One of my first trips to Brighton, many years ago, happened to coincide with the Brighton Festival and Fringe. I remember stopping to watch a unicyclist perform outside the Pavillion. I stood there for a considerable length of time, marvelling at the skill involved and noting the conditions needed for success: the confidence to leap onto the seat in the first place; the sense of safety, with the knowledge that if a fall came, it could be brushed off, or could even be graceful; and – the crucial one – balance.
A few years on, Festival season is upon us once more, and I’m delighted that Brighton Girls is playing its part. For the second year running, we sponsored the Children’s Parade, and we’ve hosted numerous events, most of which, like the event to mark the 30th anniversary of the ‘Horrible Histories’, have offered enriching experiences for children.
While there is a lot going on city-wide, in school, we have our own festival vibe. In the last few weeks, we’ve welcomed Spanish exchange students from Seville; we’ve been entertained by student bands and soloists during a Pop Concert in the Hive; and Summer Term clubs are in full swing. Last night, we enjoyed a fantastic GCSE and A Level Art exhibition. I was mesmerised by the quality of the artwork and was enwrapped by the detail and depth of the sketchbooks. I stood for a long time reading the work of one A Level student who had explored the relationship between yellow and blue, using these colours as symbols for the way in which life gives us moments of joy (yellow) alongside times of pain and suffering (blue). The strength of voice and the confidence in the commentary was remarkable.
Everywhere, in school, there are opportunities for confidence building. On the night of our Pop Concert, our Year 9 and 10 bands (‘Failure’ and ‘Breaking Band’) were fresh from their city debut, where they performed on the Band Stand, and those in the audience will know that they exuded confidence – the front-women in particular. We saw the same confidence again at the Informal Concert on Tuesday evening, where some of our younger students performed numbers by Avril Lavigne and Adele, and a Year 2 pupil orchestrated some excellent audience participation while playing the theme to ‘The Adams Family’ on the recorder. These informal concerts are so important – a safe space to have a go, with a small supportive audience. Confidence levels were high, but the sense of safety was arguably even higher.
Despite all this activity, the school has felt calm over the last few weeks, as students have settled into end-of year exams and space is made for focus and feedback. On Tuesday, a selection of Year 9 students had the opportunity to take part in a Listening Circle with the local police, where they explored violence against women and girls, and shared their thoughts about physical safety. The feedback from both students and the policewomen was excellent – there were happy faces when I checked in at the end and it was clear that the conversation had been both purposeful and positive. Meanwhile, our GCSE students have already reached the half-way point and A Levels are in motion. So far, I have been encouraged to see so many emerging with smiles and such comments as “that was a good paper” and “it went well”. While there will be the inevitable peaks and troughs, the overall mood is one of optimism.
A happy school, like a happy unicyclist, requires the following conditions to be in place: spaces and opportunities to build confidence; a sense of psychological and physical safety, so that those opportunities to build confidence can be seized; and, overall, a sense of balance, so that life’s “yellow” moments can coexist alongside the “blue”.