Posted on 09/11/2016

When the Going gets Tough

We broke up last July riding the crest of a wave. We couldn’t have been happier with the way things were. Two football trophies and three rugby trophies in the cabinet.  One of our pupils was the under 13 indoor rowing champion and another of our pupils won gold in the London Youth Games. Our actors and musicians performed a brilliant school play to packed out audiences on two nights. Our whole school review was carried out by three external inspectors who concluded in all areas we were outstanding. And to finish the year an FBStival organised by the Friends of FBS with a live band, zorb football, food, drink and a feel good factor that was tangible. We faced our eight week summer holiday feeling in good shape. Life couldn’t have been better at FBS, especially knowing we were coming back to 12 new classrooms, three purpose built Science labs, new staff, a waiting list of 93 and the cherry on the cake, lockers. Enterprising young men, superb staff, exceptional governors and a committed, supportive and dedicated parent body.

Come September, our newly appointed staff seemed every bit as good as we thought they’d be. New classrooms improved our learning environment beyond recognition and boys could at last put their bags in lockers! Open day and evening were big successes with nearly 700 people coming, eager to get their sons into FBS for September 2017.

But have we been tried and tested since! Last half term, the going got tough.

The staff had a tough time of it. Michael Barrett joined as our new Data and IT Manager. By the end of the first week he had got on top of all that we wanted and knew exactly what needed to be done. But we never saw Mike again. On Monday he had a brain haemorrhage and by Wednesday had died. Shocking. Tragic. Devastating. As well as this, one of our pupils and his family have had to face real heartbreak and tragedy in the last few months.

Some of our boys have had it tough. The 120 new Year 7s came to us from 47 primary schools and from a wide range of backgrounds. Transition to secondary school can always be difficult, but some have found it particularly hard to meet the high standards we set at FBS. One or two boys and their parents didn’t know what they were coming to. They thought it was simply an outstanding school, they could put on the blazer and it would be job done; that all our boys magically behave like little gentlemen once they walk through those gates. They were unaware that they had to buy into the school’s ethos

The strength of FBS has always been its strong, distinctive ethos. In the first two years it flourished as we were able to meet as a whole school every week, to get across important messages and reinforce the all-important standards, standards, standards! But our latest growth spurt means we can no longer all meet together.

So what do we do when things get tough? Feel despondent? Lick our wounds? Say that it is harder than we thought? Lower our expectations? Get into groups and start to moan? Go private after all? Get defensive? Make excuses and blame our circumstances?

Not a bit of it. We say we are resilient, that we never give up, never give in, never lie down or know when we’re beaten. So we prove it. We show that we do what it says on the FBS tin. As Billy Joel once said, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

So we listened to our parents, to our staff and to our boys and considered and reflected on all that has happened.

We excluded 19 boys, all for one day. These boys returned to school with their parents to discuss their future at the school. We needed to be confident that all boys and parents are committed to excellence and believe in the pillars this school is built upon. Nearly all these boys have (and I am confident will) only been excluded once. They are starting to get it, and so do their mums and dads. Unfortunately there were a couple who clearly didn’t get it. They didn’t seem to care about the ethos of the school. They were therefore asked to find other schools that suit them better. Fulham Boys are not perfect. Nearly all of them have their moments. But they and their parents all have to care.

We’ve taken steps to shore up our ethos, reviewing how the House assemblies work. Each House has two every week with their Head of House and the Chaplain, where the school’s ethos is reinforced and boys are made to think and reflect. On Fridays I now meet with a different year group every week, as well as talking to houses every three weeks. We pump into these boys the Christian value of the week, the enterprise skill of the week, question them on their targets for each subject and what they need to do to achieve them. And of course, standards, standards, standards!

And we are reminding everyone that standards is everyone’s bag. We are all teachers of behaviour – boys, parents, teachers and admin staff. We all have to be on top of this.

We’ve also been reviewing how well our transition process works in practice. As part of this, I have invited a group of parents into school to discuss ways to improve communication. We know we won’t be outstanding until we’ve cracked this.

The first half term this year brought home the magnitude of the task we have taken on. To become one of the best schools in this country, with a non-selective intake, is a mammoth challenge.

I am sure some would prefer it if we only had certain types of boys. But if we did, whilst it would be so much easier, it would mean us not being true to our convictions; the school and eventually the country would be the poorer for it. We are committed as ever to taking all kinds of boys from all walks of life so they can learn from each other, so we can spot and harness talent for the good of all and produce young men who have the highest standards of discipline and real character. It is a journey. A long one with bumps along the way. But how we respond in these situations, address issues that need addressing and overcome difficulties is the test of how well we ‘walk the talk’ and model the enterprise skills and Christian values we tell our boys about

The events of the last few weeks have also made us put all of this in perspective. Maths is just maths. French is just French. All that happened when I didn’t get judo as one of my clubs was that I didn’t get judo as one of my clubs. None of it is life and death whereas some things, as has been brought home to us, really are. We have realised that if we are going to properly educate our boys we need them to think about these ‘big’ things and that how you face life and death are infinitely more important than anything else. The ethos of this school allows us to do this.

I am as convinced as ever that The Fulham Boys School is something special and that we will become one of the best schools in this country. Last half term has shown us we can’t be complacent, has removed any arrogance, sharpened us up, given us perspective and the opportunity to show that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

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