5 December 2014

Unchanging truths

It’s almost the end of term and the time of year when I reflect upon rather a lot of reports. This year I may be writing slightly fewer owing to being called for jury service. I shall be doing all I possibly can and Pete Simpson, Director of Studies, will this time potentially be writing some on my behalf. Some question the need for me to be writing these individual reports each term when there are so many other demands at this time, but I enjoy the idea that I can get to know, at varying levels, all 670 pupils in the school and the reports are one way of doing that in a small and unobtrusive way.

It’s important when dealing with the daily expectations of a school in my role as Head that I do not, in dealing with the detail, lose a sense of the bigger picture. This emphasis on the bigger picture is something I talk about to the school in assembly pretty regularly over the course of the second half of this term. I do this mostly in terms of encouraging an attitude of looking out from Bryanston, and of raising pleasing sums of money for charitable work, which we have supported for well over ten years now in Nepal and India.

The bigger picture is also important in terms of our giving pupils the right sort of access to facts and encouraging the use of critical faculties upon the understanding of key world issues, whether extremism or Ebola. Pete Simpson’s memorable assembly recently also prompted us to think of homelessness and as a school we organised a frugal lunch that day to raise funds for Centrepoint. It’s so important that we think about these big ideas and issues. As Bertrand Russell put it, to keep us on our toes, “Most people would rather die than think, and most people do.”

Last week I spoke to the school about what matters, about what remains (when you are on old lady like me) of what you learned in school. Poems come unprompted into my head at the most unlikely times, from ‘Macavity, the Mystery Cat’ (I was about nine when I learned that) to William Johnson Cory’s translation of ‘They told me, Heracleitus…’ (I came across this when I was about 15). And then there are all those impenetrable things I learned in maths (x = -b + or – the square root of b squared - 4ac, all divided by 2a). These things never quite leave you. They just ricochet around one’s memory without our even realising.

William Johnson Cory, the translator of my remembered poem, also said interesting things about education. Here are some of his thoughts on the matter below:

“At school you are engaged not so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism. A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours you spent on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions. But you go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment’s notice a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person’s thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and for mental soberness. Above all, you go to a great school for self-knowledge.”

I think I almost entirely agree. School should certainly teach you how to think. The stuff you remember, what remains, can be odd and seemingly unconnected. But it’s the process of learning how to think, of how to ask and start to answer difficult questions, how to not just settle for pure blarney, and how to be fulfilled in life that matters. And however many changes to syllabus, to forms of examination, to marking, to assessment, nothing will change these basic unchanging truths of life.

21 November 2014

Anti-bullying week

This week we welcome Second Master, Peter Hardy, with a guest blog.

Peter Hardy
This week is anti-bullying week and our pupils have been looking at what bullying is, the impact it can have on people’s well-being and why it is always unacceptable.

Anti-bullying policies and procedures are a requirement for all schools and it is important that they are clearly communicated and understood by everyone; staff, pupils and parents. It is also important that we, as teachers and parents, lead by example.

Bullying can take a number of different forms and is not always obvious to spot, even for those close to the situation. It isn’t just physical bullying that can be harmful; victims can also suffer from verbal abuse, gossip, isolation from groups, theft and cyberbullying, a problem that continues to grow as new technology emerges. Bullying can often occur within (former) friendship groups, as these develop and change over time.

At Bryanston every pupil has weekly one-to-one meetings with their tutor and while the focus of these sessions is academic and extra-curricular development, it is also an opportunity for pupils to discuss any other issues, for example feeling bullied by others.

Communication between housemasters/housemistresses (hsms), tutors and parents is key to identifying and tackling instances of bullying. While many victims of bullying may not speak up, either through fear of making things worse or through embarrassment of being bullied, it can become evident in other ways, for example a dip in academic performance or an unexpected reluctance to take part in extra-curricular activities. At home parents may also identify a change in their child and have concerns: raising these concerns with hsms as soon as possible can help tackle any issues in their early stages.

School Prefects also have a role to play in tackling bullying. It can be easier for a pupil to approach one of their peers than a member of staff and so Prefects can bring issues to the attention of hsms if necessary. In addition they act as role models for the rest of the school in treating others with respect and tolerance.

It is not about monitoring every interaction pupils have with each other, but it is about noticing when behaviour and relationships change, identifying pupils who may be vulnerable.

Our aim is to ensure that each pupil feels they have someone they can trust, whether that is their hsm, their tutor, the School Chaplain, staff in the Medical Centre, a Prefect, one of the School Counsellors or the Independent Listener, giving them the confidence to speak up, whether they are a victim of bullying themselves or have witnessed it.

It is also about enabling pupils to help themselves, by giving them the self-confidence and tools to overcome bullies both now and in the future.

14 November 2014

The parent-teacher partnership

Pete Simpson
I recently attended the IB regional conference in Rome, where I was fortunate to listen to Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the OECD in Paris. He spoke passionately about excellent teaching and management, but also about a sense of supportive collaboration between parents and teachers in helping children progress. Rather counter-intuitively, given the geographic distance that defines the parental relationship in a boarding school, it's my belief that parents are as important to pupil success at Bryanston as they are in day schools. Even more counter-intuitively, the boarding context, when supported appropriately, can enhance the role of the parent in helping their child. I observe this as a teacher, ex housemaster and tutor, but also as the parent of two current Bryanstonians.

The creation of a team of support which involves parents is vital during the early days of the Bryanston experience. There is a massive shift in scale and complexity from prep school. Many are boarding for the first time, and they are moving from being at the top of their perceived hierarchies to starting afresh at the bottom, as previously familiar academic and social orders dissolve. If that wasn't hard enough to deal with, the hormonal laboratory of adolescence produces physical and emotional changes to complicate things further. Similarly, as parents who learnt the ropes at previous schools and knew the form, we now find ourselves floundering as newbies once again, tentatively asking matron if we should make their beds on the first day of term. Should we unpack? How long do we stay, trying desperately not to embarrass our painfully self-conscious offspring? (And yes, I was the only father who didn't realise you had to bring a duvet.) As the first couple of weeks are negotiated and the term settles, many of us may encounter a vehement independence that seems to happen almost overnight. When this is coupled to reticence, which is of course complicated by physical distance, the standard response of most fourteen year olds to parental enquiries on how their work, or indeed anything else, is going becomes "fine".

