Dear Parents/Guardians,

Happy New Year and welcome back! I love the start to every new term – the staff has already met (our sessions yesterday were broad and varied, hitting on areas of strategy, teaching and learning, sport and pastoral care), the boys came bounding back through the gates this morning, catching up with tutors and attending the initial assembly of term (incidentally, for those who wish, most of my assemblies, including this morning’s, can be read here); everywhere there is a sense of excitement – laughter, chatter and a hint of energising (and galvanising) tension. Our community is a strong one and we face the New Year with optimism, drive and renewed friendships. It is great to be back.

The breadth and excellence of our school’s education was illustrated last term by our indoor hockey players reaching the national finals again (to be played this weekend), our entire school getting ‘around the world in 80 days’ to support ‘Movember’ and to become the top school (and one of the top organisations) in the country to fundraise for that purpose, and our mathematicians doing superbly in the UK Maths Challenge. We also had our best audiences for a number of years for the big St Cecilia’s concert and for the main school play, The 39 Steps, as well as a Saturday with 35 rugby fixtures, which must be something of a record at any school – so participation is alive and well!

This term starts for the Fifth Form and Upper Sixth boys with trial exams, and I wish them a good fortnight. What follows is eclectic…

New Staff

We welcome three new teachers this term. Miss Gemma Tooth joins the History department from Framlingham College (to replace the departing Mr Allen), Miss Sarah Lafford joins the Biology department (to cover Miss Swallow’s maternity leave) from Wycombe Abbey, and Mrs Elly Willard joins the Spanish department for two terms from (most recently) Bedford Girls’ School.

Mrs Kim Philpott will take over from Mr Allen as Academic Year Head (Remove Form). Mrs Jo Law, until recently the Housemaster of Sanderson’s, will stand in for Miss Swallow as Housemaster of Crescent.

Also, we welcome Christina Munoz Cobo to the Languages department on a six-week placement as part of The National Modern Languages SCITT; she will be working closely with Claire Geneve. I am excited about this, as Modern Languages are not only hugely important but are also becoming something of an endangered species in this country; I am pleased we can do our bit to help train teachers.

Computing

At the start of the year, I promised some extended feedback on areas of the parent survey which were not as positive as others. (It is all relative – the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.) The areas were computing / IT, careers and community service – and also Parents’ Evenings (see below).   The first of these reports is attached here, drafted by our Director of Digital Learning, Dr Albin Wallace.

Parents’ Evenings

We have already made changes to improve these, but it still felt from the first two Parents’ Evenings of the year that we might be able to do even better. If you are the parent of a Fourth Form or Remove Form boy and have not yet replied to the short follow-up survey on your Parents’ Evening, please could you do so here.

IGCSEs vs GCSEs

You will have seen some reporting on this in the papers over the break, notably the claim by a Labour MP that Independent Schools are “cheating the system” by choosing the “easier” IGCSEs.  Our new Deputy Head (Academic), Mr Sam Baldock, gives his response to those articles here.

Drugs

Also much in the press lately has been the issue of drugs – and in particular ‘county lines’ drugs gangs using children (trapped into debt) to sell drugs. All Heads I have spoken to are (rightly) concerned about this (and I was at a very well-attended session on it at the Headmasters’ Conference in October alongside most of our comparable schools).

May I take a moment to remind you of the school policy on drugs, which is that we aim to be on the one hand supportive of any boy who actively comes forward to seek our help (‘Any pupil who, other than in the context of a drugs-related disciplinary investigation, sees a member of staff to ask for help in dealing with a drugs problem will via the Vice Master be referred to an appropriate external specialist. This will at all times be treated as a pastoral rather than a disciplinary matter’), but on the other hand ‘zero tolerance’ on those whom we discover to be dealing in drugs or who bring them onto the school site (‘Any pupil caught supplying, or inciting the use of, illegal drugs, or being in possession of them with the intent to supply, will be permanently excluded. Any pupil caught in possession of, or using, illegal drugs on school premises, whilst on a school-related activity, or during the school day, will be excluded unless there are, in the opinion of the Head Master, particularly extenuating circumstances’). The whole policy can be seen here.

For the benefit of the whole community, I take a very firm personal stance on drugs and have unfortunately had to exclude boys in the four and a half years I have been here; it is devastating for those families – and I have not yet used (and am extremely unlikely to use) the ‘extenuating circumstances’ line above. I remind all boys of this (and other disciplinary matters) in my start of year assembly each year; they are perfectly aware of my opinions on the matter.

That said, it is also our duty – and wish – to educate. Drugs education is dealt with via our Citizenship programme throughout the school (the annual programme can be found on Firefly). This term, however, we are including a parent session as part of our Citizenship morning. Simon Leigh (a leading addiction counsellor who in fact delivered the session to the Heads I referred to above) will talk to the boys in the Fourth Form and Remove Form during the day and then to parents in the evening.  All parents will be invited, but those of Fourth and Remove Form boys especially so, given the earlier sessions. Please do pencil in a date for the evening of 5 February. It should be hugely informative and, I hope, useful in our joint desire to see the boys grow up healthily and happily.

If you feel you can…

I tend not to advertise all individual efforts to fundraise, for obvious reasons. However, I hope you will forgive me this one, for equally obvious reasons. Charlie Palmer (an inveterate Marathon runner) and Fiona Bell (an intrepid first timer!), both teachers in the Biology department, are preparing to run the London Marathon in April in memory of our late colleagues Caroline Medley, JJ Beale and Richard Garrett, and in order to raise some money for the charity Hospice UK. Mrs Bell firmly asserts that this will be her first (and only) marathon! She applied for the place the day that Caroline died; Caroline had always been so committed to running and to charity that she felt it was time to step up. She realises she will need all the motivation she can get in the coming months, and so if anybody feels they would like to contribute to this excellent cause, the details are here.

Finally…

Many of you may have seen that Alastair Cook (OB) was awarded a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours list. We are, of course, delighted for him. Many may not have seen that our very own Governor (and parent of Old Boys, Luke and Ed), Reverend Paula Vennells, who also happens to be CEO of the Post Office, also received a CBE. Many congratulations indeed to her. 

I wish you all a happy and successful 2019.

With kind regards indeed,

James Hodgson
Head Master

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