A new academic year. Excitement, anticipation, a few nerves. We can all remember what it is like to start a new school year and, probably even more sharply, to start a new school. Please rest assured that we are very much looking forward to seeing your sons this week and especially to welcoming newcomers to Bedford School. Good luck to all boys for a happy and successful year.
I write in three sections at the start of this academic year – with news from the summer holidays; with what’s new for 2015/16; and then a brief look further afield.
Exams. Exam results were strong again and broadly in line with past years, but as ever we aim to improve. IB results were very good, though with an average points score of 35 (out of a possible 45) down by one point on last year; there was a broad range, from boys at the top end in the forties making their way to Oxbridge, to boys at the lower end all successfully passing the Diploma, indicating again that this is indeed a qualification for all and not simply for the very brightest. I was delighted by the A-Level results. They will not look so good in the press, but this was a year group which started a full 10% behind the year above them on AS grades (and almost the same from GCSE) and yet finished only 1% behind at A-Level (measured on A*-B grades) and even ahead of them on A*-A grades (48.1%). Through the concerted effort of boys and staff, very considerable value was added in the Upper Sixth. Rather more importantly, the vast majority (A-Level and IB) got into the university they wanted; a very small number will reapply (just 4 or 5), as there always are (and will be anywhere), but again between two thirds and three quarters will go on to a Russell Group University.
There was much to celebrate in the Lower Sixth, too, though a number of boys have left themselves with plenty to do next year. They will need to take a leaf out of this year’s Upper Sixth’s book. There is more about the future of AS Levels below.
The GCSE cohort performed very well, too, with 60% of all papers marked at A* or A. At the top end, we had 27 boys with eight or more A*s, but, again, and as ever, we are keen to improve across the board next year.
Trips. These have included three Duke of Edinburgh expeditions (one to the Brecon Beacons and two to the Lake District), a German trip to Munich, a hockey tour to South Africa, a Chapel Choir tour to Spain, a rugby tour to Germany and a Prep School trip to Bude. Thank you to those staff members who have put so much work into taking these trips.
Estates. The second and final instalment of the Science Block has been completed. It has run to the wire, as we had expected, and the department has been getting things ready for day 1. It looks terrific. We will hope to open the whole block officially in March with a visit from Professor Robert Winston, who will also deliver a lecture to the school community with the title “Modifying humans: where does genetics stop?” The Geography and History departments, and to a lesser extent the RS department, have had refurbishments; and there have been ongoing upgrading works in a number of the day and boarding houses.
What’s new for 2015?
Teaching and Learning. Mr Will Montgomery takes up a new post for the school as Director of Teaching and Learning. His brief is to concentrate on what is happening in classrooms throughout the school and how we can improve and innovate in this area. It is an exciting new position, from which (over time) we should all feel the benefit.
Careers and UCAS. Mrs Mel Lincoln has been appointed as our first bespoke Head of Careers and UCAS. She is already working feverishly and you will no doubt be hearing plenty from her in the weekly emails on Fridays. Please do attend events and offer support if you can. Careers was an area of school life where parents (via last year’s parental survey) expressed a wish for greater support and I am as confident as I can be that this new service will be very greatly valued.
Staff members. We have a good number of excellent new staff members this year, partly as a result of eight retirements at the end of the last academic year. Staff turnover is just under 12%; close to the 10% one would expect and hope for in order to continually refresh our staff and our practices. We are looking forward to welcoming them all.
Theatre. The Quarry Theatre at St Luke’s opened at the end of last term to great acclaim. It has since seen an extremely successful BedFringe, with over 90 shows put on during 10 days in July, and over 3,500 people through the door. You can read tributes here: http://bedfringe.com/. Do please come to support a show at some stage this year.
Anniversary Celebrations. This is simply advance notice that next year represents the 450th anniversary of The Harpur Trust, commemorating the most momentous act of benefaction in the school’s history when William Harpur gave 13 acres of farmland (now Holborn!) to the school. It is also the 125th anniversary of the Old Bedfordian Club, one of the longest standing such clubs in the land. Extraordinarily, it is also the 850th anniversary of the Borough. The Harpur Trust aims to celebrate with a number of events, details of which will be published soon.
