“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
Much has been written recently about students learning from their mistakes. I’ve read plenty about the importance of letting pupils get things wrong as long as it is done in a supportive, safe environment. However, at this time of exams getting things wrong doesn’t necessarily gain the credit that might be imagined. When reports are written, teachers will tend to focus on what is right and getting things wrong isn’t celebrated. Any teacher will tell their pupils that the most important part of an exam are the lessons spent going back over tests, the process of learning from mistakes. Most pupils will probably say that these are some of the least exciting lessons of the year, after all the mark has been decided and it is a long time before they will take another test.
In a world of social media word and deed are recorded and remembered. This week a group of university students at Oxford voted to remove a portrait of the Queen from their common room as in their eyes it represented British colonialism. The students are of course entitled to decide for themselves what hangs on the walls of their social space as long as their procedures are followed. It seems that the world’s media feel that it for them to comment, criticise and judge what is after all a relatively low-key action that affects no-one but a small number of college members. The College President has reassured all those who care to be concerned that the portrait is in safe keeping should there be a change of mind. Universities should be places of discussion and we must be very careful when we restrict those engaged in learning from discussion, debate and a little controversy. Some will not stick to the views that they held in their younger years and others will not change, but in cyberspace a record will be kept.
England cricketer Ollie Robinson is currently suspended from the national team as a consequence of offensive tweets made ten years earlier. As a player in a national team his tweets have become a matter of wider interest. When he made them they perhaps represented a young man who did not understand his position of privilege, nor perhaps did he understand that his view was unacceptable in the world around him. In some quarters of the media this attention has been deemed unfair and it has been said that he is carrying the can for errors of many others. There is no doubt that this is a complex issue, in some respects it always has been. Young people sometimes speak before they have truly considered the impact or offence their words may cause. Some may look at the actions of their earlier self and be bewildered and regretful by their lack of judgment and the offence or harm caused. We should not ignore, we should seek to learn.
As a community of diverse and wide experiences I hope that all pupils have the confidence to speak for themselves and I hope that they have the thoughtfulness to think of others and their own position of privilege before they speak or act. If we are able to create a community in which everyone has a voice, then we will have succeeded in creating a school of which all can be proud. Debate and disagreement are all part of the learning process. Making mistakes is understood as being a necessary part of coming to an understanding, but offence and harm can have no place. We do not have to agree but we do need to show respect and care for each other.
“A proverb is much matter distilled into a few words.”
A truncated week. Whilst a bank holiday is always something of a treat, everyone endeavours to cram the normal five-day week into only four. Consequently, it is a week with a greater level of intensity. That combined with the appearance of the sun, (hiding all month) has led to this being a week to remember, it has been a week distilled.
Our Year 11 students had their last day in school before an extended half term break. They have worked hard all year. Their main task has been to build a portfolio of academic evidence and to complete this marathon task they have recently sat a series of mini- assessments. All this evidence will be used by teachers to devise the GCSE grades that will be passed on to the awarding bodies. In a normal year they would have had a month of longer exams. This year the exam season has been condensed. It remains to be seen if the experience of this year and the last will lead to the required changes to our public examination system. We have certainly learned a good deal about the value of assessment by other means and I hope that this will not be forgotten.
I recently spoke with one of the school’s alumni community. He told me something that I had heard before; that whilst he hadn’t spent long at the BSP the experience of studying in this international community had been both formative and life changing. Three years is not a great proportion of a life, it isn’t even that long in an education, but being part of this community is an experience that can have life changing consequences. For some in Year 11 the end of the exam period is a marker; it flags a coming change, perhaps of school, country or even continent. Their time here will soon come to an end before they move to the next chapter of their life. Time in the coming days will move at a different pace and experiences will be magnified. Over time the significance of this experience will come to be understood and appreciated.
A focused approach is sometimes necessary if success is to be achieved. A sense of purpose helps, and it is undoubtedly these traits that have propelled Year 12 Aden to success in the Junk Couture competition. Another group who deserves congratulations are Year 9 who have sat their school exams this week. They are looking forward to some days out of the classroom next half term. They will experience many of the activities that they would have enjoyed in a normal year but haven’t. Different educational experiences, more concentrated but no less valuable. Our Duke of Edinburgh Awards groups are also having the opportunity to enjoy something that looks like normality albeit in individual tents and socially distanced. This opportunity to spend a short time in the company of others facing challenge is again an example of how the time compressed activity can bear valuable fruit for personal development.
