2 December 2016

Do nothing, Christmas is coming!

In this week’s blog the School Chaplain, Canon Andrew Haviland, suggests we regain our sense of perspective amid the frenzied approach to Christmas.

As I write the Black Friday sales have been and gone, and the Christmas countdown is well underway. The frenzied activity leading up to 25 December is wonderfully exciting. Here at Bryanston, a huge Christmas tree is already dominating the main hall and in millions of homes, schools and businesses across the world people are starting their preparations. Christmas is rightly a great opportunity to decorate, get in touch and to celebrate with family and friends. 

However, for many the preparations can be tough. There are people who are struggling to get everything done, there are those who are finding it hard to make ends meet and there are those who are anxious about being alone when so many others seem to be enjoying themselves. We need to do what we can for all those who will find it difficult and challenging. As a school we know that we can make such a difference when we put our minds to it. This term as a community we have raised a huge amount of money during the Charities Fair, given boxes of food to the Blandford Foodbank at our Harvest Festival, reached out to those who might be on their own through our Tuesday Club, remembered the sacrifice of those who enable us to live in a free country at Remembrance Day and much more.

There is a small book that I discovered a few years ago (and have mentioned before) entitled Do Nothing, Christmas is Coming. How can anyone suggest such a thing – there is so much to do!

What this book dares to suggest is that during this season we should try and slow down. We try so hard to get everything just right for Christmas, but at times we can lose our sense of perspective. Let’s think of Mary and Joseph. Were they ready? Not really. She was engaged but also a pregnant teenager trying to get to Bethlehem. The place where Jesus was born was far from ideal, an unhygienic stable was not the best place to give birth. The shepherds who came to visit the new born baby came straight from the fields with no time to change into their Sunday best. After a few days Joseph and Mary had to flee Bethlehem under threat of death from Herod and became refugees in Egypt for a time. All this was hardly well prepared.

Perhaps what this book is suggesting is that we do the things that really matter and not try too hard to make everything perfect. The world was certainly not ready for Jesus’ arrival, but he came anyway.

My hope and prayer for this Advent, as we lead ever quickly to Christmas Day, is that we can all slow down just a little, take our time to focus on things that really matter and those we love, and to help those who have so very little. If we can do that then maybe, just maybe, the true Christmas gift, the message of love of God through Jesus, can sustain the world even more effectively in 2017.

18 November 2016

Bryanston: a thinking school

In this week’s blog, our Deputy Head Academic, David James, takes a look at a new introduction to 'D Activities' and how it is encouraging pupils to think not only about what they learn, but also how they learn.

'D Activities' is an established part of Bryanston’s identity. Every Monday our youngest pupils engage with a range of courses that extend them beyond the (sometimes rather restricting) confines of the taught curriculum. We are now trialling a new critical thinking course called Insight (written by Ian Warwick, CEO of London Gifted and Talented) for a selection of pupils. We are asking our D pupils to look at complex areas, including identity, migration, and poverty, but through various lenses, such as education, celebrity and ambition.

At a very fundamental level we are asking them to think about how they learn, and how to reflect on not only what they are learning, but how they are learning. When you think about it, schools are very good at telling pupils what they should be learning and why, but are less interested in asking them about how they learn. This is surprising because, according to reliable evidence, developing metacognitive skills, such as reflection, planning, and self-regulation is relatively cheap for a school, and has a high impact on pupil progress.

We recently asked a selection of our D pupils a number of questions to probe areas of their understanding and educational experience that are not always discussed. These questions included:
  • How do you know if you have made progress in a subject? 
  • What attitudes in pupils and teachers promote learning? 
  • What attitudes in pupils and teachers have a negative impact on learning? 
  • What qualities should an outstanding teacher have? 

It is interesting to ask if our pupils are able to be truly objective about a school system that they have been involved in since they were very young. Can they imagine something different from the model they are currently in? An obvious example of this is their view of ascertaining how they know if they have made progress in a subject. For a number of pupils the only way progress can be measured is through testing them regularly. Of course, testing is an essential tool, but is it the only one available to a school? Perhaps instead of discussing whether or not to test, we should ask ourselves how we should test, and with what regularity. One of our pupils in their reply sensibly pointed out that testing has flaws, and principal among those is the ability to retrieve information at a set time, and under particular conditions: such things affect outcomes.

All those Ds who answered the questions felt that for pupils to get the most out of their studies they need to have a ‘positive’ attitude to studying, arrive to class ready to learn, and be ready to listen. Such attitudes are, for our pupils, essential if they are to deepen their learning. But the conditions within that classroom are also vital: poor behaviour that distracts others is universally frowned on by every pupil who wrote on the factors which have a negative impact on learning. Given that there is a consensus view of disruptive behaviour (even of the low-level variety), and an awareness of how negative an impact it has on their own progress, it is perhaps surprising that in schools around the world pupils tolerate something so unacceptable on every level.

