Throughout human history…

“Throughout human history, in any great endeavour requiring the common effort of many nations … we have learned – it is only through seriousness of purpose and persistence that we ultimately carry the day. We might liken it to riding a bicycle. You stay upright and move forward so long as you keep up the momentum.”

– Ban Ki-Moon

What distance actually represents “a long way” probably depends on the mode of transport that a person choses to take. By just about any measure 550km is a long way and by bicycle it can only be seen as a serious undertaking. This lunchtime the school community joined in waving off four intrepid staff members who are riding their bicycles from Croissy to London (and back) in 50 hours. The time limit is self-imposed – as far as I am concerned as long as they are ready to teach on Tuesday they can take as long as they like! Our quartet are raising funds for our partner school in Cambodia to ensure that the school has sufficient funds to provide further training for the teachers and for much needed equipment. If you would like to support Messrs Ball, Bates, Lockwood and Manville on their noble endeavour then stop reading and follow this link to donate https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/britishschoolparis To those who generously provided cake for the break time cake sales many thanks. So far the total is over 1200 euros and we are still counting…

Endeavour takes many forms and it is a value that we as a school prize. This week I had the distinct pleasure of watching the construction of a Sopwith Camel biplane by the Senior School Lego Club. What impressed me most was the way that the team applied themselves with quiet determination to complete what was a challenging project. They considered each other’s views and worked to a common goal. Their hard work has resulted in a model that speaks to us about the sacrifice made by so many. I am sure that it will be appreciated by those who will see it when it is displayed at the British Ambassador’s Residence in commemoration of the centenary of the RAF next week. Whilst mentioning the First World War it would be remiss of me not to mention the superb achievement of Georgie Green whose moving poem was the overall winner of the Never Such Innocence Competition for her age group. Her thoughtful work touched the judges as much as it did us and was a worthy winner. She will be collecting her award in London next week and we look forward to hearing about the ceremony which will take place just down the road from Buckingham Palace.

Endeavour is a value that at times can be seen as being a little old fashioned. It is not a word that is often heard in everyday conversation but here at the BSP it is often seen, appreciated and celebrated be it evident in poetry, Lego or by getting on your bike and pedalling a very long way indeed. So if you are thinking about donating don’t delay!
Enjoy the long weekend.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

From tiny acorns…

“I believe that every person is born with talent.” -Maya Angelou

There are certain days when I am reminded that I live an extraordinarily privileged existence. Yesterday I was able to have a meeting with M. Plazanet our Director of Finance while walking between our campuses. The sun was shining. We were treated to spring happening in the Seine Valley – an intense experience (spring that is not the meeting) and then we paused to enjoy the spectacular work of our younger students at the Junior School Art Exhibition before resuming our deliberations. Once I moved away from the day to day questions that make up normal life, I had the chance to consider something more important. As educators I and my colleagues can play a role in setting young people on their way. Parents play at least an equal role in providing not only the initial impetus but constant support. None of us know for certain where all this effort will end up. As parents and teachers we may have particular ideas, ambitions even but, truth be told we don’t know where all of this investment will end up. Our young people will develop their talents, they are like the trees and plants on our river bank in spring, and they will grow, all too quickly and in a way that we may never predict. Care needs to be taken to ensure that we do not expect young people to live the lives that we desire for them, they need to be guided to the realisation of their talents.

Gilles Caron* took some of the iconic photographs of the riots in Paris of May 1968. Without him this event would not be remembered in the way that it is. I wonder if his talent was spotted early, would his artistic eye have been evident while he was a student at the BSP? Yann Martel, the Booker Prize winning author may well have been a fiction prodigy, but were the seeds of his genius discerned while he was at the BSP? In a week where we saw remarkable artistic work rewarded by the Never Such Innocence judging panel, who knows where this talent will grow? ShawkatI had the chance to ask this sort of question to another visitor. Professor Shawkat Toowara is a distinguished Yale academic. He’s also another alumni and he visited the School today to share his expertise, wit and insight with our older students. By his admission no-one could have known that he would become a world leader in his field or that he would be persuading students to come to lectures that have nothing to do with their nominated studies. But he does. Our aim as a school is to provide an environment in which children can grow. Our physical environment is stunning, our intellectual climate stimulating. We have an abundance of talent. There are plenty of examples of BSP students who have gone on to be leaders in their field, opinion formers and prize winners. We are never quite sure what it is many of our young people will achieve in the future; what I know is that having seen the quality and verve of our artists and our writers this week that the current generation will certainly go on to continue the BSP tradition of excellence and in doing so enhance the community in which they live.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

*The Hôtel de Ville de Paris is currently exhibiting Gilles Caron’s work: https://quefaire.paris.fr/49910/exposition-gilles-caron-a-l-hotel-de-ville

What do we mean by identity?

