The Head's Blog

Monday 8 December 2014

Each housemaster, having finished the latest round of reports, briefs me on how the boys are doing at the end of this busy Michaelmas term. It’s a good way to take the temperature in each house. On to the inaugural carol service held at St Helen’s Church and the traditional carols interspersed with the nine lessons. This is the first of many carol services to be held during this last week of term.

Friday 5 December 2014

The Sheldonian may have a reputation for uncomfortable seats but it’s certainly a fabulous venue for the Christmas Concert. The new, or nearly new, recent purchase of a grand piano for the School is placed centre stage. All thanks to a donation from SUS (the Second-hand Uniform Shop). An extensive and varied programme proves a real treat with the First Year Choir kicking off proceedings. Stunning performances in Beethoven’s Piano Concert No 3, where Leon Wu (L6) Anthony Bracey (L6) and Daniel Tong (U6) each take a movement. Assured pizzicato playing from the chamber orchestra, and sublime tones from the Joint Chamber Choir with SHSK, bringing elegance and finesse. The Symphonic Wind Band and Big Band round off the evening with a blast which must have had the 32-panel painted ceiling reverberating to the rhythms of “Troika” and “Pink Panther”.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Such delightful visitors are in my office. They are here from the Thai embassy and include the Minister for Education, Miss Orrawan Nuypakdee. It’s good to meet again with Angela Cleary, head of the Private Students Section and also Nuttayanee Urailert and Janporn Nuypakdee. There is much laughter as Jane Jorgensen and I entertain our visitors. They are here to meet the boys who’ve come to Abingdon from Thailand and show such interest in each boy. We discuss everything from how some boys feel about attending socials with girls from other schools (or not!) to the differences in lifestyle in the two countries.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

En route to an ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders) conference I come out of the London Underground at Liverpool Street, and cross the tarmac to get to the rather plush (all glass and steel) Exchange building on the other side of the railway station. To my great alarm, an urgent message on the tannoy: “This is an emergency, evacuate immediately” greets me as I emerge from the underground. Fumbling for my ticket to get through the barrier (“more haste, less speed” springs to mind) I steady myself and remember all those drills: keep calm, be alert, look around, don’t run. The temptation to do just that is overwhelming. I marvel at the comparative calm of everyone around me bar one or two belting along with wild looks in the eye. Once walking past Starbucks I observe that the place is full and no one appears to be deserting their cappuccinos and lattes. It’s then that I realise that this is just another drill. Now that’s a big relief. Worse to come though – the lifts in the Exchange building are unfathomable; there are no floor numbers, and nothing to press. In due course, someone takes pity and shows me a screen to punch in the required floor. A lift then miraculously opens from a seamless wall of glass, and I’m whisked to the 8th floor, no stops en route. I marvel at it all, before I need to go through yet more security procedures, but that’s another tale.

I think of the calm of Abingdon I’ve left behind… and wonder if I should ever be let out. The business of the day proceeds as though in a calm oasis.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Christmas is in full swing at Abingdon. The tree is up at Lacies Court, the wreath made by Dawn graces the front door. From the Jekyll Garden the sharp flash of cobalt blue Christmas lights attract the eye from all directions. In the dining hall our visitors from the Older and Bolder exercise group, local church congregations, Cygnet Court, Fountain Court, Millstream Court and Old Station House are enjoying mince pies, sausage rolls and a cup of tea while the brass band plays the first of the season’s carols.

Monday 1 December 2014

Abingdon is associated with the Mercers’ Company in London and it’s a link we much value, so it’s lovely to meet their new Head of Education Denise Barrows. She’s making her way around all the schools who have links with the Mercers. It’s quite a diverse community now with independent, co-ed, single sex, academies, secondary and primary schools both in London and outside. We discuss how Abingdon might be of help to other schools, the benefits of opportunities for staff to meet to discuss best practice and issues common to all schools and the significance of the relationship.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

The instruction is very clear – no high heels, although this is unlikely to be an issue for the men, and wrap up warm. For today is the topping out ceremony for the Science Centre. I don my wellies and trusty white helmet, with Abingdon and the Griffen etched on top, and climb to the top floor of the Science Centre. I’m not alone though for governors and the Kingerlee team, our construction company, pick their way up the stairs. Once there, a surprising vista spreads out before us, for these labs will have a splendid view, and we see War Mem as it’s never been seen before, from above. This will make a good viewing point for the cricket I think.

Now to the task at hand. Adrian Burn (Chairman of Governors) and I climb higher to a platform and there we take a golden podger, which is a type of spanner specially used for the occasion, and carefully tighten the final bolt. All this is steeped in symbolism for it means that the builders have reached the highest point, hence the name topping out ceremony. What’s amazing once up there is how big the facility is, and we can visualise exactly where the labs, break out spaces, prep rooms and offices will go. It’s all very exciting and on our return to ground level, a glass of celebratory champagne awaits the party which is a good start to the termly governors’ meeting.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

A very productive and busy scene greets me at the hospitality suite where pupils from six local schools are here for the Primary Schools Business Challenge, organised by Nick Fieldhouse, Head of Economics and Business Studies. Their task is to form a new company and plan the launch of a brand new healthy soft drink for the market. Along with Mark Hindley (Deputy Head Pastoral) and Paul Green (Young Enterprise) we are to judge the presentations. Each school works hard to show their understanding of the task. They need to demonstrate business awareness, analyse competition in the market and deliver a convincing presentation. I’m impressed by the quality and also the creativity of the work produced after a morning’s effort and it’s hard reaching a final decision. We are entertained and informed and wonder what might happen if any of the products reach the market. The runners up are St Nicolas and the winner Caldecott, so well done to all those pupils.

Saturday 22 November 2014

I’m intrigued to see a quote from NZ All Black Zin Zan Brooke, in Touchliners’ Chairman Ian Graney’s welcome in the brochure for our matches today v RGS Guildford.

“Rugby does not build character, it reveals it.”

I take the opportunity to reflect on this comment with parents visiting us for a taster morning. This is the last taster morning for the term and they’ve provided a great opportunity for boys sitting our 11+ assessment in January to experience a little of what life at Abingdon is about. As usual, the Q+A panel is made up of me, Jane Jorgensen and Adam Jenkins and for the first time, Oliver Lomax (Curriculum Director). We’re kept busy for the full hour taking many and diverse questions from parents about the admissions process.

Thursday 20 November 2014

I’m visiting section assemblies this week, and in front of me are the boys in the 3rd Year. They’ve been having a very busy time judging by the many achievements and acknowledgements I’m making to individual boys. There’s everything from leading a Sea Scouts group, winning a national diving competition to boys baking cakes for tutor time. Clearly these boys are in the running for the next British Bake Off!

Sarah Wearne (Archivist) opens a stimulating evening. Talking about WW1, she reminds the audience that we were a very small school at the outbreak of the war, just 66 boys. By 1914 161 OAs and masters were serving, and 75 lost their lives in the war. Fascinating to learn that Lower Field had been ploughed up and turned over to the growing of potatoes. Also, the boys were requisitioned by the government to bring in the harvest from local farms.

We are then treated to a lecture from military historian Professor Gary Sheffield and the boys ask such perspicacious questions.

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