There is also a consensus view on what qualities a teacher should exhibit to promote learning, and of course these directly link to our pupils’ views of what makes for an outstanding teacher. Responses to this question at times seemed a little daunting for any teacher to read: they ranged from possessing a great deal of patience, an ability to explain complex ideas in a straightforward (but not dumbed-down) way, kindness, being interesting, having authority and real expertise in the subject being taught, and, interestingly, for one of the D pupils asked, a willingness to look beyond examinations.

Of course, asking pupils to think about such matters is in itself interesting, but this is only a sample. However, I would guess that they are typical of their peers. Perhaps surprisingly, given the ubiquity of technology in their lives, they at no point question the role of the teacher: the internet is, for our 13-year-olds, unlikely to replace teachers (which is a relief for teachers, and a view backed up by research). Perhaps this view is a direct result of their own experiences so far: they have always had a teacher physically involved in their learning, but it does confirm what we know (but need to occasionally hear from pupils): namely, that learning is a human activity that relies on, at times, transactions that cannot be measured or researched.

Insight is part of a conversation we want to develop with our pupils: we want to listen to them, to learn from them about their own learning. In time we would hope to instigate research, and to see it influence and shape our own approaches to teaching and learning. Education stops being transformative when it travels in one direction only. For teachers to remain engaged in their own profession they have to continue to learn, from each other, from experts involved in pedagogy, and from the pupils they teach. In that way we make thinking, and learning, more visible, more understood, and for more than just the classroom.

4 November 2016

Soft rules

This week we welcome Bryanston's Head of Pastoral, Dr Preetpal Bachra, as he examines the 'soft rules' of social interaction.

The Head recently blogged about the core school rules. I always consider these to be the ‘hard rules’, i.e. those which tell you where you stand. In this blog I want to examine some of what might be termed the ‘soft rules’, especially those relating to social interaction and how these are evolving and changing.

As a general rule of thumb, I try not to forget what it was like to be a teenager and perhaps I should share a few observations from my own teenage years because, as Maya Angelou observed, 'we are more alike than we are unalike.'

At the age of 14, I became attracted to Eastern philosophy, but that may have been because I thought the yin and yang symbol was ‘cool’. John Bellaimy gives a simplistic view of it as the yin being the dark swirl and the yang being the light swirl, and each side has a dot of the opposite colour illustrating the concept that everything contains the seed of its opposite. I used to think the symbol was about balance in life but it is more to do with things not being complete opposites. Rather, things are relative to each other. We can act in certain ways but there is always the seed of the opposite that can extend from it. 

My life and how I saw the world at 14 may not be so different from how pupils see the world today, but there is a difference in how they interact with it. In my teenage years, I had one key aim, one key aspiration, and that was to be Bruce Lee. He starred in one of my favourite films of all time, Enter The Dragon, and there was one particular scene that I wanted to replicate. I would practise with my nunchakus and there were plenty of accidents. In fact, if people had videoed me then my outcomes may have found their way into the litany of ‘YouTube fails’.

The important difference is that my life was private and all those stages that I went through, I explored on my own. There are records of these stages, of course, housed in family photo albums, but none of them are in the public domain. I didn’t, and still don’t, honestly think anyone else would be interested in the goings-on in my life. Banksy, in an interview for Time Out in 2010, summed it up well, “I don't know why people are so keen to put the details of their private life in public; they forget that invisibility is a superpower.”

Today so much more of young people’s lives is on public display, and this isn’t without consequences. For example, in 2015 ChildLine conducted over 11,000 counselling sessions nationally with young people regarding online issues. And in a 2013 study for Northwestern University 29% of Facebook users surveyed reported ‘losing face’ from embarrassing content posted by friends. As a school we alert pupils to the dangers of putting themselves and their friends on public display through PSRE lessons, reminders of the support available, lectures about protecting themselves and so on.

This use of digital communication can lead to embarrassment and humiliation. The distinction between embarrassment and humiliation is that the former we bring on ourselves and the latter is brought on us by others. In 1998 a scandal broke in the US when Monica Lewinsky admitted relations with Bill Clinton, the then president. She did something that embarrassed her, but the response was intense because of how people commented.

From a psychological point of view, the comments Monica Lewinsky endured can be partly understood by the process of disassociation, i.e. the person commenting is separated from the victim and understanding the implications of their comments: they cease to remember that those people have feelings. And here is our soft rule: don’t put yourself out there. If pupils (or any of us) choose to share things that others do not want to be shared then it will humiliate them, and we take a very dim view of that.

Of course there are positives to the use of social media: the messages of support to each other; ensuring people are not left out; sharing happy times with loved ones; contact with family; the sharing of ideas to make us think and broaden our horizons, and we should remember that this is why technology has a place in our lives. It can be an incredible force for good and it should be used as such when appropriate.

