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