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School lingo

Former Head, Sarah Thomas, demystifies the language of schools, including the word tutor, which has a particular resonance for Bryanston.

Schools are full of the most remarkable lingo. I’ve worked at a school where prefects were called praepostors (but were generally known as pollies); where lines (the sort you write as punishment for a minor offence) were called solaces; where some senior members of staff were known as Div Heads (you might imagine how one slip of a typing finger could turn that particular title into something much more of an insult). Of course, Bryanston has its own language too: Every day, we use terms such as hsm (pronounced, as one Good School Guide entry some years ago put it, to rhyme with bosom), correction periods (which to me conjures images of medieval torture implements), EMRs and breakers, to name but a few. Hsm, a rather wonderful piece of non-gender-specific language, thankfully all but eliminated one of my own favourite spellcheck-induced typos – housemattress, which computers tend to prefer to the rather unwieldy housemaster/mistress.

EMRs (Early Morning Reports, requiring pupils to report to a prefect early in the morning), breakers (a breaktime run) and the now defunct nooners (an afternoon run) refer to forms of punishment for minor misdemeanours and hark back to Bryanston’s early years. As a new foundation, keen to move on from some of the more questionable public-school traditions, Bryanston was, from very early on, a school that did not believe in corporal punishment, so perhaps we should not be surprised that there exists a canon of pure BrySpeak about the alternative ways of confronting errant behaviour. 

As for correction periods, perhaps we should call them You-Won’t-Believe-Your-Luck periods. Rooted firmly in the language of the Dalton Plan and long modified over the decades into, in effect, the Bryanston system, these are the times pupils spend with their individual teachers, one to one, or perhaps in pairs, in the sixth form (and from B upwards in some subjects), which allow them to review last week’s work and build upon it, looking forward and planning improvements. It’s a wonderfully individual method: some pupils can use the correction periods to ensure everything covered thus far has been clearly understood; others can use them to push their work on into new, limitless areas. No one else need know which of the two it is.

And then, of course, there’s the tutor. A word commonly used in schools and universities, at Bryanston it has a unique resonance, which owes more to its Latin derivation: watcher, protector, defender, guardian. I’ve been at Bryanston now for 13 years and am clear that one of the jewels in the crown (and there are several) is our tutoring system. 

All tutors at Bryanston are assigned to pupils by me. It is one of my most important tasks as Head. Of course, I can’t do it alone – I have the help of my senior team of Admissions Registrar, Director of Admissions, Deputy Head Academic, and Senior Tutor. I also have a range of information to inform my decisions, from my conversations with the pupils themselves before they arrive at Bryanston and from a series of references supplied by the pupils’ current school. 

I know our tutors very well. No one can tutor at Bryanston unless they have taught here for a year and been trained during that first year by the senior tutors. A tutor is assigned to a pupil on the basis of compatibility and interest at 13, and at 16 on the basis of direction too (for example, a 16-year-old entrant might well know they want to study in the USA or become a doctor and I can choose a tutor accordingly). There is nothing accidental or arbitrary about who tutors whom. It is not done on the basis of which house the pupil happens to be in or which members of staff happen to be on that house team. It is done on the basis of the pupil. 

A tutorial between tutor and tutorial pupil will always be a one-to-one situation. The basis of the relationship is an academic one, with a focus upon the chart (now electronic, ripe for its update in September, and part of the system in one form or another since the school’s earliest day). But no child conveniently drops into two halves, one academic the other pastoral. And so, no tutor only deals with the academic, but also discusses general pastoral concerns (which will be shared with the hsm as appropriate) as well as, crucially at Bryanston, the extra-curricular life of the pupil in this school full of amazing and diverse extra-curricular opportunities.

I have had two daughters through Bryanston and each of them flourished in no small thanks to their fine tutors, Neil Boulton (Bryanston legend par excellence) and Hannah Fearnley ( a woman of enormous warmth, wit and wisdom). I don’t think there’s another school that does this essential job of looking after pupils as well as we do and that’s because I think our system is the tip top of it all. I am convinced that, whilst I logically might have to concede that my girls might have done as well or better in some respects elsewhere, because they are, when all is said and done, two wonderful girls (I am biased!), they would, simply put, not have enjoyed their universities (and yes, they were multiple in each case) as they did without Bryanston’s tutorial system, nor gained the degrees they did (likewise multiple), nor found the directions they did, nor even the careers they have.

I rarely wear my heart so boldly on my sleeve, because my nature is towards the self-deprecatory but I am passionate about this. Some people have remarked that some of my colleagues, such as Edrys Barkham, are evangelical about our tutorial system. Well, perhaps that’s because, just for once, we know, absolutely know, that we are right.