It is interesting how climate and the weather play such a central part in a school’s programme. I was telling the boys recently how, when I was teaching in Australia, up to half of my period 1 class would already have been to the beach in the morning if the surf reports had been good the night before. A couple of hours’ surfing before hopping on the train to school certainly wipes the cobwebs away. In the UK, I have taught in a school where, in the midst of winter, the timetable changed so that outdoor activities took place straight after lunch, before we all made our way back into class in the dark at 4.40pm for the final two lessons of the day, finishing at 6.05pm. That had advantages and disadvantages!
So what have we been up to here in Bedford in this most inclement of terms? Well, rather a lot, as you might imagine; and I hope that by writing this letter in sections, you can take your pick in the same way you might do with the Sunday newspapers….
Work and the Curriculum
I wrote earlier in the term with details of various academic initiatives in place for this year. These are bedding down well – and indeed we have had very positive feedback on the new format of parents’ evenings – and we will be reviewing these as we go. Mocks and subject choices are the main areas of focus for the top three years, and indeed for the fourth form, who are choosing their GCSE subjects. It is obviously important that parents and the school work together on decisions over subject choices and on providing a good working environment for the boys in the run up to exams; we will push out as much relevant information as you need (and I hope that the Friday mailing initiative is already helping with this), but do remember that you can contact your son’s tutor whenever you like during term time.
I might also mention our Citizenship programme. You will probably know that we collapse the timetable five times per year to deliver a range of PSHCE topics (Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education), rather than embed it into our curriculum. They are fascinating whole school days, run by Ms Spyropoulos. The latest day included issues as wide ranging as poverty, the holocaust, food waste, study skills, internships, homophobia and political elections. The full list can be found on the Citizenship page on Firefly.
Despite the odd fixture lost to ice, the hardy sportsmen have ploughed on through regardless. The 1st XI hockey has had some close games, notably against Rugby in an exciting 4-3 win last week; the U16s won the County hockey championship; the 1st XI football lost their first game for two years against Haberdashers in the mud last week, but they remain in good heart, having beaten King’s, Ely and St. Edward’s, Oxford this term; the 1st VII rugby team reached the final of the Shiplake Sevens, beating Abingdon, Shiplake and Denstone on the way to losing narrowly to Wellington. Just as importantly, the U14D hockey team (our most “junior” side this term) remain undefeated and wonderfully enthusiastic – 16 players turned up for the last fixture, including one young man who was injured and simply wanted to support his teammates. The rowers have contended with a fast running river, but will never miss out on physical training – their dedication is well known! The 1st VIII and Colts crews performed very well at the recent Peterborough Head, but probably the highlight so far came to the 15B crew, who won at Hampton – this is the biggest junior Head after the Schools Head, and it is only the second time in recent years that we have won a pennant there. Indoor Sports come to the fore at this time of the year, of course: we have a fine squash team, which has just reached the Trophy Finals of the National tournament in Manchester; the U16A badminton players have won through to the Eastern Regional finals after winning their county tournament; and the fives players drew with a team from Birmingham University, where the new fives club has been set up by an Old Bedfordian.
Lunchtime concerts (to which you are all invited) continue every Thursday lunchtime in the Recital Hall, but the musical highlight for me in the last two weeks has been the initiative shown by individual pupils in organising their own concerts for charity. Aidan Swain and Ed Wilson put on an evening of vocal music last week and this week Tom Edwards followed up with a concert (performed by singers from across the school) in aid of Autism. As examples of leadership as well as musicianship, these were impressive occasions. The main dates for the rest of the term include:
- Sun 22nd March: Choral Society concert. The main work is Mozart’s Requiem – joining forces with Bedford Girls’ School and the Bedfordshire Youth Choir. The concert will also include some Monteverdi performed by the Chapel Choir, and Mozart’s 3rd Horn Concerto with soloist Sean Davies, accompanied by the Chamber Orchestra.
- Mon 23rd March: Rock Night in ‘old’ theatre. This is now firmly established as a highlight of the contemporary music calendar and will feature bands from both Bedford School and Bedford Girls’ School.
- Wed 25th March: Spring Term concert. This is a new departure and gives both large and small ensembles the opportunity to perform in an evening concert in the Spring Term. There will be a good variety of styles and sizes of group.
Via our Gilbert Lloyd lecture series, we were delighted to welcome back Eric Parry RA, the internationally recognised architect who designed both the Music School and Library here at Bedford. He has subsequently gone on to design the extension of the Holborne Museum in Bath and the redevelopment of the area around St Martin-in-the-Fields in London amongst many other major projects. His lecture provided a fascinating insight into the whole design process and was much appreciated by all boys looking to study architecture in the future.
There is a new Fourth Form drama club, which meets every Monday lunchtime; the boys have been working on exploring physical theatre and there will be a presentation of some Fourth Form art, music and drama work in a Creative Arts evening later in the academic year (Wednesday 1 July at 7pm in the theatre).
The new theatre is coming on apace. We expect the contractors to hand it over to us on March 13th, but there will then be time spent on the final fit out. We are well on track for a formal opening towards the end of the summer term. You may be interested in a press release about the theatre naming which is due out over the weekend and I attach a link to it here.
After an extensive internal and external search, and from a very strong field, I have appointed Mr Will Montgomery to the post of Director of Teaching and Learning. This will be a CMT (Core Management Team) post. Mr Montgomery has been a dynamic Head of Geography, firstly at Mill Hill School, and now at Bedford School; he combines high standards and expectations, with a real care for his charges. His deep passion for what goes on in the classroom led him to set up, of his own initiative, a teaching and learning group in the school at the start of this year, which has proven to be invigorating and stimulating. He will join the team in September.
We also searched internally and externally for a new Housemaster for Phillpotts. We had a huge field and a very strong one, and it is testament to the quality of our own staff that, again, I have appointed internally. Mr Charlie Fisher, a history graduate of Peterhouse, Cambridge, has had careers in the army and management consultancy before joining the teaching profession and has latterly been running UCAS and Crescent House. He, too, will take up his new post in September.
Access to the Head Master
The open door policy at 8.15am continues to be popular; I have had boys in almost every morning and as a result a few small changes have been made to the way we do things at school, some issues have been ironed out and pupil-led initiatives have been raised and supported. I intend to continue this – not least, I am prepared to admit, because of the selfish enjoyment I get from sitting and chatting to these charming boys.
I also intend to have a meal with all of the Lower Sixth in small groups. I do not have enough evenings for all, but have already started to meet day boys for lunch and boarders for dinner. It was also excellent to meet over lunch with those who have done particularly well in their effort grades recently (as opposed to simply attainment, though there was, happily perhaps, some overlap).
Do please continue to come to say hello yourselves whenever the opportunity arises, too; it has been a pleasure to meet so many of you so far. For specific matters pertaining to your son, you will obviously wish to contact your son’s tutor in the first instance in the vast majority of cases.
Very well done to the 30 boys and 10 staff who slept out in cold, occasionally wet and very windy conditions on Thursday night to raise awareness of homelessness and funds for YMCA Bedfordshire, for their education and training scheme for young homeless people. The boxes may not have survived the whole night, but their spirit certainly did!
I hope that you enjoy the week ahead.
With best wishes