Category Archives: BSA

Taking the lead: board meeting

Headteachers of both state and private boarding schools held their annual gathering recently.

What do you need for a good conference? A good hotel, great food, convivial company and star speakers. Apart from losing education secretary Michael Gove at the last minute, the Boarding Schools’ Association, of which 38 are state boarding schools, did well on all four counts for its annual conference for heads, in Bristol earlier in May.

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Before and after Easter

How did the week before Easter get so busy?  It was useful to be able to combine a trip to Manchester as a guest of ATL at their dinner, with two hours with British Council staff at their headquarters, but still felt like a hectic twenty four hours.

Conversation at the ATL dinner a stimulating reminder of how many people may no longer work in boarding, but once did, and remember it fondly.  Much emphasis on the importance of working with people as opposed to going against the grain.  I was sorry to miss Nick Gibb’s appearance – SBSA is looking forward to seeing him later this month.

British Council appears to be in a transitional phase, with a new management structure for its European bases and newly keen to work even more closely with BSA, marketing our particular education to the world.  The old partnership structure is gone, so it should feel less like a club you have to join before you see any benefits.  Overseas exhibitions for schools will still go ahead, and today I hear from them again about contributing to a marketing forum.  UKBA notwithstanding, it’s good to hear from an organisation which is still proud to sell the idea of British education abroad.

Thursday at 4.00 was my third appointment with Policy Exchange, and – sadly – the third that they cancelled.  I look forward to our discussion when it eventually happens next month.

And in between – one of the benefits of living and working in London is easy (if expensive) access to the theatre – ‘Duchess of Malfi’ followed by ‘Warhorse’ and ‘The Recruiting Officer.’  The first and last a nostalgic reminder  of my English teaching days, ‘Warhorse’ just magical.

And this week – officially on holiday! how important can a blog be?? – Alex Thomson OBE and Mark Robinson happily ensconced at Dauntsey’s School with 55 members of staff from member schools, embarking on the two day kick-start for the BSA Certificate courses in boarding.  This is possibly the largest number of students we have had at this annual course and is wonderful evidence of staff willingness to give up holiday time, and the recognition by the staff themselves and their schools of how important training now is in the boarding context.  We hope they find the course valuable and will return to duty for the Summer Term with renewed vigour and energy.  And thank you Dauntsey’s for an excellent venue.

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A whole new kind of training

In the summer of 2011, I visited Monmouth School and picked my way through the builders’ debris while Head Steven Connors talked me through the vision of how the new boarding house would look ‘in just a few months’.  And he was right.  So it was a delight to be able to attend the opening of the new Upper Sixth boarding house on 21 March.  And standing clapping after the curtain was drawn from the naming stone, I fall into conversation with Helen Davy, Headmistress of Haberdashers Monmouth School for Girls, alma mater to my own two daughters, and she tells me her school is also in the midst of a building project which will increase her boarding numbers significantly.  These are straws in the wind, but significant in these recessionary times.  It is heartening for the whole sector to hear of schools where demand for baording is sufficiently high for Governors to invest in even better boarding accommodation, in a sort of virtuous circle of growth and development.  Well done to both schools, and thank you for letting me share the occasion.

The reference to ‘training’ has to do with First Western, which transported me from London to Cornwall and back on 27/28 March.  Five and a half hours on a train at a stretch is just that – a stretch.  No matter what the comfort, it’s a stretch.  But wonderful to get a concentrated and uninterrupted period to tackle some over-due paperwork.  On a train, you also get some interesting sidelines on Britain today – a mobile phone conversation overheard – ‘Listen mate, I spent all last week firing people – yeah – yeah – twenty two of them!  Yeah – amazing!’  It was hard to tell if he was amazed that it was necessary, amazed he had managed a tough job, or amazed at the state of the nation.  And when I complained about the level of service from the catering department on the train, the man with the trolley says, ‘Thank you Ma’am, I will make sure your feedback is passed on,’ – which was a reasonable if not immediate response – and a voice on the other side of the carriage says, ‘And so will I – I am a manager of the company and we are trying to improve our catering offer, so I too will relay your feedback to the right quarters.’  Not quite a win, but better than being greeted with a careless shrug.

In Cornwall – in the spring sunshine, magnificent – to see the operation of Tempest Photography. Most schools only ever see a couple of people when the school photograph is taken, even when an enormous gantry is needed to slot the people together.  But Tempest employs 400 people, so the operation is huge.  Fascinating to see the work going on to adjust, for instance, graduation photos, which are records of more glamorous occasions than the group shot done in schools, or the single photo which parents will treasure even if they are fanatical photographers themselves.  Digital photography has changed the world – and of course, can change the world in any one shot!  It was good to spend some time with the people who have been stalwart supporters of BSA Conferences and even offer free portrait sessions to new Heads -how tempting is that!  And lovely to have the pleasure of meeting Mrs Tempest herself.

