Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 7 June 2024

Dear Parents,

As I think you know by now, our intention at NCS is to nudge and cajole the boys into good habits from a young age, with a carefully graduated approach to things like revision and assessments as they go through the school. This is to avoid being caught between the Scylla of total idleness and the Charybdis of constant work. There is a middle way that avoids some of the more toxic and ultimately counterproductive philosophies of non-stop revision, but which still underlines the importance of working, learning and revising well. The idea behind this is that the boys still work and learn at a decent pace and level, with the intensity carefully ramped up through the years so (a) they’re not terrified of more consequential assessments when they come along, and (b) they are actually well-prepared with an armoury of decent revision techniques so that nothing comes as a major surprise when, say, they begin to sit their GCSEs a bit later in life.

Pre-Prep Concert; Visiting Martyrs' Cross Broad St; Cricket fixtures

You may have noted that I used the words ‘total idleness’ above. There is actually a place for some idleness in the learning process, when it is well-judged and part of a method that also does include some work. I have been particularly taken with the thoughts on the subject of Lin Yutang, an academic, linguist, inventor and writer who published dozens of books between the 1930s and 1970s. In Lin’s view, humanity evolved towards civilization due to our ‘playful curiosity’. Just as a monkey looks curiously at the ear-lobe of a fellow monkey, usually looking for lice, so we developed by ‘fumbling’ curiously, investigating the world around us. Humanity continued to develop, in Lin’s view, because we continued – and continue – to chase after ‘some form or other of lice that is bothering human society’. This curiosity led us to explore ‘freely and playfully’, because the human mind is designed to be interested in all manner of topics and problems.

Fundamentally, for Lin, this was for enjoyment, not for material gain: ‘The monkeys do not chase after lice in order to eat them, but for the sheer fun of it’. The process of obtaining knowledge, then, was a ‘form of play’; play was a natural instinct in and of itself. Learning and scholarship came through ‘an interest in things in themselves and a playful, idle desire to know them as they are, and not because that knowledge directly or immediately helps in feeding our stomach’. This is an approach that we are in danger of losing today, if we encourage our pupils to focus more and more on cramming in more and more information, in the hope that one day they will cash in their stuffed-full CVs for financial gain. Lin is wrong to go quite so far in criticizing the acquisition of factual knowledge in a carefully structured school system, but he is right to question the approach to education that assumes ‘the human mind can be studied like a sewerage system and the waves of thought measured like the waves of a radio’. He is also right to posit some fundamental questions about why people should learn, what they should learn, and how they learn it.

Fundamentally, Lin wanted education to return to its roots: the natural curiosity of children who pottered around at leisure, privately exploring the world around them, for nothing more than enjoyment. He had little time for the view that the end of education was direct material productivity, nor for the idea that knowledge should be crow-barred into people’s brains intensely and mechanically. In contrast, if children were given the time idly to spread their ‘tentacles’ and irrationally ‘feel’ the world around them, they would develop taste and courage, not just knowledge. They would advance in ways that could not necessarily be measured in the same way that we read a gas meter. They would also learn how to be flexible intellectually, to respond to the higher things in life, and to be personally fulfilled in a world that is not ‘a syllogism or argument, it is a being’, and in a universe that ‘does not talk, it lives; it does not argue, it merely gets there’.

Pre-Prep art; Building houses in DT; Post-exam treats

A lot of learning involves graft and those who find the process to be effortless, a serene process of absorption, are rare and infuriating (and perhaps best avoided). But looking at philosophies like Lin’s help to provide a counterweight to the fetishization of incessant flashcard-writing which tends to equate learning with non-stop factual acquisition, rather than seeing it as a peristaltic process in which the rest is as important as the stress. Constant stress leads to burn-out, in which no learning is occurring whatsoever. There is actually a virtue to the bored wandering (and wondering) mind, the one that learns to cope without constant external stimuli, but devises its own stimuli to fill the gap, to ponder idly, to try out ideas that may be wrong, to play. Procrastinators tend to get a bad press, usually from themselves, about the time they think they are wasting. But the downtime involved in procrastination can be valuable if it is leading to the valuable things outlined above; and, of course, if the task over which one is procrastinating is done eventually. And, assuming it is done, presumably it is done pretty efficiently to make up for the time spent idling elsewhere. The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of results are produced by 20% of causes; so we could argue that four-fifths of our learning happens as a result of one-fifth of our efforts on a given day.

