This is a slightly oddly timed e-bulletin – midway between the usual half term and end of term updates – for very good reasons which you will read below. By happy chance, however, it also coincides (as I write) with a day which foreshadows spring; the sunshine reminds us just how lucky we are (if we ever needed it) to be working on such a fabulous site and in such splendid surroundings.
I have a few themes.
At the end of the Autumn Term, the Governors endorsed a new document outlining the school’s strategic focus. The aim was to take the current strategic vision document, displayed since 2012 on the school’s website, (espousing core values to which I subscribe wholeheartedly), and to add my slant to it, having spent a year at the school. I spoke to the whole staff about this document at the start of this term and we have set about tying our management and departmental plans into this new encapsulation of our school strategy. It was decided to go public with this document after this term’s Governors’ meeting, which took place last weekend.
I do hope that you are interested to read it. One of the briefs was that it needed to fit on two pages; so it will not take too long to digest! You will see that there are three strategic foci; they are not necessarily in order of importance (they are all important in their own right – and indeed they all interlock), but I was very keen to list “developing the young man within” as our first area of focus. This plays to two of my key themes: that we must aim to play the long game (i.e. what will the boy be like when he is 25 years old?) and that we should aim for every boy to leave here with a passion of some sort to take them through life (which requires us to provide breadth of experience and inspiration, both inside and outside the classroom). The second of the three foci refers to “realising his academic potential”. It is expressed in that way deliberately – not everyone will be academically gifted, but we must aim to draw the best out of every individual boy. And lastly, we focus on the long term stability of the school; this school has been in Bedford for 454 years (and probably much longer, if one counts the preceding school in Bedford) yet one can never rest on one’s laurels and we must commit ourselves to continual improvement if we are to grow in stature, whilst also ensuring that costs (and, therefore, fees) are kept well in check.
This document also gives us (Governors, management, staff, wider community) something to judge ourselves against. We will not be perfect, but we will aim to be outstanding. Getting this document together has been an extremely interesting process and working with it is already paying dividends. I would, of course, be happy to talk about it at any stage.
Many of you will have heard by now from your sons that Mr Baker, our excellent Vice Master, who has been at the school for 37 years, has announced his retirement from the end of this academic year. We will all have the chance to say thank you to him at this year’s Speech Day, which appropriately he himself resurrected last summer after many years of a different format.
The new Vice Master will be Dr Daniel Koch. Dr Koch went to school in New York before taking a High Honours degree in History and French from the State University of New York at Albany. He has a Masters in History of Art and a D.Phil in History, both from Oxford University, where he also rowed in the Christ Church 1st VIII and started his teaching. He has since taught at Worth School, as Head of History, a teacher of IB and Resident Assistant Boarding Housemaster, before joining the management team at South Hampstead High School in London as Head of Sixth Form. We look forward very much to his joining us in September.
Several other longstanding staff members have announced their retirements from the end of this academic year. Peter Brough leaves us after 31 years in the Physics department; Bob Eadie, who joined the Maths department in 1971, a term before the first ever school computer arrived, has been working as a Maths teacher and leader in IT for 45 years; and Peter Davis, who has led the Computing department, exams and cover, retires from teaching at Bedford after 14 years.
Internally, Will Montgomery, as the new Director of Teaching and Learning has brought an incredibly vibrant approach to the school’s classrooms; and I have appointed Mark Crisp as Head of Academic Planning, which will aim (amongst other things) to refine our timetabling and tracking of pupil progress.
University entrance 2016
Eight boys have received offers from Oxbridge, which continues our year on year increase for the fourth consecutive year. This is encouraging news and compares very favourably with a number of our competitors.
On a wider note, out of 136 Upper Sixth boys, 50 hold offers from all five universities they applied to. The most popular this year is Durham (with 30 offers), though UCL may push them close with 16 so far (and 13 still waiting).
These are not yet final figures – and most importantly, the boys need to get the grades – but it is encouraging nevertheless and Mrs Lincoln, newly in charge of UCAS and Careers, is right to be pleased with how things are going.