In keeping with the theme of concentrated experience, we break for a short half term today. As the sun has made an appearance it promises to be a time for batteries to be recharged ready to make the most of the remaining weeks of this most extraordinary of years.
Over the course of the last year there have been many newspaper articles about the benefits of being outdoors, the therapeutic effects of forest bathing and the joy of hearing birdsong. Nestled as we are on the leafy banks of the Seine, we have an opportunity to enjoy all of the above on a daily basis. Time in the open air is clearly time well spent so it is always encouraging to see pupils coming into school on foot or by bike. Not everyone has the opportunity to come to school under their own steam, but I wonder if the opportunity to spend time outdoors is a benefit that lasts into the rest of the school day. Our Junior School lost word hunters have the chance to see kingfishers, acorns, bluebells, willows, and starlings. The school day acknowledges the importance of having some fresh air with regular breaktimes allowing pupils to both take a breath and stretch the legs. Thinkers throughout history have promoted walking outdoors as an aid to academic success and a route to wisdom. Certainly, Aristotle favoured walking as a means of helping thought, indeed it is from him that we gain the word peripatetic. Rousseau was similarly enthusiastic describing those who stroll as “always merry, light-hearted, and delighted with everything.” Rebecca Solnit has written inspiringly about the profound benefits of simply putting one foot in front of the other.
As well as the obvious health benefits of walking and the way that it may aid the process of thought, walking gives us a way of describing progress. Phrases such as taking the next step, stepping out of our comfort zone and being in step are part of our everyday speech. Our Year 13 have begun to think about what the future may hold for them. Yesterday they finished their formal lessons and now they take a significant stride forward on their educational journey. A bright future lies ahead, and we look forward to hearing of their successes to come. They have had a different experience form those who have been in previous Upper VIth (Year 13) year groups. They’ve had a year of wondering exactly what they would be doing by way of exams and how their university applications would be dealt with. Happily, they have been able to enjoy more days in school than most of their peers across the world with only Iceland, Belarus and the Faroes having been in isolation for fewer days. They have coped impressively in challenging circumstances; it is likely that they will reap the benefits of this experience in later years. Their resilience and experience of dealing with uncertainty is likely to be a benefit as they encounter the challenges that they may face in the future.
So, to our Year 13s – stride out from school with confidence. You have the skills, values, and strength of purpose to change the world, so make sure that you steer your steps towards the right path. Never forget that you can always turn your route back to school – a welcome will always be ready here.
There isn’t a school prize for the most amusing thing that has been written in the course of the year but if there were, two strong candidates for the award can be found in the newsletter today. Wonderful, inventive, and playful work from Arnav and Austen that really will brighten your day – even if you like Marmite. Who knew that there was a suitable rhyme for IBAN, not something that had ever crossed my mind that’s for sure? Belloc’s Cautionary Tales are of course meant to amuse but buried in many are some valuable words of wisdom. This is perhaps a useful theme to explore at this time of tentative reopening.
During the course of the week, we have had recreational sporting activities for pupils after school. There have been discussions about Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions and plans have been conceived regarding the Key Stage 3 activity week later this term. All of this seems very normal, these are the sort of discussions that take place every year but overhanging each and every discussion this year is the question of how cautious should we be? I suspect there are few in our community who would call for an immediate and full resumption of all the School’s activities (even if that were possible) and similarly there would be few who do not recognise that simply not resuming these opportunities is detrimental to the mental welfare of our young people. As a school we are very keen on maintaining outdoor activities where possible although unseasonal rain and hail make this a little more challenging than normal. Possible relaxation of rules around congregating makes it likely that there will be more opportunities to mix with others, certainly a good thing as lack of contact with peers has been a major challenge for our young people this year. Sadly, such relaxations of guidelines are not always easy to interpret, and we will be doing our utmost in school to make decisions in the best interests of pupils and with the correct degree of caution and confidence. Please be patient.
