Posted on 10/10/2016
All in This Together
Last week over 600 people came to our open evening and open day. From the conversations we had with parents and boys, our ethos is clearly the big draw – a school that is geared towards boys, nurturing enterprise and built upon the Christian faith. It was particularly noticeable how ‘geared towards boys’ resonated with both parents and boys: a school that is set up to take typical boys – spirited, lively, excitable, sparky, fun, adventurous boys – harness their ‘boyishness’ and make them well mannered, hard working, high achieving young men of character; gentlemen and future leaders.
This is not an easy task. If it was, everyone would be doing it. What makes the task even harder is that we are attempting it in central London with a fully-inclusive non-selective intake. So how do we deliver?
In a word, together. Teachers, parents, boys and governors. Everyone has a vital, and interlinked, part to play.
Teachers, including support staff, are the ones who set the FBS standards, reinforce them every day, commend the boys when they are meeting these standards and enforce the consequences when they’re not. Sanctions include conduct signatures, detentions, parents sitting by boys in lessons, chores like litter picking, internal exclusions and fixed term exclusions. This is relentless. Day in day out. Every teacher, in every lesson, recognizing that consistency is the key.
Boys have to buy into our ethos. They must believe in the high standards we set and strive to achieve them. They may not always get there but the key is they must want to. They might lack concentration in lessons, be a bit silly, get into scrapes at lunchtime, let themselves down by acting unkindly sometimes, but when they do they are sorry. They know this isn’t the way to behave and definitely isn’t ‘cool’. They must take pride in their uniform and appearance, see that it makes sense to queue sensibly for cookies at breaktime, enjoy chatting over their lunch and be keen to help each other. Not all our boys achieve all of this all of the time; some find it really difficult to meet the standards at all, but they want to. Any boy who doesn’t believe in the school’s ethos and shows no respect for it is asked to find another school. That is how protective we are of our ethos and the culture we have created.
This is where the governors come in. They challenge me on the decisions I take, ensure all incidents are robustly investigated and that we are doing all we can to uphold the high standards we’ve set out. And when tough decisions need to be taken, I need to know they have my back.
So what about our parents? What role do they have? Do they just send their sons to school and let us get on with it? Not at all. Boys spend about 20% of their time at school, which means there’s another 80% when we don’t see them. This is why it’s so critical we have a real partnership with parents. That the values, skills and behaviour we seek to instill in our boys at school are reinforced at home – how they speak, what they do with their time, what they watch, who they bother, where they go etc. And that parents follow their son’s progress, make sure the school is doing all we say to maintain the highest standards, and challenge us if we’re not.
There are right ways and wrong ways to go about this. If parents sense that standards are beginning to slip, if their son comes home and says other boys are being unkind, silly in lessons, messing about in changing rooms, behaving badly to and from school, we want to know. We want parents to get in touch, ask us to investigate, sort out the issue and trust us to let them know the outcome. However, what is unhelpful, and damaging to the school and its standards, is if parents assume their son’s version of events is unquestionably accurate, and escalate it via social media rather than interrogating the school directly. We want – and need – parents to challenge us. But there is a world of difference between challenging us and not trusting us.
High standards don’t happen overnight. It takes time. Year 7 boys come to FBS from a wide range of backgrounds and dozens of primary schools, so it takes a term to get them into the FBS way. We encourage them to become more independent at break and lunchtime and stress the importance of self-discipline being the most important type of discipline; that when adults are not around they still know how to behave. All of this takes time. We are getting there and will pull it off; but only if we are all in this together.