15 September 2017

Keep talking

As the new school year gets well under way, Bryanston Head Sarah Thomas reflects on the importance of a good relationship between school and home, including her own experiences of this as a parent. 

Each year when I welcome new parents to the school at the beginning of September I talk about the importance of communication. It matters a lot that we, who look after pupils for the majority of time during term time, know what we need to know. It matters too that we as a school are in touch with parents to keep them in the picture. So I tell a series of silly stories to the new and slightly anxious parents sitting in front of me, leaving their 13-year-old in our tender care for the first time, in order to underline the fact that we are listening and will keep communicating and that we rely upon our parents to do the same.

I learned this lesson at Uppingham when I worked with the legendary Headmaster, Stephen Winkley. He told me of the time he was standing at the Leavers’ Ball watching the fireworks with particular parents whose child had been not entirely straightforward for the two sixth-form years. The parents turned to him and told him that their child was adopted and Stephen said to me, “In that moment, all of the previous two years made sudden, blinding sense.” Since then, even though I cannot nowadays imagine such an example happening, I learned his mantra: tell us what we need to know.

Some schools tell new parents to go away and leave them alone. That they are the experts and parents should leave it all to them. I have limited sympathies with this approach, but think it’s quite wrong. It can, of course, be very galling indeed to have a parent tell you how to run a school based entirely upon their knowledge (sometimes biased; often partial) of their own child and upon the fact that they once went to a school themselves. And we honestly do believe at Bryanston that we are pretty expert in the ways of adolescence. But, we also know that parents know quite a lot about their own child, that we will find this information extremely useful in terms of helping us do our job of looking after them as well as we possibly can, and that the relationship between parents and school is, at its best, a collaborative one. I’m pretty certain that the tutorial system at Bryanston allows for this collaboration to be done at a very individual level.

When my two girls were at school here they had two exceptional (now retired) housemistresses and two very different, exceptional tutors. What it’s worth making clear at this point is that as the Head of their school as well as their mother, I easily won the prize of the most embarrassing mother in the world. The elder daughter, who is and always has been the most gripped up of the four of us (which is another way of saying she is a force of nature), was tutored by Neil Boulton who did not allow her just to sail through academically but ensured, which neither my husband or I could have, that she represented the school at sport. He also got her out of various moments of hot water and I will always be deeply grateful to him for the way in which he did not allow me to be part of the problem. My younger daughter, who not once was in hot water, was tutored by the remarkable Hannah Fearnley, aka Doccy F, now housemistress of Greenleaves, and when my daughter was unsure or wobbly (I brought them up the same, I promise, and their parental genetic make-up was identical), Hannah kept her (and me) sane. She further ensured that this quiet and clever, uncertain and ambitious little girl more than fulfilled her potential. She is now a confident and happy young woman and I will always bless Hannah for her (ongoing) part in that. I know how lucky I have been. But it is this sort of support, direction, kindness, toughness, and honesty which I firmly believe is the basis of a grown-up relationship between school and both child and home, and I know how very highly I valued the support I had from these wonderful professionals.

Bryanston and Bryanstonians, present and past, make me more and more often sentimental. It must be my advancing age. It’s to do, I reckon, with the fact that the job of teacher, tutor, housemaster/housemistress, Head is a hugely privileged one. Certainly I know that my role allows me to spend time with such vibrant pupil talent and energy; and that sense of connection is never-ending, year on year, and goes on way beyond 18 and for a lifetime. What will our children end up doing in their lives? It may not be clear at 11,12,13 (at least I rather hope it’s not!), but with the sort of relationship between home and school that we’re aiming for here, you can know that these things will begin to become clear over the course of five years and that as your child (and yourself vicariously) pass through the occasional turbulence of adolescence, there will always be both a strong line in to your child and an ocean of professional support and love along the way.

27 July 2017

Playing like a girl

This week we share a post written by one of our departing A2 pupils, Tilly C, on her experiences of playing cricket through the years. Tilly is currently playing for Hampshire Women's 1st XI squad.

The day I distinctly remember falling in love with cricket was on a family and friends camping holiday in Cornwall at the age of about nine. It was a holiday tradition to have a huge cricket game on the first night between the fathers and sons, but for once I was allowed to join in. I remember being passed the ball to bowl against the campsite superstar, who was the renowned cricketer in the school year above me. I felt it was a huge honour (at the time) to be able to bowl at him. It was like bowling against Kevin Peterson or AB de Villiers in my eyes, but my first ball I clean bowled him. Nobody could believe it, and I loved it! From that moment, I knew cricket was going to be my passion and the sport that I love to play.

