We are now entering the final stretch of this school year, this being the last ‘normal’ week for students, and next week seeing activities week and work experience week. Many students will be away from school on a range of residential trips, year 10 will be on work experience, and for those in school there will be a programme combining activities and day visits. This week brings in particular sports day tomorrow, Tuesday, for which we are hoping, ever optimistic, for dry weather! This will be followed by the sports presentation evening on Wednesday when the successes of participants not only in sports day but also right across the year will be publicly recognised.
One of the highlights of last week was the ‘transition day’ on Thursday when we welcomed new year 7 students into school for a taster day, giving them their first chance to experience a day in a secondary school environment with a special programme of activities and taster lessons. The feedback from the day has been very positive and the children were enormously excited and positive about the prospect of transfer to secondary school. We are very much looking forward to their joining our community in September.
The pace of events does anything but slow down. Not only are these last days of the school year packed full with special events and activities, but locally and nationally there is much going on. The debate on the role of RE as a subject in the light of the English Baccalaureate seems to be gaining momentum. Last week we had BBC Radio Kent in school gaining perspectives from RE teachers and students of the subject in years 10 and 12, extracts of which were broadcast over the weekend, and the national BBC website is reporting a letter to the Daily Telegraph from a wide range of faith leaders putting the case for the inclusion to RE GCSE in the range of subjects covered by the ‘E-Bacc’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14091568 ). This morning I was interviewed down at the Radio Kent studio in Tunbridge Wells on the issue – time is always frustratingly short on these occasions, but I hope I managed to get across the threefold importance of RE as a vehicle for discussion and evidence evaluation, a framework for exploring ethical principles and helping students reach decisions about how it is right for them to act in their lives, and a way of learning about and empathising with arguably the most significant motivator of peoples across the globe. The ‘Save RE’ campaign is simply asking that RE GCSE be considered a valid GCSE alongside History and Geography for the purposes of the English Bacc. As far as we at Bennett are concerned, although we support this aim, it will make no difference to our students: we are committed to every student taking a full GCSE in RE whether the English Bacc exists or not.
I have watched with some fascination the unfolding of the News of the World saga in recent days and weeks. Perhaps as a country we need to consider in some depth how we relate to the style of journalism the tabloids foster. The culture of an unelected and unrepresentative press (and I refer to local and national newspapers here) being able to act as all-powerful opinion-shaper, using often very questionable tactics, is one we need to start thinking about very critically. It has never been more important to teach young people not to accept what the media says uncritically – what looks at first like something of an irony, namely that the general derision of the subject ‘media studies’ in schools is fostered precisely by the popular press, is perhaps really a fear that young people might learn a bit too well through that subject to regard the press with the scepticism it frequently deserves.
This weekend, last Saturday, a group of Bennett students and two teachers left for two weeks in Tanzania, visiting schools, churches and projects within the twin diocese of the Diocese of Rochester in that country. Mr Tyson undertook a pre-visit last year to plan the expedition and he and Mrs Santaana, and the group of students, will no doubt have an eye-opening and fascinating time. I have just had a text message from Mr Tyson telling me of their safe arrival and interesting first day. Please keep them in your prayers, and also the Diocese of Mpwapwa who are hosting them.
For anyone interested in cultural recommendations: on Saturday I saw the Treasures of Heaven exhibition at the British Museum – a very worthwhile exploration of how, to the medieval mind, a tangible link with the heroes of the Christain faith was sought through the treasuring of physical relics of their bodies, and an interesting reflection on the forms remembrance takes in our society. Secondly, at the National Theatre, Ibsen’s play ‘Emperor and Galilean’, focussing on the late Roman emperor Juilan, known as the apostate, who abandandoned Christianity in favour of revived paganism, and the inner turmoil of that decision, which I saw last week, comes with ‘five stars’ from me! You can get tickets in good seats for £10!
Finally, I am myself departing on Friday with 48 year 12 students for Italy on the tenth annual sixth form visit to Rome and Sorrento. We aim to combine an opportunity for personal development and enjoyment with a crash course in classical, Christian and Renaissance history, art and architecture – all undertaken in about 35 degrees of Italian sunshine! Previous trips have been hugely enjoyable but also very tiring for all – we hope this year’s will go as well.
For this reason there will be no further postings here for a couple of weeks. However, there will be a letter on the website and via parent mail with some end of year information, including the names of departing staff. I hope meanwhile that activities week goes well for all and that a restful summer holiday is enjoyed by all Bennett families, students and staff.