This term started on (depending on who you ask) the patron saint’s day of Malta, Portugal, Georgia or England. On Wednesday ANZAC Day was widely celebrated commemorating the sacrifices of both Australian and New Zealand troops in this the centenary of the end of the First World War. Groups, be they national or cultural are often keen to build some form of identity around individuals, institutions or notable events. Around these talismanic totems spring customs which all build an identity and sense of belonging. Sadly, such identity building can be used to exclude as much as it is used to include.

international kidsThis year we have more than fifty nationalities in the school. Many students will identify with what they see as their home nation. Others are less defined by nationality, indeed some claim no nationality at all, the “third culture kids”. We have young people who identify themselves according to their musical tastes or football teams. Happily we don’t as a rule have to deal with the cliques so clearly identified in the Senior School Musical earlier in the year. Where students express concerns about identity we seek to support them as they decide what it is that matters to them. I was recently asked to identify myself as being either a DC or a Marvel fan… there will always be newer and ever more specific classifications that we need to consider. In this week in which the latest Avengers film is released I chose Marvel…

Our young people have an opportunity as a consequence of our diverse and varied community to develop a broad world view. A perspective that is shaped by an understanding of other people rather than by suspicion and misunderstanding. I hope that by learning together our students have the confidence to reject narrowness of thought and build their own sense of international mindedness. What price can be put on the ability to see both sides of an argument? To understand where others are “coming from” is undoubtedly a rare gift. How valuable will it be to them to be able to understand what it is that drives other people’s thinking?

At the start of a school term teachers often take the opportunity to think about what it is they are aiming to achieve through their teaching. The development of skills and the transmission of knowledge generally register towards the top but in a school such as ours it would not be unusual to hear discussion of the development of character. We aim to make the best use of the variety of views and experiences that are to be found in our classrooms. Part of our job is to create space for our young people to develop as people and within it make the most of the international nature of our classes.

When I spend time with our students, be it in class, waiting in the lunch queue or simply as they go about their daily tasks I am filled with hope. They have the capacity to go on to play significant roles in their future communities. Their experiences here should allow them to lead lives of integrity and understanding. They will make our world a better place.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

Volcanic Learning

“I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity; an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial and above all, compassion.”
– Kurt Hahn

Many schools make claims about what they see as their own unique approach. There is more than one UK school that markets the learning taking place in their school as “adventurous”. Having just spent several action packed days among the volcanoes of the Auvergne with Year 5, I can confirm that some of the learning at the BSP is indeed an adventure.

Volcanic learningTo claim that all learning going on in any school is adventurous would be, I suspect, an overstatement. That said, this short week at the BSP has seen its fair share of both individual and collective adventure; from the first time soloists in our excellent Spring Concert, to intrepid cake makers and decorators raising money for charity. Our Jazz Bands took another step forward with their concert on Tuesday and Year 6 travelled in time. Unicorns have been spotted in Senior School today. A quick look at our Twitter feed will give numerous other examples of the ad-ventures that have been experienced both in and out of the classroom. Elsewhere other adventures have begun – the launch of the new school website is a new step and we look forward to hearing about your explorations of this online environment.

As we start our holiday please spare a thought for those who may not be going to particularly adventurous places – those preparing for public exams. Revision is rarely adventurous. Satisfying, affirming and interesting, yes. Action packed? Less so. That is perhaps why I am sceptical when I see a school claiming to be adventurous in every-thing they do. There is a place for adventure in our learning, similarly there is a place for finding fulfilment in the basics. During this term there have been many moments of adventure and also times when we have had to be more regular with our learning. This I believe is a good balance. Those who have been on trips or expeditions, played for teams, performed in concerts, debated, created art or acted in school musicals will have gained a taste for having learning adventures and they are to be congratulated on everything they have achieved. We would be wrong to forget all students from the very youngest to the oldest on all the unseen work, the graft of acquiring knowledge and developing skills. This foundation will give the base on which to build future adventures.

