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.