However, we should all be careful what we post, be careful with other people’s privacy and not put ourselves in a position where we or our feelings, or those of others, might be abused. It is these soft, unspoken rules, along with the hard rules, that go some way to ensuring we can flourish and thrive within our own communities and the wider society in which we find ourselves.

14 October 2016

School rules

“There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says: “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes: “What the hell is water?”
“It’s about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
“This is water.”

“This is water.”
David Foster Wallace, This Is Water: Some thoughts delivered on a significant occasion, about living a compassionate life

Every year I talk to the school at least once about our rules. As a school of 675 adolescents, you might expect pupils to need what the army calls ‘judicious repetition’. The result is that most Bryanstonians can quote these rules off by heart by the time they reach the B year … though that certainly doesn’t mean they’re all angels!

But why do we have rules? Simply put, without them we would find ourselves unable to live together in a number of more than two. And by and large, we human beings like each other’s company. As Aristotle put it over two thousand years ago: “Man is a social animal.”

I have worked in schools with endless volumes of school rules, neatly divided into sections and indeed subsections, which you were required to carry around in your blazer pocket and to produce on request – by the sort of teacher we all remember from our school days – with an appropriate flourish and an ability to quote with accuracy and reverence.

Bryanston’s fundamental rules are, by contrast, ultra simple. There are just four of them.
  1. A breach of common sense or courtesy is a breach of school rules.
  2. A breach of the law of the land is a serious breach of school rules 
  3. We ban sex, drugs, alcohol and smoking and you are liable to be expelled for involvement in either of the first two. 
  4. Furthermore, the following are automatic suspension offences: 
    • night wandering, 
    • being on the roof of the main building, 
    • smoking in a building. 
Rules one and two cover pretty much everything that matters regarding anti-social, dangerous and illegal behaviour, whilst rules three and four are more specific, reflecting our own particular location and ethos. These four rules essentially form our constitution; they are the basis of our everyday interaction, helping individuals and the whole school to flourish. They make us Bryanston and not somewhere else.

Given that at Bryanston we more or less really enjoy each other’s company, and given that we therefore need rules for each to be able to do so, I think these rules are about as reasonable as any could be. Each term I make plain to pupils that I hope for no infractions but, should infractions occur, that they will be fairly and firmly dealt with, including the use, if necessary, of the sanction of departure from the school. I also spell out what that generally means for their poor parents, as such events are rarely convenient and very few schools consider admitting pupils who have left another school after breaking such core rules and values.

But there’s a second vital reason for our having rules at school, I think. As well as keeping each and every member of the school safe and well and in an environment in which they can flourish, I have a further duty, which I take seriously: to prepare our pupils for being a success in life.

Teddy Roosevelt used to say “The most important single ingredient in the formula for success is knowing how to get along with other people.” Put like that, it sounds easy. But I don’t think it is achievable without knowing you’re in the right place, recognising the rules of that place and the value of those rules. Pupils here at Bryanston might as well learn this life skill at 13, practise it until they get it spot on in this safe and stretching environment and then, hopefully, full of an enviable (perhaps even unequalled) emotional intelligence, they will be ready to go out and make a success of those next steps.

As adults, we are accustomed to encountering rules wherever we go. I want Bryanstonians to make sure they recognise the fundamental rules wherever they go; to question those rules if they need questioning; never to sign up for a set of rules which are morally bankrupt or with no core value; never to agree to play by rules they know to be wrong, lazy, or corrupting; and never to sell their soul for the sake of personal convenience or an easy life. Because that would make you an unhappy sheep. It’s about recognising and never letting go of what really matters. All of which leads me back, as do so many things that really matter, to the words of This Is Water, the wonderful commencement address by David Foster Wallace.

I want Bryanstonians to work out where they want to be, and how to play by those proper rules, which are an essential part of their environment. Then they can make their own unique contribution to the world, confidently and generously.

3 October 2016

What makes a good teacher?

This week we asked a selection of Bryanston staff to share their memories of the teacher who had the greatest influence on them.

Sarah Thomas, Head
My old Classics teacher, Angela Bolton, taught me to love learning. I learned of fifth-century Athens, read Euripides, Lucretius and Cicero; I also learned for the first time when I encountered Latin aged 12 and Greek aged 13 that I was quite good at something. 

Mrs Bolton had the knack of giving you confidence, of making you think, of stretching you. I think I would be who I am today even if I had not gone to Oxford; I don’t think I would be were it not for Angela Bolton. She was an inspiration.

Dr David James, Deputy Head Academic
One teacher takes particular credit for moving me on academically. Nick Burree – who joined the school when I entered the sixth form – taught me A level Politics and History. I got good grades in both. I found out recently he died over the summer and, more than once since I heard the news, I found myself reflecting on what made him a good teacher. His death reminded me of how fortunate I was that at that pivotal time in my development he happened to be there.

