Posted on 01/11/2021

108. The Disease of Familiarity

As I look back on the first half term of the 2021-22 academic year and look forward to the half term ahead, The Fulham Boys School is in a good place. The ‘war’ years are over where we had to fight for our existence, go into battle over the school site, build our departments, develop our curriculum, set our boundaries, establish our ethos, and improve our communication. We have ‘peace in our time’. The early choppy years are past and the last twelve months or so of moving, restructuring and strengthening are done. FBS is settled. 

Our three year trend of GCSE results show significant improvement every year. When I think about what some of our boys and their families have gone through over the last 18 months, the GCSE Results in the summer were solidly good, with an estimated progress 8 score of +0.6. Our first set of A Level Results were outstanding. Importantly, both sets of results are verified, accurate and truly reflective of our boys’ progress and attainment.

By the end of last half term, twelve boys had submitted their Oxbridge applications and three had applied for medicine. They’ll find out this month if they’ve been called to interview. The applications are strong (some very strong) and there is an air of anticipation, excitement and nervousness. 

But it is not just about the academics. Year 7 had a great time at PGL. There was a carnival atmosphere in the first of our three Opening Ceremonies with Huw Edwards, Only Men Aloud and Rico Tice. We had a terrific evening celebrating over a hundred boys’ Duke of Edinburgh achievements. Our boys are enjoying playing competitive rugby again on Saturday mornings and the International Food Market was one of the best evenings we have had in a very long time. The fact it raised £4500 was almost by the by, it was all about the different cultures and nationalities enjoying each other’s company, eating each other’s food, and staff, boys, parents and governors talking and laughing together. As we re-establish the house system and vertical tutoring, the House Welcome Evenings were important and allowed parents and boys from all year groups to mingle and mix. 

We have made the headlines, been in the spotlight and our influence is far reaching. From appearing on BBC Panorama and Radio 5, to having articles in the Times, Telegraph, Times Educational Supplement  and Evening Standard, tackling topics such as sexism, gender inequality, our enterprising approach to COVID, staff wellbeing, and life as a Sixth Former. Our boys have also become global youtube stars! 
The boys’ behaviour, attitude, uniform and appearance continues to be exceptional. 

Whichever way you look at it, it has been a good half term and the second half term looks to be more of the same. There are trips planned, parent consultations, exams and assessments, a Sixth Form Open Evening and the Lower School Drama production. The ex Chelsea Legend, Gavin Peacock is visiting us on the evening of November 2nd to talk about his new autobiography and sign copies of the book. We’ve got the second of our opening ceremonies on November 18th. Last time the focus was ‘Faith’, this time it’s ‘Boys’ with England and British Lions legend Mako Vunipola our special guest. Year 9 have got their speed networking event where they get to speak to people from different walks of life about their jobs to help them decide what they want to do in the future and the GCSEs they should take. We’ve got new staff drinks where teachers and support staff who joined in September tell the leadership team about their first impressions; what they like and what we could do better. And just before we break up, we have one of the highlights of the FBS year which we missed last year, the Annual Christmas Carol Service.

The problem with all of this is that when things are settled, going well and become familiar, there’s a danger that they get taken for granted; that our appreciation of what we are, what we do, and what we have becomes dulled. Some lose their mojo. Others get hyper critical and irritated. When we all know each other so well, there’s a risk that all we see is each other’s weaknesses and we stop seeing the strengths. Some parents don’t see the need to come to things as much. Staff take the standards for granted and ease up on the little things. Boys become spoiled and entitled. This familiarity can lead to contempt and even when it doesn’t, as William Hazlitt said, ‘it takes off the edges of admiration’. 

So, as Richard Saul Wurman once asked, ‘What situations can I create that allow me not to have the disease of familiarity?’ 

Take a step back, look at it through other people’s eyes and  remember: don’t become complacent. 

Last half term we held our Year 7 Open Day and Evening. Hundreds of families attended and were so impressed with our boys, staff, and at long last, our building! One mum spoke to me and said that she had never considered anything other than the top private schools but, having heard about FBS at a dinner party and then visiting the open day, it had not only broken into her considerations, it was top of the list. 

We posted the videos we showed at our opening ceremony on our website and the feedback on social media included comments such as, ‘This is brilliant. Seriously brilliant.’ 

One of our staff’s mums popped into school before half term to see where her daughter worked.  Firstly, she was amazed by the location and emphasised how lucky her daughter was to work in such a beautiful building. Secondly, she was incredibly impressed by our boys’ appearance and their manners. Finally, she said that from the moment she entered the building she immediately felt an energy: she says it's like there's a sense of a mission; that you feel that this is a school that is going to make a real difference to the world and the sense of aspiration is palpable. New parents who have joined FBS in Year 7 and older year groups this year, echoed this sentiment in the Year 7 and Years 8-13 Headmaster’s Coffee mornings.

And all of this has been achieved as a non selective boys school, full of families from different cultural, social and economic backgrounds.    

We need to remember we did this together, and keep in our minds all that it took to get us here. Because what it took to get us here is needed to keep us here and get us to our holy grail of genuinely becoming one of the very best. We cannot become complacent. There is still a long way to go and so much to continue to improve. Let’s not take what we have for granted, ease up on our standards, disengage, be a passenger, lose our drive and let the disease of familiarity sweep through our school. 

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