Headmaster's Blog

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Glue Sticks on the Ceiling

November 30, 2020

It is always a pleasure to meet former pupils. Mostly, this is by accident and one such occasion was when I was greeted in the street by the brother of someone I had taught very early in my career. He had been in my first GCSE class and then had gone on to be in an outstanding History A level set. I remember many wonderful lessons when we engaged in high-level discussion about the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships, leading to the class writing sophisticated and erudite essays of prodigious quality, more than justifying the substantial reading and preparation I had done beforehand. Not uniquely for this group, the elder brother went on to study Modern History at Oxford. Had he continued in his study of History I asked? No, he was now an accountant in Croydon, I was informed, but he did sometimes speak about the lessons he had with me. Thrilled (making up for the slight level of disappointment following the accountancy revelation), I wondered what it was about my teaching that he most remembered? Well, he said, when he was taught by me in Year 10, the class had a double period with a twenty minute break in…

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‘Quite happy, some of the time’

October 15, 2020

When I was 7¾, I was sent as a full-boarder to a prep school in Surrey. As there was no other way for pupils to communicate with their parents, every Sunday, before chapel, boarders remaining in school were required to write a letter home. As we were usually stuck for ideas for what to write, the Headmaster would helpfully write on the board various events that had happened during the week for us to include: how the 1st XV beat Fernden 3-0, the film we watched on Saturday evening (usually an early James Bond or ‘Where Eagles Dares’ – it was a boys school), the talk given by a local worthy (usually ‘Nature by Night’, or its equally thrilling sequel ‘Nature by Day’, accompanied by a Kodak slide-show). Inspired, out would come the Basildon Bond and, sure enough, a letter would be written to send home. Nothing within it would give parents any idea as to how their child was or, indeed, what they were doing, save being cognisant of older children’s sporting success and local flora and fauna. It may well have been that most parents were more than content to hear that nothing was particularly awry and that,…

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Remembering Mr Coleridge

September 24, 2020

Like most teachers, I am a sucker for any film or TV show which shows teachers and teaching in a good light. My personal favourite is ‘Mr Holland’s Opus’, in which Richard Dreyfus plays an initially reluctant – but ultimately inspirational – Music teacher at an American high school over a thirty-year period (only for the Music ‘programme’ to be axed due to budget cuts). At the end of the film, friends and former pupils gather together to pay tribute to him. One of them, who went onto become the state Governor, says the following:   ‘Mr Holland had a profound influence on my life, on a lot of lives I know. And yet I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumour had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. And he would be wrong, because I think he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a…

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Knowing Stuff

September 17, 2020

I am sure teachers up and down the land would have been cheered (and perhaps a touch envious) by the success this week of Don Fear, a History teacher from Telford, who became only the seventh person ever to win the jackpot on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’. Dubbed ‘the internet in a pink shirt’ by host Jeremy Clarkson, Fear rattled through the questions, avoiding the usual rambling monologue about which answer to choose, instead calmly plumping for his chosen option with an assured affirmation of ‘Final Answer’. Clarkson, having to host the show without a studio audience, was clearly flustered about what his role should be, given that the contestant appeared in no mood to play along with the usual shenanigans of self-doubt and second-guessing. Fear also rejected the use of three of his four lifelines, as he was so confident in his answers, which frustrated the hapless host even more. Incredulous, Clarkson asked Fear what his secret was, to which he replied that he simply knew the answers to the questions: ‘I’m a History teacher,’ he said, ‘it’s my job to know stuff.’ This affirmation of knowledge for its own sake I found heartening. When I was…

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The Value of Teams

September 10, 2020

No matter how long you’ve been teaching, you never forget your first year. Mine was at a large independent boys school in South London. You can tell how long ago it was because, in those days, there was no NQT year, no professional induction: you were handed a timetable and effectively told to get on with it. This was no easy task, as I was expected to teach from Years 6 to 13 in no fewer than 18 separate classrooms. Armed with a plastic bag filled with various coloured chalks and a board rubber (I said it was a long time ago), I had to charge around the school, rushing from Ancient Egyptians with 10 year-olds one minute to the minutiae of the Maastricht Treaty with 18 year-olds the next. Of course, there were difficulties along the way – there always are in one’s first year in any job. But, in those less enlightened times, there was no talk of training or mentoring: it was ‘sink or swim’ and, if you weren’t up to it, basically there was no one to blame but yourself. I was in a particularly macho department. To give you a flavour, no-one opted out of…

Please check your local weather warnings before travelling to school today and only travel if it is safe to do so.

Please check your local weather warnings before travelling to school today and only travel if it is safe to do so.