Headmaster's Blog

HMC Annual Conference

Last week I had the valuable opportunity to attend HMC’s Annual Conference; an important chance to catch up on the latest educational developments nationally and to explore ides with experienced colleagues.
This year we heard a good deal on 'Growth Mind-Set' and 'Character/Leadership' education. Looking to the future, the consensus (backed up by surveys of employers) is that what our children need more than ever is the ability to adapt, to communicate under pressure, to think creatively, to work collaboratively, to lead at times and to support the leader and team at other times, to have emotional resilience, the confidence to take responsibility for themselves and others along with the ability to learn from mistakes (sorry, 'respond courageously to learning opportunities').
Interestingly, these themes mirror almost exactly our School priorities and the initiatives we have already set in motion at BGS. It was as if HMC had been reading our School aims!
Matthew Syed spoke inspiringly about the significant impact on outcomes of effort and a culture that acknowledges this, along with an openness to learning from disappointments and failures, as opposed to a cultural conceit that talent & ability are 'gifts'. As well as being a journalist, Matthew is a former table-tennis international (he was the English number one for many years). He has a compelling personal story about the impact of effort on performance, he also convincingly contrasts the airline industry and the NHS as examples of growth and closed mind-set communities and then points to the very real 'life changing' reality of each.
At BGS we have already engaged with the concept on ‘Growth Mind-Set’: encouraging students to see that they ‘have not yet’ mastered a skill for example, rather than simply deciding they cannot, or have not achieved something. Staff have a key role in setting the right tone and choice of words is key. We are establishing a school culture where failure is a genuine opportunity to learn, rather than something to run from.
Monty Halls spoke enthusiastically and entertainingly about giving people leadership and character building experiences. The invaluable and vital life-enrichment that comes from getting people into challenging situations where they experience elation, despair, success and failure (though not necessarily in that order!). Again his message resonated with the heart of our work at BGS where we recognise that the most valuable learning comes in situations where people are open to the notion of failure. We see that individual fulfilment comes as a consequence of challenge, experiencing failure and then, as a conscious act of will, deciding to move on; individually choosing one’s direction of travel. Monty sees it as vital that people come to an understanding of their 'Identity', that which defines them and therefore what will direct their ability to find fulfilment. As well as being a TV broadcaster, best known for his BBC Great Escape series in which he lived and worked in remote parts of the UK and Ireland with his dog, Monty makes a living organising a range of leadership and adventurous training expeditions. He is also a marine biologist with an infectious enthusiasm for nature in all its forms. 
The conference also gave delegates the opportunity to reflect on the best in Games and Sports education. Once again it was heartening to note that BGS is at the leading edge of current thinking in this valuable aspect of school provision. The major themes recommended for quality sport and PE at schools today include the excellent opportunities they present to develop character. Provision has moved on from a past when typically only the already enthusiastic or experienced got much from school sport and school sport is no longer a misjudged macho 'toughening-up' exercise which actually turned-off many (yes, I recall those style of lessons from my own school days!). Today school sport at BGS and in other quality schools is about building self-worth, physical and emotional confidence and an understanding of healthy lifestyles for ALL students. Today the range of team and individual sport on offer at BGS, along with the emphasis of 'sport for all' sees provision being genuinely inclusive with all students benefiting from a range of physical activity. Mirroring BGS, girls sport nationally has moved on significantly with much greater variety in provision and subsequently greater sustained participation (national media coverage of women's sporting activity has helped promote girls sport at school).
While rightly a great deal of emphasis is placed on safety and there is an increasing awareness of the risks associated with sport and adventurous activity, we are rightly encouraged to emphasise the substantive benefits of well-designed and taught sport and PE provision. Interesting also that there is general recognition that compulsory activity for all can be justified on the basis of introducing all to life-enriching opportunity and experiences, just as we do at BGS. Strong mention was made of our own School view that, other than in a very few special cases, a variety of sporting activities and experiences is best for children. Early specialism is not necessary nor desirable; skills and experiences developed in one sport are typically beneficial in others. Looking to the future, school sport is likely to become increasingly diverse in its range of activity, team sport has a vital valuable role but greater provision for individual sport is likely.
So, a valuable time at Conference this year with a great deal of validation for what we are doing at BGS and some detailed thoughts to share with colleagues at BGS.

Rod MacKinnon
Headmaster, Bristol Grammar School