The Head's Blog

Friday 17 October 2014

I’m out to greet the boys from the buses and wonder at why the boys are so casually dressed. I then remember – home clothes day, so the half term break must be in view. The weeks go by so quickly and with planning for tomorrow’s pre-test day very much a focus, the breaks rather sneak up on us.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Enjoying a moment of reflection in chapel when from the CMR below came the sound of Webb’s House practising “America” by Razorlight, a taste of the big event to come. For this year’s house singing competition was the best across the board I’ve heard at Abingdon, and today is number 5 for me. There have been changes to the rules which is great to see: the boys can use harmony, do actions, have solos and more instruments for the backing. It all makes it even more enjoyable for the audience and gives the boys just the right degree of challenge and variety. Alexander L’Estrange, composer, singer/songwriter, musician and an OA, adjudicates and his approach is entertaining and refreshing. His decisions are hard this year for the standard is high.

  • 1st: Southwell-Sander’s (aided by their bulldog mascot)
  • 2nd: Cotton’s
  • 3rd: Franklin’s

It’s all over only just in time to get to the buses.

Monday 13 October 2014

Head’s Praise and I’m expecting 5 U6 boys to darken my door. In the end, for various reasons just one boy arrives but it turns out to be particularly enjoyable for me. I like seeing the boys for Head’s Praise, for each will have been specifically identified by one of their teachers for having done something particularly interesting, unusual or at a very high level. Today, because it’s just one boy, I have the opportunity to have a lengthy chat. I won’t record his name here but he was impressive. We talked about what it’s like to arrive from abroad to a school like Abingdon, how at first it’s quite a shock – so many adjustments to be made, the food, culture, meeting new people, our own rather idiosyncratic customs and of course the weather. It’s an enormous step for our boarders from overseas who leave their families and everything familiar to be part of what we offer here. Yet, on the whole, it works. This boy spoke with such enthusiasm about what the UK boarding experience is bringing to his life and was very forward-thinking in what he hoped to achieve. I’m struck by how perspicacious he is and also courageous.

Peter Hadfield (Catering Manager) brings Jason Bendall (Account Manager) from Sodexo to meet me. Jason has recently taken up this post and is spending some time working with our caterers at Abingdon. In an organisation of some size and complexity, I’m reminded just how many people, doing any number and variety of roles, contribute to making the place work. And our food is very important to all of us and is in itself quite an undertaking on a daily basis.

Up to the health centre for my flu vaccination. All staff may avail themselves of an annual jab. Having once had real flu, which is a very different experience from just a rotten cold, I appreciate that the jab is available. Never convinced by what a nurse or doctor always says:  “You’ll just feel a little scratch …”

Saturday 11 October 2014

A special day as we farewell John Bunce who has been chairman of the OA Club since 2005. We welcome guests who’ve been supporters and friends to John to Lacies Court for lunch. The speeches are warm and appreciative. Earlier, Gareth Morris chaired his first committee meeting and AGM of the Club. We also thanked Mike Stevens, Mike Litchfield and Simon Hills for their services to the OA Club. All these OAs help Abingdon as volunteers and all feel a fierce loyalty to their School.

The dining room has become a magical setting with a Middle Eastern theme for the Touchliners’ Dinner. Parents Jane Herold, Mike Whelan and Pippa Barrett have done a great job creating what looks like a tent in the desert. A boa constrictor is on the guest list at the reception and is passed around from one neck to another…  I stroke it but that’s as far as it goes.

This year some 100 families support Touchliners which is led by Chairman Ian Graney. With 21 sides out each weekend and 440 boys playing rugby, the Rugby Club goes from strength to strength. And it was good to see how the matches against Radley went today!

