The Head's Blog

Friday 4 July 2014

I walk Dudley up to the coach park to greet the boys arriving for the last day of the academic year 2013/14, and everyone seems to be smiling. No wonder, it’s a beautiful day and the prospect of the summer break beckons. We romp through assembly and I introduce the new Heads of School George Hale and Tommy Nicholson. We also farewell those teachers who are leaving us. All that remains now is the staff BBQ which will go on long into the afternoon.

I wish all readers a very happy and enjoyable summer and the luxury of time to spend with family and friends.

Thursday 3 July 2014

The first issue of Timeline, Abingdon’s history publication, arrives on my desk. The feature article “The First World War” asks the question, how necessary was “the war to end all wars?” Sixth formers Fred Clamp-Grey and Will Nash examine the finer details of the debate, looking at the question in depth. The articles explore everything from our own 63 Objects project to the Charge of the Light Brigade to the First Opium War. The magazine is of particularly high quality, not only in the depth of the research and writing but also in presentation. It wouldn’t look out of place in the more serious section of magazine racks in WH Smith. Head Editor, Adam Pearson, and senior editors Liam Frahm, Max Finch and Jake Buffery draw together the work of 16 staff writers from all levels of the School. Asten Yeo as creative/design director has done a great job with the presentation.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Abingdon cerise dots Henley and our marquee is flanked by two enormous banners. It’s not possible to miss Abingdon at Henley and I’m here for the FASBC lunch. That’s quite a spread and also quite a crowd for many friends and well-wishers, from the present and the past, are here to spur the crew on. Day one, the 1st VIII are through to day two.

We are treated to a foretaste of what’s to come from all our musicians who are about to set out for Catalonia. The concert begins with a bagpipe ensemble which is novel, followed by performances from Chapel Choir, and First Orchestra with concertos dotted through the repertoire. I wish all our musicians and their teachers a great time in Spain.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

A taster day - actually a day, night and day - has been running in School House for 10 boys having a taste of boarding. By all accounts at lunch today, they’ve had a great time doing lots of activities: sports, games, science, drama and more. Parents are here to collect them and there are many tales of what the boys have been doing and it’s clear that the experience has been positive.

I see Lower School being “the best they can be” as they do presentations on the scheme for parents, and receive acknowledgement and compliments for a good year’s work. There are special awards which go to Conor Chippendale, Alasdair Czaplewski, Alexander Hann, Nathaniel Reading, James Chung, James Coombs, Toby Rowles and the whole of 1R, for everything from the Cooper Cup awarded for the love of reading (presented by Gaynor Cooper, retiring Librarian) to sport, service and general contribution.

Monday 30 June 2014

Today the end of term meetings with the housemasters are underway. Over the next two days I will spend time with each HM getting a sense of the temperature in the house over the last few weeks. The house system is a great strength of this school I believe. Not only is every boy in the house known to the HM, the knowledge is extensive and builds up over time. With the tutor, the boys can be assured that someone is looking out for them. I’m also briefed on those boys who are going through a rough patch in one way or another and what is being put in place to help.

On to visiting the Art Scholars’ and Exhibitioners’ Show. This is the third exhibition mounted by the Art Department in as many weeks. The 3rd and 4th year boys had been given an old book and asked to transform it with a work of art based on a theme of patterns/cycles. Other years have a piece of exam or course work exhibited, so there is much variety on view. There seems to be a theme of things burnt out. Henry Waterson (4th Year) takes time to explain the meaning of his piece, based on an old mobile phone which had been reduced to a mass and mess of charcoal. He tells me that silicone burns well. With typed up morse code and the components of the mobile arranged to resemble a port with little boats and a bridge, the theme is the cycle of communication. The morse, which is SOS in code, links the boats with the fate of the Titanic reinforcing the theme …. This is explained at some length and I do see it. Heyse Ip (U6) created a marvellous installation which hangs from the ceiling and we’ve all resisted the temptation to walk through it since it went up last week. This shows a double helix about personal identity and draws together fragments of evolution and self identity. I talk to OA Gabriel Drewett who, while on his Foundation course, has visited us each week as part of our artist in residence scheme.

Saturday 28 June 2014

Today is huge in our calendar, the very last day for our leavers, and prize giving. The Leavers’ Service at St Michael’s Church is particularly moving as we mark this important milestone. Can they sing – it’s quite something. The Chapel Choir with Thomas Kelly as soloist sing Stanford’s Nunc Dimittis (Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace) and we are treated to a performance of “Misty” by Errol Garner played by Tim Davies, trumpet, George Burrage, bass, Sebastian Johns, piano. This will be the last time we hear these fine musicians perform at Abingdon. The Chaplain’s sermon is particularly striking: “An Abingdonian’s Bucket List” and I learn that I have getting a tattoo on my bucket list, but the messages are strong and help us all focus on the importance of the day.

Ben Macintyre, OA, author, historian, columnist and editor, is our guest of honour at Prize Giving. Over coffee before we set out, I have a glimpse of the personality behind the entertaining speech he will later give. Prize-Giving may be a fairly lengthy affair but it always reminds me why we are here when I listen to David Dawswell (Second Master) delivering the citations for the boys who’ve won major prizes. Each boy stands to hear what is said before stepping up to receive his prize. Duxbury ties and flowers are given to Jayne Jennings (Teacher of Modern Languages) and Gaynor Cooper (Librarian). It is the custom to give retiring teachers a Duxbury tie and it is later suggested that with so many women now on the staff, perhaps the time has come to design a Duxbury scarf. Now that’s a good idea.

