The Head's Blog

Thursday 28 April 2016

On the train to Paddington. I'm sure that the train gets ever more crowded at rush hour each time I go up to London, but it's a beautiful day and I'm en-route to the HMC Spring conference entitled "Good Mental Health in Schools – what works?". The core remit is to try to understand more about the problems we're trying to solve, who we need to work with to do so, and learn about what is already working in other schools. As always, there is a strong line-up of speakers, including Natasha Devon MBE, Government mental health champion and schools' adviser, who talks of the reality of the enormity of mental health issues. The day gives the opportunity to gain understanding of the risk factors, what more we can do and to look at the research and evidence. Few schools these days would not acknowledge that mental wellbeing forms a big part of our work with students. What can be more tricky is recognising early on when things might be beginning to go wrong for a young person and then stepping in with appropriate help.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Pop along to Chapel, the Sixth Form are in for their weekly gathering. I wonder if they ever think that taking time out once a week to sit in Chapel and listen (or not) to the Chaplain, a teacher, or a guest speaker leading a few minutes of time out and reflection, is actually hugely beneficial. The hymn goes well (To God be the glory, great things He has done) and by verse 4, with the organ building up, organist James Anderson-Besant gets us going. I'd always recommend belting out a hymn to loosen up a little. The light streams in through the windows and colour dots around on shoulders, across faces. Some boys actively listen, engaged, eyes on Mark Hindley (Deputy Head Pastoral) as he speaks rather eloquently about "mindfulness"; others are lost in thought in their own world and others still are rather hunched, perhaps tired, perhaps stressed, perhaps just wanting to be somewhere else. Maybe in later life, in the maelstrom of work, mortgages, relationships, pressures of one sort and another, the boys might – just might – remember that 10-15 minutes a day sitting quietly and thinking, or not, can bring balance to the inevitable pressures that 21st century life places on the shoulders of this generation, indeed all of us. It's a good habit to get into, whether in a place of religious significance, or not. We all need time out. It requires discipline and forethought but it is such a good lifelong habit. I swear by it, just a few moments every day. Stop – be still – and then take what comes.

7.30pm - From a window at Lacies Court I look out across the Jekyll Garden to Upper Field. There, Lowry-like silhouettes form a filigree of moving shapes, a wave of patterns interspersed with what looks like boarders kicking a football around. Suddenly, up pop blocks of colour, bright t-shirts, and it's clear that this must be an activity that includes SHSK perhaps. I have no idea what's going on out there, from which activity these figures are taking a break in the Amey Theatre, but it's almost choreographed, and finally a boy lifts a girl for a piggy-back and off they all "dance" to whatever they're doing in the Amey Theatre. It's these glimpses of life on the Abingdon campus that I shall miss. The unexpected, the unrehearsed, the sheer joy of being young.

Friday 22 April 2016

Pay a surprise visit to Tilsley Park as I want to see how the work is progressing while the various jobs are being done. The previously rather dingy bar area is transformed with ceilings lifted, a sense of space and a much improved contemporary look, although the smart wooden flooring is not entirely in as yet. Peter Hadfield, Catering Manager, shows me the revamped kitchen area, the massive steel refrigerators humming away. There is a sense of anticipation for the BBQ on Sunday to be prepared for Oxford Rugby League Club. Let's hope that the weather holds out. Matthew Walsh (Tilsley Site Manager) shows me around and we gaze out from the stadium at the new 4G pitch, which has already been put to use – a sea of green with the sharp edges of the terracotta athletics track. Boys are picking their way around the track after an intensive training session. The new throws area is spectacular – grass is about to go down and then it will all need to settle. No doubt, in my mind, that this will be a great facility and one of the best in the country. Over to the tennis: how did we manage before we had these tennis courts for the boys? All in all, Tilsley Park is really coming on and the positive changes are very apparent to anyone who has a wander around. You can sit down with a cup of coffee, which gives a visit an added sense of enjoyment.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

