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!