Each school term is a sprint. It’s a dangerous thing sitting down for ten minutes with a mug of tea because, whilst the body might pause for a moment, the brain inevitably rushes on, usually in my case on an unexpected path. It has again, hence this blog. I’ll get back to what I ‘should’ be doing shortly.
So, what is to blame on this occasion for motivating tangential thoughts?
Two things really. Firstly, the many speeches I seem to be doing at the moment to current/prospective students and parents at open events and also to a selection of civic societies and groups of Old Bradfordians, all of which have allowed me to reflect on BGS values. Secondly, a book I am reading – picking up, putting down, thinking about, re-reading – called ‘Factfulness’, by the much-missed Hans Rosling, that offers an informed antidote to any blinkered world view.
Let’s see if I can make sense of this. Starting with speeches. These have afforded an opportunity to reflect on the heritage and deeply rooted nature of Bradford Grammar School (BGS), or to give voice to our full and proper title, The Free School of King Charles II in Bradford. Established before 1548, recognised in 1662 by virtue of Royal Charter, BGS has a long and distinguished past. Our early history was intertwined with that of Bradford Cathedral, when we inhabited a location next door. In 1820, we moved to a site at Manor Row, and in 1949, the BGS estate we know today (in Manningham) opened its doors to children for the first time. Our buildings, alumni, heritage and reputation speak of substance and solidity down the ages. However, there is more.
Hans Rosling studied statistics and medicine at Uppsala University and public health at St John’s Medical College, Bangalore. He has been a professor of International Health at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm and an advisor to the World Health Organisation and UNI-CEF. He co-founded Médecins Sans Frontières in Sweden and the Gapminder Foundation in 2005 with its mission to “fight devastating ignorance with a fact-based worldview that everyone can understand”. As a Geography Teacher, I have much to thank the Gapminder Foundation for and have made great use of their resources. I’m not alone. Hans Rosling has taught countless others and myself something about the nature and pace of change in human societies over recent generations.
Successful communities move with the times as they learn, grow and reflect wider, but often slowly moving, shifts in society and economy. BGS has moved home as mentioned above. Additionally, by way of additional examples of change, we were first to adopt the provisions of the Forster Reform Acts of 1869 and 1870. We purchased new premises in 1926 for the Junior School in Thornville, a large Victorian mansion opposite Lister Park, now Clock House, became independent in 1975. We celebrate 20 years of girls at BGS next year going forwards as a modern, beautifully diverse, co-educational independent day school. Both continuity and change are reflected in our values of Excellence, Compassion, Determination, Opportunity and Service. Is the BGS of 1662 recognisable in our twenty-first century outlook? Perhaps, in part.
There is a chapter in ‘Factfulness’ that I returned to yesterday entitled ‘The Destiny Instinct’ that examines the all too established idea that “things are the way they are for ineluctable, inescapable reasons: they have always been this way and will never change”. Rosling shows this is not true. He writes about Swedish family values, those of his own relatives, grandfather to father then son, this last individual being Hans Rosling himself. Broader shifts are illustrated too, equally persuasively. Slow change can be radical, but it is often imperceptible to any one given generation. Values can all too easily be perceived to be immobile, immovable rocks to cling to, but this is not their true nature. They evolve to inform, direct and represent a community; they walk in step with that community as it goes forward.
In my speeches, (some lucky readers will by now have sat patiently through a few of these!) I characterise BGS as being defined by both our heritage and forward-looking approach. I have referenced the image of walking from the Price Hall to the Clarkson Library and not failing to be impressed by the blend of history and modernity that is manifestly clear in just a few short steps. Secure and traditional in many respects, but BGS is innovative too.
I am lucky and enjoy the privilege of meeting Old Bradfordians of varied vintage. The school they remember has not stood still, its identity evolving iteratively over time. OBs recall with fondness subtly different schools, each of their era. Collectively they describe a pattern of informed change.
However, perhaps there is one fixed trait? As much a characteristic of the north, of Yorkshire, and that reaches full expression in the modest and earthy ground of Bradford and at BGS – our motto ‘Hoc Age’. Roughly translated as ‘get on and do it’ – no nonsense, unfussy, job done – it guides us still. Change … but continuity too.
“I am lucky and enjoy the privilege of meeting Old Bradfordians of varied vintage. The school they remember has not stood still, its identity evolving iteratively over time. However, perhaps there is one fixed trait? As much a characteristic of the north, of Yorkshire, and that reaches full expression in the modest and earthy ground of Bradford and at BGS – our motto ‘Hoc Age’.
Roughly translated as ‘get on and do it’ – no nonsense, unfussy, job done – it guides us still. Change … but continuity too.”