27 February 2015

Who needs friends?

Peter Hardy
This week we welcome Bryanston's Second Master, Peter Hardy, as a guest blogger.

A recent survey by the Church Urban Fund found that loneliness is increasingly the biggest social problem in England, regardless of class or income. Loneliness can affect anyone and not just those who are on their own.

It can be a common worry for pupils starting a new school, for example, that they will be without a friend (or a best friend). Our advice to pupils as they join us is to ‘be yourself’ and get involved – use every opportunity to get to know others, whether in the common room of the boarding house, playing sport or in one of the many extra-curricular activities on offer. Boarding school, or any environment where we live in close proximity with a wide range of people, helps to develop the key skills needed, not only for making friends, but also learning to get along with those we may not choose as friends.

The nature of friendships can be complex and, as well as the lifelong friendships we develop, there can be those that pose potential pitfalls and problems, particularly in adolescence. There are issues of exclusivity (or having just one best friend) and jealousy if we feel that we are losing friends to someone (or something) else. There are also friendships that arise for the ‘wrong’ reasons: the friends we have to impress others, or those with whom we know we will always get our own way. In addition, friendships change over time and dealing with these changes can cause young people anxiety and distress, as some friends drift apart and the dynamics of friendship groups alter.

With all these potential problems, virtual friendships, for example via Facebook, can seem an easier alternative, but they can make feelings of loneliness and isolation worse, as the status updates of others can increase the perception that everyone else is having a more exciting and enjoyable time. The bite-sized communication that this type of interaction typically involves can be superficial and we all, especially young people, can miss out on the interactions and depth of connection that can be made face to face.

While we all recognise the need for friends and friendship, it isn’t always easy to make, and keep, friends. Everyone learns to do so through trial and error; making mistakes and learning from them in a safe, controlled environment, such as Bryanston, with an experienced network of support to help them get back on track when things do go wrong.

Emotional intelligence and making and keeping friends go hand-in-hand; having one will usually improve the other and at Bryanston we seek to improve pupils' emotional intelligence, helping them to develop not only lifelong friendships, but also the skills necessary to do so.

12 February 2015

Sporting reflections

We welcome guest blogger, Bryanston’s new Director of Sport Alex Fermor-Dunman, as he reflects on sport at Bryanston.

When talking about sport there is a tendency simply to list achievements, over-analyse individual triumphs and agonise over close losses. Highlights and lowlights will inevitably go hand in hand throughout a sporting term.

Of course there are successes, with teams winning county titles, qualifying for regional tournaments and marathon kayakers lifting titles (to name but a few from last term). These happen alongside many individuals pushing themselves toward club, county, regional, national and international representation in their respective sports and these individuals and teams are rightly lauded along the way. Equally important, however, is the need to take a brief pause every now and then for thought and reflection, to consider the vast scale of sport at Bryanston and the ways in which it has helped shape us and the school.

Sport has a perpetual nature; the constant planning and performing often leave little time for regular reflection, particularly on how sport has developed us. The injuries, bumps and bruises, the wins, draws and losses, the elation, despair, triumph and tragedy all develop the character required to be successful the next time. They shape the desire to be part of a strong, proud developing team whilst also being individually successful.

As with most terms, last term provided pupils with many sporting opportunities: 123 rugby fixtures, 156 hockey fixtures, countless riding competitions, rowing regattas, kayaking, squash, netball, cross country fixtures, pre-season cricket sessions, huge numbers of house matches and not to forget the two prep schools tournaments, which saw close to a 1,000 prep school pupils playing sport at Bryanston. All this, along with the sporting ECAs, adventure training and Duke of Edinburgh, make for as diverse a range of physical activity as could be shoe-horned into a 13-week term.

The fact that there is so much sport at Bryanston is no coincidence. It is to ensure that we, as individuals, teams and a school, grow, develop, enjoy, learn and continue to strive for progress and success. If everyone involved in Bryanston sport has managed some of this at some stage throughout each term then, leaving aside the trophies, titles and individual successes, we will have had a very productive sporting term indeed.

6 February 2015

Greenhouse not hothouse

There’s been more still in the media in recent weeks about what teachers must do to satisfy the grinding requirements of some moved goalpost or other, with several of my HMC colleagues rightly cross about league tables. At Bryanston, we decided to come out of as many league tables as we could some years ago, partly because of the utter nonsense of comparing apples and eggs, but more systemically because we think they are of such questionable value in terms of choosing the right school for your child. It’s perfectly clear that some very famous London all girls’ schools will always do very much better than Bryanston in a certain sort of measurement and, given that we never set out to compete in that particular race, it seems meretricious even to put your running shorts on.

I write a lot about education in terms of metaphors and have, I think, told before of how when I first began at Bryanston parents of prospective pupils would occasionally ask me how I mould the pupils. I’m not into the plasticine metaphor, as I don’t believe you should treat children like that. Plenty of people do, and they can soon tell that Bryanston is not for them. And they take their children off to a character-building sort of place instead of here. And both parties are entirely relieved and delighted.

My metaphor has always been about riotous gladioli and shy daisies and about nurturing and allowing these wonderful flowers to thrive in proper measure by providing a safe and nourishing environment in which to grow. The Director of Admissions, who has been at Bryanston for 23 years and has had her three boys (to my two girls) thrive here, adds another metaphorical layer. She tells me Bryanston is a greenhouse not a hothouse, and I am now enjoying playing around with that new idea.

We believe strongly that you learn best in an environment with plenty of feeding for active young brains. That we, the adults, are not the only ones to determine how fast the learning process happens, though we shall train and gently support their tender stems throughout the amusing bumps of adolescence. And we will love each of them, and what they contribute to this special garden, regardless of their genus. I used to say of my own girls, when they were very much younger, that I wanted them to be strong and flourish like weeds. It’s perhaps why other, more determined, mothers looked askance at my dress sense when Ellie (now 23) would re-dress herself (I promise I dressed her nicely to start with!) as a makeshift pirate from some discarded clothes and the dressing up box. She looked remarkable and weird. But I was, and remain, strongly of the opinion that her character is hers, not mine to mould, and if she wants to dress as a pirate aged three, well go for it, girl! The only effect it appears to have had on her twenty years later is, besides a first class degree from a pretty decent university, an enviably balanced disposition and a love of the unorthodox.

Let’s not fall for any ‘weighing the pig’ arguments. Let’s instead encourage our children to be themselves in all their glorious technicolour and to be the best that they themselves can be. And love them for all they do to enrich our lives.