Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 17 November 2023
There aren’t many words in the English language I dislike, but there is one that makes me burn inside with rage. I hate the word ‘banter’. It might have been ok pre its early-21st century usage, but it has been brayingly corrupted to become ‘bantaaaaar’ or ‘bantaaaaar, mate’, or more often, ‘bantaaaar maaaate’. It may have started off as a relatively harmless description of verbal joshing and jousting between friends. But these days it’s more often than not used as a claim to immunity after saying something hurtful, and quite often bigoted. Some people use it to give them licence to say what they like, hurt who they like, then shrug and effectively say ‘I’m taking no responsibility for that’. Of course, it is perfectly possible to have in-jokes and a certain degree of affectionate back-and-forth between friends who know one another’s foibles and fundamentally love and respect one another. But so-called ‘banter’ too often goes beyond that. Quite often it isn’t between friends and, even if it is, it’s not always with the consent and tacit or explicit approval of the person at whom it is directed.
A few years ago I taught a Year 8 PSHCE (now better known as Wellbeing) lesson on this very topic, and there was palpable relief from the pupils when it became clear that it was ok to say – to the person claiming ‘banter’ immunity – ‘You know what, you think you’re being funny, and you think I’m enjoying your alleged joke, but actually I’m not enjoying it, I’m finding it hurtful, and I’d like you to stop’. At the end of the year, as a leaving gift, one of the boys in the class bought me the QI Book of Banter. Which was, I suppose, banter or meta-banter, but I wasn’t offended. The reason I’m writing about the word this week is because the national anti-bullying alliance have chosen it as their theme for anti-bullying week. ‘Too often’, they say, ‘We are silent when we see bullying take place, silent about the hurt bullying causes, and silent when we hear bullying dismissed as “just banter”. It doesn’t have to be this way’. Under the banner of ‘Let’s make a noise about bullying’, they are calling upon us all, those who might be bystanders, to actively call out bullying, especially that disguised as ‘banter’, when we see it. 7.5 million children across the country are being introduced to the theme, so let’s hope it starts to make a difference.
Each year I point out that every week should be anti-bullying week. No institution should claim that bullying absolutely never exists within it. In nice institutions like ours the instances might be relatively rare and isolated, but we all need to be attune to situations where the kind of natural friction that can occur when different people spend time with one another becomes something more targeted and sustained. And that includes seriously querying the apparent get-out clause that some people think they can use by airily dismissing their nastiness as ‘just banter’.
Have a great weekend,
On Monday it was a pleasure for our language ambassadors – Carlo, Jai, Arjun, Emil, Max, and Isaac – to visit St Michael’s in Marston so they could share language and cultural lessons. Feedback from teachers and pupils alike was very positive. They were extremely impressed with the organisation and work the boys had put in, not only in preparing such a range of resources, but on their delivery too. Everyone involved benefited from the experience and really enjoyed being part of the wider school partnership community.
Congratulations to all those Year 6-8 boys who took part in our senior recital on Wednesday. This was an historic event: the first recital in our brand-new auditorium! We are looking forward to our junior recital on Monday at 17.30. Parking, first-come first-served, is available in the playground from 17.00 once the boys are clear of the area after their enrichment activities. As ever, do please drive very carefully as there may still be boys walking to and fro.
We very much enjoyed welcoming author-editor Mallory Kass, from Scholastic, to speak to the Year 7 and 8 boys as part of our careers programme on Wednesday. Mallory writes under the pen name Kass Morgan, and is perhaps best known for her book The 100, a science fiction book series for young adults. The boys had lots of excellent questions about writing, editing and publishing.