How do we help? A prep school parent is able more easily to discuss information directly with their child. With the complication of adolescence that approach can be counterproductive. I think as parents we might feel a bit powerless to help, which is of course our strongest instinct, and as our instincts and theirs clash, the route through to improvement can be difficult to plot. The Bryanston eChart, which can be accessed by parents online, is designed in part to compensate. It tells you everything you need to know from an academic perspective, with grades, effort marks and comments detailing exactly what's happening, so that the excavation of the material can be done effortlessly. While adolescents may find providing information on their academic progress close to torture, they DO want to be supported and encouraged, and are keen to point out as an injustice any episode where they sense that's not taking place. So the eChart provides teachers, parents, tutor and hsm with the starting position for supportive and collaborative discussion which involves the pupil as an equal partner, not as the messenger of their own performance. As a consequence the focus of the support is appropriately aimed on what needs to be done to improve, and progress can be accelerated. With such a support team in place, and the right instruments to help, the relationship between parent and child can move beyond the rather strained communication of the problems to one which is constructive in developing solutions. I might be so bold as to suggest that this would be more difficult outside the boarding environment, where the physical distance can actually enhance the relationship between parent and child by removing the context where adolescence can be counterproductive.

The early period at public school can be both a frightening and exciting time for parents, but it takes place in a safe and happy environment where the children can develop at their own pace and where the support is well established and at the centre of what we do. As a parent you play a critical role in supporting the happiness and progress of your child. Please never feel your role exists on the outside looking in. Never feel uncomfortable about contacting a tutor or hsm to discuss progress or share concerns. You will have an intuitive feel for your child's progress which will be vital to shaping their time with us. This is very much a partnership and amazing things can happen when we work together.

7 November 2014

Never forgotten

This year, Remembrance Sunday is all the more poignant because of the 100-year anniversary of the start of the First World War. Few of us over 50 will not know someone directly who was in the war. My own grandfather fought at, and returned to Lancashire from, Ypres (he was invalided out) and one of my many plans for when I have a little more time on my hands is to order my historian husband to investigate how Arthur Day fared at the Front. He lived into his eighties, fit and hearty; he told my sister and me no stories of the war, but once, once mind you, he talked to my grandmother of gas and of a close comrade blown to bits more or less beside him. I have never known much about his time at the Front, and I can’t help feeling ashamed that I do not know more. My memory is of a resolutely cheerful man who whistled constantly, to the near distraction of my grandmother (“Oh, dry up, Arthur!”), and often tunes I now recognise as of the 1914-18 era (Pack up your troubles was a favourite of his, alongside It’s a long way to Tipperary).

This week I went to see the poppies in the moat installation (‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’) at the Tower of London. The Guardian’s art critic found it trite and toothless. A UKIP exhibition, I think he suggested. People have visited the installation in their thousands and all the 888,246 ceramic poppies, each representing a life lost in the conflict, have been sold. So, while it may not be art in the view of one particular critic, and may indeed be selective, the whole installation clearly sings out to a broad range of visitors as a metaphor for life lost and for compassion, for the scale of the conflict and for the importance of memory. All the proceeds of the poppies sold are shared between six service charities dealing with issues affecting current service men and women and their families. For me this seems a profound, active, and engaging way in which to seek to mark for a whole nation a dreadful anniversary and one which in some ways may well be dwarfed by our commemorations in 2018. This year after all marks the start of a war; that’s not an easy thing to get right.

Bryanston was not a school in 1928. Our archives (which I must relate need some further work done upon them, but I record my grateful thanks here to Alan Shrimpton (H ’55) for introducing some considerable degree of order) provide us with the facts that eight men lost their lives in the First World War, these being men from the Portman house in 1914 and Bryanston village. Unlike many public schools therefore, Bryanston does not have a list of terrifying length of young men lost in the war.

Most of the early masters at Bryanston would certainly have fought in the conflict. Thorold Coade (Headmaster 1932-1959) fought with the Loyal North Lancashire regiment in France and was wounded at the Somme. Their experiences would surely have coloured all that these first masters did, and indeed how they reacted in 1939 to the second conflagration within 20 years.

I think it is without doubt the mix of these factors that led to there being no CCF at Bryanston when the school was founded in 1928, a time when the country was, I am reliably informed, at its most pacifist. It might also explain why when I met the celebrated biochemist Fred Sanger (Sh ‘36) he talked of an early 1930s school exchange with Salem in Germany and of friends returning with, in effect, stories about the rise of National Socialism around them as they took part in this Kurt Hahn-inspired enterprise of entente cordiale. I wonder if schools like Greshams and others, who we all know lost so many young men, so cruelly in the First World War, would have, could have been involved in such schemes?

The passing of time and of those involved in past conflicts should never lessen the importance of Remembrance; indeed it is more important than ever in our complicated world that we keep the memory of their sacrifice as a part of not just a national, but a global consciousness. It may seem strange to some that we commemorate the anniversary of the start of the First World War, ‘the war to end all wars’, as Woodrow Wilson memorably described it, especially with conflicts still ongoing around the world. From my point of view, I cannot conceive of a world where we do not mark such important shared events in history; the simple message communicated by the poppies of the Tower of London made a very great deal of sense to me.

In Flanders’ Fields 

In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow 
Between the crosses, row on row, 
That mark our place: and in the sky 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly 
Scarce heard amongst the guns below. 

We are the dead. Short days ago 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie 
In Flanders’ fields. 

John McCrae, 1915

3 October 2014

Widening horizons

Ni hao! On the afternoon of Tuesday 7 October we shall be hosting a now annual event wherein international universities send representatives to Bryanston to talk to interested A3 pupils. Our hope is that every sixth form Bryanstonian will consider carefully whether they would like to study abroad, in the States or the Netherlands, Spain or China. The world is not confined to this foggy island off the coast of Europe and the wiser and braver amongst us will look outwards not inwards, however beautiful the campus and engaging the company here may be. And they are.

This outlook is one of the reasons I was so keen that we offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) in the sixth form. The IB diploma demands that pupils keep up their modern foreign language beyond sixteen; further, its learner profile describes the principal virtues required of any learner. These virtues are qualities with which it would be hard to argue. A sense of and conviction for international mindedness is also an important element throughout the whole diploma; the IB programme sets out to produce students who will understand the need for their playing a role post-18-years-old in an international world.