Thursday 9 October 2014

There’s nothing more marvellous than a truly brilliant band and tonight we are treated to a performance from the Waterloo Band of the Rifles. These fantastic musicians present an uplifting programme with foot tapping tunes and poignant melodies in evidence. “You can’t stop the beat” goes down well, as does the “Bugler’s Holiday” featuring our own musicians James Anderson-Besant (L6), Hugh Franklin (L6), and Nick Harris (Year 5). And that’s the great thing about this show, boys from Abingdon and girls from SHSK have the opportunity to play with these top class professional players. The stage is heaving as over 100 do their bit including a rendition of the “Dam busters’ March” and Henry Wood’s “Fantasia on British Sea Songs” which has the audience behaving as though we’re at the last night of the Proms.

The evening is also to raise funds for ABF, the solders’ charity which helps soldiers, veterans and families from every conflict.

Prior to the concert a reception is held at Lacies Court for the key players in the enterprise.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Dr Schütze (teacher of English and French) from our exchange school in Bielefeld leads chapel with the extraordinary and true account of the Christmas Truce in 1914 when soldiers in the trenches laid down their arms, sang carols, exchanged presents including plum puddings and cigars, and played football (using a proper football donated by the Germans) in No Man’s Land, and took photographs. Today, 100 years later, the boys continue to play football, exchange presents (surely not cigarettes…) and take selfies in a time of peace, when friendships are forged by visiting in each other’s families and homes in two countries.

Up to the sports centre where Amber Waite (teacher of Chemistry) is leading a partnership masterclass for biologists from Larkmead, King Alfred's, Fitzharry's, SHSK, Headington and Abingdon Schools. The 14 students have been put in pairs with someone they don’t already know and are engaged in an icebreaker : “What is conservation? Why is conservation important? Where does conservation happen? What is conserved?” Their tentative answers show promise and are an early indication of the confidence they’ll develop during the morning-long session.

And finally, a real treat for everyone who attends the Middle School Scholars’ and Sixth Form presentation evening. Why do we laugh? Charlie Johns (4th year) fills us in. A photograph of the Queen and her corgis has us wondering about dogs, for we know that they convey happiness by wagging their tails and also that cats purr, but do they laugh? Later I try to get an answer from Dudley, does he laugh? No, apparently not. Charlie takes us through why Schadenfreude, the pleasure derived from another’s misfortunate, does just that. On the screen appears an image which makes the audience laugh, when maybe it shouldn’t! Other topics include “The Safavid Dynasty” (Adam Pearson UVI) “The Truth about Megalodon” (Benjamin Hall 4th Year) and “Orbitals” (Benjamin Wilson 4th Year) amongst others.

Monday 6 October 2014

A school language exchange is always happy and positive for those involved. We learn about life in other countries, we discover how similar we are, we learn to appreciate differences. Our friends from Ratsgymnasium Bielefeld, an exchange now in its 42nd year, are here again. This year there is a difference, for a remarkable exhibition has been mounted by Dr Johannes Altenberend, Head of History and Archivist at our exchange school, as the visit coincides with the anniversary of the Great War. It depicts Ratsgymnasium as it was just before war broke out and what’s striking is that the young men in the photographs look very much as ours did in that period, and might have been drawn from our own archive. In the summer of 1914 these boys were sitting the equivalent of A levels and looking forward to the long summer break. The essay topics of the period reflect the impression that war was looming: “The present – a serious but good time for Germany?” The boys’ answers convey sorrow and fears of the reality of war. Other photographs show war memorials associated with the School and it’s very moving to see names of the fallen who had been in the school choir or the gymnastics club. We also see a copy of the record of the dead British POWs who were registered in Bielefeld. By summer, the School had been vacated and the buildings requisitioned for military use, with the war becoming a reality for these young men, and the prospect of a long hot summer in England and Germany lost forever.

Friday 3 October 2014

Have been away in Wales at the HMC conference, the annual gathering of the Heads who lead our independent schools, we were at the Celtic Manor, Newport where the NATO conference was held recently. No helicopters or tight security this week! The theme this year “Finding a Voice” resonated with me, particularly as Dominic Peckham, the quite brilliant choral and orchestral conductor, put us through “One Voice” sessions each morning and led a Heads’ choir. These were musical experiences extraordinaire as we discovered using our voices in ways we hadn’t thought possible – and what a great sound too.

