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Raising sights and spirits

Earlier this term I had the most pleasurable dining experience with pupils in my 27 years of teaching when Sophie Duncker, IB Co-ordinator, invited the first cohort of IB pupils and their teachers to a dinner in recognition of their being about to sit the first ever IB exams at Bryanston this May.

It’s easy to talk about camaraderie, team spirit, and pioneers in this context. All would be true, but it was great fun too: the company was outstanding, not least in the form of Sam Freud’s (A2) closing speech and I think all will remember the evening fondly for some considerable time. 

The IB is a rigorous, enjoyable international way of matriculating at the end of your school career and those who engage in it are, in my view, the better for it. Sam spoke of the CAS (Creativity Action Service) element in particular and of how it had encouraged him to get to know many more of the staff, teaching and support, at Bryanston and how he felt more a part of the school because of it. 

On 21 June we shall be hosting our reunion for the classes of 1964 and prior. These are men who were, and remain, part of the school over some remarkable years and under some remarkable leadership. Reading the old editions of Saga (the original school magazine from 1928), particularly those over the war years, underlined for me the nova and vetera of both then and now.

It is with some sadness that we recognise that some of our old friends will not be able to join us on 21 June. I recently attended the memorial service for Andrew Stuart (C ’47) who spoke so eloquently at the last Coade Years Reunion at Bryanston in June 2009. Andrew’s memorial service was a privilege to attend; his life was full and hugely well lived with a career spanning the Foreign Office to headmastering and from Vanuatu to Atlantic College (which incidentally also offers the IB). I have kept the speech Andrew made then because it remains a deep part of keeping me straight in terms of what it is to be a head and of my never losing sight of our pupils’ place in the world. Andrew spoke briefly and intelligently about Thorold Coade (Headmaster 1932-59) having himself done the job elsewhere. He talked about how Thorold Coade “tried to raise our sights”. Of how Coade thought education was “not merely to teach boys to pass examinations… but to awaken in them the innumerable possibilities of life, and try to reveal to them in successive stages what is man’s true relationship with his two-fold environment – the physical and spiritual universe”. 

I read to the school some years ago, and will read again this year, a piece of Andrew’s speech. It covers the idea of the need for a school to be outward-looking not navel-gazing. Here’s a short slice of the speech and why the job of education is such an important one:

“When I was working in Africa, I used occasionally to go as a volunteer instructor at the Outward Bound Mountain School on the Kenyan slopes of Kilimanjaro. This was a difficult time in Kenya. Mau Mau was still going on and racial tensions could be lethal. Outward Bound tried to show that there was another way. As I was walking through the forest with a group of young Africans, Europeans, Asians, Arabs, and Seychellois, who had been working together in the mountains, we saw some monkeys in the trees beside the path. One of the Europeans turned to the African next to him and asked. ‘Why don’t you go over and talk to your cousins over there?’ I nearly had a fit, thinking all the good work of the past weeks would be destroyed. But I should have had more faith. The young African merely turned back and said, ‘Oh they wouldn’t understand me – they only speak English’.” 

It is hard to argue against any of the sense of Thorold Coade, a headmaster in times of a World War, or of Andrew Stuart, a diplomat throughout the second half of the 20th Century. This does not stop the necessity of our confronting these matters fully and head-on in 2014. From bananas on pitches to the rhetoric of nationalism across Europe, the need for an understanding of our “true relationship with our two-fold environment – the physical and spiritual…” is just as important as ever. I very much hope that Bryanstonians, and not just our pioneering band of IB pupils, will leave ready to play their proper and full part in this exciting and rarely straightforward world.