I decided to put myself outside my comfort zone to test my own bravery and wisdom this term: I attended my first Mandarin lesson this week. I did it partly to see if a Classicist can approach learning a language of huge suppleness and tonal complexity; partly to see if I can still learn anything at all at my advancing age; and partly because I hope that by learning admittedly only a glimmer or two of the language, I might understand more about a country I have always found fascinating in terms of art and culture. I have to report that I am likely to be a very slow pupil as my ear is, I fear, made of tin. But I really enjoyed trying to discipline my tongue to make noises I could barely recognise aurally and my brain to accept new ideas and frameworks, some of which I found surprisingly attractive. I will let you see my end of term report on the basis that most of you have to read termly those I write upon your own children; I think I should balance things with some humble pie of my own.

If I had my time again I am pretty sure I would still want to read Classics. After all both my daughters have followed my footsteps in this regard. But I think I would want my younger self to be braver about the range of opportunities than I dared to be when I left university in 1984. Many of those opportunities now lie abroad, and many of the opportunities at home in the United Kingdom (I might not have been able to say that if the Scottish vote had gone differently) are open to well-educated, experienced, talented people from around the world. The world will not at any point soon be standing still or become entirely Anglophone or Anglocentric. It’s to my mind essential that Bryanstonians see clearly their way ahead beyond Bryanston and allow themselves to be happy and successful in this evolving habitat. We will try to do all we can to help them to do so here, including nudging them in new directions.

19 September 2014

“Be who you are meant to be and you will set the world on fire!”

At the start of this new academic year these words of St Catherine of Siena, quoted by the Bishop of London when he married Prince William and Catherine in 2011, seem particularly apt. Like Catherine who is expecting her second child, the new school year is full of excitement and possibility, opportunity and dreams. And I have on various occasions used these words to focus our minds on what the real job of being in a school like Bryanston is all about.

Each year I speak to the new Ds (year 9) at the end of assembly on Monday of week 2 and give them some ‘top tips’ about settling in and making a success of a new school. One of the list is about being yourself. This week Peter Hardy, my irreplaceable deputy, and I spoke to the C year group (year 10) about the year ahead for them and I asked them which of those top tips had, as Ds, proved the most difficult to achieve over the course of the year. A particularly brave young man answered, “To be organised”. I was so pleased that being yourself had not proved a problem for this cohort of Bryanstonians and I hope it never will.

How do you find out who you are meant to be? How can we allow our young men and women to be themselves? It’s about offering a goodly amount of opportunity and encouraging engagement. It’s about making sure that individuals are understood and recognised and that each can contribute to the larger body of the house and then school. We want all our 682 individuals to feel that they belong: that they are recognised and valued. It’s no use, in my view, being an individual if you are also lonely. It’s about seeing where you fit in to something worthwhile. Are you going to be a supersonic runner? Or a fantastic friend? Or a genius Germanist? Thorold Coade (Headmaster from 1932 to 1959) believed that it didn’t matter what you chose, as long as you engaged with and contributed to the abundant life of the school.

I agree with him, not least because I found my niche when I discovered first Latin and then Greek, and then because I saw my own two daughters flourish at Bryanston in the hands of the Classics department and on the river as devoted rowers. Keep the curriculum wide and rich and offer an outstanding co-curriculum and we can at least get our pupils and children close to St Catherine’s rallying cry. For us as adults too it is no bad thing perhaps to remind ourselves, though long past adolescence and the school curriculum, of the imperative to be authentic and of using our full range of talents. To aim to keep on learning. To be who we are meant to be so we too can set the world on fire.

27 August 2014

What is best for the children? Part two: Developing resilience

Edrys Barkham
Continuing on from her blog last week on the pressures of parenting, Edrys Barkham looks this week at how we can all help our children develop the life skills and resilience for a happy and successful adult life.

This week I look at how, in our aspirations to bring up our children safely and educate them for the future, we may be losing valuable opportunities for them to develop some of those important, but less easily measured, life skills, such as creativity, sociability and emotional resilience. If every hour of a child’s life is structured, that child might be busily engaged and learn a wide range of facts, but they may be missing out on their emotional development. Watching the recent Channel 4 series Child Genius suggests that minutely managing their learning doesn’t actually make them happier children.

In addition, stories in the media can make parents increasingly fearful about leaving their children unsupervised to play. Children pick up on these concerns and they can become afraid of challenge and develop a risk adverse approach to life as a result. Whilst it is essential to ensure that children are not put at unnecessary risk, it is important that they get the opportunities to develop a sense of freedom and responsible risk-taking. When toddlers learn to walk we make their environment as safe as possible but don’t stop them walking to avoid them falling over. When they inevitably do, we pick them up, rub their knees and set them off again. They learn through trial and error and rapidly gain confidence in taking steps towards their independence.

Around puberty another developmental milestone happens: the brain undergoes changes in preparation for adulthood. The changes disrupt executive function, so a teenager’s ability to plan, organise and prioritise is disturbed and they tend to take more risks, whilst lacking the ability to predict the outcomes of their actions. To acquire the executive function skills required for adult life they need to learn how to judge risk and to have the chance to put things right when they have gone wrong. These are important life skills that lead to the development of resilience and emotional robustness. It is important to provide opportunities that allow teenagers to explore their own limits and venture outside their comfort zone safely. At Bryanston these opportunities include the sports facilities, the outdoor education programme, Duke of Edinburgh Award and the wide range of extra-curricular activities, among other things. These activities are closely monitored and houseparents, tutors, teachers, matrons and other staff are around to step in and offer guidance and advice to get things back on track when pupils start to struggle. These timely interventions help to show pupils how to correct a situation and move on and, in so doing, develop the emotional resilience that will help them on their way to a successful and happy adult life.

Judith Carlisle, Head at Oxford High School for Girls, recently said that children learn more when they don’t get it right and that it is important to teach pupils to manage failure. By contrast, the recent government obsession with international PISA results is leading to policies of measuring children’s academic performance in a way that makes it appear the only value of a child is their academic grades. There is a danger that children, from an early age, learn to be fearful of making a mistake and there are children who prefer to say or write nothing for fear of getting an answer wrong.

Psychological research suggests learning through trial and error helps children realise they can improve. They understand that a wrong answer is not a failure, it is a step in the right direction. Reflecting on what went wrong with a teacher or peer can help a child learn more effectively than they can by just being indoctrinated with a series of correct answers. Through conversations with teachers, like the tutorials and correction periods we have at Bryanston, pupils can understand that they learn a great deal from having the courage to have a go, even if the outcome is not wholly correct. By discussing what went well and what didn’t, they learn how to put things right and how to avoid making the same mistake in the future, in both the academic and the pastoral areas of school life.