How much freedom or independence we should allow young people is one of the most difficult of all parenting or educational questions. The recent British Play Survey suggests that we are becoming ever more cautious as to when we allow children independence – the study suggests that children are now older (10.7 years on average) when they are permitted to play outside unsupervised by an adult (outside school). A generation ago, and perhaps with rose tinted spectacles, the age reported was 8.9 years. There is, of course, no right answer to this most difficult question, much depends on the individuals involved, but we do need to consider the importance of allowing children the opportunity to develop their sense of self and level of independence. In a year when outdoor play is more important than ever, deciding what is the correct level of independence is difficult to achieve. There are many new dangers and also more distractions to keep children indoors but perhaps in this brave new, soon to be COVID lessened world, we should consider what the right level is for our young people.
Seventy one percent. Good as an exam result and even better as a return on an investment made. Over the last few months our young investors club have been tracking stocks and shares, scrutinising performance and ensuring that they have been making the very best of their fictional funds. The winning team managed to increase their initial stake by a whopping 71%. At a time when we are being told that world economies are bouncing back it is very good indeed to see our team reading the market so very well. Down in Nursery this week it was also exciting to see the planting of beans both in soil and hydroponically and what a treat to see these seeds grow with the correct levels of care. In both cases important lessons to be learned about patience, scrutiny and prudence.
Next week we will start to see a slow and steady resumption of more normal school activity. A few extra-curricular activities that we have not seen for a while will creep back allowing for days to be a little more enjoyable and varied. This is perhaps the first sign of green shoots, slight encouragement that we will soon enough be able to go back to our normal rich and varied school life. Whilst the Nursery beans may well have grown into fine strong plants by the time we are fully operational, this week has perhaps given us some cause for hope. As the term progresses our levels of activity will go up and down, rather like the investment club’s shares, but overall progress is clearly back towards normality. As we start to speak of activity weeks, trips, after school sport and even more music our optimism builds. All this needs to be tempered with an eye to still stringent rules to keep everyone safe.
If one lesson has been learned during the course of this year it is probably around patience. In a world where attention spans are getting ever shorter our young people have had to develop a fund of this valuable resource or at least learn to tolerate waiting. They have had to deal with uncertainty, suspense and restrictions on their activities, some will have found new outlets and others will simply be itching to be out there once again. Education rewards those who are ready to apply themselves with a view to making wise investments of both time and effort. It will be very interesting indeed to see how this generation who have learned through adversity will use these remarkable qualities. Great achievements will no doubt come their way, their determination and resilience will serve them well and will perhaps benefit not just themselves but others, and some of them will also know how to grow some really nice beans.
“There are so many things that kids care about, where they excel, where they try hard, where they learn important life lessons, that are not picked up by test scores.”
Grit, Angela Duckworth
Despite the very best efforts of the pandemic, we find ourselves looking at the start of a new summer term in school. Our juniors were able to return to school and have enjoyed life by the river this week and the seniors are set to return on Monday unless there are some major and unexpected announcements to be made this weekend. Whilst much is different, I am pleased to be able to report that the banks of the Seine remain a wonderful place for a school.
This is a short term: we have only forty school days left until we break for the summer. Before we know where we are we will be considering prize giving and thinking about the summer holidays. In the normal course of the school year, we would be gearing up for public exams but not so this year. Whilst it is not a year for “normal” GCSEs and A levels it will be a year that will be remembered for tests. Since I last wrote, I’ve had six tests, all a little eye watering, and not because I had forgotten to revise: I’m sure I am not alone in this well-travelled community in having an all too familiar relationship with the PCR test. This week I was informed that we will not be part of the national roll out of school-based testing, if there is a suspicion of symptoms then the best place to go is a local testing station or pharmacy for confirmation- the only consolation is that the queues are shorter than they were a few months ago.
Indeed, the only testing that we are likely to see this term are internal academic tests and the newly created mini-assessments. This comparative scarcity of summer term testing may well be the sign of changing educational attitudes and out of this mire of COVID we could see a new approach to assessment; one that relies on a steady, consistent approach rather than relying on the single measure of a summertime exam. This week the exam board AQA suggested that there would be no “leap back to normality” when it comes to the exams they have planned for 2021 and I think this is an approach that we should welcome. Whatever change looks like it will be important for us all to ensure that we do not replace the high-pressure approach of terminal exams with an equally harmful constant treadmill pressure of continuous assessed tasks. There is surely room for a degree of new thinking in this regard and as criticism of the current system has been made by none other than the Education Minister who oversaw the introduction of GCSE in 1998 it will perhaps come.