First whole school assembly and actually the only and last one we'll have together this term, as it's not long before the exam season begins for senior boys. Time to put the record straight on what's happening with the current building programme. The most recent edition of the boys' publication "Words and That" has a front page entitled "ABINGDON'S CLEAR PLAN FOR THE FUTURE" with a site map which shows a plan as follows: Art to be relocated to the Yang Science Centre, Science to Lower Field (open air, that would be interesting!), Sport to the Amey Theatre, Maths to Lacies Court (what are they trying to tell me? The Head needs a little Maths coaching perhaps?) and French appears to be heading for a final destination in the swimming pool. Whether the governors might welcome such an unusual strategic plan is debatable. So what's happening in the former Greening Wing? To be renamed Greening Court, the refurbished former Science and Classics building will be home to 16 new classrooms for Geography, Classics and History, a dedicated GIS lab (Geographical Information System), two new day house rooms, SUS (Second Hand Uniform shop) and new landscaped outdoor seating areas. Moving in is on target for September. It will be wonderful that the School will be able to spread out and enjoy new facilities more appropriate for teaching in this 21st century. Sadly, I won't be here to see it in use for the first time next term, but I am delighted that the project will reach fruition as planned.

Tuesday 19 April 2016

First official day of term. Very pleased to receive an email out of the blue which reads:

"I got on an aeroplane this evening in Toulouse. I was one of the first to board and thought that I was about to have the entire back of the jet to myself. To my dismay, just before the gates closed I found myself surrounded by a horde of British boys, and I anticipated a truly dreadful journey back to the UK. This is not how the story ends! I wanted to email to let you know that the boys were impeccably behaved, polite and with good conversation. They had clearly enjoyed their time in Toulouse, and we had a good chat about rowing. A credit to you!"

Just what I like to see to get the term going – although I sympathise with the writer's initial anxieties. I once boarded a plane with a party of school pupils (nationality will remain nameless) who not only clapped and cheered as the plane landed… they showed similar amazement that the plane had got off the ground! Very unnerving and annoying…

Monday 18 April 2016

Really am into the realm of doing things for the last time. A quiet moment at Staff devotions in chapel led by Rev. Simon Steer. We enter to the most glorious music, which soars up and fills the rafters. Simon tells us we've been listening to "In Paradiso" from Requiem in Blue, composed by our colleague Ben Ponniah who otherwise teaches Economics and Business Studies at Abingdon. It's a remarkable work and certainly an uplifting start before our staff meeting and Inset. Although it feels quiet without the boys around, it won't be long before the place is really humming once more.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Unusually the last day of term today falls on a Thursday, as it is Good Friday tomorrow. Masses to get through at assembly, subject prizes, fifth year academic prizes, 100 colours ties for sport, arts and service. News on everything from IFS Student Investor Challenge to the Road Relay results. Fastest team is Cotton's Fifth Year boys Calum Steer, Harry Brown, Daniel Lawson and Nick Webster.

On to the Commemoration of Benefactors and Passiontide Service at St Helen's Church. Gregory Munday is the soloist in the choir anthem – really well done – and the Abingdon School Prayer "we humbly acknowledge the rich legacy of learning and faith that has been left us and of which we are now stewards", spoken across generations, is included.

Abingdon School church services provide a time to sit quietly at the end of a busy term – and this is another "for the last time" for me.

Happy Easter everyone.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Lots of chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies are doing the rounds which is probably good sustenance for the Inter House Sports competitions. Lower School are busy with their charity football tournament, so it's a sporty afternoon.

Monday 21 March 2016

Spring is declared on national news over the weekend and today is definitely the first day of spring at Abingdon. A good day for the annual road relay. Tucked behind a concrete lamp post with orange ear muffs, I raise the pistol – and they're off. Two laps around Albert Park and the front of the School. The "Words and That" editorial team do the circuit in a wheelbarrow and who's this dressed as a buffalo…?

A more sedate pace at my meetings with Housemasters to discuss the boys' progress this half term.

Saturday 19 March 2016

Big night to mark the end of the hockey season with dinner. They've had a great season with over 130 fixtures and 16 teams out each week – but what's this about a pineapple for a mascot and how it's awarded each week to a member of the 1st XI?... (only those concerned will appreciate this reference!) Carolyne Dufley is an inspirational guest speaker and Olly Deasy leads on the awards presentation.

Earlier posts