Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 3 November 2023
I had the very unusual sensation, last Friday morning, of sitting around at 9.30 doing nothing. In my defence, it was half term, but even so it felt rather peculiar. If you aren’t already feeling like punching your screens, I might also add that I was sitting outside a little cafe in Rome, watching the world go by, while eating a lovely pistachio-filled pastry and drinking freshly squeezed orange juice. Bearing in mind that, most Fridays, I would have done at least two hours of work by that point, I wondered what the regulars, who were surrounding me with their coffees, normally did at this time. The answer, presumably, was either (a) not a lot, or (b) living, or (c) both (‘Dolce far Niente’). Obviously, I’m not advocating for the complete lack of activity in our day, but at the same time these caffeinating Italians were reminding me that there should also be some time for a degree of rest, reflection and recuperation.
I hope that you and the boys managed to get some of this last week, though I will add my usual caveat that I am well aware that, for many of you, a half-term break isn’t really a thing. At the very least, I hope that it has provided you with a moment in the middle of Michaelmas to take stock. We often note that Michaelmas is the busiest of our three terms, with a lot of induction meetings at the beginning, festivities at the end, and a whole lot of learning in between. But for that learning to be effective, it needs to be paced effectively. There is a peculiar pseudo-pedagogical theory doing the rounds, imported I suspect from certain bits of London, that education is only worth doing (and only works) if it is constant and intense. I was talking to a London friend the other day who is planning to remove his children from their London prep because they were being made miserable by the culture of over-tutoring from toddlerdom, constant high-stakes:high-threat assessment, and parental cacophony if it looks like one kid is a smidgen further in English or whatnot than theirs. Not only did it make the whole family miserable, this friend observed, but it actively worked against what they saw as true and interesting education — to mix metaphors, the curriculum narrowed as the hurdles got higher; the children produced at the end were husks who were very good at standardised testing, but found it difficult to have an original or interesting thought. ‘What’s the point?’, they muttered dejectedly. (I won’t go into their rant about the knock-on effect on secondary schools, though I will note that apparently the school had never once uttered the word ‘kindness’ in their assemblies or PSHE sessions, which struck me as rather, well, odd.)
This week, our boys have been taking the opportunity to take a little more perspective when it comes to their learning. We are seven or eight weeks through a fourteen-week term, so it is an opportune moment for them to spend time with their form tutors and assistant form tutors – in lieu of our usual assemblies – reviewing what they have done so far this year: to be congratulated for their successes and progress, while thinking about those areas which could be developed further (and how they can be developed further) over the coming weeks and months. This somewhat metacognitive approach can be difficult for anyone to do at any age, but by starting the boys young with some simple self-reflection, we hope that they get into good habits for the rest of their schooling and their later careers. We all have areas for development and further progress; by including this in an open and inquisitive culture, we should be able to enjoy the boys’ progress in a healthily paced and sustainable way. If only we had the weather to do this ‘stock-taking’ while sitting outside eating pastries.
Have a great weekend,
We wish the choristers well this evening as they take part in a performance of Haydn’s Creation, alongside the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and the Philharmonia Orchestra in King’s College Chapel. This promises to be a very special occasion and we look forward to hearing all about it next week!
We have some further achievements to celebrate this week. Congratulations to Max in Year 8 who has kicked off our scholarship season by being awarded an all-rounder scholarship to Gordonstoun. Congratulations, too, to Thomas in 8S who has just been selected to play viola in the Thames Vale Youth Orchestra, and to NCS alum Merritt (currently at Eton) who has been selected to play double bass in the National Youth Orchestra. I’m also pleased to announce that recent NCS alumni Rishaan and Paddy have been awarded a sports scholarship and music exhibition at MCS and Eton, respectively.
We are very much looking forward to our Year 7-8 performances of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 next week. These will take place in New College Chapel at 18.00 on Wednesday 8 and Thursday 9 November. Please could audience members enter the Chapel via the Song Room (there will be posters with directions) and sit in the seats between the organ loft and the choir stalls? The performances will last approximately one hour and the cast members should be picked up from the base of the hall steps in Front Quad (the one with the chapel in it) at c.19.10.