Michelle Boulous Walker argues in her Slow Philosophy: Reading Against the Institution that it is philosophy as philosophia or the ‘love of wisdom’ that should be prioritized over the frenetic desire simply to know things – or to think we know them – and the education system’s ever-increasing obsession with testing, teaching to that test, standardizing, inspecting, and then testing again. While learning is, to state the obvious, desirable, it is how we define ‘learning’, what we value in that learning, how imaginative we are in assessing it, and how we put learning in the wider picture of personal health and fulfilment, that is the measure of a truly excellent education system. To repeat: none of this is to suggest that we should not have high standards, nor that work (and, at times, hard work) should not occur; it is to suggest that working well should be our priority, and it should be put in the context of the real benefits of what is happening to our brains when we are not at our desks, or when we are at our desks but not doing what we think we should be doing.

Have a great weekend, with just the right amount of idleness,

Matt Jenkinson

Taking into account all of the above, well done to all of our boys who have been sitting their assessments over the past few weeks. We are very proud of the way in which they have approached these assessments. Thank you to all of my colleagues who have been setting and invigilating papers, and who are now working their way through the marking!

Thank you to all of the boys in pre-prep, and to my pre-prep colleagues, who led our chapel service so well on Wednesday. It was great to hear their readings and to see how much they progress in just a few short years.

Speaking of chapel: we have a slightly amended date for your diary. Well, same date, but slightly different event. 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.

It is our chorister open day tomorrow, Saturday 8 June, in New College chapel at 16.00. There will be an opportunity to speak to the New College Organist, Robert Quinney, and to meet other New College/NCS colleagues, as well as current chorister parents. There will, of course, be plenty of music – culminating in a relatively short family-friendly evensong at 17.45. We would like to particularly encourage Reception and Year 1 families who may be considering the choir for their son to attend the open day. Auditions are held in the January after the boys begin Year 2. If you would like to attend, but haven’t already signed up, please email nancy-jane.rucker@new.ox.ac.uk.

We are looking forward to our annual Wykeham Day on Saturday 15 June. The day begins with an old boys’ concert in the auditorium at 12.00, to which all families past and present are warmly invited. There is some sport on field from 12.00, before the school fete formally begins at 14.00 (ending 16.00). A special evensong follows in chapel at 17.45, followed by a BBQ back at NCS for those who have signed up in advance. This is always a very special day, and we very much enjoy bringing together the NCS community past, present and future.

We have been asked by Zeelo to remind parents about road safety when the bus is arriving and departing NCS. Please could parents keep a close eye on their children to ensure they are not in the road when the bus is reversing up Savile Road; equally, please could enough space be left around the school’s pedestrian gate for the bus to be able to pull up to the curb safely. Many thanks.

Next Generation Soccer Schools will be running at NCS again this summer. There will be two weeks of football courses that will be open to pupils of NCS in Years 3-8 and their siblings. Monday 8 - Friday 12 July and Monday 15 - Friday 19 July (09:30-16:00). Places are limited, so please book early to avoid disappointment. To secure your place please follow the link below. Please note that Next Generation Soccer Schools is an independent company that runs entirely separately from New College: https://campscui.active.com/orgs/NextGenerationSoccerSchool?season=3476343

Parents may be interested in some sessions taking place next Wednesday at OHS on smartphones and social media. Details and booking details can be found at: https://oxfordhigh.gdst.net/whats-on/box-office/?gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAjw34qzBhBmEiwAOUQcF-ZKEhUDAZe_6tmwhReQOn7srFYZ-t4bmmEl7Vfz-IbMI6GFR7_tMhoCqysQAvD_BwE

From Craig Bishop: Another fine round of cricket fixtures was played out this week and the U8 and U9 teams were first in action against Ashfold School. At home Dylan Swanepoel and I had the pleasure of looking after two teams who played out great games with some fantastic batting from Auden B-S, Henry M and Jacob S-H as all three boys found the boundary rope with cracking shots. With the ball in hand it was Edward B and again Auden who impressed with consistent deliveries that were hostile and difficult to hit. For his efforts with both bat and ball Auden was voted player of the match in only his second appearance for the U9 A team. At the end of the day, the NCS team ended up just three runs short of the target. Stephen Potts had the pleasure of taking the other two U8 teams away to Ashfold and he has the following to say about the afternoon: “Both games were closely contested with all players getting the chance to test their batting and bowling skills. In both games the result came down to a couple of runs with players being left to think about how they could protect their wicket and try to make the most of scoring opportunities.”

