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Greenhouse not hothouse

There’s been more still in the media in recent weeks about what teachers must do to satisfy the grinding requirements of some moved goalpost or other, with several of my HMC colleagues rightly cross about league tables.

At Bryanston, we decided to come out of as many league tables as we could some years ago, partly because of the utter nonsense of comparing apples and eggs, but more systemically because we think they are of such questionable value in terms of choosing the right school for your child. It’s perfectly clear that some very famous London all girls’ schools will always do very much better than Bryanston in a certain sort of measurement and, given that we never set out to compete in that particular race, it seems meretricious even to put your running shorts on. 

I write a lot about education in terms of metaphors and have, I think, told before of how when I first began at Bryanston parents of prospective pupils would occasionally ask me how I mould the pupils. I’m not into the plasticine metaphor, as I don’t believe you should treat children like that. Plenty of people do, and they can soon tell that Bryanston is not for them. And they take their children off to a character-building sort of place instead of here. And both parties are entirely relieved and delighted. 

My metaphor has always been about riotous gladioli and shy daisies and about nurturing and allowing these wonderful flowers to thrive in proper measure by providing a safe and nourishing environment in which to grow. The Director of Admissions, who has been at Bryanston for 23 years and has had her three boys (to my two girls) thrive here, adds another metaphorical layer. She tells me Bryanston is a greenhouse not a hothouse, and I am now enjoying playing around with that new idea. 

We believe strongly that you learn best in an environment with plenty of feeding for active young brains. That we, the adults, are not the only ones to determine how fast the learning process happens, though we shall train and gently support their tender stems throughout the amusing bumps of adolescence. And we will love each of them, and what they contribute to this special garden, regardless of their genus. I used to say of my own girls, when they were very much younger, that I wanted them to be strong and flourish like weeds. It’s perhaps why other, more determined, mothers looked askance at my dress sense when Ellie (now 23) would re-dress herself (I promise I dressed her nicely to start with!) as a makeshift pirate from some discarded clothes and the dressing up box. She looked remarkable and weird. But I was, and remain, strongly of the opinion that her character is hers, not mine to mould, and if she wants to dress as a pirate aged three, well go for it, girl! The only effect it appears to have had on her twenty years later is, besides a first class degree from a pretty decent university, an enviably balanced disposition and a love of the unorthodox. 

Let’s not fall for any ‘weighing the pig’ arguments. Let’s instead encourage our children to be themselves in all their glorious technicolour and to be the best that they themselves can be. And love them for all they do to enrich our lives.