We believe our educational approach of encouraging curricular and extra-curricular breadth allows children to discover their whole range of talents; recognising their hard work and effort in all areas of the school helps children understand that they are valued for who they are rather than what they can achieve. We acknowledge that children realising their academic potential with us is important, but the education of the whole child is more valuable still, so that well rounded, confident and resilient young adults leave us at the end of their school days to become successful, well motivated and productive members of society.

20 August 2014

What is best for the children? Part one: Emotional development

Edrys Barkham
We welcome Bryanston’s Director of Admissions and biology teacher, Edrys Barkham, as a guest blogger over the summer holidays. This week Edrys takes a look at the pressures parents face today.

As intelligent members of the primate family, humans are genetically pre-programmed to be obsessive about our offspring, as highlighted in the delightful BBC programme Monkey Planet. Like most parents, I really wanted to do my best for my boys when they were children and to get my parenting ‘right’. However, it can be difficult to know what is best for our children when we are bombarded with advice on how to bring them up, much of it conflicting. If you put ‘parenting books’ into Amazon you get over 69,000 hits. There are guides for new parents, guides for parents of toddlers and guides for parents of teenagers. There is advice on using reward and punishment, advice on how to develop the ‘whole brain child’, how to have well-behaved toddlers, how to develop your child’s intelligence and how to be happier parents. One book will tell you children should have the opportunity to make their own decisions and another will give instructions on how to be a ‘Tiger Mum’, directing you to structure every moment of your child’s time with learning experiences. It’s a minefield for parents to know which is the best way forward and what is the best they can do for their children.

A further pressure on parents, which often manifests itself when meeting other families on holiday, is that slightly competitive edge in the voice when discussing which school the children go to and its perceived academic standard, as well as the grades their children have, or are expected to have, achieved. As a result, some schools have become increasingly aware of parents’ perceptions of their academic status and, in order to maintain these, they only select the children they think will get the grades that reflect their academic position; this means that education becomes a process of maintaining the reputation of the school and this in turn puts pressure on children to achieve the top grades.

This level of pressure is not making children happy and there is a growing national concern about the mental health of our country’s teenagers. Self-harm, high levels of anxiety, depression and other mental disorders are all on the increase across the country and, whilst more children are achieving top grades than when I was at school, I have to wonder at what cost. At Bryanston we do encourage our pupils to aspire to the best grades they can get, but within an atmosphere that also encourages creativity, breadth and problem solving. This approach has benefitted my own three boys as they embark on life after university; I am grateful to the school for the balanced and creative approach all three now take to deal with the difficulties they encounter in their adult lives.

I am not proposing that we shouldn’t make our children academically competitive – I know I did as a mother and I do as a tutor and teacher – but I don’t believe that every experience in a child’s life has to be a structured learning one. Childhoods are increasingly dominated by a packed programme of clubs, societies, music lessons and journals. Extra tuition after school, at weekends or during the holidays is becoming the norm for some children. Activities are becoming prioritised by what a child will learn and if there is no academic outcome, it is often not valued.

There is a pressure for parents to order their child’s life and micromanage every moment in order to show they are a loving parent doing the best for their child. However, there is evidence that suggests children also need space to be themselves, to think about things independently and to discover and explore in their own way and at their own pace. Children should be encouraged to pursue activities in which they have curiosity, even if their passion is not the area you would have chosen: trust your child’s natural instincts. Old Bryanstonian Nigel Barker (H ’90) developed his enthusiasm for photography whilst at school. He was on course for a medical career but had the courage to follow his passion with global success. It was refreshing to read in the Telegraph recently the ‘Heads’ Holiday Hot List’ of recommendations for the summer holidays, which included building dens, visiting the zoo and getting sandy on the beach.

If a child doesn’t express any particular interest, then it really is fine to let them get bored. Boredom develops imagination and encourages a child to become content with themselves. Bored children start to explore in an open-minded way and it gives them the opportunity to challenge themselves and build their resilience to life’s frustrations. At Bryanston the pupils have a wide range of extra-curricular opportunities to tempt them to try new things and take responsibility for their own entertainment and, in doing so, develop really important life skills. So, when your child returns to school in September, know that with encouragement and the odd nudge when necessary he or she will develop new skills, build their self-esteem, and grow up happy and more likely to succeed in the adult world.

Look out for part two of Edrys Barkham’s blog next week.

11 July 2014

The best is yet to come

The summer term has come to its normal busy conclusion with a hugely enjoyable Speech Day and Leavers’ Ball; all the pupils have departed, and before we know where we are the school is full of small visitors on their All Sports Club course and rather larger visitors in the form of Dorset Opera, who have arrived to rehearse for their fantastic double bill of Aïda and Fidelio, which they will be performing 22-26 July. It’s what keeps us young.

Each year there is a real tinge of sadness as well as joy when the summer term is over and we have waved farewell to the departing A2s. How shall we manage without those sterling young men and women who have been at the top of the school and supplied so much talent, not just in the classroom but also in music, sport, drama, art and so much else?

The fact is that each year we manage because other talented young men and women step up to fill the gaping holes. And anyway, we would be a very creepy school indeed if no-one ever left. The metaphor might I suppose be of the land of the Lotus Eaters, for the Homeric and Percy Jackson fans amongst you.

I talk a lot to the pupils about looking forward and keeping your eye upon the horizon. I vaguely remember being 17 and time did have a different quality. It seemed to go so slowly and I for one could not wait to escape school and set off to new territories. This is what I want for Bryanstonians too and I am deeply sceptical of the sort of rueful nostalgia that can infect some institutions. Indeed on Speech Day this year I urged the leavers to see their school days as NOT the best days of their lives (how ghastly, aged 18 to have lived one’s best times) because we at school wish them so much better than that. I asked this year’s leavers to remember us with affection if they want; we certainly shall them; but always to think and plan forward.

I am allergic to the idea that anyone leaves Bryanston with a sense of entitlement. The world does not owe anyone a living; instead those who have been fortunate enough to have such a solid start in life owe their talents to this exciting world of possibilities and new adventures. Study after study reveals what we already know - that you are a happier and more fulfilled human being if you are involved with your fellow man. Or as Teddy Roosevelt put it in one of my favourite quotations: “The single most important ingredient for success in life is the ability to get on with other people”.