At St Katherine’s Primary School, playing from year 4 to 6 in both boys’ and girls’, softball and hardball teams, I was fortunate enough to have an extremely supportive Deputy Headteacher and cricket fanatic, Mr. Booth. He, alongside my father and grandfather, taught me the fundamentals of the game, which gave me a great starting point. The support they collectively gave me was massive; giving me belief that being the only girl on the team was a normality, my acceptance was never questioned. As a result, I was predominately friends with the boys in my team, who accepted me as an equal and still do today. With hindsight, I realise how important it is for all players to accept their team mates, irrelevant of gender, and that these barriers have to be broken. It is very clear to me now who the boys are that grew up playing cricket with me, or other girls, as they are far more accepting and supportive than those who have never experienced a girl in their own team before.  Unfortunately, I realised the hard way that being accepted like I had once been wouldn't always be the case. I was unaware that for me to be able to get to where I am today I would have to shed so many tears, bear frustrations and break barriers that certain people willingly and unwillingly put in my way.

My dad is one of the main reasons I am still doing what I love today. Throughout the years of secondary school, I struggled to play the amount of cricket that I would have wanted to. I was repeatedly told, by both pupils and teachers, that cricket was only for boys and that I simply wasn't ‘tough enough’. But, thanks to my dad, I became heavily involved with Dorset Cricket, and was lucky enough to be given a lot of support from coaches who really pushed me in my early years, making my county women’s debut at the age of 12, and being the youngest female to score both a 50 and a century. In addition, they allowed me to train and be part of the boys’ teams, as it was more developed than the women’s, which again meant that I was able to push myself physically and mentally by training alongside the boys.

I will forever be grateful for that Dorset experience, as I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. However, excelling at county level didn't stop the offensive comments that I would receive. I would often turn up to training where the boys would find it hilarious to have a competition between themselves to see who could hit me whilst bowling and make me cry first (or the most), which, as you can imagine, significantly knocked my confidence and I still suffer in some elements of my game today as a result of this ‘banter’.

I understood fully that my passion was for a predominately male dominated game, so there would be challenges on the way, yet I never believed that these challenges would be planted by grown adults or, in certain cases, my own coaches. It was bad enough coming from your own peer group, but coming from adults, who should have been role models to me and been nothing but supportive towards my cricket and achievement, was at times almost too much of a psychological burden to bear. Having a grown man yell at you because you were a girl, or having a coach exclude you from a team on the basis of gender is something that I will not and will always refuse to grasp or accept. Yet what really upsets me is that even today some attitudes toward female sport have remained unchanged; even those of teachers and coaches, who we assume would be positively influencing the next generation. This worries me greatly as to how the attitudes of my generation and even my team mates may change because of these coaches’ personal problems and poor attitudes. I never want another girl to experience the barriers and issues I have had to face, playing like a girl is nothing but 100% positive and sport should be the ultimate level playing field. In my experience of being coached by many male coaches this simply isn’t always the case.

Having carried several injuries and a nasty illness, which really set me back in my early teens, I remained determined to reach my dream of playing for England and this became a reality when I played for the England U16s in 2015. It reinforced that my hard work and dedication was worthwhile and only gave me more ammunition to prove the doubters wrong. With renewed vigour, I have missed out on parties and outings with friends, and have never been seen as the ‘girly girl’ due to the hours spent in the gym, doing rehab and prehab as well as building my strength, but also committing to extra training sessions to ensure that I was making the progress I wanted.

I have felt, at times, that I have missed out on a lot in terms of my social life and I have worried that I would lose my friends over it. However, I realise that this was just merely a test for who my real friends are. Who will make plans around my training, and who will stick up for me against the horrible comments I receive. I am extremely lucky to have surrounded myself with some very true and encouraging friends who I have relied upon and who have really picked me up after an upset, or even stood up for me when I really needed it. This just illustrates how important your peer group must be, crucial especially when at school. 

I received sport scholarships for sixth form to Bryanston, Millfield and Canford and decided to take up the offer to come to Bryanston. I stand by my decision and can honestly say it is one of the best that I have ever made. The school facilities are out of this world and the extra help and support that you receive, in terms of pastoral care, has been phenomenal. My housemistress, Mrs Scott, has always been there to help with any problems that may arise, including enabling me to leave school for my training and matches but maintain my academic studies too. The coaching that I have received from both Mr. Morrises has been amazing. They've made every one of my sessions fun and enjoyable as well being very technical, so that I can improve as well as overcome many of my fears within my game. Mr. Chapman, the Head of Strength and Conditioning, has worked tremendously close with Clara (one of the school physiotherapists) to make sure that I am still able to play and train this year to the best that I can through the several reoccurring injuries that I have come up against.

