to work in a school which offers us all, be we pupils, teachers, support staff, administrators, governors, alumni, parents or friends such opportunities to learn from each other.

Have a great holiday.

Nicholas Hammond

A comma not a full stop

Half term is one of the educational world’s greatest ideas. Whilst it was probably invented to allow children to go back to pick potatoes from fields or make the last preparations for the coming winter on a farm, it now fulfils a very different and no less valuable purpose. After six and a half weeks of the school year it gives us all an opportunity to take stock, to reflect on what we have achieved at the start of the year and to look ahead. Having enjoyed the most wonderful weather over the past few weeks, we have perhaps been slightly tricked into thinking that we have only just returned to school and I for one have found that this half term has passed incredibly quickly.

Breteuil for coverThe second half of the Autumn Term is one of the most important periods of learning in any school year, for those in examination years it is nothing short of vital. It is most valuable time and we will use it wisely – it is here that the foundations of success are laid, thus we will need to be ready to be working at our maximum levels when we return. But we face a danger in this coming holiday, if we stop completely the habits we have built up this half term will take too long to re-establish. Young minds are like high performance engines, they need to be run regularly if they are to perform at their best. To ensure that we do not lose our vital academic momentum I need to ask for parental help. The forthcoming holiday is one in which pupils should have a well-earned rest. But such a rest does not mean letting all things academic slip or grind to a halt. As well as spending time on screen (seemingly everyone’s favourite pastime these days), our children should take time to read a book, talk to family and friends (face to face) and spend time in the fresh air. If you are travelling then a diary, scrapbook or blog will stimulate the mind now and be an interesting artefact later. Half term is a good time to sort out those files that might just be getting a little messy and a time to revisit the elements of work that perhaps would benefit from some revision. If something can be done each day then the momentum will remain and starting next half term will be all the easier. At the risk of causing familial fallout I’d be grateful if you could remind your children that whilst half term is a holiday, it needs to be, at least to a small extent, a working one.

Whilst I realise that this column will win me few friends in the pupil body, I know that if half term is used to refresh rather than to simply flop then it will be time well spent and in the long run it is sure to pay handsome dividends. Minds that have been kept active will need little start up time in November and that is a great advantage. Who knows, reading a book might even turn out to be quite interesting…?

Have a wonderful half term.

Nicholas Hammond

Why we like to have visitors…

One of my favourite films is Les Visiteurs, a comic film from the 1990s. As is the case with most franchises the first one is great, the following films stretch the joke a little too far to be really funny. But for all that, the original film makes a valuable point; when we visit, we are very much strangers in that community. We can understand a good deal but there will be differences between our place and others. We often learn when we have the chance to visit other places and when we have the chance to make contact with other views. I’ve written before about the importance of getting out of the classroom to learn, similarly important is to bring people in to tell us something new or from a different perspective.

Michael StoneFor most people the words ‘school visit’ conjure up the time that parents and children take an initial tour around the school before joining. These tours are often led by a Sixth Form student who gives a pupil-eye view of what goes on at the BSP. The participants achieve an impression of the place, a flavour of what we offer. It is, inevitably, a partial view. But prospective parents and pupils are not our only visitors. Each week we welcome a wide range of visitors to our campuses and indeed these visitors are vital for us to develop a wide understanding of the world around us. Unlike Coleridge we believe that our visitors aid creativity rather than disrupting like the person from Porlock.

This week is a case in point. Today we welcomed representatives from London universities who talked to the Sixth Form, Dr Fleury one of our governors who was advising on careers in medicine, Mr Butterworth was discussing engineering and Ashley an alumnus who happened to be in Paris dropped in to revisit the school of his youth… Over the course of the week we have also been visited by an educational consultant, Mr Stone who spent much of the week observing lessons and activities prior to his providing us with a quality assurance report next week. We’ve welcomed representatives from the local Mairie to discuss future projects and a British architect who was involved in the initial planning of our soon to be completed Redgrave Multi-Purpose hall. I’ve probably missed a few others but you get the picture. The School cannot be an island entire of itself as Donne didn’t exactly say.

Perhaps the most unusual visitor this week was the magpie that has taken to participating in Year 10 PE lessons. Bold as brass he has been perching on balls, goals and striding up the touchline like an avian Klopp or Mourinho. Perhaps he just wants to take part as well.

Over the coming months we will be making contact with many of our alumni and inviting them to link with us via social media. In doing this we aim to harness the reservoir of talent in the BSP Community to act as mentors or to record short films for us about their careers and the subjects that matter to them. Visiting in this modern age can take many forms and we are happy to join with people digitally as well as in the flesh (or feather).

We learn when we connect with the stories of other people.