Hopefully that’s just what all A2 2014 will go on to do, and I wish them all the very best of luck in their plans and ambitions. At Bryanston, we shall carry on focusing on what we think is important, in the form of a proper education, and hope that we shall see more of them soon.

But not before I’ve spent a week up a very steep hill outside Lucca and reminded myself of reading for pleasure, not just for information. Homer beckons…..

20 June 2014

Raising sights and spirits

Earlier this term I had the most pleasurable dining experience with pupils in my 27 years of teaching when Sophie Duncker, IB Co-ordinator, invited the first cohort of IB pupils and their teachers to a dinner in recognition of their being about to sit the first ever IB exams at Bryanston this May. It’s easy to talk about camaraderie, team spirit, and pioneers in this context. All would be true, but it was great fun too: the company was outstanding, not least in the form of Sam Freud’s (A2) closing speech and I think all will remember the evening fondly for some considerable time.

The IB is a rigorous, enjoyable international way of matriculating at the end of your school career and those who engage in it are, in my view, the better for it. Sam spoke of the CAS (Creativity Action Service) element in particular and of how it had encouraged him to get to know many more of the staff, teaching and support, at Bryanston and how he felt more a part of the school because of it.

From Saga Christmas 1941
On 21 June we shall be hosting our reunion for the classes of 1964 and prior. These are men who were, and remain, part of the school over some remarkable years and under some remarkable leadership. Reading the old editions of Saga (the original school magazine from 1928), particularly those over the war years, underlined for me the nova and vetera of both then and now.

From Saga Summer 1944
It is with some sadness that we recognise that some of our old friends will not be able to join us on 21 June. I recently attended the memorial service for Andrew Stuart (C ’47) who spoke so eloquently at the last Coade Years Reunion at Bryanston in June 2009. Andrew’s memorial service was a privilege to attend; his life was full and hugely well lived with a career spanning the Foreign Office to headmastering and from Vanuatu to Atlantic College (which incidentally also offers the IB). I have kept the speech Andrew made then because it remains a deep part of keeping me straight in terms of what it is to be a head and of my never losing sight of our pupils’ place in the world. Andrew spoke briefly and intelligently about Thorold Coade (Headmaster 1932-59) having himself done the job elsewhere. He talked about how Thorold Coade “tried to raise our sights”. Of how Coade thought education was “not merely to teach boys to pass examinations… but to awaken in them the innumerable possibilities of life, and try to reveal to them in successive stages what is man’s true relationship with his two-fold environment – the physical and spiritual universe”.
From Saga Summer 1939

I read to the school some years ago, and will read again this year, a piece of Andrew’s speech. It covers the idea of the need for a school to be outward-looking not navel-gazing. Here’s a short slice of the speech and why the job of education is such an important one:

“When I was working in Africa, I used occasionally to go as a volunteer instructor at the Outward Bound Mountain School on the Kenyan slopes of Kilimanjaro. This was a difficult time in Kenya. Mau Mau was still going on and racial tensions could be lethal. Outward Bound tried to show that there was another way. As I was walking through the forest with a group of young Africans, Europeans, Asians, Arabs, and Seychellois, who had been working together in the mountains, we saw some monkeys in the trees beside the path. One of the Europeans turned to the African next to him and asked. ‘Why don’t you go over and talk to your cousins over there?’ I nearly had a fit, thinking all the good work of the past weeks would be destroyed. But I should have had more faith. The young African merely turned back and said, ‘Oh they wouldn’t understand me – they only speak English’.”

It is hard to argue against any of the sense of Thorold Coade, a headmaster in times of a World War, or of Andrew Stuart, a diplomat throughout the second half of the 20th Century. This does not stop the necessity of our confronting these matters fully and head-on in 2014. From bananas on pitches to the rhetoric of nationalism across Europe, the need for an understanding of our “true relationship with our two-fold environment – the physical and spiritual…” is just as important as ever. I very much hope that Bryanstonians, and not just our pioneering band of IB pupils, will leave ready to play their proper and full part in this exciting and rarely straightforward world.

6 June 2014

The changing of the guard

Peter Hardy
We welcome Peter Hardy, Second Master, with his guest blog on the role of Prefect at Bryanston.

The role of Prefect is a long-standing tradition in schools, particularly in independent schools, and has evolved over time. It is a tradition that Bryanston has always kept as part of the et vetera, in my opinion, for good reason.

During this term the current School Prefects step aside from their duties to focus on their exams. It is at this time, as forty A3 pupils acquire the role of Acting School Prefect for the term, that I often reflect on what the role of Prefect means for both the school and for the pupils concerned.

At Bryanston being selected as a Prefect is not about popularity, but is more about being well esteemed and respected by both the staff and pupil bodies. The selection process involves separate rounds of voting by the whole school, A3 pupils and staff and it is interesting to note that there is rarely a significant inconsistency between those nominated by A3 pupils and those nominated by staff. For me, there are a number of key qualities that a Prefect needs and these include efficiency, reliability, understanding, empathy, objectivity and knowledge. This is not about fitting a particular mould or style; it is about the individual and what they can bring to, and gain from, the role. Our Prefects have a variety of styles and strengths which combine to make an effective team, contributing to the smooth running of the school and the pastoral support of other pupils.

Most Prefect responsibilities carried out at Bryanston take place within the boarding houses, but there are also responsibilities at the school level. Some of these are relatively straightforward and include helping to organise the Dining Hall queue, helping with Prep duties and helping to ensure pupil compliance with punctuality by issuing early morning reportings (EMRs). Prefects need to learn how to enforce their will with only limited sanction to support this. This takes a certain amount of natural leadership, self-belief and presence, as well as the ability to assess a situation quickly and pick up on any nuances before reacting. During this term the current Acting School Prefects are developing the skills they will need to be successful if they are chosen as Prefects for next year.

Becoming a Prefect does mean additional responsibilities for those concerned. It also benefits pupils in that they learn key skills needed in the wider world, as well as gaining an insight into how their school is run, as they attend weekly meetings with the Head and myself, as well as getting involved in organising various events, including Charities Day and the Leavers’ Ball.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the outgoing Prefects for their commitment over the past year and wish the Acting School Prefects all the best for the rest of this term and into next year – I am looking forward to working with you.

16 May 2014

School ties

Last weekend we had reunions for the classes of 2004, 1994, and 1984. The school was full of returning Old Bryanstonians (OBs), and in many cases their young families, and there was a constant buzz of enjoyed excitement as old friends encountered one another again.