This week with Year 5 has shown me that learning can be not only an adventure, it can be volcanic… sometimes we go at the pace of slow moving magma, periodically we solidify and at others we are explosive. A life of constant adventure would (it seems to me) be a bit unrealistic. Whilst we need adventure, we also require time to consolidate. So, best of luck to all who embark on their exam preparation this holiday and to those who are travelling have a wonderful time.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun. It shines everywhere.” Twelfth Night, W. Shakespeare

Eight days is a very short time in which to put on a play. It could be regarded as being enough time to put on a bad performance but in most cases a director would want considerably more time with cast, chorus and crew to ensure the desired, assured performance. Those of us who were able to enjoy the recent Year 6 show Superstan know that for those who are possessed of superpowers eight days is indeed long enough not only to put on a show but to put on one of the very highest quality! Great work by the Year 6 actors, the Crew, the Year 5 Chorus, Mr. Lockwood and Mr. Young and all of the other staff who played their parts to provide such an extraordinary performance.

Quite simply it was brilliant.

As a play, Superstan might not enter the great canon of western literature but I will remember “how tickled I was ” not only by the splendid performances but the puns. Particularly the one about corduroy pillows (no I won’t repeat it, you had to be there). Puns are one of the great joys of languages and English is no exception. The educational world is not immune to its fair share of punning… Maths it seems is a favourite subject, after all it is worth noting that firstly decimals have a point and secondly that I always prayed before trigonometry tests. I was hoping for a sine from above. If you like something a touch more technical then the following might tickle you… Finding all possible logical relations between a finite collection of sets is not a matter of If but Venn.

Science is not immune. After periodic doubts about his vocational calling the young chemistry teacher concluded that he was out of his element. Literacy does not escape the “fun”. The poor speller tried to express his reluctance to repeat the spelling test but words failed him. Nor should teachers. There are two skeleton teachers at school. One is humerus, the other is very sternum. I could go on. No really, I could but in a spirit of human charity I won’t. As this is a short week, this is a truncated column. I hope that everyone enjoys a relaxing long weekend and that we all return ready to make the most of what little is left of the term. I hope that you can excuse the frivolous nature of this week’s theme but it may well have something to do with the proximity of the coming month, its first day in particular.

Please be assured that I will be spending the weekend working hard – on my hot cross puns.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

1 RIP Ken Dodd. For those unfamiliar with the Squire of Knotty Ash you might like to start with: https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/stars-pay-tribute-to-true-comedy-legend-sir-ken-dodd-36695180.html then have a look at https://www.bigissue.com/ interviews/sir-ken-dodd-i-say-thank-happiness/

Celebrating Creativity

A strength of the British approach to schooling is that there is a place for creativity and originality. Whilst we work within the confines of a defined curriculum and exam board specifications it is always a delight to see students take a creative approach to the task in hand.

This week I witnessed some of the events held in celebration of National Poetry Day. Watching Year 9 students performing Shelley and Shakespeare was a treat. To then be privileged to have the chance to hear students recite their own poetry (in front of that most demanding audience, their peers) was inspiring.

At the end of the week we joined together to celebrate St. Germain’s own, Claude Debussy. We were given the opportunity to hear musicians perform in tribute to the great man. Whilst the river and valley in front of our school is justly famous for its painters it also boasts two giants of musical composition as both Debussy and Bizet lived overlooking the Seine. We make a bit of a fuss of Debussy in the Senior School, indeed as I write this piece I am sat in the Debussy Building. Rightly so, he was as good an example as we could hope for of having the courage to think in a new way. In a letter of 1908 he wrote: “I am trying to do ‘something different’ ” and this may well be an approach that we should encourage our young people to adopt. Thinking differently takes courage and requires young people to be resilient in the face of opposition. As adults we have to accept that our children or pupils will have different views and approaches to life’s obstacles. They will work in ways which may well be wildly different from the way that we would do things. Sometimes they are right, sometimes not. The musical establishment was challenged by Debussy’s approach to nontraditional scales, bitonality, and chromaticism, yet now his influence can be seen in music as diverse as Miles Davis and the film scores of John Williams. When he premiered La Mer in 1905 audiences were perplexed by this symphony that wasn’t. He drew on influences far from France’s shores being fascinated by instruments like the Javanese Gamelan and he actively sought to distance himself from more traditional composers drawing on impressionist painters and symbolist poets for creative impetus. Indeed he may very well be the only major artist to have gained inspiration in Eastbourne. In short he was curious about the world around him and ready to engage with a wide variety of ideas.