To be honest, when he first walked into our classroom he didn’t seem likely to be transformative. He was unprepossessing, shy even, overweight, and seemed to perspire rather a lot, regardless of the weather. His hair stuck resolutely to his forehead at all times, and he wore oversized, thick-framed glasses. He would sit at the front of the class, often hugging his brief case, but he would … discuss things with us, and he did so in a way that allowed this rather unappealing collection of adolescents to feel they were his intellectual equals, and that he respected their views. He also knew his subjects very well. He was a Liberal Democrat activist in an area which was deeply Labour, and this political allegiance perhaps allowed him to indulge those pupils who were nascent Thatcherites, as well as those who were exploring Marxism (and everything else in between, including apathy). Above all he listened, and debated, brought in articles ‘that I thought you would like’, lent us books, and if he didn’t know an answer to something he would admit it, and find out by the next day what it was (and this in the days before Google).

I regret now that I never went back to say ‘thank you’ to him for teaching me so well, for sparking a lifelong interest in politics and history. Too late now. But I hope that he did realise how much of a difference he made, and that he did hear those words said to him by others. 

Edrys Barkham, Director of Admissions
I never thought of myself as being particularly academic at school and I wasn’t always a model pupil. When it was proposed by my father that I should apply to Oxford, the Director of Studies laughed loudly, before realising my father was serious! My tutor and Biology teacher Martin Jacoby said he thought it was a great idea and he suggested Human Sciences because ‘…it would suit my grasshopper mind.’

He was right. I loved all the aspects of the degree and since those early days of getting to understand our species, I haven’t stopped wanting to learn more. I, in turn, have enjoyed finding potential human scientists at Bryanston and watching their eyes light up, as I am sure mine did, when describing the course content.

I am forever grateful to Martin Jacoby for believing I was right for Human Sciences, encouraging me to go for it and making Biology lessons so much fun. His interest in and understanding of me as a slightly unruly teenager set me on the path to my lifelong passion for learning and for teaching, and I will be forever grateful to him.

Ian McClary, Head of Sixth Form
There was one teacher at school who, more than the others, inspired me as a pupil to learn and grow in understanding. She was my Classics teacher and her name is Carola Scupham.

Passionate about her subject she carried us along on a tide of enthusiasm, fascinating knowledge and carefully-crafted red herrings. Always eager to impart, but never to spoon feed, she taught me that I could take ownership over my studies and that I didn’t need to wait to be told what to do next. Exam specifications were all very well but why be limited by them? Learning was a shared journey of discovery, not only about the subject at hand, but also about ourselves, being aware that what we were learning was shaping our ideas and beliefs about the world and our place in it. She is the person upon whom I have modelled myself as a teacher over the past 15 years.

Mike Kearney, Head of Science
Perhaps it is no surprise to learn that the teacher who inspired me was a Physics teacher. Ellis Cheetham was a bluff northerner with a very traditional approach to teaching. The special thing he did was his ability to estimate answers for complex calculations. This doesn’t sound very exciting and could just be a party trick, but it opened my eyes to appreciating the scale of things and how data fitted together. It led me to an initial career in engineering, where the black art of estimation and even gut feeling informed progress and meant you could make immediate sense of problems and have confidence in final calculated answers.

Somehow, this dour man opened up a world of possibilities that didn’t require slogging through the sums (although you sometimes have to!), but could be appreciated holistically. Sadly, he died of cancer while I was still at my school and I have always hoped to carry his memory with me to inspire future generations.

Alex Hartley, Head of Mathematics
I can still remember my first lesson in Mathematics at Dr Challoner’s Grammar School, Amersham, taught by Graham Hoare. His first statement was that ‘Mathematics is not a spectator sport’ and he insisted that we participated actively in Mathematics throughout. Lessons covered the curriculum but also explored beyond, and it was in his lessons that I was first exposed to Euclid’s proof of the infinity of primes - and that’s something that I, in turn, have passed on to D1 Maths this month.

Still teaching at the age of 64 (having spent half his life at the same school), and writing for the Mathematical Gazette, he saw teaching as something to be enjoyed as much as it was a way to earn a living, and mathematics as a recreational activity as well as an academic discipline.

Mr Hoare was my teacher in years 8 and 9, and subsequently as one of three teachers who taught me Mathematics and Further Maths in the sixth form, whilst additionally preparing me for the Oxford University entrance examinations. His warmth and personal touch affected me, too; he was very generous with his time when I needed it. A number of us from the same class made it to Oxford that year and my final memory of Graham was the long and leisurely afternoon spent in the Turf Tavern when he came up to visit.

