We enjoyed an excellent Founders’ Day on Friday, marking the opening of Bennett’s year of celebration for the Sixtieth Anniversary of the founding of the school in 1961. We were delighted to welcome the Bishop of Rochester, relatively new in his post, the Right Revd James Langstaff. Bishop James was able to have discussions with both year 7 and year 13 students during the morning before an informal lunch and then the Founders’ Day service itself in the afternoon. We recalled in that service in a formal way the foundation of the school and the purpose for which it was created, namely the Christian education of young people, and in a slightly more light hearted tone we remembered how different life must have been for young people in Tunbridge Wells in the early 1950s. We saw some photographs contrasting then and now around the school, and heard the head boy and head girl speak about their impressions of the past, present and future of the school. Bishop James referred in his sermon principally to the reading from Ephesians chapter 3, which was chosen because it actually featured in the service of dedication for the newly founded school in 1953, at which the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, presided. We had a strong turnout of local civic dignitaries, one of whom turned out to be a past student of Bennett (long before my time!). The students, as always, were impeccably behaved and responsive, and were a credit to themselves and their school.
This first weekend of the October holiday has been one in which we have all no doubt begun to ‘unwind’. Working in a school is intense and all-absorbing at the best of times, and the start of the school year, getting everything set up and hitches in new systems sorted out, settling in new students and running multiple open evenings, is particularly taxing. Seven and a half weeks is a long time working at this intensity, and I sense also that students feel the same, especially new year 7 students, for whom the myriad new experiences of secondary school, plus for many the long days, make for very tired young people.
I did yesterday manage to go and see a film on release at the moment: We need to talk about Kevin, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver. The film stars Tilda Swinton, who is superb in the role. For anyone who has not read the book, the film is pretty grim in theme. It focuses on the inner turmoil and outward challenges of Eva, whose son has committed a high school massacre in America and is now in prison. She lives in fear of attack from neighbours who blame her by association for her son’s actions. Through flashback, we learn that during his childhood he is at least a sociopath, and possibly disturbed in some other way. Autism is explored as a possibility, but apparently ruled out by the ‘experts’. Eva’s marriage breaks down as a result of the stress of bringing up a disturbed child. We see the boy consciously and cruelly manipulate his parents’, and especially his mother’s, emotions, until she is almost at breaking point. While extreme, the film very interestingly explores the pressures and dilemmas which very difficult children put on their parents, and their effect over time. It also looks at the issue of parental guilt – society very easily blames parents for children’s dysfunctionality – and grief when things go badly wrong. These are issues which many of us working in schools, and with young people in other contexts, frequently encounter, though fortunately in a less extreme form than portrayed in the film . It is an excellent film, with some light moments, but tough to watch in parts.