On Wednesday afternoon the U11 A, B and C team all played Christ Church with the B and C teams going away. Dylan Swanepoel and Stephen Potts were full of admiration and pride upon their return to school as both teams recorded comprehensive wins. This means that going into the final two games of the season the U9 B team are still unbeaten and playing some brilliant cricket. Stephen Potts has the following to add about the afternoon at CCCS: “The U11 B & C teams both claimed victories with some strong batting and consistent bowling. All the boys were able to work on their batting and bowling development and enjoyed the afternoon in the sunshine.” At home the U11 A and U13 A teams were also playing CCCS and the U11 As got off to a flyer of a start with George T slapping the ball around with ease. William E, our captain, came to the crease with Olly B and the pair put on another 85 runs. At stumps the boys had amassed 121 runs for 5 wickets with William E unbeaten on 52. This was the first half-century for an U11 for a good few years, so well done, William. In reply the NCS boys shared the bowling around and the final wicket fell on 41 runs in the twelfth over. My highlight of the day was Aloysius W with his left arm swing bowling; his over was as a double wicket maiden and was a coat of varnish away from being a hat-trick!

Brett Morrison has the following to say about the U13 A team and their match against CCCS: “With short form cricket being at the forefront of our minds this week with the commencement of the T20 World Cup, NCS and CCCS went a step further and played a T10 at U13 level. NCS won by 8 wickets with 2 overs to spare, chasing down 53 runs. Some tight bowling by NCS dried the run rate up of our opposition, including a triple-wicket maiden. Congratulations to the team for an entertaining performance. George C, Alexander C-B and Xander (3 wickets for 1 run) impressed with the ball and Jacob and Xander guided the team to the winning runs.”

Upcoming Events

Monday, 10 June 2024

9.00 ABRSM exams (CLC)

9.30 Year 3 to Earth Sciences for Rocks and Volcanoes workshop

19.00 Year 8 NCS/OHS Social (ends 21.00)

Tuesday, 11 June 2024

14.00 Year 8 careers talks (auditorium)

Wednesday, 12 June 2024

8.15 School Council Meeting

9.00 Chapel. Speaker: Mr Samuel King, Former NCS Pupil

14.15 U11 A Tennis vs St Hugh's, away

14.15 U13 A Tennis vs St Hugh's, home

14.15 U13 A & U13 B Cricket vs St Hugh's, away

14.15 U13 B & U11 A Cricket vs ST Hugh's, home

Thursday, 13 June 2024

13.30 U9 A & B Cricket vs Summer Fields, home

15.00 Chamber Choir rehearsal at St. Christopher's Primary School (depart 14.30, return 16.30)

Friday, 14 June 2024

18.00 Reception for new parents

Risk taking behaviour workshops (Years 7-8). Year 7 @ 10.10-11.50. Year 8 @ 14.00-15.40

14.00 Y3-5 Tech Rehearsal of Pinocchio (auditorium)

Saturday, 15 June 2024

Wykeham Day

12.00 Old boys' concert, auditorium

12.00 Parents and boys doubles tennis, field

13.00 Cricket begins, field

14.00 School Fête, field (ends 16.00)

17.45 Wykeham Day Evensong, New College Chapel

18.30 Wykeham Day BBQ, NCS (sign-up only)

Sunday, 16 June 2024

University term ends

17.45 Last Evensong, New College Chapel

Monday, 17 June 2024

14.00 Years 3-5 dress/tech rehearsal of Pinocchio (auditorium)

14.00 U13 A & B Cricket vs d'Overbroeck's, home

Tuesday, 18 June 2024

14.00 Year 8 sessions on transition to senior school (auditorium)

14.00 U8 All Cricket vs Summer Fields, away

17.30 Years 3-5 performance of Pinocchio (auditorium)

Wednesday, 19 June 2024

9.00 Chapel. Speaker: Professor William Whyte, St John's College

13.00 Year 3 Shang Gallery Ashmolean

14.15 U11 A & B Cricket vs Bruern Abbey, away

14.15 U13 A & B Cricket vs Bruern Abbey, home

14.15 U13 A Tennis vs Abingdon Prep, home

17.30 Years 3-5 performance of Pinocchio (auditorium)

Thursday, 20 June 2024

9.00 Induction for new pupils and 'move-up morning'

14.00 Year 8 TED Talks, session 1 (auditorium)

Friday, 21 June 2024

Last day of VMT music lessons

10.00 Pre-Prep Sports Day

14.00 Year 8 TED Talks, session 2 (auditorium)

17.30 Year 8 Play Reading: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, New College Cloisters

18.30 Summer Drinks Evening, New College Cloisters

Saturday, 22 June 2024

11.00 OCCO Concert: Beethoven's Symphony no.5 (sports hall)