I turn up to these reunions each summer term with the adjuration of our alumni officer ringing in my ears: “The returning OBs want to see and hear from the Head”. I am puzzled by this, as a room full of
OBs rarely want to hear anything from anyone other than each other (after all, some are seeing each other and old school teachers after quite a few years!) and certainly it’s a puzzle why they might want to hear from a Head who wasn’t even at Bryanston ten, twenty, thirty years ago. So this year I gave it more thought than usual: what on earth would OBs want to hear from a complete stranger and why do we invite OBs back automatically after ten, twenty, thirty years away from the alma mater?

A cynic would say because we want something back from them…even after their parents decided to spend a good deal of money upon their education at Bryanston. And yes, there will be an element of that as OBs are amongst our most generous benefactors and certainly make up the vast majority of them. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to them and how much good they do for these current Bryanstonians who are in receipt of substantial bursarial support thanks to their generosity to, and affection for, their old school. But support comes in a myriad of ways and is a good few steps down the road from our first hoped-for aim in hosting these annual reunions.

We principally want to remain in decent contact with our alumni. This is because Bryanston is a family school. We have a strong percentage of brothers and sisters at the school. OBs teach here; OBs send their children here. And there’s a Venn diagram already. We would never turn down a sibling, unless we believed it was absolutely the right thing to do. Bryanston prides itself upon looking at the all-round picture, at the whole child, and does not treat children as if they were ‘raw data’. No good family does, so nor do we.

For me, one of the most important aspects of any good school is that you can feel you belong. Not in some lazy, uniform-driven way (who nowadays thinks a tie can make them friends??), but because you are individually recognized (the tutorial system is critical here, as well as the fact that we are not too large a school) and because you are valued for what you are interested in and involved in. You don’t have to be brilliant at chemistry or ancient Greek (although it’s nice if you are); you could be the best designer or a creative musician of great drive and skill; you could be of course a creative
scientist, like Fred Sanger after whom our Maths and Science building is named; or an outstanding sportsman or sportswoman. This range of opportunity to be valued allows more people to feel they can be involved and can contribute to the enterprise as a whole, than if the only way of successfully doing so is by a single academic route. And it’s why a room of Bryanstonians and Old Bryanstonians is a varied and exciting place to be.

Keeping in touch with OBs is about continuing that involvement. Reunions are held because the school wants to stay in touch with its alumni. Simple as that. The Bryanston family does not finish on the last day of term for A2s as we wave them off, bleary eyed, after the Leavers’ Ball. It carries on
long, long afterwards and it’s about connections, involvement, and support for the general purpose and ethos of the school. And having watched a marquee and a dining hall full of over 250 returning OBs I can attest to the joy in that. OBs remain interested and interesting people with much to bring to any party. I am so looking forward to our next reunion on 21 June for the years of 1964 and prior years. I think I can expect to learn still more about this great school of which I am so fortunate to be the Head. And now I am certain about what it is I want to say on such occasions and, I hope, what OBs want to hear. et nova et vetera!

2 May 2014

“Men maketh the city, not the walls”

Living and working in a boarding school one inevitably slices up time according to terms and holidays. I think teachers must be some of the worst offenders in the crime of wishing your life away to the next holiday. And yet when a holiday arrives, whilst the first days, for me at least, are a relief as I don’t need to wear a suit and can wear antique jeans and sweaters, I soon find I miss the busy-ness of the school full of pupils and I start measuring the time until they return. The place seems empty without all that youthful vim.

A school needs to be full and active. There should be noise and energy and activity. This term we returned to find the new music school inhabited and ready to go in its teaching and learning functions. And what a joy it has been! Richard Baker, our remarkable percussion teacher, has had a smile as broad as the Mersey Tunnel (as they say where I was brought up). Duncan Emerson is patiently adding to his roles of maestro conductor and Director of Music that of tour guide around this new box of delights. Pupils are eager to get into the practice rooms, classical and pop. The place is, as I suppose befits a music school, humming.

But this is not about the fact that we have a very expensive, very beautiful, very exciting, very well-equipped building. This is all about what can be done therein. And what it will allow our – and I very much hope other – pupils to achieve musically because of the facilities and the opportunities to learn which the building allows.

Preetpal Bachra, Hsm of Connaught and old boy of Bradford Grammar School (a fine nurse of men), and I were talking of school mottos recently. He told me that his school motto was ‘hoc age’, which might be translated as “Get on with it!” A fine motto, not just for ambitious young Yorkshire men, but for us all; and not least with the opportunities we have afforded to us here at Bryanston. But it’s the Bradford Grammar School Speech Day creed which I think really hits the spot. It is, gratifyingly, a piece of Thucydides: “Men maketh the city, not the walls”. A memorable creed and not just because of the classical root. A school is indeed about its pupils and what they can achieve, and categorically not about bricks and mortar. At Bryanston we strive to give our pupils the ability to achieve remarkable things and it is this aim that is at the centre of all we plan. hoc age!

21 March 2014

Nothing is so beautiful as spring

It’s the time of year when you look out of the window and see sprouting green wherever your eyes alight. You can see why our ancient ancestors put so much energy into the rites of spring when you feel the joy of the return of green life to a dreary, grey world. It may not have been a cold winter but goodness, it was hard work getting through the Atlantic weather from October to February! On the campus we lost about 60 mature trees over that five-month period, and we got off lightly compared to our Somerset brethren. That we did not miss a single day of school is thanks to our superb support staff, not least Dave Jones, our woodsman of 40 years, who sees all this as part of his job and of ‘the circle of life’. The trees we have lost through the storms will allow new trees to flourish, and on we go.

In a school there is the natural cycle of a whole year-group departing each July and another whole year-group of brand new pupils joining us each September. And the five years spent in Bryanston in between are ones in which we hope every child will flourish, once their roots are properly settled in this new, rich soil. We hope that each will find the things they enjoy doing, discover what he or she is not so good at, learn from their mistakes and develop the continuing direction for their lives beyond Bryanston. Not all of this is easy and adolescence does tend to throw a few spanners in the works every now and again. But, to continue the metaphor of growth, the tender saplings we help to plant carefully in D become, we hope, the developing oaks of A2, through an immersion in the day-to-day activity and full engagement in this remarkably fertile and secure environment.

