Interview with Teacher #2 at St. John’s Beaumont (SJB), an Independent Day-Boarding Preparatory School in Old Windsor, London

April 30, 2022

Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in April 2022, undergraduate student Kartikeya Uniyal (SFS’23) interviewed a teacher at St. John’s Beaumont (SJB) in London, England. In this interview, the teacher discusses the implementation of the Jesuit Pupil Profile (JPP) at St. John’s Beaumont and its lasting impact on students.

So, can you begin by telling me a little bit about your personal background and your association with the school?

Right, okay. I’ve been teaching for nearly 40 years now, the last 11 at St. John’s. Prior to that, mainly in the state sector, mainly in senior schools. It’s unusual for me to stay anywhere so long. But something about St. John’s continues to be invigorating in terms of being a place to work.

So, just coming a bit towards how you personally interpret the JPP, what role do you think it plays in your teaching?

Well, this is the interesting thing. When I was first interviewed for a job at St. John’s, the then director of Ethos commented that I seem very Jesuitical in my kind of philosophy and approach to life, which was an interesting one. At that time it was well over 45 years since I’d last been to church and at least the same length of time before I’d looked at the Bible. And yet I find that the principles, especially the educational principles that I live and work by, are echoed at St. John’s and that’s probably why I’ve stayed.

Can you talk a little bit more about those educational principles?

Okay, well essentially it’s about trying to inspire and motivate and share with young people things that I think are important in life, communication, relationships, reflection, and using those for, you know, common good. Gosh, that sounds pious, doesn’t it?

And what are some ways in which St. John’s tries to instill these values in the students?

It’s there in the daily life of the school. It’s clearly there in all of the many aspects of the religious worship. But even better, the JPP, as it really does work in everyday life and situations, it encapsulates and it kind of spreads out the values, the ethics in real ways. For example, my own kids who went to state school, secular schools here in Windsor often look at the JPP and say, “gosh wish we had that.” Another example would be in the Tigers meetings I run. We explicitly address the JPP virtues; we exemplify and celebrate boys who have demonstrated in that week. Some of the boys talk to the other boys from the front in these meetings. And the whole thing comes together. The state advisors of the school, the actions of the boys, and the kind of facilitation by the teachers.

So can you just describe the houses and the house system at St. John’s a bit for me, and how do JPP players roll in that?

Sure. They’re kind of mini communities. The boys are randomly chosen, apparently. You know, Tigers have been bottom of everything for eight years now, just saying. Sack the manager. Seriously, the boys, it’s about that motivation thing. It all hangs on motivation and relationships in education. And we have this lucky thing and relationships in education. And we have this lucky thing, the JPP, I’ll say it again, it encapsulates many good things that teachers and learners do and teachers and learners need. And so by just looking at a little bit of it, we find massive things coming out of it. In terms of the animal system, yeah, there’s team spirit, we have sport and competition, musical competition. But these TYE [tiger (T), yak (Y), or emu (E)] scores that the boys gather, their TYEs are given for aspects of the JPP, ways that the boys have actioned what the principle states. Yeah, there’s not much I can say on that one.

So just about how you approach the TYE system as well, how do you personally use it in your classes, and what role do you think it plays in the students’ life?

Yeah, some of it is more obviously academic than others. Things like being curious and active, clearly it lends itself to English methodology. So I would like to think most other subject methodologies, too. Some of the more elusive ones, like, what do you call it, prophetic and intentional, they really do require a lot of interpretation and translation for the boys. They get it in assemblies, they get it in the sort of Tigers or the animal leaders, I should say, addresses during their meetings and there are ways of doing it simply I think within many subjects definitely in the humanities and in English.

And how do you personally view the vocabulary of the JPP? Do you think it’s all encompassing, or do you think it’s restrictive?

I think it is all-encompassing. I think I’ve told you before, Kartik, [about] Roger Dawson who was a governor of the school, Jesuit. He did many things before he became a Jesuit. He was a psychiatrist, he was a... oh he’s done all kinds of things, I can’t remember, I think he was in the army at one point. But Roger’s very good on contextualizing in the broadest, most global sense what the Jesuits are about. And he pointed out that all of these virtues, all of these ethics are there in every belief system in the world, be it sacred or secular, and I think that’s why it resonates and I think that’s why it’s strong.

And how do you see the pupils themselves navigating their privilege which is very apparent in this context that they live in?