The visit to Cornwall was also an opportunity to visit Truro School (the High School had already broken up for Easter).  Thanks to Paul Smith, Headmaster, finding time to show me the great art in their new gallery – the Methodist Art Collection on tour.  Very impressive written work from pupils in the school, inspired by these strange and moving pictures about faith.

The week ends with two splendid pieces in The Times about state boarding, one featuring Ray McGovern, Headmaster of Sexey’s School and current SBSA Chairman, and the other written by Melvyn Roffe, Principal of Wymondham College.  All good grist to the mill with state boarding schools desperate to hear from this Government what their plans and strategy are for the state boarding sector.

Next week to Manchester for the ATL conference and then a week off before the SCIS AGM in Edinburgh.  Hope the on-train catering is better with Virgin. . .

And meanwhile, a happy and peaceful Easter to you all.

This article originally appeared at

Back in the USA

All very well to plan to blog on a Monday, not so easy when Monday finds you at a Global Symposium (an interesting distinction – not a Conference) in Georgetown, which is cheek-by-jowl with Washington DC.  I was asked had I travelled with Cameron (no. . .) and did I enjoy sharing a platform with colleagues from the American and Australian boarding schools’ associations, talking in particular about international students (yes of course. . .)

Fascinating session from ‘Axis of Hope’ guru Carl Hoberd – we are working on getting him here for the Heads’ Conference in 2013, but it’s a big financial ask, and it may not come off.  What they do is try to educate students to become citizens of the world, which is not just about sharing desks with students from round the world – it’s about recognising their place in the worls and their responsibilities as leaders of tomorrow for finding solutions to some of the world’s apparently intractable problems.  They run sessions in schools where students are assigned ‘sides’ in multi-faceted problem case studies – titles like ‘Whose Jerusalem?’ and spend a day trying to get to ‘Yes’, or something approaching it.  Inspiring stuff.

Also good to hear from the team at Wasatch College in Utah about their Res. Life curriculum – yes, a real live curriculum for boarding.  It is still embryonic at their school, but it is working well and looks like an excellent model for other schools to adopt.  They gave an interesting reply when asked if their faculty was as multi-national as their student body – ‘Sadly no – we are working towards it – but hey, we’re in Utah!’

Back from the States to a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Education in Hong Kong – delighted to hear (me, that is) that this summer there will be a competition for Lower Sixth Formers to spend a week in Hong Kong at a University summer school, to raise awareness among our students that Hong Kong is a great place to get a degree for the multi-cultural world in which they will eventually work.  How good would that look on the CV?  5 winners, details not yet finalised, but the intention is to circulate Heads of Sixth Forms to get the word out.

And on Friday, half an hour freezing – really, really cold – in the quad at Wymondham College in Norfolk, talking to the interviewer from The One Show –  five-minute film should be broadcast tonight (20 March) following a youngster who joined the school this year as a boarder – what about the growth in state boarding? asks the interviewer.  My teeth chattered through several answers, and will be cut to 30 seconds (if that) so I go home to see/hear the results with some trepidation.

Saturday night – Godolphin’s Got Talent – absolutely.  Splendid evening at Godolphin in Salisbury in some very high-end entertainment company watching a marvellous singer-song-writer win with a song she wrote three years ago when she was 12!!  When you hear the name Calypso on the radio, you heard about it here first. The school raised a considerable sum for its charity project in Kenya, and Angela Rippon came to watch – well done all concerned, especially Miss T.

After such excitement, will visit a school opening new boarding tomorrow, then take a couple of days off.  And Monday will come round again sooner than I can blink.

This article originally appeared at

Back on track

Oops – missed a week.  Apologies!  I do know that a blog should be current and it does not look good to go silent, especially when you’re not even on holiday – but last week just ran away from me.  Actually, in the nicest possible way.  Spent Wednesday visiting Lichfield Cathedral School and revisiting old haunts – my earliest memories are of Lichfield, which we left when I was about 5.  Lovely, human-scale city, with a fine cathedral served by the choir boys of the Cathedral School.  My thanks to Cara O’Donnell for her time showing me around.  Boarding which is fitted into a Bishop’s Palace with all the problems of ancient buildings and listed-ness is a very different business from the now-frequently seen new-build boarding, and as always, it’s the warmth of the staff and the relationships within the building which make it work.

On Thursday to Kent College Canterbury, high on its hill, and an excellent tour with the School Captain.  Lots of refurbishment going on, again fitted into the walls of an original building.  I often think on such tours that if the guide disappeared, I would never find my way back to the main entrance, but students are always completely at home and quick to talk about why they chose this school over the two others they saw at the moment of choice – usually they confirm what I suspect, that choosing a boarding school is like deciding to buy a house – when you walk through the door, you just know, even if you can’t articulate it very clearly for others.  My thanks to Chris Joy, the eminently wise Head of Boarding, for his time and hospitality on a busy afternoon.