It is the case that somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of our applicants to UK universities will end up at a Russell Group university – which is a very good statistic indeed (though I am reminded regularly of the quality of universities and courses outside this group, too).
Creativity! A week in the life….
So much time and emotional energy is spent in schools these days concerned about exams, grades, wider assessments, qualifications, eking out every available mark. There is, of course, a degree of necessity for this (as my previous paragraph shows) and, we too, have been holding mocks recently. However, we will always hold to what we consider real education (NB the Latin educere: to draw out) and this recent period, which in many schools is simply a lead up to summer, has been a remarkable showcase for the creativity of young minds, expertly drawn out. Last week was a great case in point:
Previous Friday: the Detweiler Competition. Hundreds of entries, judged by OB Dr Barnaby Wright, Daniel Katz, Curator at the Courtauld and Artist Peter Moore. Theme: a sense of place. Artists concentrated on both the locational and the psychological; musicians composed their own pieces, some by setting their favourite poetry to contemporary classical music; writers dealt with the topic in a variety of original ways. It was a stunning evening.
Monday evening: Sectional music competitions. Woodwind, brass, singing, strings; piano and organ to follow. A wonderfully high standard of musicianship in different venues around the school.
Tuesday evening: Rock night. Three hours of home-grown bands, expressing themselves through pupil written music. A mix of boys from Bedford School and girls from Bedford Girls’ School in The Quarry Theatre. Keep an eye out for a very promising young group from Bedford School, The Basilisk.
Wednesday evening: The Wellbelove (junior) and Fowles (senior) creative writing competition. Judged by novelist, children’s book writer and journalist, Terence Blacker. 1500 word essays. Terence Blacker gave a creative writing workshop to about 30 boys, then judged the competition. The highlight, alongside the writing itself, was that the 10 shortlisted boys had a few minutes each to speak about their work. They were stunningly articulate, thoughtful, thought provoking, measured and intelligent. To have the confidence of expression and of mind to do what they did spoke volumes for the English department (and, I hope, school).
Thursday evening: An Art lecture from Dr Caroline Vout from Cambridge University entitled “What is classic about classical art” was followed by a uniquely creative event. Joshua Taylor in the Upper Sixth painted a very striking (and large) canvas of the main school building, during which he became fascinated by the story of the 1979 fire. He filmed himself burning the painting, to symbolise the speed with which fire can destroy hours of work. Last night, on the anniversary of the fire, his film was projected from the 1st XV rugby pitch onto the main school building itself. Original, creative – and encouraged / “drawn out” by the school’s wonderful Art department.
This week: House Drama will showcase a very significant number of boys acting out plays written and directed by the boys themselves.
Consider, too, if you will, the 66 sports fixtures in that very short period (in the name of physical expression and creativity?!), during which the 1st VII have won two major sevens events (with a team building for Rosslyn Park at the end of term), the J16 Rowing squad won for only the second time in 30 years at the Reading Head, the Fives team beat St Paul’s (unheard of!) and the Hockey A teams matched Repton, who are probably the most competitive hockey school around these days.
Excellent pastoral care is not only at the heart of all we do as a school, but is at the heart of the way I think. You may be interested in reading two articles I wrote for a magazine called Attain (which goes out to UK prep schools) – one last year and one just recently. The former focuses on excellent pastoral care; the latter on how a prospective parent might find a school with excellent pastoral care.
And very briefly. May I take the opportunity to thank you for all the very many emails, letters and cards I received after my daughter’s accident; I tried to respond to them all, but if I missed anyone, I thank you now. She is recovering more quickly and strongly than we had ever been led to believe, so we feel extremely lucky.
We have only a fortnight to go in this truncated half of term, so I will not write at great length then. However, please keep an eye out for the questionnaire which comes out with this e-bulletin – if you could spend some minutes on it, I’d be most grateful.
I do hope that the last two weeks of term go well for you and your family and hope to see you on the touchline or at an event before Easter.
With very best wishes