The Head's Blog

Monday 26 January 2015

Perhaps a little reality is setting in as fifth year boys are beginning to appreciate the Easter holiday is likely to be turned over to a good chunk of revision. How to put aside 90 hours over the break to do justice to what is required? Graeme May (Deputy Head Academic) gets the message home at our plenary session for these boys and their parents. Once broken down, it all seems very manageable with weekends off and eight hours sleep factored in too. The trick will be to plan it all in advance of the holiday and then get on with it. Lots of other important messages tonight too, not least because the A level experience for these boys will be different as huge changes to the curriculum are afoot. Many parents will be familiar with the “new” A levels, for the approach will be linear as it was in their day. What goes around comes around!

Friday 23 January 2015

What began as an experiment is clearly paying off, with a joint OA Club/Careers department initiative. This evening 21 OAs (Old Abingdonians) are here to talk to 75 current sixth formers about their work life. Everything from politics, finance and medicine to media and entrepreneurship gets an airing. The boys signed up for the sessions on what it means to be ready for work, to be opportunistic about directions and the reality of a portfolio of roles, as well as discussions on discrete careers. Organised by Michael Triff (Director of Philanthropy) and Sarah Gibbard (Head of Careers) and chaired by governor and OA Mike Stevens, the evening gets off to a very positive start. There is a huge amount of help and advice available to the boys to help inform their university choices and consider future careers. We have a team of staff dedicated to just that. This event is one of a whole package of opportunities for the boys to explore what comes after school. Despite our intensive programme, boys need to take steps to be proactive and take advantage of all that is on offer. Tonight, these boys signed up voluntarily, as indeed our OAs did, and I do believe that the boys will find they’ll have gained much by being proactive by the end of the evening, which includes dinner and the chance to talk to OAs about their careers to date outside the sessions. We are fortunate indeed that our OAs are willing to step back into School to help current boys as they embark on their journey to university and beyond.

Thursday 22 January 2015

It doesn’t feel as though I’m heading in the right direction as I set out for Frensham Heights, Surrey. The satnav tells me I’m on the straight and narrow, as I pootle along unfamiliar roads, past vast business/industrial sites, alongside hedgerows, through woods, although that track with a stream crossing it definitely doesn’t seem right. I’m heading for the termly HMC divisional meeting and arrive long before the meeting starts, which means I can have a quick look around. I love to visit other schools and Frensham Heights is particularly beautiful with a glorious manor house at the heart, equipped with a ballroom (a venue for lots of weddings, I’m told) and a traditional greenhouse/conservatory, perhaps even an orangery, for the staff room. In the garden is a remarkable performance arena and I mentally add it to the list for Abingdon – Shakespeare in the garden on a summer’s night springs to mind. Many of the Heads complain of colds, our schools are full of it. Many attending have travelled considerable distances: our division stretches up north and down to the Isle of Wight, and one or two found themselves wending their way along obscure tracks in Surrey woods en route.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

The Governors’ Education Committee is in full swing. Jane Mansfield (Head of French) briefs us on the Pre-U and implications for language teaching. We all know how important language skills are and how useful from an international perspective. Abingdon’s linguists are undoubtedly at an advantage, not least for future employability, but also because of the tremendous opportunities for communication, friendships and access to a much bigger world that speaking other languages brings. Along with policy reviews and reports the KPIs are reviewed by the committee.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Quite a crowd in for Head’s Praise, 14 boys, 13 for their performances in the recent production of “As You Like It” and one for a truly stunning report, every grade O1 – that’s quite something. A quick whizz around the thespians to glean the most memorable line for each character. Also reflections on the benefits of a production at the beginning of the third year, so that those who joined the lower school boys in September, from other schools, really do get the opportunity to make new friends.

Monday 19 January 2015

I set out with Dudley to meet the boys from the coaches. En route back, I drop into the café - the enticing smell of fresh baking wafts out into the mist and proves irresistible. At 8.45am I expect the café to be more-or-less deserted, but happily ensconced around tables, some nursing hot chocolate and quietly getting on with the business of the day, I find 5ASH who have requisitioned this prime and cozy spot for their tutor time. What a happy and enterprising way to begin the week.

