The Head's Blog

Saturday 20 September 2014

A large party of girls is walking up the main drive. They are firmly set in the direction of School House. Later I discover them in the dining room enjoying dinner with boarders in the 4th and 5th Year. They are from St Swithun’s School, Winchester, and are here for a social evening organised by Ben Simmons. Justin Wilson led a team of prefects running a “pub quiz” for entertainment; the concept that is, but without the refreshments associated with a pub quiz – obviously. The event is part of a busy activities weekend available to the whole school with everything from sculpture, playwriting, DofE and much more on offer.

Friday 19 September 2014

To work in the one institution for a huge chunk of one’s working life is a remarkable achievement. Today I’m presenting three long-service awards to staff. Both Sandra Hendy and Denise Thornfield have worked in our housekeeping department for 20 and 25 years respectively. They tell me tales of things quirky, funny and interesting of happenings which have come their way over the years. I’m told how the very large table, which was in the Head’s office until I arrived, was cleaned down every week with vinegar and then a home-made polish to buff it up. The conversations which would have gone on around that table over the years would have ranged from difficult, diverse, and challenging to humorous, mundane and not about school at all. These days, these conversations go on around a different table at Lacies Court but no vinegar is used as far as I know. Both Sandra and Denise had previous lives employed elsewhere in Abingdon but have been such a part of the School since then and have given much to us. Also receiving acknowledgement is Andy Bush who has taught trumpet here for 20 years. Regarded as a “legend” by the multitude of boys he’s taught, Andy has been at the heart of our Music School all these years. Most of us don’t work in the one place for such an extended period of time. To be woven into the fabric of a place for that long is quite something.

A group of prefects drop in for bacon butties and cookies. They are much absorbed by the university application process, it being that time of year. The remaining months at Abingdon will go by very quickly for our U6 boys and it won’t be long before they are launched.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Blake Jones (5th Year) is here on behalf of that zippy publication “The Martlet” to quiz me on the café. Good questions on why and how and future plans. Having got it going, my mind is already turning to other projects so I hadn’t been thinking about what next for the café, but there are some good suggestions and clearly much interest. Might a loyalty card be considered? Overall I sense that the café has been well-received by the boys and hopefully it will become a hub for events in the Amey Theatre too.

Break neck round trip to London for the evening to the Royal Institute of British Architects for a dinner hosted by a group of architects. Quite a building in Portland Place, and it’s good to meet so many architects, surveyors and others who work with schools designing buildings fit for study and general use in the twenty-first century. I may be pleased with our very modest conversion of a dilapidated houseroom into a café, an in-house enterprise, but for the big stuff we do need help from outside, as seen in the rapidly emerging Science Centre.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Robin Fletcher, National Director of the Boarding Schools’ Association, drops by with Ed Swanwick, Head of Boarding and School House. Robin is new in the job and visiting a range of boarding schools. We discuss how different each school’s offering is, for no two schools are ever the same. He’s noted that although the majority of boys who attend Abingdon are day boys, our boarders are very much at the heart of our School.

On to the presentation from Adrian Burn (Chairman of Governors) and Bruno Delacave (Director of Finance) who have taken the opportunity to give colleagues across the Foundation an overview of governance and School finance. Many very good and perceptive questions follow.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

There’s nothing I like more than getting out to see some teaching going on. I’m gradually working my way around seeing all our new teachers in the classroom. It’s a real pleasure to visit Chunlian Greenfield’s Mandarin lesson with Year 4 boys. I’m fascinated by the deft shapes which form words in a very different script from our own. The boys write with such confidence which is impressive. It can’t be easy to shift mind-set but having been studying the language for over a year now they are very competent. Instructions are given in the language too and very little English is spoken, other than when I ask boys how they’re finding the subject, to which the response is positive.

Monday 8 September 2014

A recurring theme at School Council meetings has been my exhortation that, indeed, the boys really will be getting a café. This had been going on for quite some time, a little like “waiting for Godot”, perhaps a couple of years but – at last – today the café is opening! It’s all been a bit of a pet project for me. I’d been longing to do something with the rather tatty building which graces the side of the Jekyll Garden and also provide a social venue for the boys, serving delicious snacks. I’m not disappointed. The interior has been transformed and has the look of an American diner with its funky mandarin and mauve sleeper style seats and geometric white chairs. The boys look very comfortable and relaxed, and can venture out to tables in the garden. But the real pièce de résistance has to be the selection of mouth-watering cakes, destined to be a sell out: chocolate, toffee, Victoria sponge on offer today. Later I learn that takings on opening day are short by £2.00. This seems odd, how has this happened? I’m then reminded that the Head has an outstanding IOU of exactly £2 for a frothy cappuccino… (now duly paid!)

I pop into the ASPA committee meeting. Kerensa Butler is chairing a committee where most of the parent reps are there for the first time. It’s quite a heavy agenda for ASPA has plans for 6 forthcoming events including the ever-popular Italian dinner (10 October), as well as other items to discuss. ASPA plays a significant role in the life of Abingdon. These parents work tirelessly to create a happy ambience at the many events they arrange for parents.

Saturday 6 September 2014

First Saturday of the rugby season and we’re up against St Edward’s. Our opponents, playing on their home ground in North Oxford, look formidable. A painfully close match for the 1st XV sees Abingdon win by just one point. All a bit close for comfort but a well-fought match.

Friday 5 September 2014

The new scholars are presented with their special ties at a ceremony in the Amey Theatre. Parents watch as each scholar steps onto the stage. Dr Chris Burnand, Master of the Scholars, reads a short citation on the history of the scholarships, many of which hail from days gone by. Next up is Boarders’ Chapel before the boys go on to a formal dinner which will be the first of many they will enjoy at Abingdon.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Officially, today is the start of term and all the boys are back on deck. We wonder how the buses will manage getting through the roadworks that are a feature of life at present, but all seems well. First up, assembly, lots of news and the new teachers are introduced to the School. A quick break at ten, and the boys set off through the town for the service at St Helen’s Church. The theme is “the beginning is always today” (Mary Wollstonecraft) which is always worth remembering particularly if the day before hasn’t gone quite so well. Time is later spent by the boys at the activities fair where they peruse a huge range of “Other Half” activities and begin to make choices about what they want to do.

Monday 1 September 2014

Picture the first year boys for their first day ever at Abingdon. Boys - in particularly crisp, white shirts, and blazers with plenty of room to grow - are dotted around the chapel at the special service for boys and their parents. We learn about the many ways we say “welcome” in different languages and have a crack at identifying them – tervetuloa, fáilte roimh, dialu-alukan and maligayang pagdating all prove challenging. I wonder about the Maori kia ora which broadly means a greeting of welcome - perhaps that might be added to the list of languages next year. Their day has been busy with ice-breaker activities, tours, a library session and sport. Gathered now for tea, today ends on a high. The 64 new boys come from 45 different schools so the next few weeks as they begin to make new friends will be important as they settle into their new School.

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