Abi Croot, English Teacher
As I sat down to watch Shakespeare Live! from the RSC earlier this year, I was reminded as to why I ever thought being an English teacher would be a good idea …

It all started with my A level English teacher (surprise, surprise) who was the most enthused teacher I had ever come across. Up until then, I had been taught by teachers who clearly didn’t enjoy English, nor did they enthuse and excite the pupils to share their burning passion for the subject (because they didn’t have one, not a glimmer of a flame). However, as soon as I had my first class with my new A level teacher, I knew things would be different. Firstly, she had (still has) a cardboard cut-out of good ol’ Will Shakey, which, in my naive teenage eyes was a clear cut sign that she would be a good teacher. Secondly, she genuinely loved English, and knew how to enthuse even the most disengaged teenage boys; asking them to embody Caliban and in the next breath, prance around the classroom in the most ridiculous of attire. She was a legend. I truly loved my two years spent with her, and developed a strong love for English Literature.

As Paapa Essiedu took to the stage as Hamlet as part of Shakespeare Live!, I found I was able to recall (nearly) all of my favourite Shakespearean soliloquy, ‘To be or not to be’. It is with thanks to my A level teacher that I am able to recall the famous speech, and it was not through repeatedly bashing the book that I can recall it; it is through the way she delivered the speech in class, the way in which she encouraged us to watch every single version of Hamlet on screen ever created (with subtitles of course), how she made us believe that Hamlet was a relatable character… Ay there’s the rub! As Cumberbatch, Tennant, McKellen, Dench, Minchin, Walter and Kinnear argued over how to perform the iconic soliloquy, I realised that was it, it depended on how you viewed Hamlet as a character, as to how the lines should be read, where the emphasis should be put. My teacher had brought Shakespeare into the 21st century, and made the characters people we could see in everyday life, in our own lives.

16 September 2016

Earned and learned

Be yourself; as the saying goes, everyone else is taken. It sounds easy enough, but being yourself can be a challenge when there is so much pressure to compare yourself to, or conform to the expectations of, others. Being yourself requires, above all, the right sort of confidence.

Ben Fogle, OB and explorer, spoke recently about this precious commodity and how he found it at Bryanston: “It’s the single most important attribute any child could have. A form of charm, wit, and wisdom. These camouflage any shortcomings in the academic stakes. Boost the country’s confidence and we will solve so many of Britain’s ills.” He was quick to point out that he was not talking about the “media clich├ęd arrogance of the stately home-owning, blue-blooded toff or of the privileged middle classes, but a value that is attainable by all - but sadly all too often overlooked in the state system.” A value he describes as “earned and learned.”

For all the modern talk of ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’, it is a quality we’ve been seeking to instil at Bryanston since 1928. But not in that dreadful old-fashioned character-forming way, which involved making a child’s life very miserable and telling them they’ll be grateful for it one day. Ben remembers the real thing from his time here in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s about our unique tutorial system; about the way we operate our boarding houses; about the one-to-one care. It’s about the quality and range of our sport, music, drama and extra-curricular activities. It’s about the level of responsibility with which we entrust our pupils, and the initiative we encourage from them, from the D Show to the A3 Festival to the A2 Charities Weekend. Our expertise in all of these areas was recognised by the ISI inspection team, which last September rated Bryanston as excellent in every category, including the classroom, for the first time in our history. And it is our strength in all of these areas that helps build that proper and crucial confidence.

From confidence comes contribution. That feeling of belonging, of knowing we are in the right place, gives us the impetus to get involved, to take part, to give things a try. And yes, there may well be hiccups along the way, but in the words of Albert Einstein, who knew a thing or two, anyone who has never made a mistake never tried anything new.

I am the mother of two OB graduates and they each flourished here. My elder daughter is currently completing her fourth degree, at the end of which she will, for her sins, be a lawyer. She has a wide group of friends, from her time at Bryanston and from all three of the universities she has attended. And she recently observed to me: “My OB friends are doing such a huge and interesting range of things … all my other friends notice how varied and on it and positive the Bry lot is.” It’s true. She has OB friends in PR, law, medicine, teaching, nursing, event management, photography, IT, art and design, personal chef-ing … and they’re all getting paid (except her). It’s a wonderful testament to the confidence forged in the crucible of the abundant life of Bryanston.

Schools, if they are doing their job properly, embrace education in its proper sense: as a process, of growing and discovering. They are not factories for turning different children into the same thing, all suited and booted and marching off to the City like an army of Mr Bankses from Mary Poppins. Bryanston is proud of the fact that OBs have the confidence to go out and do all kinds of different things and to make their mark upon their society in the best ways that they can. We’re proud too of the fact that they do not, in any shape or form, ask that most unattractive of questions: “Do you know who I am?” There is no sense of entitlement. Bryanstonians leave here themselves, ready to stand on their own two feet; ready to make their own way, most of them (but not all) through university; ready to find the best path, the happiest and most fulfilling life, for them. Ready to make their own contribution to their world. Ready, I have no doubt, to make it a better place wherever they can.