Over the course of this week I have had the opportunity to see our own students taking on challenging new forms of both art and performance. I hope that their example will influence others to make connections between ideas to develop their voice, their view. For this is the best gift that education can give, an ability to take the best of all that is given and to bring it together to the benefit of all. Having the confidence to do something different not simply for being different’s sake, but because you are moving thought or art onwards is a marvellous thing indeed. Well done to all who performed this week and don’t stop now.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

“…why there is something greater than nothing.” Stephen Hawking

There is a particular type of person who has the great talent of making the complicated understandable. Vincent van Gogh was all too right when he said “how difficult it is to be simple”. There is always a danger with simplification that we end up with platitudes.

Like many people who have lived in the city of Cambridge I have my own Stephen Hawking anecdote and like most others it involves a near miss with the professor as he barrelled along a narrow lane at high speed while I was an unsuspecting pedestrian. A brush with greatness perhaps. As the world marks the death of a great scholar we should perhaps reflect upon his contributions to the sum of human understanding. Anyone who has the courage to tackle cosmology, general relativity and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes is probably worth listening to especially if they are able to talk in terms that we can all understand. His “Brief History of Time” whilst often unread prompted non-physicists to think more deeply about the world that is around them. He inspired us to be intellectually curious. His numerous appearances on the television made him the world’s most popular scientist and his sense of fun shone through allowing us to appreciate that difficult questions are to be enjoyed more than feared.

Perhaps one of the more intriguing aspects of his personality was his seeming delight in getting things wrong. Hawking was renowned for making wagers about what could and could not be proved. He never thought that the Higgs-Boson particle would be found, it was. He lost $100 and there are numerous other examples. He knew that science often moved forward when thinkers could admit to being wrong. In this we perhaps learn something of the way in which the professor explored his subject. Learning for him was not only integral to his life but gave joy and sustenance to his very core. If that meant being wrong, so be it. Knowledge moved on despite not always having the right answers. As long as we, humanity, knew something that we didn’t know before the question he tried to answer he was satisfied. Being wrong in his view led to greater understanding. Perhaps schools should be more like Hawking, we should value being wrong a little more than we currently do.Like Einstein he applied his enormous intellect to matters far from the world of physics and perhaps more readily relevant to us. We are perhaps sensible to pay as much attention to the wisdom that he communicated about more earthly matters as to what he shared about the mystery of the universe. After all anyone who could be so wise as to give these three pieces of advice is worth paying attention to,“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.” You will be missed, Professor.

Nicholas Hammond
Headmaster

“Alright Guv’nor”

School Governors can seem to the rest of the school community to be a pretty mysterious bunch.  They pop up in school on a sporadic but regular basis and whilst I know what they do it may be the case that many in our community do not. At this point in any conversation regarding school governance I usually make a facetious comment about governors and bidets, but as I like my role and they are in school next week I’m not writing it, ask me if you are interested.

The Governing Board at the BSP comprises of individuals who provide the school with specialist support and also more general wisdom.  They are, in short, our critical friends.  Their knowhow covers a wide range of areas including subjects as diverse as law, finance, real estate, medicine, higher education, safeguarding, fundraising and communication.  We have three Head teachers who ensure that we are making the right choices educationally.  We don’t pay them, they do this because they believe that the BSP is an institution worthy of their support and we are grateful for the enormous amounts of time that they devote to helping us improve.  Some of our governors have children at the school, some have children who attended the school and some have never had a child at the BSP.  A number are retired, many fit their gubernatorial service around very busy working schedules.

The School’s management team meets with governors in various committees and at the Board meetings held four times a year.  Governors regularly visit lessons, meet with students and staff, involve themselves in fundraising and attend school events.  They even have to attend training sessions to ensure their skills are honed to perfection. Whilst not always obvious they are a constant source of support and this is a good opportunity to recognise their contribution to our community. As a school we value integrity; there is no doubt that our governors ensure that we who work at the School are always seeking to improve and that the School is run with the best interests of the young people it educates as its priority.

While considering the subject of higher authority, can I remind those who drop off around the Senior School site that the Mairie has instituted restrictions for car use on the quayside?  The restrictions issued on Monday mean that parents should not drive cars on the road in front of the Senior School.  We have been reassured that there is no danger to pedestrians and cyclists but we can no longer use buses on this stretch of road.  Following flood and snow this is perhaps a minor inconvenience.

