E M Forster’s “Howards End” – an exhortation to *Connect*

E M Forster’s “Howards End” – an exhortation to *Connect*

This is not a literary essay.

Last year I used the film “The Matrix” as a leitmotif for my opening address to around 400 colleagues at The British School in The Netherlands and this year I turned to an Edwardian novel.


Last year’s themes of the interface between technology and our sense of self, and the emergent selves of the children and young people we educate, is still something that we need to explore, as is the concept of leadership across our large multi-faceted international school. But starting my second year it was time to share strategy and detail.

This is where E.M. Forster came in.


Leave aside the view that the UK state education system is in a Forsterian “muddle” for a minute.

There is a sense in Forster’s novels that progress is a little repellent. This can be read in the disquieting creep of suburbia and is often represented by the motor-car, emanating dust, noise and fracture through country lanes.

There is also, however, a sense of inevitability and a quiet regard for the people who do “business,” those who help the world go round and stimulate the economy. I think it is probably a grudging respect but one’s money has to come from somewhere.

HOWARDS END, Sam West, Joseph Bennett, 1992, (c) Sony Pictures Classics

Picture ref. The world of business comes into conflict with a life devoted to thinking and feeling.

Famously, the book’s key theme is “Only connect – the passion and the prose.” The central characters, whether representatives of the world of business or of the inner more spiritual experience, struggle to make meaning from a life narrowly focused at the two extremes.

Forster encourages us all to, “…live in fragments no longer.”

And this exhortation to connect became my central metaphor this year.

To become the most respected, highly acclaimed international school in the world – we need to join things up too. We need to focus on connecting our four campuses, Language Centre, BSN Business, parents, local community and international business partners for the benefit of the children and young people in our care.

As always, the children are at the heart of our thinking, in the middle of the roundel below. Each of the five elements is connected:


To *show* that leadership extends across the school and to highlight the strategy I invited, for the first time in the Principal’s address, four very different leaders in new roles to share their responsibilities.

4 leaders

Four strategic leaders at the BSN preparing to share the stage at my opening address

I welcomed Liz Free the founding Director of our International Leadership Academy; her brief – to connect and develop our people.

Our Head of Security Patrick O’Dwyer leads on developing our security culture across the school; keeping our community safe.

Jen Madge is leading on assessment, working with colleagues to connect that crucial learning narrative 3-18.

And holding our corporate sense of self together and translating strategy into admission numbers, Jihann Pedersen explained the importance of connecting our business with our ambition for our students.

All colleagues at the BSN have a responsibility to deliver the strategy. The Future School element will connect us further.

“Howards End” is about a sense of one’s place in the world – represented by the eponymous house. The house itself is a metaphor for this personal connectedness.

In our highly international community the connection between home and school is crucial. We are an extension of family and an inspiring learning environment is a key tenet of the quality of education we provide.

We are at a point where we need to grow to meet demand. We need to build something that’s more than a replication of existing facilities in order to move beyond the “Excellence” acknowledged by ISI last year. We need something that:

  1. Improves academic and social outcomes for children and young people;
  2. Creates additional space;
  3. Differentiates the BSN in the international school market;
  4. Prepares students for life after school;
  5. Is flexible, agile – responsive to the needs of our community.


Picture ref. Mrs Wilcox and her beloved Howards End – wisdom and connectedness often represented in sage women by Forster

This project now has a name – “BSN Connect.” At senior leadership group sessions, in which we discussed future school design features, the word “connect” was the most frequently used word.

We would like BSN Connect to be the BSN in microcosm – representative, inclusive, an inspiring learning home for all:

  • A place for our community to learn together
  • A training and research centre
  • A seat of shared practice and innovation
  • Not just about Technology – this is not always progress
  • Outward looking – putting education into context

We don’t know what this building will look like yet. It will not be another junior or senior campus – but for all of our students and staff. We have already begun planning the timelines and discussions we need to make this Future School element of our strategy a reality. The question I will be putting to people is this:

How can BSN Connect be a place that invites belonging and strengthens community – internal, local, national, international?

Do you have an idea or suggestion to share below?

Many colleagues re-watched “The Matrix” following last year’s address. Great works of art, for me, are the ones we return to.

“Howards End” for lots of reasons is well worth another read. Or you can watch the film – which is a fair rendition.

Only connect.