Nicholas Hammond

Join the real world – Humane technology anyone?

A Swiss company sells a mobile phone which is designed for making telephone calls and sending SMS messages. If their website is to be believed they are supplying an antidote for distraction and access to “non-virtual reality”. Their founder compares his product to a pair of spectacles, something that is a pleasure to own and useful. If market forces are to be trusted, there is good money in the dumb phone market; Punkt released their second generation dumb ‘phone last week. At almost the same time iPads were being updated with the latest iteration of the IOS operating system. As part of this change a new feature has been introduced which allows parents a greater level of control over the length of time their children spend on their machine. Mr. Pearey sent a communication to parents about this feature last week.

iPad photo for coverIt is perhaps easy to believe that the BSP and many other schools embrace too quickly the latest technological marvel. The School was an early adopter of tablets but we have never seen technology usurping the very human, very real, often analogue process of education. Recent research regarding the efficacy of tablets in the classroom did not come as a surprise to us. We have always known that the iPad is an adjunct to established methods. We still have libraries, we write in exercise books, we debate face to face and we use pencils to draw. We also use iPads to research, discover and draw. I’m sure that the early adopters of exercise books were criticised by those who favoured slates. The iPad won’t replace the teacher, nor will it replace human thought. The 4th educational revolution is being written about but it has yet to really take hold.

Used thoughtfully the iPad allows for (amongst other things) greater levels of discovery. My Year 9 historians this week saw not only a photocopied map of Europe in 1890 but had access to the British Library’s collection of nineteenth century satirical maps. We did our research virtually but we recorded our results in a far more traditional manner. iPads push the walls of the classroom wider. Educational debate often focuses on a fruitless argument that pitches skills against knowledge. Young people need to have early exposure to technology and they also need to be educated as to what responsible use looks like. The iPad can develop both skills and knowledge. Every generation has a point of friction with the older generation. For me it was television, for the generation before it might have been transistor radios, I’m sure that the gramophone was viewed with suspicion. Balance is the key. Recently our Year 8s went to Normandy to study coastal geography, no iPad needed, they saw and they experienced. The subsequent write up may well have been done on their device.

Tech free evenings and weekends sound like a good idea to me and I am sure would fill many pupils with horror. Mindful use of machines seems a happy compromise, screen controls may be part of this. Prohibition is rarely successful, careful stewardship of a powerful resource would seem to be more prudent.

Nicholas Hammond

“What a wise parent would wish for their children, so the state must wish for all its children.” – R.H. Tawney

I am not sure if it is a peculiarity of British politics or if other countries have a season of party conferences that coincides with the start of the academic year. During these conferences political parties decamp from London to discuss what they need to do to win the next election or to decide what is best for the country. The Liberal Democrats congregated a couple of weeks ago, the Labour Party met this week and the Conservative party will confer next week. As the Headmaster of a British School I am always keen to see what each of the major parties has to say about education.

Jim callaghanPolitics and education rarely sit comfortably together; one is generally short term, the other is intrinsically long term. That is not to say that there have been no political movements that have resulted in beneficial progress. Political parties have widened access to education providing wide swathes of the population with opportunities they were once denied. The problem for education comes when politicians seek to bend the curriculum to their own view. In Britain, the watershed moment for education came back in 1976 when the then Prime Minister, James Callaghan made the now notorious (at least with educationalists) “Secret Garden of the Curriculum Speech”. During his discourse he claimed control of the curriculum as a political issue. Subsequently, there have been few governments that have not sought to influence, both the structure of the British educational system and its content. Allowing politicians control of what is taught in schools (and indeed how it is taught in schools) almost inevitably leads to the curriculum being used as a political football. The last Conservative Government engaged in one of the widest reforms of the curriculum ever seen, with large scale changes to GCSE and A level the result.

The Labour Party’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, talked this week of structural and systemic reform of the national educational system and made no real mention of the curriculum (phew), while the Lib Dem’s Layla Moran launched an attack on grammar schools, excessive testing, some independent schools and the inspection body Ofsted. Now we await the Conservatives from Brighton. I’m rather hoping that the curriculum is not on Damian Hind’s agenda. If previous speeches give any clue, preserving the status quo with regard to exam rigour, giving head teachers greater autonomy and reducing teacher workload via different assessment methods are likely to feature.

Much of what is being said at the party conferences this year moves British education back to where we were when I started teaching (except with better buildings and more IT). I remain hopeful that one day we will have politicians who understand that education cannot be run on a “between elections” timetable and that all change has an impact on the children who live through their ideological whims.

Education is a long, slow and steady process. Politics isn’t. Perhaps the boldest move that any politician could make at this point is to leave well alone.

