Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 8 March 2024

Dear parents,

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going – so far as I can tell – but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle. I miss my old brain.

I didn’t write those words, the US journalist Nicholas Carr did, but I easily could have done. (The sentiment, not the quality, I mean.) I suspect a good number of people reading this might be nodding along too. We have all been taught to read – quite often to read and analyse and theorise to a high level. But what do we, as adults, actually do with our reading abilities day to day? I’ll tell you what I do: I read emails and online documentation to do with my job. I do this – if you’ve been in my study you’ll know – with hundreds of volumes around me, virtually none of which have anything to do with headmastering. Then, at the end of a long day, I’ll go home and sit surrounded by hundreds more books and I’ll look at them, think that I really should get around to reading them, then I turn the TV on and/or check Twitter (I still won’t call it what that man wants us to call it). I taught English at NCS for eleven years, so at least for that period I read along with the boys; I still find it guiltily amusing that I used to get paid to read and teach Shakespeare.

Now, all of the above is perfectly natural and is replicated millions of times around the world: we work hard, tire our eyes, and then don’t necessarily want to keep reading during our leisure time. (Lots of us/you do, but you’re better at this than me.) I don’t think we necessarily need to beat ourselves up about it. There are other ways that we occupy our brains and our reading habits, even if they don’t involve sitting down with a novel. Doom-scrolling on Twitter often leads to a link to a decent, well-written article, for example. Even watching TV isn’t necessarily corrosive. I once suggested to a screenwriter friend that the box-set might be the new novel; he thought that I wasn’t totally wrong. Hearing the writing in beautifully written shows has a value. Podcasts can provide the same; I learn a lot these days from the Adam Buxton Podcast, for example. Ditto audiobooks. I think what I’m trying to say is that there are various different positive ways that we can engage with words. While I love the physical artefact of a beautifully made book, I can see that the literary world is broadening and this has many benefits, not least enfranchising those who, for whatever reason, have historically felt disenfranchised from the written word.

World Book Day

This week we have enjoyed World Book Day and the NCS Festival of Literature, so naturally we have been extolling to the boys the benefits of reading, of physical books, of getting engrossed in a good story, of being able to research using something other than the internet. This is all well and good – reading for pleasure and researching effectively using a real library provide the foundations on which all of the above should build. This is a given in a school like NCS, nestled as we are among the libraries of the colleges of one of the world’s finest universities. All our boys need to do is look up from their playground and they can see the books in Wadham’s library, and the students poring over those books. At the same time, it is good to embrace the different ways that we can engage with the written and spoken word, and perhaps to be more forgiving of ourselves when we don’t reach for a massive tome at the end of a long and busy day. When P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories were first collected together in an ‘Omnibus Book’, he advised his readers, ‘I would not recommend anyone to attempt to finish this volume at a sitting. It can be done … but it leaves one weak and is really not worth doing just for the sake of saying you have done it. Take it easy. Spread it out. Assimilate it little by little’. If it’s good enough for Jeeves, it’s good enough for us.

Have a great weekend,

Matt Jenkinson

Congratulations to George C in Year 8 who has been awarded an academic scholarship to MCS, and to Thomas and Peter who have been awarded academic exhibitions, also to MCS. As MCS gave out six academic awards this year, I’m thrilled that half of them have gone to NCS boys!

This brings our 13+ awards tally so far this year to: Alexander (music scholarship, Abingdon); Thomas (music scholarship and academic exhibition, MCS); Jacob (music exhibition, MCS); George (academic scholarship, MCS); Peter (academic exhibition, MCS); Max (all-rounder scholarship, Gordonstoun); Henry (sports exhibition, Cheltenham); Herbie (music scholarship, D’Overbroeck’s); James (music exhibition, Radley).

Junior Recital

Year 3 Maths games

Tennis skills in Pre-Prep

As part of World Book Day on Thursday, we had our very own NCS Festival of Literature. This included a special assembly led by Elizabeth Hess, during which the boys paraded their literary costumes. The boys had the chance to research their WBD characters and to take part in special quizzes. We also had a whole-school ‘Drop Everything and Read’ session, then our poetry recital finals. Thanks to Chris Gausden for masterminding the day, and to all of my colleagues for being so flexible and supportive in accommodating changes to the timetable.

We very much enjoyed the junior recital on Monday evening in our new auditorium, with many of the boys playing our new Steinway for the first time. Around forty boys took part – two-thirds of the boys in the relevant year groups. My thanks to Izzy Rose for organising the event and also to Tom Neal and our visiting music teachers for their accompaniment and support.

Our SHTEAM Festival begins on Monday 11 March and runs all week. For those who are new to NCS – or to the concept of SHTEAM (STEM with the Arts and Humanities put back in) – this is an annual festival at the school during which we celebrate interdisciplinarity by taking a single theme and looking at it from as many different curricular dimensions as possible. This year’s theme is ‘The World of Water’ and, as you will see from the SHTEAM Brochure, there are dozens of events happening across the year groups: special lessons, workshops and talks covering all manner of watery areas. Many thanks to all those who are contributing to the festival, and especially those NCS parents who are taking the time to come in to talk to the boys.

