Once again the first half of this autumn term has raced past. The wonderfully summery September contributed to a very good start to the school year – it was a real bonus for students to be able to relax outside during their lunch breaks, and the fair weather has meant that seasonal colds and bugs have been later arriving than usual. Despite the somewhat mixed forecasts, I was glad that this last weekend was reasonably fine too, as we have had a number of students out on demanding Gold Duke of Edinburgh expeditions over the weekend, both traditional hiking and canoe. Well done to all of them!
New year 7 students have now completed their first two months at secondary school, and have made the transition to a more demanding routine very well indeed. However, I know from talking to them (and to some of their parents) that they are now very tired, and hopefully next week will be a welcome opportunity to rest and catch up with some sleep!
This week we finish on Thursday, as is traditional at Bennett, with our Founders’ Day service, this year being led by the Bishop of Dover, who basically runs the Diocese of Canterbury on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has one or two other responsibilities! Bennett’s foundation dates back to 1952 and was jointly initiated by Bishop Christopher Chavasse of Rochester and Lady (Elena) Bennett in memory (hence ‘Memorial’) of her late husband. We believe that it is critically important for current Bennett students to share our collective memory of the history of the school to which we are belong. Understanding one’s one life in the context of those who have gone before us and shaped the world we inherit is important in helping us not only develop the virtue of gratitude, but also helps us to realise the responsibility we have to future generations in the choices we make in our lives. Too often schools allow these broader aspects of education to be squeezed out by a (totally justified but sometimes too one-dimensional) focus on standards to the exclusion of all else.
Note, incidentally, the apostrophe AFTER the s – there were two founders!
Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Cheltenham Literature Festival and heard a superb range of speakers. Highlights for me included Rowan Williams, formerly Archbishop of Canterbury, who visited Bennett during his term of office, who was reading from his poetry and talking about the response of the Church to the diversity found in modern Britain. I also enjoyed Neil McGregor, Director of the British Museum, speaking about the forthcoming exhibition of Germany there – as a one time student of German and German history and literature, this was a very resonant session. Hilary Mantel was amusing and engaging, as always, and in a session with all the Booker Prize shortlisted authors I picked out the winner as my most likely read!
As many readers will know, I am a member of the Board which works with the ‘Regional Schools Commissioner’ for South East England and South London to monitor the quality of educational outcomes in academies in the region, and to promote academies and academy sponsors as an important way to strengthen education. It has been a fascinating first half term. While the vast majority of academies in the region do not require any intervention (an academy is a ‘state funded independent school’, so intervention is only permissible when there is clear evidence of failure in the form of poor results, Ofsted inspection or financial concerns), there are of course some which do. Understanding the depth and complexity of working with schools which, for a range of reasons, are in a difficult place has been both rewarding and sobering. The Board contains a wide range of expertise and background, and that in itself has provided a valuable learning experience for me.
Finally, as many will be aware, Bennett governors submitted a proposal to the Department for Education to sponsor a new Church of England primary school to serve central Tonbridge earlier this month. Putting the proposal together was a demanding but fascinating process, and we now need to wait to see how strongly the proposal stacks up against the other proposals the Department will have received in this bidding round. Our bid was based on the planned need for additional primary school places in the town, on diversity of schools available to parents (there is no Church of England school in central Tonbridge) and the aspiration to create and outstanding primary school for parents and children in the area. We are not expecting any further news until some time after Christmas.
I finish then by wishing all Bennett parents and students a restful and recuperative half term break.