I write a couple of days into the second half of term – it is good to be back – with a few reflections on the first half, some signposts to the next few weeks, and a request.
In almost every respect, I was genuinely excited by the first half of this term. Our GCSE results in the last two years have been the strongest on record and the Sixth Form boys have started well by leading the way academically. University offers are starting to pour in; the younger boys have settled quickly; both staff and boys have shown a great sense of purpose – there has been an upbeat, busy feel to the school. We have seen a number of new initiatives underway this term, some of which align with our current focuses on technology, service and entrepreneurial thinking, and which are related below in a letter which falls into sections for your ease of use.
Boys were already doing community service through the IB programme, through Duke of Edinburgh (we recently received a certificate for over 1,600 hours of collective service last year in the local community) and through their own devices. This year we aim to extend the notion of service to Lower Sixth A-Level boys who drop from four to three subjects. We have piloted it this term with 25 Lower Sixth volunteers who are already making their mark by their work in local primary schools (boys are involved in helping with extra reading, leading a football club, playing the piano for the choir and teaching mandarin, for example) and in old people’s homes (for instance a travelling guitar group) and riding for the disabled (alongside IB boys). This, I feel, is a win/win. The boys learn how to take responsibility for themselves and others, learn the joy of helping those who need it and enhance their skills of empathy and organisation; they also grow as people. The recipients are all volunteers, too, and we are hoping we can enjoy lasting and meaningful partnerships. The feedback so far has been excellent from both boys and recipients.
We held our first leadership conference in October for Lower Sixth Form pupils. Not only were our boys involved in all aspects of the conference, but also the other 11 Sixth Form providers in Bedford were all represented. One boy said to me that the highlight for him was to work alongside peers from the local state schools, and another has stayed friends with his group from another local state school. In today’s often polarised climate (and without wishing to think that our boys only mix with independent school children – which is far from true), this is a significant development, and good for all of us. Thirty Lower Sixth boys have also started pioneering a course on self-leadership with London based company Ivy House. Early signs here are extremely positive, too.
Whilst numbers in the school are as high as they have been for 30 years, we do still have a small number of boarding beds available this year. Accordingly, we opted to celebrate national boarding day by opening up a trial week to current day boys in the second half of this term. It received an exciting response, with the result that we have almost 30 boys from across both halves of the school signing up to try out boarding over the six weeks left this term (if we can fit them in!). The mix in our school is pretty unique – we run the school as a boarding school, as you know, but have always had fewer boarders than day boys and have twinned houses. This allows for transfer between day and boarding in a way which is more attractive than most schools (as you can usually stay “playing for the same team”). I realise that expense is often a prohibitive factor, but I do hope that many families can consider boarding as an option as your boys progress up the school – it is a fine preparation for university life (and indeed life generally); it is also extremely good fun in its own right! Our Admissions team can help you with this, if you wish.
Over 400 boys played at least one match for the Upper School before half term – well done to all of them on their endeavours. Having had a genuinely golden period between 2011 and 2017, the first team are having a rough time of it this year and remain the only team yet to get “off the mark” this season, despite some sterling efforts. I have been asked by one or two parents whether or not this reflects a change in school policy on sport. The answer, if you too were wondering (and as befits a competitive Head Master), is an emphatic no!
I went to Hong Kong on school business just before, and over, half term, where I met with OBs, current parents and prospective parents. It is a rare privilege to work in an environment where you can travel 6,000 miles and meet up with people who are so passionate about Bedford School – and indeed it is one of the great benefits of attending school here as a boy, too. My sincere thanks to all who welcomed me; our thoughts are with you all at a time when things are not straightforward in Hong Kong.
Following some extremely good feedback on talks for parents on drugs among young people, we decided to follow up with something for parents on teenage behaviour more broadly. Janey Nicholson was at school last night (and next week) and spoke to about 80 parents in the EMH. It was an intelligent, informative and (as befits its subject) occasionally humorous talk, which made us all think very carefully about our own parenting. We are inclined to keep going with these opportunities, so please do give us feedback, get the word around if you were there, and feel inspired to come along when you can. My thanks, in particular, to Mrs Whiteman, Housemaster of Paulo Pontine (and mother of teenage boys!), for coordinating this, and to the Parents’ Guild for their help in funding these seminars.
You may like to know, without wishing to be in any way political, that Henry Vann (OB and current teacher of Politics and History at Bedford School) is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Bedford and Kempston in the General Election on 12 December. Whilst this is happening, he intends to carry on teaching. What an amazing opportunity for both him and the boys he teaches – there cannot be many school Politics departments in the country quite so up to date! No matter what our individual politics, as Bedfordians we wish him well.
The website is a font of information, which I hope you use. I would just like to remind you of two things. Firstly, the boys’ weekly notices are posted to the portal, so that you can see what (non-regular) extra-curricular opportunities there are available for your son in any given week. Also, my assemblies are posted periodically on the website – there are not many senior schools where the Head talks to the whole school every week, and if you are interested in knowing the sorts of messages that I send to the school, then most of them are there.
Some events to watch out for
- Movember events: all month – for the last few years, we have raised over £10,000 for men’s health issues, resulting in our being the top school in the country and one of the top organisations in the country for this worthy charity. Please do help us continue in this vein. This year, we have already raised £2,360 over the first eight days, which is a fantastic start. If you would like to contribute, you can do so via this link. The older boys will also be educating themselves and the younger boys on men’s health-related issues. (The Father and Sons’ Curry Evening is on Saturday 30 November.)
- Monday 25 November: Remove Form Parents’ Evening
- Tuesday 26 November: Oxbridge Interview Evening
- Wednesday 4 December: St Cecilia’s Concert – a must for all boys at some stage in their Bedford career.
- Friday 6 December: Day Boys’ Carol Service (ticketed)
- Sunday 8 December: Boarders’ Carol Service (ticketed)
Finally, and topically
‘Labour against Private Schools’ and VAT on school fees…
The political climate is pretty uncertain at the moment, but what is certain is that there are currently few friends of the independent sector in politics (well, few who are prepared to admit it). The following is not meant in any way to be political, but simply factual.
The imposition on independent schools to pay VAT on their fee income is quite likely to become Labour Party policy if it gets into government, which will bring an existential threat to some (generally smaller) private schools, and considerable challenge to others. I should stress straightaway that we do not fall into the former category – but inevitably there will be some implications for us.
‘Labour against Private Schools’ is a movement which passed a motion at the Labour Party Conference to abolish independent schools altogether (something which Mr Corbyn has recently played down significantly, incidentally – and indeed is now not in his manifesto).
Of course, none of the above may happen; nevertheless, we must, as a responsible organisation, take all of these issues seriously and plan for each eventuality. In one sense, their very threat is helpful – it forces reappraisal of all we do, to question our practices even more urgently than normal, to ensure again that we are spending money wisely and for the right reasons. We always have been, and remain, determined to provide a high-quality education without fees running away from us. My request, therefore, is that you do feel you can get in touch with me or the Bursar (Stuart Holliday) if you have thoughts about where we might become more efficient whilst maintaining excellence. We are always keen to welcome views – as indeed we are on any part of the school’s operation. At first instance, please do feel free to email either of us.
And finally, finally…
I wish you all well for the second half of term. I know you will all join me in entreating the boys, as I do at the start of each term, to work hard, play hard and be kind.
With all best wishes indeed,