Dear Parents and Carers,
Part of the process of growing up is meeting new people who share their cultural interests and experiences with you. That can be places they have visited, music they enjoy, books they have read. Sometimes that can make you see the world differently, increasing your awareness of things that you haven’t encountered before.
I studied History at University and met someone in 1991 that had a very profound impact on my life. They were studying History and English Literature, and, in the language of the time, they were very ‘well read.’ Whilst I’d read science fiction, horror, and dystopian novels from the local library, they had read much more widely and had access to an enviable number of books at home.
My reason for sharing that detail is that their love of reading directed me towards books that I’d never heard of, or that I wouldn’t naturally have read. They included novels by F Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Milan Kundera, Ralph Ellison, Edith Wharton, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Angela Carter and James Baldwin. Each gave me access to worlds and stories that I hadn’t encountered before. I would equate that form of cultural awakening as being a little like a growth spurt, and I can still trace a number of my current interests back to that period of wider reading.
Of all the authors, the one that wrote about a time and place I thought I had some knowledge of was James Baldwin. At the time I was studying American political history and had recently studied the civil rights movement. The background to his writing seemed to suggest a focus on the African American campaign for greater equality during the Jim Crow period of the 1950s and early 1960s. However, when I actually read the first of his recommended novels, I was genuinely surprised. ‘Another Country’ certainly has important themes linked to race, identity and equality in the America of that period, but Baldwin also writes about same sex relationships and the difficulties experienced by characters who are both African American and gay at a time when the law was used to restrict people with those characteristics. Those themes are also evident in his short novel ‘Giovanni’s Room’ set in Paris. I had read very few books that considered personal relationships – Julia and Winston in ‘1984’ was as close as I’d previously got and that isn’t, perhaps, a particularly positive example – and certainly none that explored issues of identity, self-perception, and what it felt like to be excluded based upon a fundamental aspect of your nature or sexuality. There are a number of other excellent books by Baldwin, and he was also a great public speaker: charismatic and intelligent, outspoken and argumentative if necessary. The main theme of many of his books – regardless of the race or sexuality of his characters – is that not being able to love the people that you want to love harms people and is fundamentally unjust. He noted that, ‘It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.’ He was also an advocate of free speech, and reacted negatively if people tried to tell him what he could or couldn’t say, do or think.
I have previously referenced how important reading is for the development of any child or young person. Books take us to places that we haven’t visited before and give us an insight into the lives of people that are often quite different to our own. Whilst I read those Baldwin novels 33 years ago, they still resonate, and my interest in James Baldwin has remained strong. Therefore, I was thrilled when, as part of February’s LBGT+ History month, the BBC identified that he was a key literary figure that more people might enjoy reading. We are currently running a competition encouraging students to make a poster celebrating the achievements of historical individuals who identified as being LGBT+. The chosen person can be an important writer, musician, athlete or, in line with this year’s theme, a talented individual who has made a significant impact scientifically. The school’s Pride Groups have also planned a talk on ‘Hidden Histories.’ If I were choosing a figure to focus upon for the competition, it would definitely be James Baldwin, and I would urge anyone who loves literature to read his books.
One of the things about being of a certain age is that you start to accumulate enough personal history to genuinely see when things have improved and where things have stalled or even, regrettably, gone backwards. When I was a child in the 1980s, the thought of LGBT+ History month being nationally celebrated, and pride groups doing positive work in schools would have been difficult to imagine. It is fantastic that people can be the individuals that they are, and also feel part of a kind and supportive community. There is always work to do, but schools are places where individuals are respected, and all members of the community are valued for who they are and what they can contribute. That doesn’t mean that things will ever be perfect, but, they have undoubtedly improved. The other reason that James Baldwin should be more widely known is that he was much more than the labels that others used to try and define him - African-American, gay. Those things were certainly true, but many of his disagreements were with people who shared those very characteristics. Life is far too complicated to think that simplistic labels can be used to describe large groups of people. Primarily, he was a uniquely talented individual and those are the qualities that our students will be celebrating during February 2024.
As a footnote, James Baldwin lived very happily in the South of France between 1970 until his death in 1987 and felt a level of acceptance and kindness in the community of Saint-Paul-de-Vence that he hadn’t encountered in America. Last year I had the opportunity to visit that area with the person that had recommended his writing back in 1991. That person is also the reason that I have lived and worked in Durham for so many years and they exemplify the positive influence that others can have by simply encouraging us to engage with the lives and stories of others. You don’t have to identify as LBGT+ to want all those that do to lead happy, fulfilled and successful lives. Making people aware of key figures in LGBT+ history and the challenges that they have faced is one way to make a positive contribution.
I would encourage all of our students to enter the competition and to attend the talk. And, of equal importance, to read as much and as widely as possible!
Have a good weekend.
What is my child learning?
In the Learning section of our website you can find guidance on what every student at the school is studying. As well as an overview of our curriculum and principles behind it, you can find an overview of each subject area.
