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.