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Big School

At the start of the new school year, former Head Sarah Thomas shares her tips for new pupils starting at 'big school'.

I’ve been much enjoying David Walliams and Catherine Tate in their take on ‘Big School’. It’s rather nice to watch a series about a school where there is a lot of good humour involved. This morning I spoke with the 130-plus pupils who have just arrived in D (year 9) about my top ten tips for settling in to a new school and of making a great success of life at ‘Big School Bryanston’; I sincerely hope there were not too many shades of Frances de la Tour’s outstanding headmistress!

My tips for the 13-year-olds, gathered over the years from various colleagues and schools, are all about making sure you are yourself: contributing to the house and school; being busy; avoiding the easy mistakes (like not being organized enough to get stuck in). And I also advise remembering to stay in touch with your prep school, who will certainly be very pleased to hear how you are getting on.

If you are busy and active and engaged you will soon find that you are a part of the place. In a week or so’s time it will feel like you have always been here. And then begins the growth of that very productive feeling, the feeling of belonging to a community of people or, if you prefer, a large and rather unusual family.

If you feel that you belong in a place, you can draw strength from those around you and train on to be the very best version of you there can be. It’s so important in life to know that there are people who might be better than you at some things and whom you can admire and emulate. But also, that you will doubtless have your own skills, talents, interests and qualities to bring to the party. Others will want to emulate you.

I like metaphors. I often use the ballerina in the jewellery box. Bryanston is proud of being a school where not all are alike. It rejoices in the diversity of talent and contribution amongst pupils and staff. But we are not a disparate group of inward-looking individuals. We are not that lonely ballerina turning forever in her own orbit. We are a happy convocation of outward-looking and generous-minded individuals who enjoy each other’s company. And that makes each of us stronger. 

It’s those human ties that let us know how we belong. And the good thing is, once learned, never forgotten! This sense of purpose and belonging lasts for life.