The conference is quite an undertaking for the programme is very full. Lots of thought-provoking speakers at the plenary sessions, including David Blunkett, Stephen Dorrell, Shami Chakrabarti, Nicolas Mercer, Professor Sarah-Jayne Blackmore, to name a few. There are seminars on any number of topics of interest from “Employment law bear traps”, “Losing one’s voice and draining the wound: a guide to parental complaints” to “Managing challenging colleagues”, so something for everyone. The annual church service heard the Heads in fine voice, always great singers of hymns. On return our bus creaked up the hill, laden with Heads, and then slipped back rather precariously to the edge of a steep incline. The smell of brake fluid was hardly reassuring, and then when we finally came to a stop, the door wouldn’t open. Images of being trapped inside or hurtling over the edge filled our minds as we collectively remembered to keep calm and not indicate that we were at all bothered or apprehensive. There was an audible sigh of relief as we stepped from the bus and walked up the hill.

Saturday 27 September 2014

Open Day. It’s way before opening time and already the cars are filling upper field. It’s a beautiful day, as it has been every open day since I first came to Abingdon which is great because so many activities are outdoors. There’s something for everyone, from science experiments, checking out the café and listening to one of the music groups to just wandering around the academic departments, talking to teachers and boys about their lives at Abingdon. This year Heads of School (Tommy Nicholson and George Hale) join me along with brand new 3rd year boy Connor Brown, to speak to all our visitors, twice over, in the Amey Theatre. They do a great job. I always believe that prospective parents should hear from the boys at every opportunity in their search for a school for their own son. Once the speeches are over I manage to get out and have a good look at what’s on display. As ever, I marvel at the range and quality of all on offer.

A group of OAs (Old Abingdonians) pop in just as the Open Day is coming to a close. We gather in the Jekyll Garden for a BBQ. One group is a crew who rowed together (1986/87) who meet today for the first time since they left Abingdon with their coach Andrew Trotman (former member of MCR and Warden of St Edwards). One couple have come all the way from Canada and find the School a very different place and yet also the same too despite the passage of time.

Thursday 25 September 2014

I really did contemplate bringing Dudley on the 10 mile sponsored walk but now that I’m actually on the walk, I see the wisdom in leaving him behind. For it wouldn’t have been long before I’d have been carrying him and 10kgs of Dudley is no joke for a limited let alone extended period. Everyone starts out at a good pace and many are running the distance (including some teachers) – that seems too much to ask from me. They thunder past and even manage conversation. About 30 minutes before the lunch stop I start asking “how far away is lunch?” and at last, there it is in a prime spot right next to the river. How is it that food is always better outside?   

The boys queue up for a choice of rolls, fruit, crisps and chocolate bars, the latter of which I quietly slip back to retrieve a second… all that walking brings on an appetite. It looks as though I’m walking with the younger boys who must have all got on the early buses to give plenty of time to cover the distance, but it isn’t long before older boys catch up and overtake. Prefects are placed at strategic points, sitting in loungers, enjoying the sun with a stock of nourishing victuals, making sure we continue to head in the right direction. Sadly for some though, they must have taken a wrong turning, for in the distance traipsing around Wittenham Clumps are boys on their own version of the walk. All make it safely back to School even though one or two muck around and are pushed into the river. The less said about that the better perhaps and appropriate punishments have been issued.    

It’s quite something that the whole School, boys and teachers, join together for the biennial sponsored walk. Last time we raised £28K for charity and it’s hoped that we’ll raise even more for the School’s three nominated charities this year.  

Feeling as though I’ve had a good day in the fresh air, it’s on to St Edward’s School for their annual Michaelmas dinner, where traditional goose is on the menu. I wonder if mentioning the recent rugby will be a good conversation starter?!

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