The rain pours down and as we emerge to say goodbye and shake the hand of each leaver, it transpires that the umbrellas for my party have disappeared. They are quickly retrieved from the boys who had sentry duties and were intending to provide shelter for us although the distance from the theatre entrance to the designated farewell point had to be navigated with rain tumbling down. And somewhere out there, someone has borrowed a school umbrella which hasn’t yet found its way back. Maybe it hasn’t been noticed that it’s marked “bursary” in a discreet place and had previously been “borrowed” from the bursary by the chairman. Parents, leavers and staff enjoy the reception although sadly it has been hastily re-routed from the garden at Lacies Court to the dining room, such is the damp. Spirits certainly aren’t dampened though.

A short respite, and then it’s the big set piece for the evening: the Leavers’ Ball. As ever, this splendid event, the envy of many other schools, is full of fun, energy and enjoyment. The Ball Committee, headed by parent Tigist Chadder and Clare Butcher who works in our Bursary, have clearly worked incredibly hard to create the evening to remember for our leavers.

Friday 27 June 2014

Has another year really passed so quickly? Apparently so, for I’m interviewing the four outstanding short-listed prefects for the two posts as Heads of School next year. It is a real pleasure taking these remarkable young leaders through the questions and hearing their considered and thought-provoking responses.

Jazz on a Summer Evening”, another annual event, has us clapping along to the various bands. It’s lovely to hear the Jazz Band from Abingdon Preparatory School too, who, although learning a lot from listening to the older boys whom they will emulate in years to come, give a truly first-rate performance. Eleven girls from SHSK also put in a cameo performance, and the Big Band, under the direction of Simon Currie, fills the Amey Theatre with their big sound, all wearing their trademark brightly coloured waistcoats. Lots of very competent improvisation and Hugh Cutting features as vocalist.

Thursday 26 June 2014

The boys who are starting in the 1st Year are having tea in the Lacies Court garden, along with their parents, after their induction day. There is tremendous excitement amongst these boys as they look ahead to the time they will join Abingdon.

With the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, coming up on Saturday, our archivist Sarah Wearne has launched an archive on our  website of Abingdon’s First World War collection. We can see pages from the wartime editions of The Abingdonian, and letters and photographs of those who attended Abingdon and who died, which have been sent to us by their families. As I turn the pages of the hand-amended Roll of Service, I can see the enormous impact of the war on what was then a very small school. In September 1914 we had just 75 pupils. During the First World War 75 members of the School gave their lives during the 4 year period. That’s a very high proportion of those attending the School at that time.

Straight on to a very different viewing, the AS/A2 Art and Design exhibition. A 3rd Year student has written in the programme “The way that the pieces are crafted sparks such thought in your mind that it makes you forget the fact that you are looking at secondary school art” and that is certainly so. What stunning work from A2 students Sam Cartlidge, Heyse Ip, Sam Hogan, Noah Rogers, Luke Derrick, Thomas Howard, Harry Bruce and Jonathan Rothwell for whom this is their last exhibition at School. We have much valued and appreciated the creativity of these young artists and there is considerable strength and talent too in the 11 AS students exhibiting this evening.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

On entering the hospitality suite in the sports centre, I can hear and then see boys from local primary schools belting around the sports hall below. The end of the Mini-Olympics is in sight. Carswell, Dunmore, Long Furlong, Rush Common and St Nicolas have each sent teams of 4 to 8 boys in Year 5 for a full programme of events. Competition on the rowing machines, the obstacle course and the climbing wall have been firm favourites and the time has come to present the medals and certificates. Each boy comes up to receive recognition. Dunmore Primary School are the winners but it’s clear that the competition has been much enjoyed by all the boys and they’ve also devoured our famous cookies.

On to a real treat for the evening, the Lower School Gala concert. What a fantastic standard from our youngest boys and it’s very reassuring to spot all the boys who will move into the ranks of our senior musicians as they leave Abingdon. Tremendous variety too, from strings, blues, choral, band and orchestral playing. The soloists excel with many instruments well represented and shades of Radiohead perhaps in Stereotype, our fledgling but competent band. Apparently, one boy in the second orchestra that featured first who were playing the finale from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, asked the question “Why are we starting with the finale?” All up, a relaxed, informal evening as the boys showed an appreciative audience what they could do. Funds were raised for Agape, the charity we support which works with young people in Moldova where senior boys will be for the annual visit over the summer.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

I drop in to Nick O’Doherty’s (Upper Master) assembly where he is giving the L6 tips on how to get the most out of the recent UCAS interviews evening. The boys are encouraged to take next steps, contact their interviewer (after all they readily left their contact details), explore the area in greater depth over the summer, start assessing personal skills and attributes. We each embark on working lives of decades, so a little time spent over the summer is time well spent, to nudge the boys towards a choice of future career to which they are best suited.

Happily the sun shines in full glory to welcome all those entering the 3rd Year in September and their parents. Poles with the ties of each house fluttering dot the lawn at Lacies Court. This immediately helps the boys find their housemaster. Huge platters of chocolate muffins, cakes and sandwiches are swiftly devoured just before Paul Gooding (Middle Master) and I speak to the gathering. It’s a big step moving to Abingdon and it’s clear that the boys have no regrets having enjoyed a full and productive day here. Having been at one tea party then it’s on to the next. Our visitors from the Older and Bolder group, Cygnet Court, Fountain Court, Millstream Court, Tomkins Almshouses and Bridge House enjoy a splendid afternoon tea and musical entertainment from the Academicals. What a great sound they’re making and I receive many compliments on their behalf. The quiz tests knowledge of flowers, a little geography, music, sport and a few anagrams and a word puzzle to entertain our guests. The afternoon goes with a real swing thanks to the boys helping out: Jeremy Chan, Jack Bevan, Calum Steer, Johnny Lloyd, Charlie Stoker, Archie Williams, Nick Harris, Adriano Matousek.

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