Although short, this term is important and for some it is their last term here at the BSP. No matter what is thrown at us we are committed to making it a most successful one whatever form it takes!
During the course of the day, we learned the sad news regarding the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh. Over the course of his public life the Duke committed to a life in which service was the primary focus. During the coronation ceremony in 1953 he promised to support the Queen in her leadership of both the Nation and the Commonwealth and this he did for the rest of his life. In this endeavour he remained steadfast and unwavering. Whilst not everyone agreed with everything that he said, or is reported to have said, it is undoubtedly the case that many have benefited from what may be his greatest legacy, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. His vision and drive in this regard have been of inestimable value for young people all over the world who have had this life enhancing experience. He was a little blunter about the benefits of the award scheme describing it as a “do it yourself kit in the art of civilised living”. We are proud to offer the International Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at The British School of Paris.
A little-known element of Prince Philip’s life is that he spent some time being educated in St. Cloud not so very far away from us here in Croissy. A child who boasted a heritage that was Greek, Danish, and Russian he was for many the epitome of an Englishman. If we are to remember his contribution to the wider community, we are perhaps correct to recognise his unswerving commitment to service, be that to the World Wildlife Fund, Action on Hearing Loss, the National Playing Fields Movement or The Queen. A child influenced by a worldwide community, who showed initiative, drive and who grew up to dedicate his life to service he perhaps provides a suitable model for our own pupils as they seek to discover the path they will take in life.
Our thoughts are with The Queen and the Royal Family at this time as they mourn the loss of a husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather.
“April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.”
Mark Twain “Puddin’ Head Wilson and Other Stories”
There is an art to a really effective practical joke. I’d thought it was something of a lost art, a tradition that had gently slipped away. As it happens the obituary for this rather innocent form of fun is rather premature and it turns out present at the BSP. Perhaps the most effective school based practical jokes are those that are subtle, those that catch the eye of the hapless Headmaster just enough to persuade him to take the bait, the hook, the line and the sinker. I was well and truly caught yesterday lunchtime by a Year 11 pupil who had decided to enjoy a bottle of beer with his hot dog and chips. Of course, there was nothing more than water in the bottle, he’d planned his stunt carefully and yes, I fell for it entirely – much to the good-natured amusement of all who were in the refectory. I am sure there were many other celebrations of the Poisson d’avril tradition and I’m sure that they were well received.
I believe a school that is able to laugh together is a school that works more effectively than one in which laughter is not heard. Some well-placed humour can make a lesson move along at a new pace, it can be welcoming for new pupils and it is often the thing that is remembered long after a pupil has left the school. Sometimes, of course, the joke is not appreciated, or it is ill considered, and it does not help in the building of a healthy community spirit. It is perhaps days like the 1st April that give our pupils the chance to find out what makes a joke funny not just for them but for everyone. If each pupil gains an understanding of the fine line between funny and upsetting, then we will have given them a useful skill indeed.
Good humour will undoubtedly be required in the coming weeks. Remote schooling is no joke, but those who are able to meet the challenge with a regular smile will flourish. It is likely that there will be moments of frustration (my link is down and you are on mute spring to mind) and if that is the case then the support functions of the school, our pastoral team is ready to help.
The educational writer Dave Keeling has studied humour in schools, and should you be feeling that you might be in need of a laugh or perhaps more importantly to understand why you need to have a laugh or smile even when we aren’t in school – follow this link: https://consiliumeducation.com/itm/2020/04/27/laughter/
and if that was not enough my latest favourite subject based jokes (well three of them):
Why can’t you trust an atom? They make up everything. ‘What’s the difference between a joist and a girder? Joyce wrote “Ulysses” and Goethe wrote “Faust” Who invented fractions? Henry the Eighth.
Over the course of the last twelve months the School has, necessarily, become a community of smaller communities. In some respects this is positive; smaller communities of learners tend to move at a quicker pace than larger ones and teachers interacting with their pupils in small units develop a greater understanding of those they teach; so small is sometimes better. This is, of course true, but within this we need to be careful that we don’t forget to join together for larger events, celebrations and assemblies. Our assemblies this year in both Junior and Senior School have been virtual – they have been broadcast to tutor and classrooms and this is something that may well continue at times in the year when we normally cannot meet, it is one of the “gems” described last week. In the very near future our musicians will be sharing their talents with us through a virtual Spring Concert, and I’d encourage everyone to take a few minutes to join in, to be with the larger BSP community albeit virtual and above all to enjoy some excellent music making.