One of my favourite moments in Aeneid IV is when Aeneas must resist the understandable upset of his lover Dido whom he must leave. Virgil describes Aeneas as ‘like some stalwart oak tree, some veteran of the Alps, assailed by a wintry wind whose veering gusts tear at it, trying to root it up; wildly whistle the branches, the leaves come flocking down from aloft as the bole is battered; but the tree stands firm on its crag, for high as its head is carried into the sky, so deep do its roots go down towards Hades’, (C. D. Lewis). If your roots are firm you will be able to withstand enormous blasts of difficulty in life and not be overturned; be able to make the right choices and stick to them; enjoy the serenity you have won when the storm has passed, and continue to develop healthily: but only if your roots are firmly planted, if your annual growth has been sustained and increased, and if you are confident in yourself.

It’s what I hope for all our children. May they all flourish and be healthy, and in due course be as resilient and successful as stalwart oaks!

7 March 2014

A time to reflect

The Rev'd Andrew Haviland
We welcome the Reverend Andrew Haviland, Chaplain at Bryanston, with his guest blog considering life’s important questions.

“Remember that thou are dust and to dust thou shalt return...”

What a charming thought! Who wants to be reminded of our mortality? These words were said at our Ash Wednesday service which marks the beginning of the period Christians call Lent – 40 days of preparation that ultimately culminate in the glorious festival of Easter. This reminder that our life on this earth will come to an end seems an incongruous thing to do, especially when so much of society is concerned with valuing the individual’s youthful exterior. Just seeing the adverts on TV or in the papers for skin or hair care seems to suggest that we value being young and hanging onto life for as long as we can. There surely is nothing wrong with that as long as we accept that no matter what we will all get older.

Of course these words said in the context of a school seem even more strange: what is the purpose of telling those who have their whole life ahead of them that life will come to an end? Surely we have an obligation to protect young people from their mortality until much later. We need, some may suggest, to wrap them up securely and let them learn and grow without the anxiety that considering one’s mortality brings.

Any school that thought that would be doing its pupils a significant disservice. Young people are surrounded by their mortality much more than we would like to think: grandparents die, at times parents die and occasionally a young person they know might die unexpectedly. At times like this, those who are bereaved and those around them grieve and need support, and being able to talk appropriately about death with all people is essential.

Whatever one’s faith or persuasion, being aware of our limited life on earth is an important thing to consider every now and then; it focuses the mind upon the important questions in life: what am I here for, what is the purpose of my existence and how might I be remembered when I am gone? And while it is important to understand one’s own significance as an individual, it is by considering these questions and realising one’s own role in something bigger and more important even than oneself that leads to true emotional, spiritual and mental well-being.

At Bryanston we encourage all pupils to consider their roles in life, not only to the school community, but also to the world at large; whether by encouraging them to find their talent that will allow them to make a difference to their world, or by giving them occasions, like the recent A2 Charity Day, to appreciate the difference they can make to the lives of others.

We all have a need for spiritual thought and sustenance and, whether we find it through religion or a personal, humanist spirituality, it is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. During the time of Lent perhaps we can all spend a little time thinking on these questions. While there are no easy answers, talking to each other can’t be a bad thing and, once we have started the thinking, whoever we are and whatever we believe, it might spur us into action.

Whatever you may do this Lent, may it be productive, thoughtful and lead you to a glorious celebration at Easter.

13 February 2014

An antidote to tedium

Being a teacher for nearly 28 years means you think a fair bit about years, terms, months, weeks and lessons and occasionally even remember being on the receiving end of things. I will always be very grateful to Birkenhead High School GPDST, as it was then called, for offering me an entrée into Classics, my calling, and so on to teaching, my vocation. In between I had four mostly wonderful years at university and one pretty ghastly year as an articled clerk to a notary public in the City of London. I’m sure it wasn’t much fun for them either.

I think I know, therefore, not only the feeling of doing what is fulfilling and empowering, but also the reverse, dragging oneself through tedium. Neil Boulton, now retired, once observed in one of our weekly conversations when he was Director of Studies that I had clearly spent a good deal of my own time at school being bored. And his implication was that I was not very good at being bored. It was only then I put the various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together to realise that, not only was he spot on, but that the last thing I would want for any pupil at a school in which I’m involved is for them to be bored.

A3 Festival: Blacklight exhibition
This weekend has seen the joyous ‘bonkersness’ of the A3 Festival, in which one year group entertains the rest of the school for a whole weekend. Some Gradgrinds might argue that these pupils should be slaving away at their books instead of preparing for and taking part in this weekend of huge creative activity. My view is that those who work hard in the classroom can afford to spend a weekend having creative, extra-mural fun. And those who don’t find it comes naturally to them to slave away in the groves of Academe can learn how to do so by getting stuck in with their peers in an active joint enterprise. This particular weekend helps most A3s to learn to be outside their comfort
A3 Festival: Art installation
zone, whether on stage, or directing; whether creating outstanding art installations or modelling for the fashion show; whether performing in the classical, acoustic, or rock concert. And this year it was Niamh Simpson (A3 Hn) who followed the impressive annual A3 Festival tradition of being the pupil brave and talented enough to write, direct and perform her own play, The Princess Initiative. Old Bryanstonians often tell me that they feel the Festival enriched their lives not just for one weekend, but in some cases for much longer as it showed them the way ahead for beyond Bryanston.

An abundant life, as former Bryanston headmaster Thorold Coade would have it, is about a range of opportunities and a depth to those in which you decide to specialise. It is the prescription for a happy and fulfilled life and an antidote to tedium. I think it’s an essential constituent part of education and I hope it lasts for life.

6 February 2014

Learning from our mistakes

We welcome Peter Hardy, Second Master at Bryanston, with his guest blog on the importance of learning from one’s mistakes.

Peter Hardy
In my 36 years at Bryanston, both as a teacher and then as Second Master, I have witnessed most mistakes that teenagers tend to make when it comes to breaking the rules. In some cases they are simply looking for ways to shock their elders, who, as each generation grows up, do become increasingly difficult to shock. Although the expression of it may change, the underlying reasons behind most acts of teenage bad behaviour and rebellion remain relatively consistent: the need to challenge societal norms and underlying expectations and also the need to assert identity and position within a world which they are only just beginning to understand.

Therefore, the rules and regulations, boundaries and guidelines we put in place remain essential handrails for young people, to guide and support them as they find their own way from childhood to adulthood. Along the way they are likely to make mistakes, as they encounter the nuances and grey areas that exist in any society, organisation, school or family.

