The Head's Blog



Friday 27 March 2015

End of term. A truly mega assembly – prizes, cups, ties, news. The School wends its way through town to St Helen's Church for our Easter service: "Commemoration of Benefactors and Passiontide". George Hale places a wreath on the tomb of John Roysse, a trumpet fanfare heralds "All people that on earth do dwell". As I farewell everyone afterwards a boy gives me a crème egg which I surreptitiously eat as I walk back along East St Helens Street. Such a guilty pleasure indoctrinated as I am never to eat in public on the street, a hangover from my NZ boarding school days.

A very happy Easter when no doubt millions of crème eggs will be consumed nationwide.


Thursday 26 March 2015

I'm taking chapel, just the U6 and me. As I speak I'm reminded what a lovely space this is. It feels a very safe and personal place, not too big, not too small, not too traditional yet not too informal or ordinary. The light dances across the tops of heads and I notice a filigree of cobweb floating from a rafter.


Monday 23 March 2015

It's that time of term when the Housemasters see me to talk about their house. They know the boys so well and I hear about what is being put in place where there are any troubles, the many successes and the temperature of the house. Each house has its own character I feel and this is largely created by the personality of each HM.

Reading the 11th edition of the Lower School "Blazer" I learn that the oldest piece of chewing gum is 9000 years old and that the only food which doesn't rot is honey. Very important to learn something new each and every day!


Saturday 21 March 2015

The Taster Morning ends with some 48 prospective pupils arriving to meet their parents after our panel discussion, armed with loudspeakers they've made. These can be attached to any audio device at home apparently. Not sure that parents will necessarily embrace the impact of this new item of equipment on their domestic lives, but clearly the boys have had fun.

Up to Tilsley Park for the hockey and also to see how things are coming along with this new facility. Lots of earth moving equipment dotted around, and the grounds are already looking better. The carpet of pink stones outside the stadium is about as close as we can get to cerise. Our new banners flutter from fences as the boys play on the new surfaces. Over time, Tilsley Park will develop beyond recognition as we build on this remarkable legacy for future Abingdonians and the community.

The hockey theme continues into the evening with the annual hockey dinner. Once again, the caterers have come up trumps and produced excellent fare despite on-going problems with the water. (Yes – the water problems have continued since Wednesday…) How do they do it? A miracle. Lots of good things to report at the reception about the boys' eye-watering accomplishments. Special thanks to Director of Hockey Olly Deasy, all the coaches, the Hockey Griffen Committee, particularly Harriet Woollard, Karin Carter Keall and Jo Lowe who've done a cracking job arranging tonight's event.


Friday 20 March 2015

The atmosphere feels close and strange as the moon begins to creep across the face of the sun. Mrs Griffiths sets up her station to watch the eclipse without risk to anyone's eyesight. Crowds gather. Dotted around the school, groups of boys are armed with any manner of home-made contraptions to view this rare and remarkable event. Just at the crucial moment the clouds burn away, as is thought to be a phenomenon of an eclipse, and we are treated to a perfect view. Doing the rounds of the gathering outside my office are Mr McGill's "eclipse shades", they really do make seeing the wonders of the eclipse possible. It is said that ebay will do a roaring trade in eclipse shades by lunchtime, perhaps in anticipation of the next eclipse due in 2026. I ask the boys to think about what they'll be doing in 11 years time, and I'm sure they'll remember today from that point in the future.


Thursday 19 March 2015

I'm expecting to see 25 boys for Head's Praise and on my desk are the most extraordinary photographs. This has to be a first, Head's praise to Nicholas Case, 1st year, for an "outstanding piece of coastal geography made entirely out of cake"! What a cake. Sheep and a sheep dog run across verdant green pastures while pigs graze nearby, atop dense rocky sponge. Sugary foam laps the coast, chocolate boulders and tips of marzipan icebergs peak through the teal ocean. On enquiry I discover that the cake wasn't eaten during class (how very circumspect) but didn't survive intact for long afterwards.

Later the new School Council meets for the first time. There's been quite a scrap, for some members standing for re-election had to fight for their place, while others are brand new. The new chairman is Seb Hickman, the secretary Jonah Walker, and there is to be an election for vice-chairman with 3 candidates putting hats into the ring. Mrs Wenham visits to help members consider their purpose and how they might best communicate the work of Council to the School. Soon there will be the presentation of ties in assembly when members will be introduced to the School.

Sheer bliss at the Choral Concert. The Chapel Choir and the Academicals are in fine form. The Gospel Choir is really coming along and becoming increasingly confident. We hear work done at A level with the Keogh Trio. Of particular note (excuse the pun…) is the Joint Chamber Choir with SHSK also in fine voice. Extremely challenging repertoire (Poulenc and Messiaen), which is technically demanding, washes over the audience in waves of extraordinary harmony. Many are founder members of the choir, soon to leave us – always a regret when talent moves on but there will be others waiting to step up.


Wednesday 18 March 2015

An unexpected crisis hits us early morning. Taps are turned on, they drain of water, loos don't flush and what of lunch for well over a thousand people, not to mention the drip feed of coffee during the day? Very quickly and efficiently everyone kicks into action: 40 portaloos arrive, there will be lunch, but what of the Foundation Dinner? And might we have to close the School? The problem is affecting great tracts of Abingdon and environs but happily by 2pm the water flows once more from the reservoir.

There's no sign of the catastrophe by the time Bryce Jersing and Jack Bowen pipe in all the guests to the annual Foundation Dinner. It's as though nothing has gone wrong during the day, but producing a fantastic four-course dinner within a truncated slot of time must have been a challenge of mega proportion for our caterers. Adam Pettitt (Headmaster, Highgate School, who previously taught at Abingdon) is the guest speaker and speaks eloquently on our theme, partnerships.


Saturday 14 March 2015

The atmosphere is spirited and there's already much laughter at the pre-dinner drinks before the Boat Club dinner. Our rowers wear their cerise and white striped blazers, which certainly give a lift to the usual hues of black tie dress. Guest speaker, Alex Gregory, London 2012 Olympic Gold medallist from the men's coxless four, the top boat, is a popular choice and everyone wants a word. With the Schools' Head of the River race on Monday, there is a sense of something important coming up, although tonight is for relaxing a little.


Friday 13 March 2015

Sitting with Rebecca Dougall at the annual joint Abingdon independent schools' careers convention, takes me back to our previous life when we worked together at Oxford High. Keynote speakers Lucinda Whiteley and Mike Watts have much to say of relevance and interest from their perspective as creative director and CEO of Novel Entertainment, their company which specialises in the creation of children's character brands.

Careers in the media always sound a bit glamorous but it's tough and there are no guarantees for success. Perhaps their most important point is that careers don't go in a straight line, they zig zag. Picking up on work experience as early as possible is another recurring tip. 10 tips on what employers love in students on work experience include: be yourself, think ahead, ask questions, be helpful, be adaptable to change. Sounds like the best tips for a successful career, it seems to me. Above all the mantra "enjoy what you do" is always a truism.


Thursday 12 March 2015

Time to recognise some of the many accomplishments of our 3rd year boys at their assembly. Everything is possible, from Ciaran Caulfield singing in a band to an audience of 2000 students from international schools in Saudi Arabia, Francesco Cipriani's participation in the Arsenal Soccer School, Drew Farwell's win at shooting in the English Schools Long Range Challenge Cup, to Richard Oh who has the winning streak in chess. The life of an Abingdon boy is as varied as it is busy.


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