Another aspect of the current situation is that I have not been able to visit as many classes as I might have liked to. This week I was delighted to have had the opportunity to make a suitably socially distanced visit to Year 5. The topic of the lesson was suspense. We started with a passage from Michael Morpurgo and then the pupils had the opportunity to write their own suspense filled paragraphs. (see JS pages) These included tripping over stray racoons and an evil wizard, I hesitate to say that you couldn’t make it up because, patently, they did. The enthusiasm for both telling a good story and ensuring adverbs, adjectives and subordinate clauses were used correctly and when it is permissible to break grammar rules was palpable. All this enthusiasm for suspense is starkly contrasted with the wearisome “will they, won’t they” behaviour of national leaders who seem keen to move closer to more stringent confinement measures but stop short of school closure. This is suspense that we could probably do without!
As I left Year 5 and having had a lovely chat about liminality and boundaries in the Romano-Celtic world with Year 3 (they started it) I was left wondering about our little communities of learning once again. As an aficionado of collective nouns particularly those describing groups of birds, I did wonder what the relevant term for a group of enthusiastic Year 5 creative writers is – a scribble? A folio? What about our historically minded Year 3s – a dig? An archive? As we head towards the end of the term some of the older year groups may not show quite the same levels of zest as their younger counterparts – is a grump of Year 13s fair or should we be thinking more positively, a flight as they look to the end of their school career? At lunch I have certainly seen a gobble of Year 9s. For those who are interested I’m reliably informed that the collective noun for a group of politicians is an equivocation, strangely apt I’d say. As it is the weekend and it is good to think happy thoughts can I remind you that the collective noun for a group of guillemots is a bazaar?
“Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not.”
It is always interesting to see how language adapts to new situations and events. COVID gems was new to me this week, apparently these gems are the things that you want to take from the turmoil of the recent months and keep as part of your usual routine.
I suspect that we have all had moments over the last twelve months where we have simply given thanks for the small, usually unnoticed things around us that make our world just a little more bearable. Birdsong has been a favourite, local walks, and in France, cheese. I was delighted to note that during confinement French households have consumed 32% more goats’ milk cheese and 9.4% more cows’ milk cheese. For those who like a little more detail, I can also tell you that the biggest single rise in consumption of any cheese was seen by mozzarella. Whilst it won’t have been counted in the overall figures it has been a real treat to have fresh cheese as part of our regular lunch, a “COVID gem” that we will continue with after the hurlyburly’s done.
This week has been French week in the Senior School. We’ve enjoyed French themed lessons, Gallic moustaches in unexpected locations and French music to accompany our lunch. Chapeau to the Year 13s who inspired this festival of all things Francophone. We sometimes take it for granted but we spend our days in an extraordinary environment, the place that inspired the Impressionists to take their easels out into the open air. I suspect that this week and next will be two of the most impressive weeks for tree blossom. If you have the opportunity (and it is within your ten-kilometre radius) then I do recommend a suitably socially distanced look. The National Trust (the UK conservation charity) suggested last year that we should plant blossom rich tree circles as a memorial to those who have lost their lives as a consequence of COVID. Perhaps it is time for us to add to the number of trees in our local environment. In a matter of weeks, the blossom will be gone, and our term will be drawing to a close. For most it will have been a term uninterrupted by COVID closure although I fear some alteration to the structure of the week for those in Years 11, 12 and 13. We await information and will pass it on as soon as we have it.
I’ve written before about doing things differently at the moment. This applies as much for careers advice as any other element of school life. So, a thank you to the members of our community who are providing online support to a number of our older pupils. Our Governors are getting in on the act too, providing career advice via the alumni Linkedin page. Wisdom is soon to be dispensed so watch this space for more detail.
At the end of all of this, the biggest COVID gem that we could carry out from the wreckage will be a sense of kindness. These have been difficult times and one of the most heartening elements is that people have been kind to one another. As we come to the end of a long(ish) term and patience in certain quarters may be wearing thinner it is important that we remind ourselves about the importance of kindness, not only to those around us but to ourselves too. So, take time to enjoy the blossom and have a restful weekend.