Grandpa was a Fulham Boy
On Thursday evening over 400 boys, parents, teachers, governors and founders gathered at Stamford Bridge for our first ever annual awards evening. Dan Walker (Football Focus, BBC Breakfast and the bloke off the beach in Rio) was our guest speaker. Drinks flowed, musical performances were given, awards were handed out; there was laughter, applause, happiness and a carnival atmosphere.
As I made my speech, listing all that FBS has achieved over the last 3 years, I was so proud of our boys.
On the sports field we have played in 5 football cup finals, winning 4 of them. One of our boys has just been selected to play for England Under 14s. On the rugby pitch we’ve won 5 trophies, 3 sevens tournaments, the south London league and the Middlesex shield. Two of our boys are in the Harlequins squad and 4 in the London Irish squad. We’ve beaten established independent boys schools like Harrow and Dulwich. On the water we can boast the Under 13 Hammersmith and Fulham rowing champion; four Fulham Boys were in the Quad for Hammersmith and Fulham that came second in the London Youth Games out of 23 boroughs. FBS are the reigning KS3 H&F indoor rowing champions and our boys came 1st and 3rd in the eight in the London games. Our success in cricket has been mixed. There are schools we go to and beat and there are schools we got to and get beaten but have a great tea afterwards!
But Fulham Boys is not just about sport. We have always said that The Fulham Boys School is a boys’ school not a lads schools. We want our boys to be well rounded young gentlemen.
Real boys read and authors such as Chris Bradford and N.M. Brown have come in and worked with our boys. Ofsted commented that our boys ‘read broadly and do so with enthusiasm’. Every year they have totally embraced World Book Day and enjoyed dressing up as their favourite literary characters. Our boys enjoy debating and reached the London Debate Challenge final. We lost to Tiffin Girls, but because our boys are young the same team can enter next year, and the view of our Head of English is that ‘they’re definitely beatable’.
It was always our aim to make every boy a linguist and our Modern Foreign Language department is vibrant. Boys enjoy learning languages. One Year 7 boy gained an A* in his French GCSE last summer and a group of boys in Years 7, 8 and 9 sat their GCSE French and Spanish in June..
Singing, acting, dancing and performing are huge at FBS. Before we opened a retired headmistress of a top London girls’ school said to me, “You’ll never get boys to sing”. She was right. I couldn’t. But our music and drama teachers have. Our orchestra is really taking shape, the Going Solo concert gets better and better every year, the eisteddfod is one of the high days of the school year, many of our boys are passing their LAMDA exams with distinctions, 50 boys took part in the wonderful school play last week, ‘O Brother Where art thou’ and as the DfE and all visitors to the school have commented, our boys’ singing in assembly is ‘truly outstanding’. Without any inhibitions, our boys sing, act, play, throw some shapes and bust some moves!
Our boys are also artistic. They have had their art exhibited in a gallery in Fulham; one of our boys came 3rd in the Ealing Art competition and another has had his art work selected for exhibition on the 12th of July at the Mall Gallery.
Academically, according to Ofsted, ‘We deliver a strong academic curriculum’ and they go on to say that, ‘academic progress is strong, boys are on track to achieve well at GCSE’. Our most able boys are part of the Brilliant Club where they work with PhD students on different research projects. They have had their assignments assessed and have gained 2/1s and Firsts. Many have visited Oxford University and Cambridge University to raise their aspirations and fire their ambitions.
IT is everywhere. All boys have access to an electronic device; one of our boys won a competition, winning 30 chromebooks for the school; another is a Google certified educator. Our Digital prefects have spent time at Facebook and Google headquarters.
Fulham Boys have enjoyed wonderful experiences. Trips to Italy, Paris, Belgium, Berlin, Barcelona and Uganda; visits from Huw Edwards, Nick Hewer, two education secretaries, two other cabinet ministers, Tony Adams, authors, an astronaut, a royal marine and sports men. All with the intention of making our boys think big.