With the virtues that the school…

We’re standing just half way down Eastern High Street as we say this. Yeah, the boys, the best of them, and that’s most of them, wear their privilege lightly. We don’t see too much grandstanding about the fabulous material wealth they have. What we do see is a lot of commitment to each other, commitment to charitable fundraising, and that’s really where the school looks to see to bring parents in there. They’d raise the most extraordinary sums of money for various Jesuit refugee services and so on.

But I’m just wondering if perhaps the school could do a bit more with the parents for two reasons. Educationally, get them on site, maybe shadowing subjects, maybe having parents groups per subject, and/or, marketing. Marketing. The school’s numbers have fallen from about 320 when I first came to St John’s to around, I think, 230 now. And clearly there’s a financial implication and therefore a sort of health implication for the school if numbers dwindle. Our current customers, I think, are probably our best marketing tools, if you like. It’s the for me until very recent education on the subject was to take it that it was by word of mouth. And if our current customers, if you like, are very satisfied, wouldn’t it be great if we could go out and tell the world that they’re satisfied. But I digress slightly.

So just on this, what role do you think the parents play in the education of the child at this age and in this context of St. John’s?

I think we’re somewhere within this virtuous triangle of pupil, teacher, and parent. I don’t think the three aspects are developed as much as they could be. We tend to get some simplistic input from some parents. The recent sort of advent of ISEB Common Entrance testing early in year 6, I don’t think that’s particularly fair on the pupils, they’re too young. But the way too many parents have interpreted it is that they must have a kind of death by practice paper and only learning by rote will do. For the first time in my 11 years at the school I was challenged by a parent, at least six parents, who didn’t seem to think very much of the way I go about it.

So, fortunately, good old Mr. Delaney put it right about how what the school does works and it does work. We’ve got a differentiated approach across subjects. I don’t think too many colleagues do death by practice paper or learning by rote. And I think the boys are fortunate in that they’ve got so many inspirational teachers. But I think, again, a lot of parents see what we’re doing, but for those that don’t, maybe if they could come into the classroom and experience what we’re doing at firsthand, they may be reassured about it.

So do you ever receive pushback from parents for adopting a different style of approach? Do you learn that maybe it incorporates the JPP?

No, I think at the end of day, they know what they’re getting at St. John’s. The boys of course are not Roman Catholic; they are either no faith or different faith. In my own tutor group, we’ve got Sikhs, we’ve got Hindus, and there are one or two Muslims dotted around as well. And I think, again, to say it again, the JPP transcends any one faith or any one belief system and therein lies its strength.

So coming back to the year 6 examinations and what that’s done to teaching and learning, how would you say the school approaches the issue? Does it succumb to the pressures of academic excellence, and does that ever compromise on the JPP and its values?

That’s a good point. There is a stress, there is a pressure. The end of year 5 curriculum is now being more tailored to pre-test preparation. The head of middle school, the headmaster have led on that. I’m currently working on behalf of them to evolve a model of how the boys can approach the English and verbal reasoning side of those tests which imbues their preparation with the way we’ve always worked in English, which is to say with rigor, with reflection, with deep analysis. So I think, you know, the direction of travel is right there. I’m not sure that it does work against the JPP, because we’ve still got that reflective tone to it, we’ve still got that curious, active approach, but we need to be careful that we don’t, it doesn’t just become teach to the test, learn by rote.

What are some of the barriers that you can see towards the implementation of the JPP in the wider context of the school?

I think often the boys are too young to grasp some of the deeper resonances that the JPP can have. The young boys in the school, when they’re still in the infancy of literacy, probably aren’t best equipped with the full-on JPP. But the good thing is that the virtues can be expressed in language they understand, like, be kind, look out for other people, be interested in what you’re learning, work harder. I do think it’s possible to differentiate in that way.

And especially for the boys who have been here for 11 years or 10 years of their life, how do you think the school approaches the JPP at different levels of learning? Is it different for the senior school than it is for the middle school, or is it a generalized approach?

I think both. I think some colleagues are less confident, less comfortable. We do have a high turnover of staff and I do think we need to do more in terms of preparation and induction of new colleagues, not only in the first days they’re at the school, but I would say in their first terms and first years there at the school. Because there is a depth and range to this rich educational offer the school gives. I’m not convinced, I don’t think it’s possible actually, that colleagues get all of that straight away. How could they? An ongoing induction program I think will be of benefit to pupils and therefore like I was saying, to parents and definitely to teachers over a longer period.

