As we approach the end of an academic year, it is always a moment to reflect on the past 12 months and to think back to what, together, we have achieved.
Last September, in my first days in this role, I shared my initial three priorities for the year. I would like to update you on progress in these areas.
Of course, it has been anything but a normal academic year. We had our first coronavirus case in the first weeks of September and, as I wrote later in the Autumn, we have had to make significant savings as the impact of the pandemic and the economic downturn has affected our student numbers. Earlier this year, we announced our decision to move from three to two junior schools, with the closure of the site at Diamanthorst. But, despite this turbulence, I believe that progress has been made. It is important to take stock of what we have achieved – and to reset our goals for the future.
1. Defining who we are as an organisation
I recognised that there was a need to look at what defines us and what makes us special – particularly in an environment where many of our certainties have been challenged by recent events.
Much of the work in this area came as a result of listening. Listening to parents and staff through online town hall events, establishing working groups, commissioning external surveys for parents and staff (the first since 2014) and running a series of focus groups.
I have tried to make a consistent effort to open communication channels through the dedicated Get in touch email account and to ask for parental feedback and involvement at various points during the year. Much of the feedback that I received has indicated that parents and staff have appreciated the chance to make their views heard.
”Highly appreciate the increased, improved clarity in communication and providing the opportunity to share feedback and thoughts.Parent Survey
”Thank you so much for asking for our honest opinions - I appreciate this opennessStaff Survey
I believe that an international organisation like the BSN should be constantly listening, and I am committed to running annual surveys in the future. This will help us to assess how much progress we have made and to what extent our vision and aspirations compare to the lived reality.
As a result – and driven by our desire to relaunch our two new junior schools from September 2022 – we have been working on a new BSN vision statement on which we will seek further feedback in the Autumn. We want to be clear about what the BSN stands for – and the kind of education, opportunities and support that our young people will receive.
2. Equality and Diversity
As a community of nearly 90 nationalities, equality and diversity must sit at the very heart of our values. This is an area that I would have wanted to have made significantly more progress on over the course of the year, and I apologise that more meaningful change has not been delivered.
The allegations on Twitter and Instagram of racist comments made by a number of students at Senior School Voorschoten (SSV) in April were very distressing, and served as a sharp reminder that we need to intensify our work in this area. The many emails that we received about these reports from concerned students, parents, alumni and friends of the school showed me that many in our community agree. I wrote an Open Letter in response to this situation.
Since then, we have made some progress. Our new cross-BSN staff working group has been officially appointed and met earlier this month, chaired by the inspirational Dr Aminata Cairo, who will be supporting our work in this area.
The role of the working group will be to develop a new policy, focusing on defining, developing, implementing, and embedding equality and diversity across three key areas: our curriculum, our pastoral support, and our staff recruitment and development.
I look forward to further involving parents and students in this important work in the coming academic year. The first parental reference group will take place in September (more information will follow at the beginning of next term), and I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the issues that you would like us to address.
Bringing staff, parents, and students together to promote and cherish diversity and equality will ensure that the BSN is a safe and respectful place for all, where every single member of our community can thrive, knowing that their voice is listened to, and their individuality respected in an environment that does not tolerate bullying in any form.
3. Customer Service
Given the growing number of self-paying families, as well as the increasing number of companies who are reviewing their salary packages, customer service is more important than ever.
Some important developments in this area have been made this year. The launch of Compass, the BSN’s dedicated staff and parent intranet sites, are key in delivering the information and communication needs for our community. The continued roll-out and integration of Compass into both parental and staff communications will remain a priority during the next academic year.
Complex decisions around cost-saving measures and the financial management of the organisation have also been taken. We must ensure that we maximise the impact of every euro that we receive, achieving a balance between value for money and high standards in teaching and learning.
We must also be responsive to the feedback that we receive, both in terms of individuals’ questions and concerns and the wider direction of the school. You have told us, through the parent survey, that we need to consider how we improve Parental Engagement, Extra Curricular Opportunities, and Dutch and Modern Foreign Language Provision at the heart of our future development plans.
Looking Forward, Looking Back
It is important to recognise the positives from this year. The vast majority of our children are happy at school – and most of our parents would recommend the BSN to their friends. At the time of the biggest upheaval in education since the Second World War, this is a strong foundation and fills me with optimism for the future.
Of course, we still have a lot of work to do. That will always be the case. Standing still is not an option for any forward-thinking organisation. However, I am confident in our collective ability to improve. I strongly believe the new vision will provide a clear trajectory for the future of the BSN for many years to come.
As well as looking forward, we will spend some time looking back. The BSN will celebrate its 90th anniversary in November. We have come a long way from a single drawing room in a private house in Tapijtweg in 1931!
My final hope (which at the time of writing is sadly less strong than it was a week ago) is that we will also start to see the reestablishment of those elements of school life that have been taken from us during the pandemic and its many restrictions and protocols. It would be lovely if, in 12 months’ time, I can reflect on an academic year filled with those moments that form the heart beats of every successful school; buzzing corridors and communal areas, assemblies and events, open afternoons and coffee mornings – and all the joy that comes from a wide and varied extra-curricular offer: plays and concerts; trips and exhibitions; fixtures and competitions.
As a BSN parent myself, I know how important these memories are and I look forward to making them with you.
Wishing you all a safe, healthy, and happy summer break.