It is our reaction, as parents and teachers, to those mistakes that can shape a young person’s future, not necessarily the mistake itself. Make consequences too severe and you risk obscuring any lessons learned with a feeling of injustice; too lenient and the lesson loses its impact. The important aspect is that the young person is given the chance to learn from any mistake and should change their behaviour or attitude accordingly.

As in other schools, there are clearly defined consequences at Bryanston when rules are broken or behavioural expectations are not met. We aim to offer strong support to pupils after mistakes have been made. The main focus of the weekly tutorial is academic progress, but there is also the opportunity to discuss any concerns which may have arisen outside the classroom. This, along with the close contact between a pupil’s tutor and housemaster or housemistress, is an additional tool to help pupils learn from their mistakes. It can often also help to highlight areas of concern before they become more serious issues, and can also be a sounding board and forum for discussion.

At the start of each academic year, the important thing that I say to staff is that pupils should have a fresh start and, in terms of perception, a line should be drawn under previous disciplinary misdemeanours. As such, it enables our pupils who have learned from their mistakes to start anew each year, without their former misdemeanours overshadowing their new approach. In this way, we hope to give pupils the best possible chance to learn from mistakes and to change their behaviour.

30 January 2014

What's so great about the Russell Group?

We welcome Ian McClary, Head of Sixth Form at Bryanston, with his guest blog on the Russell Group universities.

Ian McClary

In articles and debates about excellence in higher education ‘the Russell Group’ often crops up. One often comes across phrases in the press like 'elite Russell Group universities' or 'more students than ever are aspiring to places at the UK's leading universities in the Russell Group' and it is very easy to be led into thinking that these institutions are the only ones to which to aspire if you want a good degree or to be competitive in the employment marketplace afterwards. It is true that they are outstanding places to study and many have the kind of reputation and name recognition that make a graduate stand out, but it is a shame that the landscape of opportunities in higher education in the UK is often obscured by the Russell Group monolith through no fault of its own.

The Russell Group, established in 1994, shortly after the polytechnics were given university status, as an association of 24 research-intensive universities (including Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, Queen's Belfast and Sheffield, as well as the ones more commonly assumed to be members) simply seeks to represent its members' interests to government and to help ensure the highest standards of teaching and research in the face of fierce international competition. It has been criticised by some as protectionist and its detractors claim that, by marketing itself very successfully as the elite club, its universities have benefitted from greater popularity which has made them harder to get into. I am not sure this argument stacks up, as around half of these universities are consistently ranked overall in the top 20 nationally each year, if certain league tables are to be believed.

But this begs the question: what about the other universities in the top 20 that aren't part of the Russell Group? Moreover, if one looks at subject-specific league tables the picture changes significantly because, of course, no university can excel at everything. What often gets missed is that there are universities outside this club with similar aims to the Russell Group and which demonstrate excellence in a wide variety of fields. It could be argued that the term Russell Group encourages in some a sort of myopia.

Formed in 2006, the University Alliance is a group of 22 universities which aims to bring together its members with business and government to improve higher education policy to benefit the UK economy and society. Its members are committed to focusing on combining science and technology with design and creative industries and to creating entrepreneurial and research environments in partnership with industry and the professions. Members of this group such as UWE Bristol and Oxford Brookes offer excellent courses and resources and have already gained a reputation for excellence in a number of areas. Yet they are often dismissed simply because they are newer institutions, are not as oversubscribed, and so they can afford to ask for slightly lower grades to attract a broader church of applicants.

It is also interesting to note that last November the 1994 Group dissolved. This was another group of smaller, research-intensive universities, including Bath, Durham, Exeter, Manchester, St Andrews, Warwick and York, founded around the same time as the Russell Group for similar reasons. Some members eventually left it to join the bigger, more prestigious Russell Group while the remainder have decided that the need for such a group no longer exists, as the shape of higher education and priorities within the sector have continued to change. Perhaps this is the shape of things to come.

The fact remains that UK universities are a major force in global higher education; they educate over two million students every year and the sector is more diverse and vibrant than ever before. The Russell Group has a place of pre-eminence within it, rightly or wrongly, but it has provided an important voice in policy making alongside other groups such as the University Alliance and think-tanks such as Million+.

If a university in the Russell Group is the right place for your child and offers the right course for their academic and professional aspirations, then at Bryanston we will certainly encourage them to apply and compete along with other top-notch candidates; however, if they are simply applying because they believe that a university in the Russell Group is automatically better than universities outside it, we may well advise that they should perhaps widen their search and look again at exactly what else is out there.

10 January 2014

Renewed epiphanies

January’s the time when we look back to the old year and forward to the new, remembering, whether we know it or not, the Roman god after whom the month is named. Janus was the two-faced god, who could look both back and forth and so comprehensively guard entry points and doors. We needed some sort of guard at the turn of this particular year: the old one went out with storms and came in with them too. It’s hard not to see the weather as metaphorical when it takes up so much of one’s energies and thoughts.

The feast of the Epiphany celebrated on January 6th is a part of this bridge between the old year and the new, as we recall the journey of the Magi, those men with their resonant names of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, who brought those odd gifts to the baby Jesus. And I think the beginning of the year feels just the right time for epiphanies in various different forms.

Epiphanies for some are at this particular time of year about eating less, exercising more or in some new and more - or less - brutal way, or other such new-year resolutions. Pundits in the press tell us each January what we should worry about over the coming twelve months; who’s on the up, who’s on the slide. (BRICS has now turned into MINT I am told…). Rarely (with the exception of Radio Four’s racing tips) do they review their previous annual predictions for veracity, so each year they can frighten us about whatever they want to with complete impunity.

Of course there are things we should be concerned about and change for which we should fight. Preserving the world’s resources and establishing a fair and humane way of dealing with our fellow men will always top any sane agenda. But those are big challenges and because we can’t think about them for long enough to solve them, we distract ourselves with how did Sherlock survive his fall? Or how do I give up sugar altogether? We are, after all, human.

A renewed epiphany for me this Christmas has been a certainty that in schools we need to be caring for a much wider agenda than just transmitting information. Information is only really useful when you know what to do with it. And as Jamie Oliver, a man refreshingly happy to be contentious, put it recently when describing his daughters’ schooling, education ought to be about what you love.

So, this January, I am hoping for lots of suitable epiphanies and much enthusiasm for the big themes of life, love, education, and of making 2014 a better year than last.

et nova et vetera!