14 July 2016

Riding a bicycle

Speech Day last week was, as usual, a day of mixed emotions. Joy that the summer was in sight (the weather even stayed fair for us!) and, because our fully-fledged A2s were setting off on new adventures; sadness, perhaps a little sentimental I grant you, at saying farewell to another talented, feisty, and ‘inwardly weird’ (as the Head Boy described his wonderfully varied year group in his own speech) set of A2s. Inwardly weird might not make it into the prospectus, but it does say a very great deal about this very great school in my view. Thank you to this year’s Head Boy and Head Girl, Sam and Nancy, who upstaged the Chair of Governors and myself with their own, highly individual speeches in the Greek Theatre.

In my own speech that day I, much more predictably perhaps, talked about confidence. The right sort; not the ghastly over-confident sense of entitlement to which I earnestly hope all Bryanstonians are allergic. Instead, the sort of confidence that breeds hope; the confidence that means you know you can and should get stuck into life and contribute to the society around you; the confidence that allows you to make your own way in the world without constant support (or even, dare I say it, interference?) from parents.

I know the poem below is, again, sentimental, but it does seem to me to sum up the business of children leaving our immediate parental and tutorial reach and their learning to do the things they must do themselves with confidence. And I think I’m allowed to be sentimental once a year.

Learning the Bicycle…for Heather:
The older children pedal past
Stable as little gyros, spinning hard
To supper, bath, bed, until at last
We also quit, silent and tired
Beside the darkening yard, where trees
Now shadow up instead of down.
Their predictable lengths can only tease
Her, head lowered, she walks her bike alone,
Somewhere between wanting to ride
And her certainty she will always fall.
Tomorrow, though, I will run behind
Arms out to catch her… she’ll tilt, then balance wide
Of my reach, till distance makes her small,
Smaller, beyond the place I stop and know
That to teach her, I had to follow
And when she learned, I had to let her go.

We very much hope that all our A2s will stay in touch with us and will have great fun beyond Bryanston. We hope they will enjoy all the challenges, get stuck in wherever they are required to, and hopefully make things better than they found them.

I wish them all a lovely summer and fine starts in the next chapter. And I wish you all a sunny summer too. See you in September

You can see a full gallery of images from Speech Day 2016 here.

5 July 2016

Avoiding educational labyrinthitis

This week we welcome our Director of Sport, Alex Fermor-Dunman, who shares his thoughts on the importance of providing the balance in education. 
Balance: An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady
At Bryanston we pride ourselves as being tailors of an outstanding education. This means that each pupil has a distinct and individual ‘balance’, which is always forefront in our thoughts as teachers and educators. Through regular one-to-one tutorials and correction periods we facilitate and ensure that each individual has an even distribution of weight to remain upright and that the elements of school life are equal and in correct proportions. It is one of the founding and fundamental principles of our educational philosophy.

In a sporting context, as coaches we preach about ‘proprioception’, or the ability to grasp and fully understand the relative position of parts of your body at any stage in a movement; in essence, sporting balance. You can observe and analyse this over hundreds of sporting channels on your TV. I urge you to watch a full-blooded Rory McIlroy drive, any All Black off-loading out of a rugby tackle, Christa Cullen drag flicking a hockey ball, the outstretched body position of Lindsay Keable whilst playing goal defence for England. My list of balanced and awe-inspiring athletes could be endless, the point of my argument is not. It is impossible to play any level of sport without balance.

The catalogue of crucial inputs to develop and improve balance in sport is enormous. World-class sportsmen and women strive their entire careers to conquer and master these, with help from head coaches, strength and conditioning experts, sports psychologists, sports scientists, physiotherapists, massage therapists and nutritionists: the list of the entourage becomes manifold. With David Brailsford’s ‘marginal gains’ theory on the lips of all elite coaches worldwide, it is no surprise that the search for an athlete’s or team’s perfect ‘balance’ becomes almost the holy grail of coaching.

But what of an individual’s balance? At the most extreme end of the sporting continuum we could analyse American swimmer Michael Phelps. In peak training phases, Phelps swims a minimum of 80,000 metres a week, nearly 50 miles. He trains twice a day, sometimes more if he’s positioned at altitude; sessions last for five to six hours a day, six days a week.

Phelps adds a punishing weightlifting regime to his dry-land work depending on training phases. He lifts weights three days a week, but prefers own body weight exercises which he feels keep him leaner and less likely to add muscle bulk. In terms of his diet, Phelps eats over 12,000 calories a day or approximately 4,000 calories per meal. This is his balance, his even distribution of weight, that which keeps him upright and steady. It is this balance, combined with a mind-boggling physical frame, intense focus and desire, alongside specific genetic attributes, which has played a large part in his becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time. It would appear that Phelps for the last 14 years has, in a sporting context, been pretty well balanced.

But what happens when your balance deserts you? Anyone unlucky enough to have suffered from labyrinthitis or the inflammation of part of the inner ear will be able to tell you: dizziness, vertigo, spinning rooms, nausea and the absolute urge to lie down, culminating in life grinding to a halt, until rest and medication restore the body to its usual state. 

