Parents Weekend

By parent Robert Poynton.

Co-Principal Gopal speaks with parents

When I left Brockwood Park at the end of the parents weekend, I had one of the best, if not the best conversation I have ever had with my sons. The three of us talked in the taxi to Winchester, all the way to London on the train and during and after dinner. We talked openly and enthusiastically. We talked about the weekend but not just the weekend. We talked about feelings, ideas, hopes, dreams, anxieties; about their future, my future and what we might do together, all three of us.

This was no coincidence. In the space of a weekend, Brockwood had brokered a different kind of possibility between us.

Parents and students in the dining-room

There is a levelling effect of spending time at the school – a place which is home to my sons but where I am a stranger (even if I have been there a few times). Sitting in a history class with Mateo and Bruno, finding myself caught up in the conversation, I stopped feeling like an observer. I wanted to join in and when I did, it didn’t feel like an intrusion. Which is amazing. How does that happen?

The physical place is part of this too. The beauty and quiet, the smells and the way people move through the space all have a subtle effect. It is like an island - more remote than I would have thought possible in Hampshire. The calm, not just any calm, but the calm that my boys live in, seeped into me as well.

We shared activities as well as space. Mateo and I were both doodling in class, not out of boredom, but as a way of being there. I played football with Bruno and found that we saw the same patterns in the game – endless hours of watching and talking about Real Madrid have left their mark. It was wonderful to have the chance to connect with him again in this way and to feel how something of how he might feel, stepping outside on a Saturday afternoon and straight into a kick-about game with your mates.

Tea and chats in the Sitting-Room

And beyond the direct connection with my sons, there was the connection with the ideas that the place is founded on, that it endeavours to live; ideas that I knew but which took on body and voice, in the form of parents, of staff, of students and in conversation of a dozen kinds: dialogue in the assembly hall, students meeting parents, a curriculum meeting full of challenge and question, convivial chats over the washing-up, exchanging of notes in the lunch queue, discovering the parents of the boys’ friends.

I came away with two simple ideas, firmly anchored in the experience. First, that underlying many of the initiatives, debates and decisions at Brockwood is the intention to shift students from being passive recipients to active agents. It reminds me of Tony Benn’s thought about becoming “participants in our own future, not observers of our fate”.

Catching up in the Dining Hall

The second was a shift in my understanding of where I myself fit. Though it might be a boarding school, I came away feeling that up until now I have perhaps been too distant from Brockwood in ways beyond geography. Now, I feel more able to get more involved both with my sons and with the school, in a three-way relationship, with the development of my children at the heart of it.

This is a tiny, yet huge shift. It is hard to describe because it is manifest in feeling not action. But it reminds me of a day when I was chatting with my great friend Jorge Alvarez at home in Spain. He was asking about Brockwood and how much it cost (and in Spain, it sounds like a fortune). “Well, from what you are saying, maybe it isn’t such bad value for money”, he said, “after all, it’s educating you as well”.

Saturday's timetable