From the hill down to town for the King’s Canterbury production of ‘West Side Story’ – superb!  A truly inspiring evening in the Marlowe Theatre – a stage full of young men and women dancing and singing their way through that fabulous score, and a school orchestra sounding completely professional.  I have been humming ever since, and wondering how A level classes went for the last couple of days of the week with this young cast performing 5 times between Wednesday and Saturday night.  But what an experience to remember for the rest of their lives.  Here at BSA, we would say such opportuinities are a major attraction of the boarding life.  Peter Roberts, Headmaster, positively glowed wirth pride at all that these young people had been able to accomplish.

Today – to the Annual Conference of The Society of Heads, held near Croydon – another revisiting of old haunts, since I started my career lecturing at Croydon Tech.  I will be joining a panel to discuss the new inspection regime and to hear from the audience how it is going on the floor (in both senses of the words). We live in interesting times – new NMS, new inspection regime.  Readers expecting an inspection of baording in the near future would do well to consult the ISI website and download the inspection documentation which gives you an idea of what inspectors are looking for.  Also, remember that the national agenda for safeguarding children has moved a long way in the last ten years, whoever does the inspecting – boarding provision has to be spot on with the welfare of children right at its heart.

And with that, if you have been, thank you for reading, and happy week!

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From disadvantage to high finance

The week begins with a meeting with The Buttle Trust, which is hoping to increase the number of disadvantaged children it assists into boarding school, from its present number of 300 to 800 by 2017.  The Buttle Trust already works with 120 schools, and hopes to increase this number so that good places can be found for more children who might be about to slide towards the care system, but whose educational outcomes are likely to be a great deal better if they can access a welcoming environment in which learning thrives.  BSA’s extensive programme of training for boarding staff offers considerable scope to support schools involved in this important development of the Trust’s work.

Later this week to Wellington Academy, one of the academies which persuaded the last Government to invest in boarding accommodation to extend its facilities.  Having welcomed its first boarders in September 2011, the Academy is now working hard to recruit for September 2012.  I look forward to seeing its great new facilities.

We are delighted that the new Diploma course, starting in March, is now fully booked up with senior and experienced boarding staff, many of whom have already completed the BSA Certificate course.  Word is that the pioneering first students on the Diploma pilot course last year have produced some  absolutely outstanding work.  The trailblazers have set a high benchmark for their successors.

It is also pleasing to report that the Certificate Course which begins with two residential days at Dauntsey’s School  in the Easter holidays is full booked and has a waiting list.  This one is a mystery to me – every year, mid February sees a flurry of phone calls asking if there is space on this particular course.  Perhaps it is attractive because of the two day kick-start; perhaps it’s the charm of being in holiday time, not needing to take time out of a busy term; perhaps it’s half-term-itis, when houseparents fondly think of the training they’d really love to do – and lo! Here is just the thing!  Whatever it is, we are really sorry to turn people away.  We do hope entry on to another of the courses is possible, but if it really has to be Dauntsey’s or bust, then please contact us to start the list of attendees for next year!

Lastly, common sense prevailed when I found the cost of a speaker for a conference next year.  I think the topic, about how to get things done, and don’t we all need help with that? would have been useful.  But the price tag was well in to five figures.  I shudder to think what Olympian sportsmen will be able to charge for speeches by the Autumn of 2012, but if you have a sporting alumni who remembers his or her school happily, you might want to book them before they get their gold medals and disappear into the financial stratosphere.

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It’s half term, and the phones really do go quiet, and there is a lot less email traffic.  Probably because quick holidays are being grabbed not just by personnel in our schools, but also by everyone else we work with – in Government and in other Associations – because their families also have half term.  Time to get the decks cleared and paperwork brought up to date, like the Annual Report for the year ended August 2011 – so long ago, but such a busy year.

On the other hand, the media does not stop – so 8.00 this morning and I am responding to Radio Gloucester’s concerns about the wisdom or otherwise of children boarding.  A slightly shorter interview than I would have liked – there is so much to say – but I really needed to say very little.  The bulk of the answers had already come from wonderful Sally Easterbrook at Hatherop Castle who had completely sold the idea of junior boarding, complete with a young boarder explaining why it worked for her.  The phone-in element of the programme seemed to be drawing in listeners who had themseves been boarders in the 1940s or 1950s – simply not relevant to the twenty first century experience of boarding.

Hope everyone saw the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, in which Anna Pasternak explained why her daughter Daisy loved her nights in boarding.  A good half page of a positive boarding story all the more powerful for the delightful picture of a cheerful, confident junior boarder.  As we all know, today’s flexi or occasional boarder may well turn into tomorrow’s weekly or full boarder as she grows up.

Time today to explore possible speakers for the Housemasters’ and Housemistresses’ conference to be held in early January 2013.  Evaluations at this year’s conference alerted us to the fact that we should have more women on stage – ‘Where is the gender balance?’ we were asked.  We are working on it!  Any suggestions for super speakers – male or female – gratefully received.

Meanwhile, if you are on half term, enjoy!

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