So let’s cut to the chase: what is my point? It is simply this, at Bryanston an individual’s balance is precisely that, individual. We have no one in Michael Phelps’ sporting league at present, but we do have 677 pupils who need to find their even distribution of weight. They need their specific individual equilibrium of lessons, assignments, exams, drama, music, sport, tutorials, free time, tours, trips, of laughter and of tears. 

This is the Bryanston balance and, for some, sport and exercise will take up a greater percentage; for others, less so. It is our job, as tailors of an outstanding education, to realise this and to facilitate the individual’s balance at every turn, helping them stay healthy, upright and stable. To focus on one specific part of the educational balancing act at the expense or detriment of any other is a sure way for a failure in balance.

Perhaps we could refer to this failure in balance as ‘educational labyrinthitis’: this is a condition simply not on the agenda at Bryanston. A one-size-fits-all approach will not cut the mustard with regard to what we aim to achieve at Bryanston and is not the recipe for success in the classroom, recital room, concert hall, theatre or sports field. I know that all connected with sport at Bryanston will continue to strive to find our individual athletes’ and teams’ sporting balance. They will keep searching for the sporting holy grail, knowing that this time is well spent, not only in making sport and exercise fun and successful, but also in keeping each of our pupils educationally upright and steady; simply balanced.

24 June 2016

It is ok when things go wrong

This week we welcome Bryanston's Second Master, Peter Hardy, who shares his thoughts on how making mistakes can help to build emotional resilience.

According to Professor Richard Williams of the University of South Wales, “Emotional resilience measures our ability to cope with or adapt to stressful situations or crises” and these stressful situations can also include exams. At the moment pupils across the country are sitting important GCSE and A level exams and, for some, it is not necessarily the subject matter that will cause them an issue, but the general fear of getting something wrong.

Part of our role as teachers in preparing pupils for life outside school is to help them develop the right attitude and resilience to cope with the stress that comes with exams and, indeed, the many stressful situations they will find themselves in in later life. We need to help young people understand that it is OK when things go wrong. Too often the fear of getting something wrong prevents us from even making an attempt. Yes, there will be consequences, but knowing how to deal with those consequences and learn from mistakes is, to my mind, a key part of any education.

Providing plenty of opportunities for pupils to stretch themselves and leave their comfort zone allows them to learn how to make mistakes and take responsibility for their own success. Extra-curricular activities can play a vital part in this: whether it’s the Outdoor Adventure trip to Skern Lodge in the C year, participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award, competing for the first team, giving an assembly to the rest of the school or taking part in the D Show, each pupil at Bryanston will eventually find themselves in a situation they are not used to and will, inevitably, make a mistake at some point. These experiences can be just as educational as a classroom task, if approached in the right way and with the right support, giving pupils greater insight into themselves and a better sense of self awareness.

According to research by Dr Suzanne Kobasa, resilient people view a difficulty as a challenge, not as a paralysing event and they spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events they have control over. The importance, therefore, of helping pupils to develop a sense of self awareness and learn how to identify where their efforts can have the most impact is essential to helping them feel in control and able to face challenges that arise. The tutorial system at Bryanston is intended to do just that. Through weekly one-to-one sessions the tutor encourages the pupil to reflect on their progress so far, where they worked well and where they need to focus their energy to improve: it is about teaching pupils to focus and direct their efforts where they can make a difference, rather than worrying about the things over which they have no control. Something we should all, perhaps, ensure we remember in our own endeavours.

10 June 2016

Diverse community

This week our Head of Sixth Form, Ian McClary, shares his thoughts on diversity and inclusivity and the importance of being accepted as yourself and of accepting others for who they are.

What does it feel like to be included? To be able, honestly and openly, to be yourself and know that you will be welcomed, encouraged, supported and cared for because of that which makes you individual, distinctive or different? The answer is, it feels absolutely amazing - knowing that you are accepted because you are you and not because you are some edited version of yourself; that your perspective, experience, knowledge and skills are valued and can contribute towards the life and growth of the community of which you are a part, for as long as you are a part of it. It is just this kind of attitude that Bryanston seeks to foster.

Society at large may raise an eyebrow at the claim of a school like ours that we consider ourselves to be diverse, viewed, as we often are, as an ivory tower filled with the perfumed elite. Nothing could be further from the truth, either in reality or how we see ourselves. We tend to take for granted and consider normal the range of nationalities, backgrounds, interests, experiences and views to be found at Bryanston. But what is more important and what really makes us diverse, I think, are the ways, as a community, in which we genuinely value the individual. Whether a pupil or a member of staff, one doesn’t feel the pressure to fit in and conform; rather there is a willingness to move the furniture around to make sure no one bumps into it.

