The Head's Blog

Friday 20 November 2015

There's no doubt that it's possible to build in a good number of steps, walking around the Abingdon campus on a daily basis. I must dig out my pedometer and count the number I clock up daily – quite a bit of dashing around today, up to the Yang Science Centre to meet those involved in the Reading University Haptics in Learning Project. This important outreach work sees colleagues from Abingdon, King's College London and Reading University developing a research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Here students will be able to manipulate objects and materials in the virtual world. I explore a virtual Saxon village using special google cardboard goggles and I'm amazed by what I can see.

Back down to Big School to watch a truly delightful French lesson with our younger boys. Later, thoughts turn to the future with 28 OAs from a diverse range of careers, here to tell sixth formers about their experiences in the world of work. A panel, small groups discussions and a networking supper will all have given the 125 boys attending useful tips and advice.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Now – the tuba is often a misunderstood instrument, rather like the beautiful and sonorous bassoon, but to hear it played so well by Jude Stanley (4th Year) at the brass masterclass, conducted by Dylan Quinlivan-Brewer, allows the instrument to have a star spot. The masterclass can be a daunting experience for the young player, for every note articulated is exposed in a very public way, and you can only get so far before you're stopped. This is a great teaching method though, for we all learn from digging down right into the heart of the music. Dylan compliments Jude on his beautiful tone and that few tuba players achieve his evenness of tone. He encourages Jude to "imagine you're singing it having just had a nice lunch". I get that!

Wednesday 18 November 2015

'Tis the season for lots of visits by prospective parents and their sons to Abingdon for the next round of admissions. "Discover Abingdon" kicks off today and with interest in places higher than ever, these will be popular events this recruitment season. Parents are looking for entry as far off as 2021!

Over to the Prep School for the annual visit to year 6 parents there, to talk about life at the senior school. Crispin and his team are in great form and it's good to hear again about all the support the boys get as they embark on the journey to their senior schools. Lovely artwork dons the walls of the recently refurbished hall.

My All Blacks flag flutters at half-mast to acknowledge the passing of Jonah Lomu, who changed the face of rugby forever.

Monday 16 November 2015

Delighted to welcome Mike Windsor to Abingdon. Mike is to succeed me as Head come September 2016. I remember so well my first visit to Abingdon in 2009 and feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the number of new faces but also very excited. I'm sure that Mike is also anticipating his move to Abingdon with that same sense of excitement. This really is a very special headship.

Inspection is a funny old business. Last week the number of emails I received and little problems that needed immediate thought were way down. Today sees my inbox having palpitations and I'm scuttling around spinning plates!

Friday 13 November 2015

An inspector calls. Actually 14 inspectors swing by this week: 10 at the senior school and 4 over at the prep. Governors and SLT gather to hear the feedback given by RI (Reporting Inspector) Tony Halliwell and members of his team. I have an advantage for I've already been briefed on the findings, but there's no doubt that there's a sense of anticipation and heightened concentration as the story begins to unfold.

Not a word can be breathed at this stage, for the report has to be written, reviewed, edited and then published before it hits my desk in its final form.

Thursday 12 November 2015

Seeing a newly minted edition of "The Martlet" on my desk always makes my heart lurch just a little as I turn to Dudley's problem page. "Permission to publish the following was eventually granted by Dudley, the Head's dog, after discussions with Henry Waterson and Blake Jones." Good to see that such care is taken over these things and I'm sure that Dudley's advice on this occasion is very wise. Toby Jupp (editor) has overseen a particularly wide-ranging and thoughtful edition. We learn about the future of Tilsley Park in Sam Chambers' interview with Director of Finance and Operations Justin Hodges. Ben Ffrench writes eloquently on troubles in both Libya and Greece, and we have a glimpse into how Donald Trump ticks (Jacob Lillie). There's something mind-stretching and thought-provoking for everyone: Jack Lester and Alex Thulin ask whether video games are still for children and there is a wide offering on articles about sport. Had trouble deciphering Jate Jaturanpinyo's "Where in the School?" but got there in the end. Well worth putting time aside to read cover to cover so do get your hands on "The Martlet".

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Who can fail to be moved by the images of Abingdonians, who later sacrificed their lives in the world wars, seen today in their school photographs of the period, in cricket kit and school uniform, and by the river? Those lost are circled and we are reminded of the scale of lives lost, as Heads of School Tom Digby and Solomon English read the names of Abingdon's fallen. As ever, our Remembrance is steeped in tradition, the carrying of the wreath, the solemn and quiet entry of boys, a natural and respectful sense of self discipline from every boy. Leon Wu plays Sibelius' Romance, the Chaplain leads us through the service, then out to the parade ground. CSjt Tom Farish (Senior Cadet for the Contingent), and Sgt Harry Leafe lead the colour party. The Last Post is played by James Anderson-Besant (U6), Nick Harris (L6) and William Senior (5th year), the Reveille by James, and the bell tolls 63 times (William Sheffield). Life reverts to normal once the wreath is placed in the chapel, but the day is marked by something very difficult to articulate.

"We will remember them."

Monday 9 November 2015

There is a sense of expectation from the large gathering of scholars, historians, teachers, Old Abingdonians and visitors from Abingdon as Tony Edwards OA (1962) opens the Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary Lecture with wonderful archive footage and commentary about Winston Churchill and flying. We learn of RJ Mitchell, aircraft designer, in many ways an unsung hero who designed the Spitfire and many other models, in tandem with Rolls Royce engines. He remained in the shadows despite his many triumphs and died in 1937 age just 42, at the height of his power and before the Battle of Britain.

Qualities of courage, determination and leading teams shine through and are as apt for today's generation as during WWII. The premise is put forward that the Battle of Britain could not have been won without the Spitfire. So much goes on behind the scenes of any enterprise, many are involved and success is so often brought about by team efforts and inspiring leadership. RJ Mitchell is a good example of this. Archie Williams (L6) gives a perspicacious vote of thanks, able to stand on his feet and deliver his own impromptu reflection on what he has heard.

For me, the lecture is particularly poignant as the Battle of Britain has a personal significance for my family. My heart leaps at the sight of the tie and the clasp.

Saturday 7 November 2015

Some 48 boys from 34 schools enjoy one of our taster mornings. These boys will sit entrance assessments in January for places they'll take up in the First Year in September. So it's a relatively brisk process all things considered. I watch their parents pick their way along the muddy path from the Yang Science Centre to the Sports Centre but they seem delighted by what they've seen.

Friday 6 November 2015

When the scholars put on a concert then I know that the standards will be high. I popped along for the first half, as tonight is one of those evenings with lots on! Much enjoyed the arrangement of Elgar's Cello Concerto, 1st Movement. I thought it would sound sparse for piano and cello (Jamie Corish) but so much of the full orchestral score was there. Very familiar Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, Bach, played by Oliver Breach, is an old favourite of mine. Some Fauré from Hamish Garland, cello, and rather romantic before the fairground-like melodies of a Shostakovich prelude, with its unexpectedly calm ending (Chanka Pathinayake). On to a Brahms sonata, particularly well executed by Alexander Glover, and Chopin's Raindrop Prelude (Joe Bradley), apt accompaniment as rain drifts across the Abingdon campus. Finally, Thomas Keogh gives a plaintive rendition of a Tchaikovsky song and I could hear every word.

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