In Flanders Fields

Just back from a highly enjoyable couple of days in Flanders with our friends and partners in Veurne, especially Marieke, the directeur of our partner schools there. I am trying to do some research around the impact of Catholic schools on their communities and, in particular, for those children with special educational needs and disabilities. This is in partnership with the Catholic Independent Schools Conference.

The information will be contrasted with the work of All Saints and St Vincent’s in Liverpool, and maybe one or two other European countries. That information will take a while to be assimilated, so in the meantime, here are some random thoughts and reflections from the visit:-

  1. How is it that Flemish (and Dutch) people speak English so well? It’s really shameful that we’re so useless when they’re so good.
  2. Central Europeans can’t get their heads around our Brexit (and I think that’s first time I’ve mentioned the word in this blog, so ‘note to family’, I’m not obsessed). They understandably can’t reconcile their innate respect for all things British with such weird decisions.
  3. It seems that finances in schools are in a perilous position whichever country you visit.
  4. The demands on schools from parents are increasing whichever country you visit.
  5. The UK does not have a monopoly on bad weather.
  6. I played the role of Schwarz Piet (Black Pete) during a rehearsal of the Veurne Choral Ensemble. Getting over-excited, I then played and sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Badly.
  7. The peace within the town is almost oppressive, similar to Ieper, Poperinge and other local towns so synonymous with the Great War. The surrounding villages are amazingly amazing (nod to Zaphod Beeblebrox).
  8. I arrived back in Brussels at the same time as Theresa May. This is having arrived in China at the same time as Donald Trump. I am now a confirmed stalker of world leaders.
  9. The ‘common good’ is alive and well, but is not being trumpeted by faith communities as well as it could be. And even less people in Belgium go to Mass than in England. Has the church thought about what will happen when Masses are celebrated to an empty chamber?
  10. Headteachers have far less power in Belgium (I think this is true in most of continental Europe). We really cannot complain about the level of autonomy we have, even more so now in chaotic times.
  11. I met the brother of the previous headteacher (Jef) and found out he had appeared on the X Factor, catching grapes in his mouth. It seems he caught over 200 in 2 minutes. He is also the owner of a preposterous moustache.

I am extremely grateful for the time Marieke gave me, when she had so many other things on. But, despite the valuable discussions around all sorts of school leadership and pedagogical issues, when it really came to it, there was only one revelation that really mattered – that Marieke’s husband, Willy, runs a pub in the beautiful village of Beauvoorde.

The trip therefore finished with a bottle of local beer and a small glass of Picot. It bodes well for future inter-staff relationships.

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