I have just put a full stop to my 256th report for the week. Reading them is instructive and hugely worthwhile; the contents back up what I have been saying to prospective parents all year and what I believe strongly, namely that, although there are good and bad boarding and day schools, no day school can possibly match a good boarding school in the quality of pastoral care and in the provision of extra-curricular activity. With the best will in the world, there is simply not the time in a five day week. I feel quite well qualified to say this, having come recently from one of the best day schools in the country: the reports here reflect how well the staff know your sons and how broadly they contribute to the wider life of the school. They are hugely impressive.
The term’s highlights have been diverse. I should perhaps start with the final Sunday night’s extraordinary concert, where the Chapel Choir sang Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir and Sean Davies (who has just won a scholarship from the Upper Sixth to the Trinity Conservatoire in Greenwich) played the solo in a Mozart Horn Concerto, before a massed choir of boys, girls from Bedford Girls’ School, staff, Old Boys and friends, in conjunction with our own Chamber Orchestra, performed the most miraculous Mozart’s Requiem. It was a spellbinding evening. But equal musical tributes must to go to the Sixth Form boys (Ollie Bowes, Bryan Ng, Tom Edwards, and Aidan Swain and Ed Wilson) who put on four separate concerts this term for their own favourite charities: it is a particular delight when the boys take the initiative in this way, as they so often do at Bedford School, in the knowledge that the school will in turn support them wholeheartedly. And indeed staff and boys turned out in good numbers. There have been no fewer than 21 concerts and eight choral services in the last eight weeks.
Also over the final weekend, the hockey 1st XI beat Uppingham 4-3. I am ashamed to relate that I left when we were 3-2 down. The recovery (from 3-1 initially) was all the more impressive for the fact that the boys had just undergone two pretty harrowing weeks against two top teams in Repton and Trent. The Uppingham result meant that we finished 4th in the Hockey League (out of eight). At the opposite end of the scale, and just as creditably, the 14D (of half term letter “fame”!) finished unbeaten. Mr Braithwaite has been trying to claim coach of the season, but is in fact in competition with Mr Finch, whose 16A football team won six out of six for the second consecutive year.
Other highlights have included Louis de Berniere’s awarding of the English prizes (it would have been easy to deal in platitudes, but Mr de Berniere was not going to oblige in this way: he was wonderfully critical of the boys’ work, which meant that the multitude of compliments he paid to them were all the better received); Phelan Hill’s appearance at the Rowing Club dinner (the OB, current World Champion and London Olympic bronze medallist told us that he would not have been in a boat at all now if it had not been for Mr Guise and his enthusiasm for rowing at Bedford School); and an amazing Old Boy dinner for all OBs who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last dozen years (30 attended, from Captain to Brigadier, alongside partners and in some cases whole families – it was great fun and very humbling in equal measure).
And then there have been the daily highlights, the random acts of kindness, the small but meaningful successes, the moments of triumph and community spirit. The Charity sleep out was cold, but engendered an esprit de corps amongst the considerable numbers of staff and pupils who took part; the staff have covered selflessly and expertly for sick colleagues (we have been extremely unlucky with illness this term); and boys came together to put on a hugely enjoyable House Drama competition, another Bedford occasion which demonstrated the remarkable ease with which boys interact across age groups.
It may also be appropriate to include a few staffing highlights. This has been a term for appointments; we have a number of new posts this year, a clutch of retirements and a few internal shuffles. We have had some really excellent fields and I am delighted by the way that next year’s staffing is coming together. More on this will follow in due course, but for now a couple of highlights. The position of Head of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) has for two years now been shared between the heads of individual languages; they have done a fine job, but we have been keen (and tried twice) to appoint a Head of MFL. We are delighted now to have appointed Mrs Brigitte Bousquet, currently teaching at the Perse School in Cambridge, to this post from September. The Director of Cricket post has been similarly difficult to recruit for, but we have found a wonderful appointment in Mr Gary Steer, who has played professional cricket for two counties and has been in charge of the Warwickshire County Academy for the last ten years or so. I have also created a new Core Management Team post: against an extremely strong external field, Mr Montgomery has been appointed as Director of Teaching and Learning. He will focus on life in the classroom and will support the current Academic Deputy.
I have appended to this letter the Final Assembly speech and presentations. This will give a far fuller picture of the term gone by.
To return, however, to the prospective parent theme of the first paragraph. There are several things I wish to see in every child who leaves here, the most important of which is that they feel comfortable in their own skin and that they can “look you in the eye, shake you firmly by the hand and have something to say”. My predecessor used to say the same thing slightly differently, but far better: “the aim is for them all to be able to hold a conversation”; and indeed, I believe that this is one of the school’s greatest strengths. I also wish boys to leave with a passion for something. This could be anything at all, from Chemistry to rugby to working back stage in a theatre – it does not matter, as long as they have something they love to take them through life – and this places the onus upon us to create opportunity. And then, amongst a host of other things, they need the grades to give them choice when they are contemplating life beyond Bedford School. This last aim, as I have said before, is a pastoral responsibility for us as much as an academic one; and we have placed much emphasis on this during the year. For many of our community, now is the time for serious revision – “holiday” is a misnomer for the coming weeks if your son is in the top three year groups, though happily the next true break will come soon enough.
I wish you all well for Easter.
With best wishes