Typically, the last day of the school year is an emotional one.
The annual melange of nervy anticipation as end of term reports are published, and the elation and deflation that inevitably follow, the latter usually when wholly positive grades and comments are perceived to be not nearly positive enough, provide one emotional palette. This, combined with bleary-eyed ‘end-of-term-itis’, fatigue, quiet satisfaction and breathless school’s out for summer gate fever, is usually enough to send even the most temperate of students into a tailspin.
This year, on the very last day of term, there was something else that could be sensed in the classrooms and corridors of Bradford Grammar School. Something clear but also subtle in amongst the footloose end of term humours – something powerful but tender, hard to fathom yet pervasive.
On 1 July we looked back at the school year and forward to the summer; we also remembered the 14 Old Bradfordians who fell in action 100 years ago on the first day of The Battle of the Somme. The balance of emotions immediately before we broke up ebbed and flowed and reflected a singularly unique day in the school calendar.
Our former Head of History, Nick Hooper, continues to dedicate himself to rediscovering and telling the stories of Old Bradfordians who died in the Great War. The biographies that Nick has expertly produced are compelling. Excerpts relating to the OBs who fell in action on the first day of The Somme were read by current students at a commemoration service on the morning of our last day at school.
The Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916 and a staggering 57,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded on the first day alone. By the end of the campaign the Allies and Central Powers would lose over 1.5 million men. The Somme commemoration, led by the Rt Revd Dr Toby Howarth, Bishop of Bradford, and involving all quarters of the BGS community, was poignant and profoundly affecting. We came together, paused and joined in reflection. We remembered. And we will continue to remember and commemorate the death of every OB who died in the Great War – no one will be forgotten.
Picking up the threads of the day after we filed out of the Price Hall was not easy. But lessons resumed, lunch was taken and the noise and life of school returned. The Rt Revd Dr Toby Howarth joined us for a second time to develop the themes of the morning at our end of year assembly and for this I am deeply grateful.
Time, and what we do with the time and liberty that has been gifted to us, surfaced as a key theme. At BGS we strive to make the most of what we’ve got, to better ourselves and do some good for others through initiatives like the Barnardo’s Young Carers Scheme, volunteering at Chellow Heights Special School, fundraising for Mary’s Meals and The Bradford Curry Project, amongst others, and our mass participation in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards Scheme. After a sombre and respectful morning service, a quiet moment during an already emotionally charged day, the final assembly provided a restorative end to the year and sounded an optimistic note.
Hope for the future was the closing message. But here I have to be honest. The irony of recognising one of the most dreadful and costly battles of any European war and the hard won peace that we cherish today at a time when Britain is actively distancing itself from our continental neighbours was not lost on many Bradford Grammar School students. At BGS, as in other schools nationally, the outcomes of mock referenda have been overwhelmingly in favour of ‘remain’.
From the outset the EU was tasked with fostering understanding between nations and keeping a European peace. In post-Brexit Britain however some newly emboldened elements in society are using the referendum result to lend legitimacy to racist perspectives and incidents of racially motivated violence have spiked. Is our tolerant and diverse nation teasing apart? This is not the country that the young voted for, that our students recognise. Talk to them as I do, as my colleagues do, and you will feel the heat of their anger and sense of betrayal, heightened at this time of remembrance and reflection on the recent history of Europe.
So, emotions ran high and ran deep at the end of term, more so than normal. Brexit and the events at The Somme 100 years ago, and which resonate at BGS today, have brought dialogue about the future of our continent into sharp focus. We cannot ignore the mood in our schools.
But as mentioned above, hope for the future was our closing sentiment during final assembly and it remains my message now. The assembly ended with music and a plea, a reminder to be good friends to one another, to look outwardly and help others. The nods, smiles and kind eyes that met this message tell you much about the values of BGS and our students, and I keep faith in the young.
The buzzer sounded and summer began.
“Brexit and the events at The Somme 100 years ago, and which resonate at BGS today, have brought dialogue about the future of our continent into sharp focus.”