The Head's Blog

Tuesday 25 November 2014

A very productive and busy scene greets me at the hospitality suite where pupils from six local schools are here for the Primary Schools Business Challenge, organised by Nick Fieldhouse, Head of Economics and Business Studies. Their task is to form a new company and plan the launch of a brand new healthy soft drink for the market. Along with Mark Hindley (Deputy Head Pastoral) and Paul Green (Young Enterprise) we are to judge the presentations. Each school works hard to show their understanding of the task. They need to demonstrate business awareness, analyse competition in the market and deliver a convincing presentation. I’m impressed by the quality and also the creativity of the work produced after a morning’s effort and it’s hard reaching a final decision. We are entertained and informed and wonder what might happen if any of the products reach the market. The runners up are St Nicolas and the winner Caldecott, so well done to all those pupils.

Saturday 22 November 2014

I’m intrigued to see a quote from NZ All Black Zin Zan Brooke, in Touchliners’ Chairman Ian Graney’s welcome in the brochure for our matches today v RGS Guildford.

“Rugby does not build character, it reveals it.”

I take the opportunity to reflect on this comment with parents visiting us for a taster morning. This is the last taster morning for the term and they’ve provided a great opportunity for boys sitting our 11+ assessment in January to experience a little of what life at Abingdon is about. As usual, the Q+A panel is made up of me, Jane Jorgensen and Adam Jenkins and for the first time, Oliver Lomax (Curriculum Director). We’re kept busy for the full hour taking many and diverse questions from parents about the admissions process.

Thursday 20 November 2014

I’m visiting section assemblies this week, and in front of me are the boys in the 3rd Year. They’ve been having a very busy time judging by the many achievements and acknowledgements I’m making to individual boys. There’s everything from leading a Sea Scouts group, winning a national diving competition to boys baking cakes for tutor time. Clearly these boys are in the running for the next British Bake Off!

Sarah Wearne (Archivist) opens a stimulating evening. Talking about WW1, she reminds the audience that we were a very small school at the outbreak of the war, just 66 boys. By 1914 161 OAs and masters were serving, and 75 lost their lives in the war. Fascinating to learn that Lower Field had been ploughed up and turned over to the growing of potatoes. Also, the boys were requisitioned by the government to bring in the harvest from local farms.

We are then treated to a lecture from military historian Professor Gary Sheffield and the boys ask such perspicacious questions.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Up pops Mrs McRae in Lower School Chapel. “Cinders!  Cinders! Get in here! Sweep this floor – go on – move!” She and the other Lower School tutors are vividly illustrating Mr Jenkins’ (Head of Lower School) talk for anti-bullying week. We meet Flashman, the arch bully in “Tom Brown’s School Days”, and learn of Malfoy’s perspective in the Harry Potter novels. The conclusion, the justification for bullying behaviour “It was only a bit of fun. I was just having a laugh.” resonates around the chapel, but such behaviour is never fun, nor is it funny.

Lots of visitors are popping in to see us as they consider Abingdon for their sons. At Head’s Praise I am delighted to see boys recognised for the great job they do as ambassadors, taking many families on tours. Today we “Discover Abingdon” once more, welcoming parents to a session to help them learn more about us.

Continuing on the learning curve for parents, Jane Jorgensen (Director of Admissions and Marketing) and I pop over to the Prep School to meet Year 6 parents. Although these boys won’t enter the senior school until September 2017, the journey has already begun.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Time goes by so quickly for here we are at Chandlings for the annual visit to meet Year 6 parents. Jane Jorgensen (Director of Admissions and Marketing) and I always enjoy the visit and particularly the engaging questions from the boys. Lots on sport of course, nothing on food this time, surprisingly, and from the parents, questions on the forthcoming assessment day. Clearly John Walker (Acting Head) is enjoying his time in post. It was only last Friday (John is an OA) that I last saw him, so our paths are crossing quite regularly. Any assessment process is daunting and, with Christmas in between as a distraction, it won’t be long before the big day in January arrives.

I turn back to Abingdon in time for our memorial service for Ken Kerby. We take time to remember Ken who worked here for 19 years in a range of roles, and latterly as resident caretaker. His quick smile and unfailing willingness to help in all weathers, at all times, and his wry commentaries on this and that, are very much missed.

