Having a Voice

Jack Higgs was Headmaster of the boys’ prep school I attended back in the mists of time. Headmasters were generally somewhat remote figures then, but ‘Mr Higgs’ was somewhat of an exception. He had a twinkle in his eye. I remember several occasions when I had personal dealings with him: asking him to add his autograph to my autograph book (collecting autographs was a craze at one point) which he promised to do in exchange for ‘a bag of gold’; and also, as a prefect, reporting to him an act of violence by a pupil, with a terrible temper, against another boy and his immediate response in dealing with the issue. He was also my History teacher, as I prepared for Common Entrance. He was a natural story teller and transported me to places like the battlefield at Crecy where Edward III’s longbow men won a decisive victory against the French. He planted a seed which blossomed into a lifelong love of History.

Jack Higgs was an exception. Most of the teachers at my prep school rarely inspired their pupils: they mostly terrified them. We worked through text books, from cover to cover, in absolute silence and were punished for minor misdemeanours. Monsieur Houseman gleefully administered the ‘une, deux, trois’: three sharp slaps on the open palm of the hand of a boy who lost concentration. Rev. Kerr noodled boys by violently twisting their side burns. Mr Clarke ran the choir. If you made a mistake, you had to hold up your hand which prompted him to go to a chest of drawers, the top drawer of which contained hundreds of rulers: wooden and metal. You were then slapped hard on the palm or knuckles. You might think the savvy school boy would not hold up his hand if he made a mistake, knowing what was to follow. If this happened, Mr Clarke would slap the hand of all the boys on the side of the choir from which the mistake had emanated – significantly reducing the popularity of the original culprit! Mr Johnson taught us Art by getting us all to pick up our paint brushes at the same time; all put them in the water jar at the same time, all put them in the paint at the same time…and so on. I don’t remember once any boy in art classes ever saying a word in the six years he taught us the subject.

Fast forward to 2018. A virtue is made of talk, in and out of the classroom, and quite rightly so. Communication and the sharing of ideas lies at the heart of a dynamic education and is the bedrock of excellent relationships. Bickley Park has two ‘school councils’, comprising boys from Reception-Year 8 who meet regularly to discuss how the school could be improved still further. After last week’s school council meeting, six year old rep, Patrick, presented Assistant Head, Mr Poole, with the following business plan:

Business plan for new basketball nets’

Why do we need new basketball nets?

As the nets are old and not fun to play with.

Who would use the nets?

Children in pre-prep.

How much would two new net cost?

My dad helped me find some standalone nets for around £184 each.

 (www.biggamehunters.co.uk Bee-Ball Ultimate Full size Basketball Stand), so if we wanted 2 nets = £368.

How would we raise the money to pay for it?

It would be fun to have an own clothes day at school, where children in reception, year 1 and 2 donated £2 to wear their own clothes on a Friday (like dad at work). We would raise:

3×15 reception = £90

3×15 year 1 = £90

3×15 year 2 = £90              TOTAL £270

My daddy has said that as my brother James will be in Reception next year, he and his friends will be able to play basketball too. Dad is happy to pay whatever the difference is. He will even help us to buy some basketballs to play with too.

Thank you ……………………………………………………………………

A meeting was arranged with Mr Poole, the Headmaster and the Bursar to discuss Patrick’s plan. He answered questions about his proposal brilliantly and is going to organise a home clothes day to cover the costs of his idea. How wonderful to see a young boy who has discovered his voice so young and the nurturing and celebration of talk and collaboration, at both home and school, that has nourished the confidence to meet with three senior member of staff and sell his idea!

I think Jack Higgs would have approved. Mr Wenham certainly did.