You can also find a guide to the content being covered in every subject and how you can support your child for each half term here: Year 7 | Year 8 | Year 9 | Year 10 | Year 11 | Year 12 | Year 13
LGBT+ History Month
Spring Concerts - Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st March (7pm)
Rehearsals are well underway for our 'Water, water everywhere' themed concerts this term. If your child performs in one of the ensembles taking part please do encourage them to attend rehearsals every week and give their apologies if they need to miss a rehearsal. We aim for high standards of music-making (as well as good fun) and we need a full team turn-out each week to do this. There are not many weeks left!
We are looking for about 3 soloists for each evening and the hope is that we can find solos that have a 'watery' theme. If you child has a piece they may be interested in performing, please would you ask them to see me as soon as possible.
Tickets for both evenings will be on sale from the Music Department after half-term, priced £4 and £2 concessions. Cash or cheque (made payable to 'Durham Johnston School').
If your child brings an instrument into school, please ensure that it is clearly labelled with their name. Also, please do encourage your child to take their instrument home at the end of the school day, unless they may need it for a lesson or rehearsal the following day. We are delighted that so many need to bring instruments in, but our storage is limited and we are concerned that an instrument may be unintentionally damaged at some point, not to mention the fact that ideally some practice is going on between lessons!
An opportunity has arisen for new starters on Saxophone. If your child is interested and would like more information, please ask them to come and see me before half term. Pupils could either have their own instrument or hire one from Durham Music Service.
Subject Leader for Music
Last weekend was an amazing weekend of sporting success. On Saturday, as County Champions, our U16 boys table tennis team travelled to Bradford Grammar School to represent Durham at the Northern Schools finals. We started with a very close match against Birkdale School which we eventually won 6 - 2. We then lost to a strong team from St Mary's College, Hull, before another great victory against the hosts. This left us needing to beat Charles Read School in our final match to qualify for the national finals. Unfortunately, they have a table tennis academy linked to the school, and they proved too strong for us as we eventually finished 3rd in the North - a great achievement. Well done to Max Hancock, Sam Dale, Jude Warner, and Nikolay Kirillov.
On Sunday, our U19 girls’ netball team were at Sports Central, Newcastle for the North East finals. The best 8 teams in the North East took part in an outstanding day of high quality netball. In an amazing achievement, we won all our games, including a 19-7 victory over RGS in our final game to win the competition. As North East champions we now qualify for the national finals which take place at Oundle School on 16th March.
Over the weekend we also had confirmation that our Year 7 boys biathlon team had qualified for the national finals which take place on 23rd March at Bath University. Wilf Beale is ranked 6th in the country going into the finals.
On Monday, our Year 8 boys’ futsal team were at Hurworth School for the County futsal finals. Despite never giving up we lost 2 matches and drew one to finish 3rd.
Our Year 7 boys’ futsal team were at Hurworth on Tuesday for their County finals. However, it was much better news as we won all our games comfortably, including a 4-0 win against the hosts to become County Champions. They now progress to the regional finals after half-term. Alfie Barker-Lippe was POT.
Also on Tuesday, we hosted the Year 10 boys’ futsal finals. We won our first two games to set up a decider with Hummersknott. Unfortunately, we lost, to finish runners-up.
Finally on Tuesday, our Year 8 rugby team took part in an excellent afternoon of rugby at Parkview winning most of their games.
We had three football matches on a busy Wednesday. Our Year 9 boys’ team were at North Durham Academy in the County Cup. We conceded a late goal to draw 1-1and take the game to penalties. We held our nerve and lifted our penalty curse to win 4-3. Joe Shields was POM.
Our VIth Form football team faced St Leonard's at Meadowfield. Matthew Rowley scored an early goal. However, despite dominating the game, we couldn't find another goal and paid the price in the second half as St Leonard's fought back to beat us 2-1. Joint POM's were Jake Toase and Harry Stewart.
Finally, our U13 girls travelled to Hebburn, St Joseph's also in the County Cup. We went 2-0 ahead in the first half, but ran out of steam in the second half eventually losing 4-2. Still a great performance against a football academy.
Yesterday, our Year 8 netball team were due to make the short journey to Durham High for the Area tournament. This was unfortunately postponed due to the weather.
Also yesterday, we hosted the Year 8 Junior NBA basketball tournament. We started well with a comfortable victory 36 - 0 victory against Framwellgate. We went on to dominate the competition winning all our games to become champions and progress to the play-offs in March. Manos Mylonopoulos was POT.
More fixtures today to conclude a busy week. Good luck to our Year 8 basketball team who face Dame Allans in the Tyneside Cup final, and to our Year 9 basketball team who are also at Dame Allan's in the knockout stages of the English Schools Cup.
Our Year 8 & 9 rugby teams also have fixtures at Emmanuel College - good luck to them. Finally good luck to our Year 11 boys’ futsal team who are taking part in the County tournament.
Subject Leader for PE