Our boys have shown that enterprising is what we are, not what we do. Some of our boys, to empathise and raise money for the homeless, slept out last October in conjunction with Glass Door, a charity that works in partnership with churches across West London to provide emergency shelter and support for homeless men and women. A group of boys visited the Calais Jungle. We have a team of boys in the Final of City Pitch with their project to bring about social cohesion. They have opened a school shop, are in the process of setting up a radio station, enthusiastically embraced the Tenner Challenge. They have gone into Black Rock, and this week are involved in all kinds of activities across the city as part of Enterprise Week.
But when I take stock of what all our boys have achieved in the first three years it’s not just the sporting trophies, their performances on stage and outstanding work in the classroom that I am most proud of. It is that they are maturing and becoming self-disciplined young men. FBS is strict. On uniform and appearance, behaviour in lessons, around school, to and from school, attitude and manners. Firm boundaries and no nonsense. Ofsted observed that ‘Behaviour in lessons is exemplary’. ‘The behaviour of pupils is outstanding’. Their impression is that Fulham ‘Boys live and breathe good manners and courtesy’.
Not only are they well behaved, they are also well rounded and happy. One of our parents is quoted in the Ofsted report as saying, ‘In Fulham Boys School, my son has not only excelled academically, but he is growing into a well-rounded young man’ and the Tri Borough safeguarding lead officer said after her visit to FBS, ‘If there was ever a school whose ethos was embedded with students being happy, safe and well, The Fulham Boys School was a shining light in this element…if any colleagues from other schools ever wanted to see what a happy and safe school looked like, The Fulham Boys School would be first on my list of schools to send them to look at’
As I made my speech last Thursday recounting all these achievements, no wonder there was a feeling of pride. It was particularly poignant as three years earlier to the day I had stood up in Christchurch in Studdridge Street to make a speech in very different circumstances. On that occasion we were fighting for our very existence and right to be. Boys, parents, teachers, governors and the community were attempting to get the DfE and government to overturn the decision they’d taken due to site issues not to open FBS. In some ways the two evenings could not have been more different. But in another way there were striking similarities running through both nights. The same spirit that was present in Studdridge Street three years ago was in Stamford Bridge on Thursday. That ‘can do’, ‘never know when you’re beaten’, ‘never willing to lie down’ attitude that our boys, parents, governors and staff have got, coupled with dignity, reason and sense. It is this spirit and attitude that got us open and is the reason why we have achieved what we have. An ethos that Ofsted described as ‘incredible’. An ethos that is rooted in the Christian faith. As Ofsted noted, ‘Christian values of the school are clear while at the same time everyone is welcome and included…Debate and discussion are encouraged through an active Christian Union, which the pupils told inspectors they value very much’
It is this ethos that we need to fan and flame if we are to achieve our vision of becoming one of the best schools in this country – state or private by 2024. This was the reason and argument we presented to the DfE and government three years ago for opening FBS. I believe this vision is more achievable now than I did back then. Of course we are up against it. It won’t be easy to compete against top private schools. They have financial clout, history and tradition. But we have a comprehensive intake; all kinds of boys rubbing shoulders together. Raw talent being exposed to firm discipline, high standards, high aspirations, rigour, great opportunities and first class pedagogy.
Three years ago my message to private schools, the best state schools, the established order, was ‘we are coming for you’. Three years down the line our boys are proving we really are. I believe FBS will show what can be achieved by an independent state funded school which properly embraces its freedom.
I have just finished reading a book called Fire in Bablyon. It is about the great West Indian cricket teams that boasted players like Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshal, Michale Holding, Gordon Grenidge, Desmond Haynes and Jeffrey Dujon. There is a fantastic anecdote in the book about a West Indian bus driver in the West Midlands telling his son about the first time the West Indies beat England in a Test match. He says, ‘The first time we beat them wasn’t the big thing. It was Lord’s son – going into their own backyard and taking their chickens out of the coop and frying them on the front lawn. For me son, the empire collapsed right there. Not Churchill or Wellington could bring it back. Shackles were gone and we were free at last because the chickens were out of the coop.‘
FBS is going into the established order’s backyard and is in the process of taking those chickens out of the coop and in the next few years will fry them on the front lawn. And when our boys are old and I am long gone, they can sit their grandchildren on their lap and tell them, “Grandpa was a Fulham Boy”!