Next Generation Soccer Schools will be running again this Easter holiday at NCS. Following on from the successful Christmas afternoons, the courses will be extended to run all day, 09:30-16:00, Monday 25 March to Thursday 28 March. The sessions will be led by NCS sports coach Stephen Potts with a team of qualified coaches. Places will again be limited, so please book early to avoid disappointment. Online booking is via https://campscui.active.com/orgs/NextGenerationSoccerSchool?season=3448531. There will also be sessions in the summer holidays, Monday 8 - Friday 19 July; booking for these will open after Easter.

From Craig Bishop: We have had another extremely busy week with the NCS hockey teams. Monday saw the U13s in action with the A team away at the Stowe School festival where they managed an admirable fifth place out of the ten teams in attendance. Some excellent hockey was on show with all of the boys giving their absolute all in the games. For his effort and dedication our player of the day was Jacob W. At home the three other U13 teams played host to Christ Church. The NCS B team managed a hard-fought win over the CCCS A team, our C team lost to their B team, but the stars of the day have to be the NCS D team who beat the CCCS C team thanks to some fantastic teamwork and skill.

The U9s travelled across to Winchester House this week. In the B team game Dylan Swanepoel was extremely pleased with their efforts as they twice came from behind to level the match at 1-1 and 2-2 thanks to some superb play from our player of the match Leo G and a superb goal from a narrow angle with Rufus getting the final touch. However, with just minutes to go WHS scored a third to take the game. In the A team game, a 3-3 draw was a great result and showed just how much spirit and fight this team have. I have high hopes for this group as they move up through the school. This was a fantastic team effort and our player of the match was Chris B-N.

On Wednesday afternoon the U11s and U13s both played Winchester House. Away from home the U13 C and D teams both lost but in those games the captain singled out Dominic B for his endeavours. Herbie H was also mentioned, as it was he who kept the team in the game thanks to his heroics between the posts. The A and B team games were high-class, fast-paced games with WHS taking the lead early on in the A team game. Again, it was time for an NCS team to rally and indeed they did; twice they levelled the score and found themselves on top towards the end of the game. However, an injury to our play-maker Xander S meant he had to leave the pitch and it was during this time that WHS found the break through the middle to score the deciding goal. Disappointing, yes, but what a fantastic game of hockey and what a standard the U13s are playing at now. The final game away from home was the U13 B team and this team also played some brilliant hockey this week. They deservedly took the lead after a great passage of play that saw passing of the highest order slice open the WHS defence. Again, the game went back and forth with both sides showing their class and at the end of the day a 2-2 draw was fair. My player of the match this week has to be Jai P as he steadied the ship with his calm and accurate passing.

At home the U11 faced very stiff opposition as the A team were playing against the recent IAPS regional winners in the shape of WHS U11s. The B team faced equally tough opposition and played out a game that Stephen Young described as epic but mainly attacking! Both teams seemed to score at will and, as with the U13s last week, this team just ran out of time as they were behind. A 5-4 loss this time around but each and every player came off the field proud of their efforts and rightly so. The D team also lost out this week, but they worked hard for one another. The C Team managed a 4-1 win to end another great week for NCS. They played some beautiful hockey with crisp passing and even better shooting to ensure a well earned and deserved win.

Upcoming Events

Saturday, 9 March 2024

End of University Term

Monday, 11 March 2024

Provisional date for ABRSM exams

SHTEAM Festival on 'The World of Water' begins: see separate schedule for full event list

Pre-Prep QED Week

Tuesday, 12 March 2024

14.15 U8/9 A-D Hockey v Ashfold, Away

Wednesday, 13 March 2024

9.00 Chapel. Speaker: The Warden

14.00 U13 A-D Hockey v Summer Fields & Abingdon A & B, St Edward's

14.15 U11 A-D Hockey v MCS, Away

18.00 Holloway Lecture, Dominic Sandbrook (auditorium; sign-up only; parking from 17.00)

Thursday, 14 March 2024

9.00 Year 8 HPV catch-up if necessary

14.30 Pre-Prep Spring Concert (sports hall)

Monday, 18 March 2024

10.30 Year 5 Planetary Interiors workshop

17.30 Senior Recital (auditorium; parking from 17.00)

Tuesday, 19 March 2024

Last day of VMT 1:1 Music Lessons (pre-prep and prep)

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

14.00 U 8 & 9 Hockey v Beachborough, Iffley Rd

18.00 French Café and Entertainment (Year 6) (dining hall; parking from 17.00)

Wednesday, 20 March 2024

College Day

8.15 Eco-Committee meeting (CLC)

9.00 Spring Service in Chapel

14.00 U11 A-D Hockey v Dragon, Away

14.00 U13 A-D v Dragon St Edward's

17.30 Pre-Prep Parents' evening

Thursday, 21 March 2024

14.00 Pre-Prep Poetry Recitation and ‘Show and Tell’

Friday, 22 March 2024

Easter House Brunch

12.00 End of term