As I write, the birds are chirping, the lawn mowers are out of hibernation and there is the faint smell of summer in the air. Hemingway wrote about this time of year that “when spring came, there were no problems except where to be happiest”. It is an upbeat message, which I hope even the exam boys can take into the Easter break. Thank you all for your part in what has been an extraordinary term in so very many ways, with news of interest almost every day.
Yesterday’s news came from the 1st XI hockey players, who have had their best season for very many years. They won at the weekend to finish the season with a 100% winning record in regular fixtures (in a run of amazing form, they put 8 or more goals past Oundle, Eton, Rugby, Habs, Perse, and Bishop’s Stortford). Yesterday, they beat Manchester Grammar (away) on penalty strokes to progress to the semi-finals of the National Hockey Cup, which will take place on 1 May at the Olympic Park (followed by a final the next day, if they win, at the same venue). They lost only to Repton (year on year the best team in the country), in the other cup competition they play, having also progressed to the National Indoor Semi-Final last term (a narrow loss to the eventual winners, Whitgift). As I intimated, therefore, in my last letter, this sees the culmination of an extraordinary 12 months of sport, with the top teams in cricket, rowing and hockey all having their best seasons in recent memory – to go alongside rugby, who (despite a drop this year) have had a great run recently. And it would be remiss of me not to mention that the U15C hockey team also went undefeated: just as well done to them, and to all other boys who have enjoyed their sport this term.
The music department has ended the term on a high, too, with no fewer than seven concerts, masterclasses and lectures in the last two weeks, ending with a rousing Choral Society Concert on Sunday evening involving around 100 singers and musicians from the boys and the wider school community. One of the leads on the evening was Silas Sanders, who last week was awarded a Choral Scholarship to Trinity College Cambridge to follow his offer to read music there in September. On Sunday evening he was singing a piece written by his late grandfather and conducted by his father – a rather lovely occasion, which touched an audience who are used to such shows of community.
The power of community was also in evidence at the 40th Anniversary of the Great Fire earlier this month. About 150 past pupils, staff, local residents and a number of the original firefighters gathered to remember the occasion when the school burnt to the ground on 3 March 1979, only to be rebuilt in such splendid fashion over the ensuing two and a half years. The boys missed not a day of lessons. As part of the commemoration, our talented in-house team put together a film which is well worth watching – you can see it here. This was a moving event, which reminded us all of what sort of school this is – a ’get-up-and-get-on-with-it‘ sort of place, and one which looks forward with optimism rather than fear. It is also a place which remembers with gratitude the many who have helped it to be what is it today – a place which therefore feels well-grounded in its history to embrace an exciting future.
Bedford School has always celebrated its internationalism and I meet many OBs from all around the world. Today (and not unlike any point in the last 20-30 years), 17% of the school lives overseas, which, as I often mention to boys, parents and prospective parents, is wonderful not only for the boarding community, but also for the day boys. The boys will be entering a very ’small’ world when they leave school, and here they have the opportunity to make friends with boys from all over it, and to gain an early understanding of different cultures. This term, a number of boys have given full school assemblies, including Yoji Nishina and Anthony Hung, who respectively compared their native Japanese and Chinese cultures and values to British ones. It is hard for English boys to stand up in front of 700 peers to speak (and well done to those who do), let alone boys for whom English is a second language, so we were very proud of these two and they received a great reception from the school. Mr Sanchez-Jimenez, teacher of Spanish and lover of Art and Film, has made a wonderful video to celebrate internationalism amongst the boys and staff (both teaching and support) at the school and to show off its languages. This, too, is well worth a look – and a wonderful tribute to some of the lesser appreciated opportunities available to the boys here. I also gave a talk on this theme at assembly earlier in the term, which you can read here.
Oliver Twist, staged last week, showcased community in a slightly different way, this time by celebrating our whole age range and our wider Harpur Trust allegiances. Billed as a Prep School production, the younger boys were joined by eight Upper School boys on stage (with George Wegener, Lower Sixth, as an excellent Fagin), three Upper School boys backstage, and a number of girls from Bedford Girls’ School. This was a performance full of vitality, and it was good to see older and younger boys working in such harmony. Elsewhere, older boys have continued to run clubs and lead assemblies and talks in the Prep School, and even in Pilgrims, as part of a Lower Sixth programme that aims to inject an element of service into their time at the school. We will be looking to develop this further over the next 12 months.