Nicholas Hammond

Not anarchy but charity

As a firm believer in the benefits of school uniform I avoid encouraging individuals to wear their uniform in anything other than the orthodox manner. So standing at the gate this morning seeing pupils coming in wearing a top half uniform and a lower half in jeans was an uncomfortable experience. In the normal course of events this approach to bending the rules would be seen by me as the first step towards anarchy. However, it seems that we are not facing a student revolution but an expression of our pupils’ approach to helping others. Jeans for Genes is a worthy cause indeed and our young people deserve to be congratulated on the way that they have embraced such a good cause by having fun.

Evie - conkersOver the course of the coming weeks there will be other charity days. We carefully endeavour to support local, national and international charities. Our pupils have the opportunity to nominate causes to support through the Student Councils. Older students are able to engage in a wide variety of service projects and I believe that they gain much in doing so. One of our duties as a school is to develop the leaders of the future. Many of our young people will go on to lead in whichever community they decide to live. Some will be politicians, others diplomats. We will have captains of industry and educational trailblazers. Some will lead in the business community or will take their talents to improve areas of the world where development is needed. All of this is a long way from wearing jeans instead of your school uniform. That said I believe that the seeds of a life of service are sown best at school. Good habits need to be established early in life if they are to remain. We are conscious that beyond our school gates life for many can be challenging and tough. We enjoy opportunities here that few in the world can match. We are therefore right to consider others and to share our talents. A commitment to service is vital if a fulfilling life is to be lived.

The idea of modelling is en vogue in the educational world. The theory is simple. If adults do something then children copy. Hardly ground breaking but a difficult one to live up to. The BSPS has donated hundreds of hours to running events enjoyed by the wider school community. In doing so they have raised enough money to pay (in large part) for a school in Cambodia where previously there had not been one. Along the way I am sure that they have had some fun, but it has also been hard work. They provided our bar on Saturday and will have raised still more for excellent causes and that is a pretty good model to follow.

So I’ll swallow my uniform reservations once a year. If you provided a cake then thank you and if you have to find yet another Euro for some good cause in the coming months, remember that you are not only making a valuable contribution to help another person, but you will be giving your own child a greater understanding of the world around them.

Your support is appreciated.

Mr Nicholas Hammond

Lunch – not for gekkos

In every school there is one key piece of information that you simply have to know. You won’t find it in the handbook, it won’t be mentioned in any information session and it isn’t in the prospectus but make no mistake, it is crucial. I’ll share a secret. At the BSP that piece of information is that Thursday is chip day. Some people plan their week around the humble frite, looking forward to it all week. I think that just about everyone enjoys Thursday lunchtime. If an army marches on its stomach, a school learns better with a full tummy. We are fortunate indeed to work with a dedicated and talented catering team led by our head chef, Khalifa.

Lunchtime photo for front pageDuring my teacher training I wrote a dissertation on the lunch hour in schools. It is an element of school life that I have always been interested in. Lunch, one could say, is a subject close to my stomach. School lunches have changed a good deal since I was at school and definitely for the better. Each day our team here at the BSP create a wide variety of meals; we consume 120 baguettes and deliver almost 900 covers per day. Veau Marengo, goulash, paupiettes, baked salmon and aubergine crumble all feature on our menu. There is a salad bar and cheese and dessert. Gordon Gekko may have said that “lunch is for wimps”; I couldn’t agree less. I am delighted to see pupils taking full advantage of what is on offer, the school day is a long one and fuel is required. We are particularly fortunate that our fuel is especially delicious.

School lunchtime is about more than simply the pleasures of the table. The lunch hour is a period of the day when pupils have the opportunity to define their use of time. For some it is an opportunity to let off steam, to kick a ball about, skip or play complicated games of tag. Others choose to seek calm in the library. A wide range of clubs and activities are on offer. We learn valuable lessons at lunchtime; how to be patient, what a balanced diet looks like and how to converse in a civilised manner. We learn to deal with a little independence in what is otherwise a very structured day. Taking a break at lunchtime allows us to concentrate a little more effectively in the afternoon.

This year I would like us as a community to think about only taking what is sufficient for our needs and in doing so cutting down on the food waste that we produce. All of our food waste is dehydrated and turned into compost – we make a lot of compost. Laudable as this is, it breaks my heart to see platefuls of food being thrown away. Perhaps this might be a topic of conversation when you next sit down as a family, I would greatly appreciate the support.

On the subject of food, I do hope to see lots of you at our welcome event tomorrow – the weather forecast is promising and there can be few greater pleasures than enjoying fish and chips down by the river. Do come along.

Nicholas Hammond