Friday 14 November 2014

The minibus arrives at the Hospital Club, Covent Garden, bringing colleagues to join some 200 OAs who are here for a drink and a catch up. Quite a venue, made possible through Gavin McLauchlan (1981). The décor invites comment, a wall of old suitcases stacked behind the left luggage platform, leather covered bannisters and light spaces filled with art, for this club is, in fact, nothing to do with medicine (though the original building was a hospital) but serves a membership drawn from the creative industries. So many familiar faces with a great turnout of OAs from my own era, and many others, going right back to 1948, so eight decades are represented. The volume increases – and increases – with respite only for the speeches from David Allison (President) and me, then off they go again. These OA events are working well for us and have become a regular feature of the calendar, and enjoyment is enhanced by visiting different venues in London for the occasion.

Thursday 13 November 2014

In conversation… An Evening with David Mitchell. There’s been an expectant air about the place today for tonight comedian, author, actor and Old Abingdonian David Mitchell is here, seated on the stage where at school his career began. Mark Thornton from the independent bookshop “Mostly Books” interviews David about his new book "Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse". Very quickly David is entertaining the huge audience, every seat is taken, and there is much laughter. David is exactly as we all think we know him, from his many and varied TV and radio appearances. He’s familiar, entirely natural, thought-provoking and very funny. Lots of time for questions too and his engagement with the audience is spontaneous and insightful. An excerpt from the Abingdonian of 1991 says of his performance in “Romeo and Juliet”: “The hopelessly disorganised Friar Lawrence was sensitively portrayed by David Mitchell. With adolescents having tantrums all around him, Friar Lawrence must be a calm, steady, comforting figure. Mitchell was all of these without ever seeming stodgy and boring.” Far from boring, far from stodgy, this is certainly an evening to remember. Well after the event finishes, those in the long queue patiently wait for him to sign their copy of his book, a souvenir of the evening but also, no doubt, a treat in store for this weekend’s reading. Welcome back to Abingdon, David Mitchell.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

The boys gather in the Amey Theatre. They enter in silence, no-one needs to be reminded. Certainly the atmosphere is solemn, it is also respectful and attentive. Tommy Nicholson and William Johnson read the names of Abingdon’s fallen, the boys and teachers who gave their lives in the world wars.

At the heart of the Chaplain’s focus is a photograph taken just before the start of WWI on 4 March 1914. It is a gathering of past and present members of the Boat Club and the occasion is the annual School vs OA boat race. Out of the 21 pictured, 9 will lose their lives in the next 4 years.

We learn of Head of School Cyril Cook, science master Sydney Baker and Arthur Davenport, captain of cricket. All will make the final sacrifice, but today their personalities as Abingdonians of the period come to life. Schubert’s Fantasie in F minor for four hands is played, beautifully and sensitively, by Anthony Bracey and Leon Wu.

The drizzle descends as the whole School moves out for the parade. The CCF have been outside all this time, silent, concentration etched on faces. The “Last Post” (Tommy Nicholson, James Anderson-Besant, Max Moyle), 63 tolls of the bell, 2 minutes’ silence, “Reveille” (Nick Harris) and then the wreath is carried to the chapel. It is, as always, moving, poignant and thought-provoking. The loss of life of Abingdonians was huge, boys barely older than the Abingdonians of today.

“We will remember them.”

Saturday 8 November 2014

The rain tips down which doesn’t bode well for the rugby, Abingdon v Eton, scheduled for this afternoon. However, the spirits of the 49 boys here for a taster morning are undiminished, for they’re having a great time trying various activities. Their parents ask the panel of senior staff lots of questions relating to the forthcoming entrance day in January. Later, another rugby match in another place causes no small amount of anguish, right until the final moments, and then joy or disappointment depending on your perspective (NZ 16 : Eng 14).

Friday 7 November 2014

Walk through Oxford just as the city is getting going, recycling and delivery trucks all over the place, bumper to bumper traffic, and I avoid puddles where cars might slosh a tsunami of water over me. I’m on my way to Christ Church Cathedral School as I’m to speak at their assembly in the Cathedral.

Very pleased to see Headmaster Richard Murray, for we go back a long way as he was my son’s housemaster in another place. Right on time we venture across St Aldate’s, just as the boys cross in an orderly crocodile.

What a lovely setting for a school assembly, and how inspirational for these young boys to be able to enjoy such beautiful and peaceful surroundings as part of their daily school life. Lots of parents there too so it’s all quite a gathering. The hymn singing gets a good boost from the choristers and they are an attentive audience for me, although it might be worms which are particularly remembered from what I say, rather than the message of the story read by Noah, Louis and Adam: “Life is not about waiting for storms to pass… it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”

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