Brian Saville Scholarships. You will remember that some of the funds from Brian Saville’s generous legacy were put aside for scholarships (worth up to 35% of fees), which may be awarded to boys showing extreme promise in some area on their entry to the school. This year’s awards went for academia (5), and one each for sport, music, drama and golf. Next year, art will be added to the list of possible awards. This is an exciting initiative, which we hope over time will enrich our whole community.
New A-Levels. I wrote to parents about this last term, but a reminder is important. Over the next three years, AS Levels are being decoupled from A-Levels – ie AS Levels will still exist, but they will stand as a qualification in their own right and will not count towards an A-Level (as they do now). This year, a handful of subjects have migrated to the new system (eg Art, Sciences, English, History, Economics, Business Studies and Computing) – they will all have done so by 2017. We have decided that we will keep going with AS Levels this year (apart from English, who will assess internally at the end of the Lower Sixth), whilst so many subjects are still under the old system, but that we will not offer AS levels for entrants to the Sixth Form in the Autumn of 2016 – those boys will do a two year (i.e. linear) A-Level, in the same way that many of their parents did: a result of the Gove reforms, which are (to a large extent) to be applauded.
Of course, unlike most schools, we also offer a fantastic alternative to A-Levels in the IB. Unlike A-Level, this course has remained extremely consistent for many years and is an option which should be seriously considered by most. It is itself, as with the newly reformed A-Levels, a two year (ie linear) programme with assessment at the end of those two years.
New GCSEs. New GCSE courses are being introduced over the next three years, too. (NB many of our subjects take iGCSEs and will not be affected by this). The first such courses will begin this term in Maths; new courses in most other subjects will start in 2016, with some in 2017. The main effect of this upon your son is that he will be graded from 9-1 (9 is best) rather than A*-E. He will also only take one Maths GCSE rather than two.
It would not be unreasonable for you to ask about my impressions of my first year and broader strategic plans for the next few – and many of you have done so. I will do so very briefly here. Firstly, it is important to note that the basic ethos of the school is unlikely to change – the DNA of a school of this longevity and stature does not simply switch course and nor do we want it to. The emphasis is on the whole child, enjoyment in learning, friendships, kindness – a welcoming, energetic and fun place to grow up and be educated – and we will be seeking to continue the most important part of our education, the development of character, through all we offer here both inside and outside the classroom (through our highly extensive range of co-curricular activity). Particular current focus also falls upon academic attainment, as I hope has been evident. We see this as pastorally important (i.e. success helps with a boy’s sense of self-worth as much as his academic development). We also wish to consolidate our boarding provision; we hope to continue to persuade families that boarding is worth every penny – it is a wonderful experience and if you wish to explore or discuss this further, please do let us know. We have a number of conversions from day to boarding each year (something which is usually very smooth given our house twinning) as long as we have a bed available. There are many benefits to boarding, not least in exam years and in preparation for university life. We also firmly believe that our boarding, and the ethos it brings with it, benefits every child in the school, whether boarding or day. And thirdly, we wish to articulate our Sixth Form offer more effectively, to provide the best possible transition from school to university and/or the world beyond. Our Sixth Form is very good and getting better; many pupils have been here for nine years by the time they reach it; it needs to continue to offer extensive opportunities for self-expression, leadership and independent and collaborative learning.
We also understand what this time of the year is like for parents; please remember that your son’s tutor is first port of call at school and you should feel comfortable to be able to contact them when you need. It is often better to nip things in the bud than to wait for situations to develop; we would far prefer to hear sooner rather than later, even if something seems insignificant at the time. That said, please also appreciate, as I am sure you will, that teachers are unlikely to be able to respond to emails immediately – they are with the boys for most of the day – but will always aim to get back to you (even if it is a holding email whilst we find out more information) within 24 hours, if at all possible.
All boys will continue to have access to me between 8.15-8.35am four days per week (except Tuesdays and Thursdays) as part of my open door policy. I will also continue to have lunches with all Lower Sixth day boys and dinners with all Lower Sixth boarders; and will see all Fourth Form boys for lunch during the course of the year.
I look forward very much to an exciting new academic year with your sons.
With best wishes