Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 28 June 2024

Dear parents,

I’ve spent the last week in a potential tinderbox: a minibus travelling around in the Sicilian heat with a bunch of teenagers who had a very early flight, and thus very little sleep, on the first day of the trip. You’d think that things would be fraught. But they haven’t been, for various reasons. One, I concede, is that Sicily is really rather lovely and all we have to do is look out the window at the scenery should one’s blood pressure rise unhelpfully. The second reason is that, actually, we all caught up on sleep very quickly – nothing knocks pupils out on the first night of a residential like an early start! But thirdly, and fundamentally, I like to think that our Year 8s have spent their time at NCS learning to coexist, to collaborate, to live alongside one another. One of the key skills that we focus on at NCS, and which we reward through our housepoints system, is the skill of collaboration. But it isn’t just through extrinsic rewards that this happens; it happens through it being modelled by everyone in the community.

That Sicilian minibus is a metaphor for society at large at the moment: an increasingly divided society, so-called ‘culture wars’, ideological purges, and polarisation about pretty much any issue that happens to face society. The middle ground seems to have been disappearing at a remarkable rate, as has the dignity of debate, of respectful discussion and disagreement. Respectful tone in disputes has been, in too many places, replaced with hectoring and ad hominem attacks. No one wins in such an environment or atmosphere. As an historian, of course I understand that this aggressive atomisation and tribal polarisation is nothing new; it is as old as time. Equally, anyone who knows even the slightest bit of history understands that such an atmosphere doesn’t end well. We can hope that the pendulum will swing back towards a more dignified method of debate and coexistence, but we can’t just rely on hope. All of us, schools included, need to induct young people in the ways of disagreeing well.

Activities Week

This activities week, wherever the boys have been, has been punctuated with teamwork activities. Some of these will have been clearly teamwork, others will have been more subtle: simply being able to share one’s space in a dorm, or a coach. And having been in Sicily the older boys will have been honing their collaboration skills on an island that has seen the worst of division and the best of what can happen when communities come together in a common cause. I think it is fair to say that, if we were in the mid-twentieth century, there wouldn’t be school trips to Palermo due to the Mafia activities that cared zilch for collateral damage. That we can take a trip there today, perfectly safely, is because enough members of Sicilian society came together in the 1990s and beyond to challenge entrenched and dangerous powers, to hack away together at the tentacles of the Mafia ‘Octopus’, as it became known. There is still some way to go; none of us is naïve enough to think there isn’t. But the progress that has been made has come as the result of a coming-together of people who are themselves descendants of many different backgrounds, and many different cultures that have settled on the island over centuries.

Have a great weekend,

Matt Jenkinson

All of the activities week trips and events wouldn’t take place without my colleagues going above and beyond, going on residentials, carrying out innumerable risk assessments, giving up sleep, and so on. I would like to say an enormous thank you publicly to all of those colleagues – they really are brilliant.

Well done to all those members of OCCO who played so brilliantly at their concert last Saturday morning. As we come to the end of this first year of OCCO’s existence, it is great to be able to look back at a year of hard work and success. Enormous thanks to all of my colleagues who teach at OCCO on Saturday mornings, not least Tom Neal and Izzy Rose who support the children so well.

Well done, too, to Year 8 who put on their last ever dramatic production at NCS last Friday: a beautiful playreading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, appropriately enough on 21 June in the cloisters. Rehearsal time is limited in Trinity, but our Year 8s have learned the ability to ‘wing it’ – that is, to apply their talents and skills in public without a huge amount of preparation beforehand. ‘Winging it’ isn’t on our PSB skills grid, but it’s a valuable life skill sometimes!

On Saturday 29 June at 17.30 our Chamber Choir and Choral Society will be joining forces with Merton College’s girl choristers and pupils from St Christopher’s C of E Primary School to provide the voices for Mahler’s Symphony no. 3, transcribed for organ and performed by David Briggs. The event is sponsored by the Gustav Mahler Society UK, takes place in Merton’s beautiful chapel, and tickets are available via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mahler-arr-briggs-symphony-no3-tickets-883260354497.

Our chapel service on Wednesday 3 July will begin at the same time as usual (9.00), but will now be our ‘Year’s End’ service. It will last around 45 minutes and will follow the same structure as our Spring Service (and, indeed, the carol services on which that service’s structure was based). There will be appropriate readings from Years 3 to 8, some communal hymn singing, and some performances from choirs throughout the school. All parents are very warmly encouraged to attend, especially those Year 8 parents for whom this will be their sons’ last NCS chapel service. Handkerchiefs at the ready.

Upcoming Events

Monday, 1 July 2024

17.30 Drama Club, LAMDA showcase and The Magic of Oz

Tuesday, 2 July 2024

11.00 Prep Sports Day, Field

Last day of after-school Enrichment Activities (pre-prep and prep)

Wednesday, 3 July 2024

9.00 Chapel. Year's End.

9.50 Year 8 soloists and reader rehearsals, University Church (9.50-11.45 and 13.00-16.00)

19.00 Year 8 Leavers' Concert, University Church, followed by reception at NCS

Thursday, 4 July 2024

14.00 Pre-Prep Summer Show and annual certificates

17.30 Parents vs Leavers Cricket, field

Friday, 5 July 2024

8.30 Sports Assembly

10.30 Prizegiving for Years 3-8

12.00 End of Term

12.30 Staff Buffet in New College

Monday, 2 September 2024

INSET for Staff, 9.00-16.00

Tuesday, 3 September 2024

INSET for Staff, 9.00-16.00

Wednesday, 4 September 2024

Start of Term

After School Enrichment Activities start (pre-prep and prep)

9.00 Chapel. Speaker: The Headmaster

Saturday, 7 September 2024

9.30 OCCO INSET (staff only)