And so, when the school conducted its first LGBT survey last term to explore and learn more about this aspect of the human condition at Bryanston, it came as no surprise that it was received with warmth and thoughtfulness. Not only was it a census of a kind to show our LGBT pupils and staff that they are included and valued, but it also served to prompt our whole community to think about how well we treat LGBT people. Do they feel welcomed, valued and able to be themselves? While there are areas of school life we need to continue to think about, by comparison with the national picture of young people and teachers in schools nationally, the results were extremely encouraging. Incidences of homophobia at Bryanston are extremely low and there is a genuine acceptance and inclusion of LGBT identity and expression as a normal part of life’s rich tapestry. Questions were raised, naturally, about why this area merited particular focus when surely it is just an accepted and integrated aspect of society nowadays. An admirable assumption to make, but we wanted to make sure it was borne out by the experience of pupils and staff, as indeed it largely was.

Of course there are other areas surrounding equality and diversity which merit further scrutiny as we ask ourselves how inclusive a community we really are. These can take place in a variety of ways, most recently the development of a pupil-led Equality Society which has responded to the impulse to reflect, as any healthy community should, upon the various needs and perspectives of its members.

What has always struck me since I came to Bryanston five years ago and as I prepare to say goodbye to the first group of pupils that I have seen through the school, is that Bryanston is an unusual school for the way it embraces flexibility and change, both in the way it thinks and the way it operates. It is open to new ideas, reminding me of the Quaker idea of being open to new light, from whatever source it may come. This culture of openness and enquiry is a real strength, as well as an enjoyable one in which to participate, and it makes for an inclusive school which embraces diversity for the enrichment it inevitably brings.

27 May 2016

Individual breadth

This week Edrys Barkham, Bryanston's Director of Admissions, explains the need for a balance between breadth and depth in education.

One of the defining characteristics of the primate family is intelligence. Juveniles of all species have an innate curiosity and a propensity to innovate. Learning is achieved through copying adults; there is some fascinating research showing that young bonobos take years to learn the skill of using stones to crack nuts, with varying degrees of success, by imitating their mothers.

Humans have finessed the transmission of culture from one generation to another by using language to pass on information as well as skills and this has been at the foundation of our cultural evolution. Many societies have developed formal education systems to ensure the transmission of knowledge. In Ancient Greece pupils (only boys!) were expected to gain information across a wide range of subjects by questioning their mentors. In early Islamic civilisation the purpose of education was to equip an individual to be an upstanding citizen, aware of their responsibilities to the world, society and God, and only through knowledge could an understanding of their own talents be realised. To be considered well educated in Europe during the Renaissance required knowledge of a broad range of subjects and the polymath was celebrated. Increasingly, the scope of our modern education system seems to be becoming more focused than ever before with a prescriptive and narrow choice of subjects, particularly post-16.

The new A levels appear to be enforcing a sort of intellectual monogamy on sixth formers with the majority nationally studying just three subjects, each of which is closed off and taught in isolation. This specialisation at A level has led to education in some schools becoming a quest for top grades and with the emphasis on the academic outcome at the cost of the co-curricular. We believe that by encouraging our pupils to explore their full range of talents through a breadth of activities and opportunities, our pupils are able to explore what they are really capable of achieving. Through the co-curricular programme, children can discover their own particular strengths and enhance their natural skills, helping them to develop confidence. Knowing they are good at a range of things gives them the confidence to tackle the areas they find more difficult and to develop grit. It is not possible for everyone to accomplish this level of self-knowledge and confidence solely in the classroom.

There is a fine balancing act between breadth and depth: a pupil with an academic bent will naturally be encouraged to study hard and explore a wide range of subjects, but not at the expense of playing sport, learning a musical instrument or taking up a range of hobbies and interests. At Bryanston, it is not unusual to the see a first team player take the leading role on stage, or for a musical soloist to compete in national academic competitions. The abundant life is celebrated and intelligence thrives.

The breadth of opportunities encapsulated in the concept of the ‘abundant life’ advocated by Thorold Coade (Bryanston Headmaster, 1932-1959) can reveal hidden talents and interests. A combination of compulsion and choice ensures all children gain insight into themselves; learning to play a musical instrument (which all Bryanston pupils in D do), having three afternoons of sport timetabled per week, getting involved in House Drama, writing for the school magazine, helping at charity events, all these activities develop a child’s confidence and belief in themselves.

Through tutorial conversations, pupils reflect on these varied activities to determine what was successful and what wasn’t and they discover what works best for them. This is a powerful tool for the future. Encouraging an adolescent to think about not only what they did, but where they did it, how they did it and how successful was the outcome further adds to their repertoire of understanding what makes them tick. The reflective process helps develop the pupil into a self-directed learner, able to focus on improving themselves and encouraging a problem-solving approach to learning in all areas. Engaging in a wide range of activities, academic and co-curricular, broadens the mind, encourages creativity and builds confidence for tackling new problems.

In an increasingly complicated and multifaceted world, creative and innovative thinkers are needed to solve global problems with new ideas, or to use old ideas in new ways. A wide-ranging education where pupils are able to develop their own individual breadth of talents and interests will, we hope, result in broad-minded, independent thinking, creative citizens for the future.