Thank you to all parents involved with Around the World Day today, it was a magnificent event and I was disappointed to be unable to join in to the extent that I would have wished, similarly a very big thanks to all who opened their homes to host players for the ISST rugby competition.  We are fortunate indeed to have your support in all that we do.

Nicholas Hammond 

Headmaster

“The past is a foreign country…”

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” – The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley
 

During half term I had the chance to spend time in the city that I grew up in.  Unsurprisingly my thoughts turned to my own educational experiences there and how they differed from what we see in schools today.  I grew up attending a local comprehensive school, it was large by the standards of the day but would come nowhere close to the super-size schools found in British cities today.  It offered what seemed a broad enough curriculum at the time but it would now seem limited.  Lessons were similar between subjects with little opportunity for collaborative work and very limited computer use.  There was a computer in the school but I saw very little of it! Buildings were old and as I remember cold (and sometimes leaky), extra-curricular activities limited although there was the opportunity to play some sport and to act.  All in all I found it difficult to reflect on the experience with great positivity.  But such a jaundiced view is unfair, on deeper reflection it struck me that one thing above all else stood out and that was the dedication of the teachers who worked at the school.  They did lead trips; they did want to see us succeed; they made the very best of what was on offer.  I was fortunate, I found teachers who nurtured my love of their subject.  Some of my contemporaries did not and perhaps this is where there is a difference, modern schools are far less likely to miss those who are finding academic work difficult.  There is more support; schools are in this respect better places. 

During a school career there are many teachers.   Teachers have their own approaches and this I think leads to richer schools. A one method school is a tedious environment to study in. Such variety of approach means it won’t always be the smoothest of journeys but it is important that our students learn to work with different approaches and temperaments; after all this is what they will find to an even greater extent in the world outside the school gates.  As we contemplate the start of the second half of the academic year I hope that our students look to build on what has been achieved and will with the assistance of their teachers move on to still greater success in the months to come.  This drive to improve has to come from the students (at least to some extent) and if it does it will be supported by their teachers.  This has always been the case; to that extent not much has really changed.  Education is and always will be about the quality of the relationships that exist between the teacher and their pupils.  When a teacher senses or sees a spark of enthusiasm then they will do all they can to nurture this and see it develop, it is this that makes schools (both now and then) exciting places to be.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

“Wooooah we’re half way there…”

“Wooooah we’re half way there…”  Jon Bon Jovi

I suppose it could have been a lot worse.  Not the flood or the snow storms of the last few weeks but the choice made by our Senior School Head Girl and Head Boy to decide to mark the midway point in our academic year with the wearing of wacky socks.  If we had followed Bon Jovi’s sartorial lead then it could have been Lycra tights and leather jackets – the traditionalist in me would never have coped.  That said we are as the song says “half way there” and odd socks remind us that today we have a foot in the old half of the year and a foot in the new half of the year.  This is perhaps a good time to consider and celebrate what has been achieved and what is still to come. 

Since September there has first and foremost been an awful lot of learning.  I have the privilege of visiting classes being taught and there are few things more satisfying to see than excellent classroom practice resulting in academic progress.  For some this is the time of year when language and learning support falls away and they work independently, for others there is a realisation that they have the capacity to do even better in the months to come.  It is a time when, with the promise of warmer weather ahead, students start to blossom.  At the upper end of the school the Year 12s start to consider what lies beyond the school gates and our Year 6 pupils view the prospect of Senior School.  For those who are experiencing school for the first time it is a time to consider the amazing progress that has been made, the independence that has been developed and the confidence that is being shown.  Tears at the door to the school are long distant and that is good to see.

So what comes next?  To say more of the same would be both glib and complacent.  Improvement is always desirable but genuine progress takes time and is not always easily gained, that said we will be looking to build on the first half in the second.   As important as getting better is going wider – now that students are confident in their year groups it is time for them to try new things, to go beyond what is required of them in set tasks, to read around, to debate, to discuss, to challenge themselves.  Opportunity abounds at the BSP and it would be quite frankly daft to miss out on an activity or new experience now that regular routines are established.  With the prospect of spring being more than a mid-winter dream I hope that all in our community will look to think more widely.

The coming months will bring expeditions, competitions, matches, exams and a wealth of experiences.  Our aim is to guide our young people wisely and to develop all that is good within them. They bring energy, enthusiasm and openness.  Together we are right to believe that the next half can be even more productive than the first.

Have a good half term break.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster