Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 19 April 2024

Dear Parents,

Welcome back after what I hope has been a happy, restful and restorative Easter vacation.

We have spent months without much colour: grey cloudy skies, dark mornings, dark evenings. Many of our trees lost their green leaves, leaving us with browny-grey branches and twigs. Even our evergreens have had muted tones, as they settled into a drab autumn and winter. I’m told there are people who like – who love – this. They like to retreat to the warmth of their blankets once they have gone for crisp walks through fallen leaves under leaden skies. I’m not one of them. I like blue skies: vibrant blue, royal blue, electric blue, ultramarine blue; the blue of the sky for about two weeks in a British summer, or the more reliably blue sky of Los Angeles most of the year round.

In chapel on Wednesday I pointed out to the boys the preponderance of the colour blue in the stained glass that surrounded us – a colour we don’t get to see much during the autumn and winter months if it is too dark outside. I pointed out to them that, in the span of human history, it is only relatively recently that we have been able to enjoy the blues in art that we see today. Historically, most blue colourants needed to be imported, sometimes from a long way away: from Damascus, Afghanistan, Turkey or India. The ancient Egyptians associated blue with the sky god Horus and wore sacred and royal blue lapis lazuli as a symbol of heavenly power. But even a couple of thousand years later, blue was still not particularly widespread in western Europe, and even then the colour was usually only linked to nobility or royalty.

Blue pigments were very expensive. In 1515 Andrea del Sarto paid five florins – containing around eighteen grams of gold – for ultramarine pigment to be used in just one painting. This was the equivalent of five years’ rent for some people at the time. Patrons would spend huge sums of money to ensure that their painters used the finest blues they could acquire. One of the most famous paintings of the Renaissance, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, is nearly one third aquamarine blue. Poets, too, have been captivated by the colour – especially those poets writing during the Romantic period of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. John Keats described blue as ‘the life of heaven’, ‘the wide palace of the sun’, ‘the life of waters’. If we fast-forward to the monumental events of the space race in the mid-twentieth century, we once again encounter the importance of blue. On his spacewalk from Gemini 11 in 1966, the astronaut Pete Conrad reported about his view of the earth: ‘I’ll tell you one thing. It really is blue. The water really stands out, and everything is blue’.

Break time play; Tennis in Lunchtime activities; practising aim in Pre-Prep games; searching for invertebrates in Science

In different cultures around the world, blue represents different things – but mostly positive ones. In China it represents the east and spring, immortality and wisdom; the ancient Chinese wore blue clothing to ward off evil spirits. In India, blue is the colour of Krishna, the Hindu deity, so it is seen as divine and spiritual, signifying truth and eternity. In Japan, blue is traditionally associated with loyalty and honesty, water and wisdom. In Islam, blue is the colour of transcendence, representing heaven and divine truth; blue mosques and tiles remind worshippers of the divine and spiritual realm. In Judaism, blue represents the heavens and divine truth; blue threads woven into the fringes of prayer shawls are reminders of God’s commandments.

There’s clearly something important about the colour blue. It’s not just nice to look at. It doesn’t just signify that spring is in the air, or summer is here. It doesn’t just bring to mind the sky or the sea. The colour blue lowers our heart rates, blood pressure, our body temperatures, and can sooth our nerves. It causes the brain to release serotonin, which regulates mood, appetite and sleep. It can have an effect on our pituitary glands, affecting our sleep patterns. It can slow our breathing and even enhance our memories. Darker shades of blue apparently help us improve how we solve problems and make decisions. Lighter shades, it has been argued, help us to focus on details when carrying out tasks.

Blue also means something. Sometimes it is used to symbolise authority, bravery, loyalty, trustworthiness, seriousness and dedication – hence the use of the colour in police officers’ uniforms or some superhero outfits. Just think of Superman or Wonder Woman. Companies like to use blue in their marketing and design because it reflects coolness, cleanliness, power and safety. Marketing studies have even suggested that people are fifteen per cent more likely to go into a shop painted blue than one painted a different colour. As a non-aggressive colour, blue is often used to symbolise serenity, stability, inspiration or wisdom. I tried to define these terms for the boys on Wednesday. Serenity, I told them, means being peaceful and calm. Likewise, stability means having the strength to stand or endure, to resist the forces of disturbance. Inspiration means being mentally stimulated to feel or do something, especially to do something creative. Wisdom means having good judgement, often based on experience and knowledge.

Serenity, stability, inspiration and wisdom are all things that we can value especially this term, as the older boys encounter assessments of increasing importance. To face and complete them successfully is to do so wisely, creatively, and with the right degree of serenity. This is not to suggest that they should be approached in a totally laid-back fashion, but with the right state of mind that places the assessments in perspective, and that incorporates a stable and reasonable approach to revision – prioritising good habits and regular routines over last-minute panics and a discombobulated state of mind.