There are now so many publications across as many fields of endeavour being published by the boys, that most weeks I receive a new magazine or newsletter which goes straight to the top of my reading pile. Today I’m dipping into the fruits of the first A level course in creative writing taken by 15 sixth formers. Truly impressive writing and perfect for a Monday morning. I shall want to return later to these engaging pieces. How true, the final page:

“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”​
Ursula K Le Guin

Under the guidance of Miss Papadopoulos and Miss Yarrow, the quality of the writing engenders the hope to read more from the boys.

Saturday 17 January 2015

This time last year the flood waters on the Thames lapped the stairs to the boathouse. Today, the boys aren’t rowing, as the river is flowing too quickly, but that doesn’t dampen the tea party for new rowers and their parents. There is an abundance of chocolate brownie, several batches made by parents, and perhaps those exquisitely decorated cupcakes might have been decorated by the son of the household? I speak to the gathering along with Chairman of FASBC Nick Digby and Mark Earnshaw, Director of Rowing. There’s a lot of spirit in FASBC and parents genuinely have a good time supporting their sons in the club. This is a good thing all round for many hours will be spent at regattas between races, sitting in the Abingdon cerise and white marquee, to while away the time.

On to the hockey. If the boathouse was a touch chilly, Tilsley Park is blisteringly cold but play against St Edward’s is going well.

Friday 16 January 2015

The Amey Theatre is packed with teachers and pupils from many schools as I welcome them to the Oxfordshire Book Awards. Set up seven years ago, this hugely popular event encourages a great deal of reading, for the children read, review and nominate their favourite books. There are talks and reviews of the winning books, a very full afternoon before book signing and tea. The Award is clearly a wonderful way of supporting and celebrating both the power of books and the communities of readers that they inspire.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Heads of School George Hale and Tommy Nicholson drop in for coffee. Things may be beginning to relax for just a moment as news of university offers are starting to filter through. It’s been a tense time for the U6 which is perfectly understandable.

Just how many boys take part in our concerts? Huge numbers it seems, even when some pop up in more than one group in the New Year Charity concert. First up, and a first for them too, is the recently formed Gospel Choir. 17 voices including the conductors Mr Ponniah, Mrs Wenham and other staff Mrs McRae and Mr Poon. Perhaps I might sneak in to a rehearsal or two? For the musical style lends itself to spontaneity and fun as well as a keen sense of musicianship. Certainly this is a strong debut performance with a clear indication of where they might go. Mr Stinton (Director of Music) opened the concert, reminding us how early it is in the term, maybe some groups might not be so polished… but we all understand this. We know that the Second Orchestra will at some point morph into the First Orchestra and that the robust bold sound of the Lower School band will, in due course, provide the heart of the Big Band. I’m delighted by the First Orchestra’s rendition of “The Sound of Music”; apparently the boys had been a bit doubtful about the piece, and I wonder just how many might admit to having seen (and enjoyed) the film. For me, and many others in the audience, well – I love it, and there are parents around me also bold enough to hum the tunes!

Wednesday 14 January 2015

What an inspiration Henry Olonga is! He’s an awe-inspiring figure addressing Lower School boys in chapel. His voice and his messages about school, character, life and looking beyond ourselves are powerful. The first black cricketer to play for Zimbabwe, he had to leave his home country because of his open opposition to the regime of Robert Mugabe. Also a trained opera singer (hence the resonant voice), he now lives in England and spends his time speaking to schools, businesses, churches and conferences. I slip over to Lacies Court and have a quick search and I find it – a small cricket bat, signed by the Zimbabwe cricket team from some point during the 90s. My son was given it many years ago by Bill Flower, father of Andy Flower, when Bill coached him at the Dragon and at county cricket. And there, third from the bottom, is the signature of Henry Olonga! Slightly smudged, but Henry tells me this is now a real collectors’ item as this was the last time that team played together.

I always enjoy contact with committee members from ASPA and I pop into their termly meeting. Lots of planning going on for the events so many of our parents will enjoy, how ASPA might be branded and a parent survey. This is a strong committee, currently led by Kerensa Sheen, and there is a sense of enjoyment, support and a keen commitment to help which characterises ASPA. But - there is a concern – very much voiced at this evening’s meeting. There appears to be a shortage of men on the committee, indeed with the exception of Ian Fishpool who represents the MCR (but is also a parent so maybe wears two hats), there are no men. In an institution inundated with men, there must be fathers out there who’d be willing to serve on the committee. Maybe this appeals – if so please contact chairman Kerensa Sheen ( ). We really do want to celebrate diversity and ensure men too are well-represented!

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