Initially, you mentioned that there’s a holy triangle of students, parents, and staff. So what role do you think the staff plays in this triangle?

Pivotal. We are there to facilitate the learning, inspire the learning, motivate the learning, assess the learning, etc. And I think both pupils and parents can learn from us and indeed, not to be trite about it, we can learn from them as well. Whatever the child’s family context is, what the aspirations are. We often get a very crude vision of their aspirations. Oh, they’ve got to go to Eton, they’ve got to go to Wellington. Well, hang on, what’s behind that? And I think if we could get a more relaxed and yet perhaps more extensive dialogue going it will be for the benefit of all of us.

So currently do you think that the lack of that dialogue affects teaching and learning at St. John’s?

Yes, I’ve got no doubt as I was saying before, colleagues have a hurried induction into the school and where we have behavior management issues arising repeatedly around the school, it tends to be with colleagues who perhaps have not been here for long and who perhaps have not really benefited from a more thought-through induction.

What would you say is the responsibility of staff, then, in this learning context that’s driven by the JPP?

We’re fairly collegiate about it, I think we all get it. I think, obviously there are degrees some people will inevitably, invariably, perhaps do a certain level of lip service, but for those of us for whom the JPP represents a happy coincidence between what we believe in and how we live by, and what the school’s ethos is, it’s very personal for me, it’s not like me to stay in school for this length of time. There’s something about the school’s ethos that chimes with my own. You would like to think that colleagues might go with that, but I’m not sure they’re given the opportunity from their first recruitment to whenever it is they exit the school.

How important do you see staff well-being in this whole process?

Well, we need to empower colleagues to have the opportunity to both reflect and maybe lead on certain aspects of these things. We can’t do everything top-down. I think that is how the school works. There’s a lot of top-down stuff and yet again, to go by the recent inspection report, there’s some high-quality practice going on in all years of the school led by many different colleagues, and it would be lovely if we had the occasional master class or cascade from colleagues who are doing this stuff. None of us are ever too old to learn, and I know for myself every good thing I ever do in a classroom is something I’ve stolen from somebody else.

And does that top-down approach ever lead to compromises on the JPP?

Not so much compromises on it but maybe a sort of misfiring of what it actually is. I think it should be enabling and liberating rather than restricting. And I’m not sure that all colleagues would see it that way.

What are some of the consequences, then, of that top-down approach that you see in the wider context of the school?

Well, we have situations where something is proposed and it’s kind of, “Okay, how we’re going to make this work?” And yet perhaps sometimes the initial impetus for the proposal isn’t the clearest. So yeah, I don’t really want to say a great deal more than that.

And now just to sort of look at the JPP and the role it plays in the students’ lives, how do you see the JPP affecting them both when they’re at school and once they’re outside?

That’s very interesting. We’re walking towards Eton College, don’t see the beautiful chapel straight ahead, same as King’s College Cambridge, and boys who come here for years after they’ve left St. John’s, they still put AMDG [ad majorem dei gloriam, meaning “for the greater glory of God”] and LDS [laus deo semper, meaning “praise to God always”] at the header and the end of their work. That’s one sort of superficial example of how St. John’s stays with them. I meet a lot of the boys in later life; the boys that I taught when I first came to St. John’s are now graduates. They are finding their way in the world and there’s no doubt at all that St. John’s and JPP have left their mark in very positive ways. The boys are uniformly humble, grateful, kind, outward-looking, and reflective, and these are great things. None of it is measured by exams, but these are the great things that we want to educate people with.

And what about its role at St. John’s?

I can only point to my own experience really, which is to say in every class amongst the older boys, I’m lucky. I teach the older boys, in those classes and the context in which I see them, whether it’s sports teams, animal meetings, concerts, whatever. You see these virtues in their behavior and in their thoughtfulness. It definitely is a thing that works.

And since you take such an active part in both the houses and the sports life of the school, how do you see the JPP in action?

Well, if I had to choose any one of the virtues, it would be the selflessness, the simultaneous gratitude, and for the lack of a better word, generosity of spirit. It’s not something that you regularly see in everyday life or in everyday schools. It’s a precious thing. I would just say to anybody, spend an hour or two either in the playground or a few different classes a bit like you have and you will see it coming, you will see it coming out of the boys.

Great, thank you so much.

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