I wish you all a serene, stable, wise and creative Trinity term – hopefully under some bright blue skies.

Have a great weekend,

Matt Jenkinson

The choristers sang beautifully at the official opening of the College side of the Gradel Quadrangles on Saturday morning, with the Vice Chancellor in attendance. They have also been working hard in the ‘recording studio’, putting together an album of music by William Mundy (c.1529-91). We are looking forward to hearing the results; I’ve already heard great things from those who were listening in at the recording. New College chapel services begin this evening (19 April) at 18.15. As ever, NCS families are very warmly welcome to attend.

As we come towards the end of the construction of the Gradel Quadrangles (I’m told the cabins will disappear from Savile Road by the end of this month …) I would like to thank the whole NCS community, past and present, for their patience and support. To plan, excavate, and build such a large project in the middle of Oxford has been quite something. We always knew that, at the end of it all, we would be able to enjoy unrivalled facilities. We are now pretty much at that stage!

Many congratulations to all those boys who took part in the performance of Purcell’s Fairy Queen in Chapel at the very end of last term. It was a monumental effort and I was in awe, especially, of those younger boys who managed to stay engaged, follow along, and sing their parts, over the course of almost two hours. And, as ever, many thanks to Tom Neal for staging such a successful concert, enabling NCS boys to sing alongside professional musicians.

I enjoyed speaking to Years 6-8 this Wednesday during their Wellbeing lesson, giving them tips on ‘how to prepare for assessments while staying happy and healthy’. Too much of the educational world focuses on the first bit, while ignoring the second. It is perfectly possible to do both, and that’s what decent prep schools should be doing – preparing (the clue is in the title) pupils for assessments that become more and more consequential as they get older, getting them into good habits from the beginning, so there are no nasty surprises when they get to public exams. If only there were exam league tables that took into account such preparatory work in pupils’ first schools!

Also on Wednesday we had huge fun with Year 7 during our leadership evening. This is a chance for the boys to practise their leadership skills through a variety of activities covering teamwork, public speaking, and short chats with the SLT. I have also enjoyed reading the boys’ letters to me in which they have reflected on leadership, what it means to them, and – very touchingly – what the school means to them as they wistfully approach their final year with us. We are keen for all of our senior boys to get the chance to exercise leadership in various forms, especially during Year 8, and the evening helps us put together a ‘portfolio’ for each pupil.

On Saturday 11 May (19.00-20.00) we will be hosting a special historical event: a talk by Sarah Dixwell Brown titled ‘A King Killer in the Family: Writing the Life of John Dixwell’. Sarah taught English at Stanford, Santa Clara University, Mount Holyoke College and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. This talk explores her research into the life and career of John Dixwell, one of her ancestors, who signed the death warrant of Charles I in 1649 and then ran away to New England after the Restoration of the monarchy. I will be introducing the talk, with my historian hat on. The event will be in Lecture Room 6 in New College. If you would like to come please sign up (for free) at: https://forms.office.com/e/pkF9bc0N6t.

From Victoria Hayter: This is the final call for t-shirts for the Town and Gown! We've had a lot of people signing up already and I’m afraid the children’s 3k event is now closed to new entries. The run is on Sunday 12 May in the University Parks: 3k for the boys (aged 9 and over) and 10k for adults. Please email Victoria.hayter@newcollegeschool.org if you and/or your son are running and you would like an NCS Town and Gown t-shirt (if you don’t already have one from last year; please reuse last year’s if you do) by the end of Monday 22 April. We would love some donations to help the cause of Muscular Dystrophy: https://sportsgiving.co.uk/sponsorship/group/4813

Upcoming Events

Sunday, 21 April 2024

Start of university term

Wednesday, 24 April 2024

9.00 Chapel. Speaker: Professor Andrew Counter, NCS Governor

11.00 8S teaching pre-prep science lessons

14.15 U11 A & B Cricket vs Abingdon Prep, home

14.15 U13 Cricket nets training, Field

Thursday, 25 April 2024

8.30 Junior Mathematics Challenge (until 9.30)

Monday, 29 April 2024

19.00 NCSPA Meeting, CLC

Wednesday, 1 May 2024

8.15 School Council Meeting, CLC

9.00 Chapel. Speaker: Mr Robert Quinney, NCS Governor and New College Organist

14.00 U13 A Tennis vs Cranford House, home

14.15 U11 A & B Cricket vs vs Sibford, away

14.15 U13 A & B Cricket vs Cokethorpe, away

18.00 VMT parents’ evening (online)