Following all of the setbacks I have faced, through negative and nasty comments about being a girl, and not being included in teams or training with the old-fashioned opinion that girls can’t do what boys can do, even within the school system, all those mentioned have reminded me of my love for the game and the reasons why I am playing. But all credit has to go to Mr F-D, the Director of Sport at Bryanston, for everything he has done these past two years as my tutor. Any small problem that may have arisen, any upset, through all the ups and downs, he has always found a way to fix it or, more importantly, helped me to find a way to fix it. He has been unbelievably supportive, never ignoring the smallest or largest achievements that I have made in the past year or so. I can truly say that he has made my time at Bryanston imperative for my cricketing career as well as for my personal development. I believe this sort of care could not be offered anywhere other than at Bryanston. Without the extra help from all the above, and others, I truly believe that the barriers, frustrations and negative comments would have beaten me and I wouldn’t be where I am now; playing for Hampshire alongside some of the greatest female cricketers in the world in Charlotte Edwards and Suzie Bates, going to Loughborough next year and still aspiring to become an England cricketer.

I would encourage any aspiring female athletes to come to Bryanston. It was, and always will be one of the best decisions I have ever made. I would like to thank everyone who has been a part of my journey, for all that they have done for me in my past two years at school as they have reinforced my love for cricket and reminded me of my goals and targets for when I leave. Playing like a girl will never be a bad thing and the way to break the barriers for all other aspiring female sportswomen is just to keep smashing through them till nothing stands in your way.

14 July 2017

Balancing act

This week Sarah Thomas reflects on the importance of balance - a topic she covered on Speech Day last weekend.

At Speech Day this year I spoke of balance and how to keep it in this turbulent and unpredictable world. I even made reference to Weebles. For those of you who were not children of the 1970s, Weebles were egg-shaped toys, weighted so that, if you pushed them over, they always bounced back upright. “Weebles wobble,” the advert ran, “but they don’t fall down.” I think Weebles could be the icon for these turbulent times. 

A year and a half ago would we have believed we would be coming out of Europe? Seeing scenes of terrorism and heroism again on the streets of Manchester and London? Enduring another inconclusive General Election? And let’s try not to mention President Trump. So how are we to deal with all this, in our own families and in school? How do we aim for our pupils to stay balanced?

At Bryanston we offer the widest range of opportunities we can. We teach creatively and we offer the right level of encouragement and guidance, both inside and outside the classroom. We don’t expect anyone, child or adult, to be perfect. Indeed, to expect that creates a toxic effect for any child, however talented. We talk about our own wellbeing and are honest about our need for support, whether from exercise or music, or meditation, or God. Which reminds me of a Boris Johnson story I heard recently. In an interview about his Christian faith, he described it as “like tuning in to Virgin Radio
whilst driving through the Chilterns. Sometimes the signal is strong; sometimes you lose it.” A really lovely metaphor. We encourage our pupils to keep tuning in to a support system which works for them, and we let them know that’s what we, in our imperfect way, do for ourselves.

A key way we stay balanced at Bryanston is through positivity and this comes, in part, through engagement in good times. It is important to celebrate achievement and good times, as we did at Speech Day last weekend, and indeed do throughout the year. 

But finding balance isn’t easy. And it’s different for everyone. You can’t necessarily teach it in classrooms. You can’t measure it in exams. So it’s not something that many schools are prepared to shout about. Certainly not those which boast exclusively about their academic achievements. Or those which fail to recognise the connection between unreasonable academic pressure and mental health issues. Or those which shy away from the truth that so much of our educational landscape was designed to meet 20th- century challenges. In the future, our young people will need balance as
much as they will need imagination; creativity; perspective; the ability to take a step back, to take a wider view, to make links and connections; to have good ideas; to make difficult and brave decisions. Show me how each A level can test those skills. Yet a school which is not passionate about these things is not, in my view, doing its job.

As we wish our departing pupils farewell and look forward to welcoming a new intake in September, I hope that each Bryanstonian gets what they want from life and, above all, that they channel their own Weeble and find their individual balance.

You can see more photos from Speech Day here.