Academically, I have just finished reading and writing Fifth Form reports. This group seems to be in a good place as they enter an intense revision period. I wish all boys doing external exams in the summer a productive Easter break. There has been a lot of academic success this term at all levels. The Talalay Competition (named after, and sponsored by, a famous OB, Paul Talalay, who died this week – a number of obituaries can be obtained online, but a summary of his life is here) is a Lower Sixth science presentation competition, which involves a 15 minute presentation followed by a 15 minute grilling from the Heads of Science, no less! It had its biggest entry ever and an outstanding final group of six boys. They spoke on subjects as far-reaching as ’The Neurology of Anxiety‘; ’The Ultimate Fate of our Universe: different theories of the ending of our universe and their relevant concept‘; ’T4 Bacteriophage‘; and ’The Evolution of Tyrannosaurs and how Tyrannosaurus became the King of The Dinosaurs‘. Boys have also been excellent this term in various UK-wide events, including the Linguistics Olympiad, and in Computing, as well as in public speaking and drama competitions. More details are available in my Final Assembly talk.
On the staffing front, we have had a very sad time of it recently. News reached us in the second half of term of the death of a recent colleague, Sue van Heerden, who had returned to Zimbabwe last year after eight years in our English Department to look after her parents. Sadly, she fell quickly ill herself with cancer. We miss her greatly; but will celebrate her life in Chapel this Saturday (30 March) at 1.00pm. All who can come will be very much welcomed. Currently, we all hold Jo Spir (our excellent Head of Academic Support) and her family in our prayers as she is very ill following an operation on a recently diagnosed brain tumour. I thank the whole community for their kindness at this time, which has been a humbling example of how just wonderful Bedford School people are.
As ever at this time of the year, staff recruitment for September has been underway. This year, it seems, staff turnover will be slightly below the norm of 10% (a figure which we feel is healthy for the advancement of the school – though of course we are always sad to see people leave). The following appointments have been made recently:
Mr Hugh Maltby will succeed Richard Garrett as the Director of the Bedford School Association and to serve, accordingly, on the Core Management Team. Hugh, a former Governor of the School, an Old Bedfordian and a current (and past) parent, has had a distinguished city career across 30 years in the insurance industry. As Director of Operations, he is currently a member of the Markel International Board, which is responsible for an annual turnover of over $1.3bn. As such, Hugh takes charge of global operational services across North and South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Closer to home, and far more stressfully, he has run the Bedford Regatta for the past decade! His interests include rowing, triathlon, rugby and cycling, in the first two of which he has competed at national and international level. Only last year, in conjunction with a number of OBs he cycled the 990 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats in nine days.
Mrs Hanja Bantock will succeed Rob Thompson (who received well-deserved promotion at Christ’s Hospital) as Head of Piano in September. Having studied at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, Hanja has a BMus from the Musikhochschule in Cologne and her MMus from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. She has performed and accompanied all around the world, and is currently teaching a King’s College School in Cambridge and Bedford School.
Mr James Nicholl will re-join the school from September 2019 as a full-time sculpture specialist in the Art Department upon the departure of Mrs Nicholson. James took a first class honours degree in Fine Art from the Leeds School of Art. He worked here as maternity cover from September 2017 (when he impressed us not only in the classroom, but also as a guitarist and singer of considerable expertise, and a fine rugby coach). He has since been working at Stowe School, where he has served as an Art Teacher and resident House Undermaster, and has taken his PGCE. We look forward to welcoming him back full-time.
Mr Paul Scullion joins us in September as Head of Computer Science, as Mr Dave Wild takes up a post as Head of Computing at Sherborne School. A local man, Paul obtained a degree in Software Systems from the University of Hertfordshire before entering the business world and running his own successful business developing bespoke software for the events and entertainment industry. He has worked on shows in the West End and Broadway, including for George Michael and Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Since training as a teacher, he has been Head of IT and Computer Science at Stratton Upper and Samuel Whitbread. He is a keen horse rider and cyclist.
Next term, we will be recruiting a new Biology teacher to replace Mr Phil Whatling, who moves to Argentina with his family to take up a Head of Science post at St George’s in Buenos Aires; and a Head of Physics, to replace Mr Gerry Monaghan, who moves to London to take up a similar post at Brampton College. As ever, do please point these posts out to any likely candidates you may know. Lastly, I draw attention to the departure of Peter Brown, one of a number of support staff who have worked at the school for many years. Peter retires after 24 years on our maintenance team – and we are so grateful to him for all he has done to keep Bedford School up and running.
So, as another term draws to a close, it remains for me to say thank you for all your support of the school. It has been, as ever, a great honour to serve this community and I wish you all a happy and restful Easter. To hack a Shakespeare sonnet, may the ’proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim, put a spirit of youth in everything’.
With kind regards indeed,
A late update: Emma O’Dell (mother of Bryn in Fourth Form) has been elected President of the Parents’ Guild and Isobel Wootton Evans (mother of Harry and James, both in Fourth Form) has been elected Secretary. More on the Parents’ Guild next term, but for now, well done to both of them.