Friday, 17th June 2016
Today the boys will be putting on their Enterprise Day, a day for which they have been prepared by some talks and by a visit from the former Apprentice contestant, Saira Khan. The boys have been thinking of ways to raise profits. Firstly, of course, they have had to design a product or think of something to sell which they believe will be popular. They have had to name their stall or product and decide how to advertise it. The School's walls have been covered in posters for the last few weeks, imploring us to buy the chosen products, a situation which has not always enhanced the calm beauty of the place, even if it has added some colour. I have always been very impressed with the enterprising nature of the pupils' ideas and I am looking forward hugely to what the boys might produce. All the profits will go to Friends of the Red Squirrel, a cause close to my heart and one which I'm glad the boys have embraced. Red squirrels are amongst the most beautiful of animals and now, in this country, amongst the rarest. I will never forget the time last year when we were walking in the Lake District and we saw, round the corner of a tree, a little bobbing bush. I changed the angle of my vision to see that it was attached to a rusty brown body with two beautifully pointed ears and that its motion was supremely delicate and agile. What a terrible tragedy it would be if these lovely creatures were to be wiped out in England by their rather less elegant cousins from America.
Another beautiful creature to be found in the Lake District is the Herdwick sheep, a breed almost certainly introduced to that part of the world by the Vikings. Everyone who has had the fortune to have been brought up on Beatrix Potter (or indeed who has come to her later) will know of Herdwicks as they are the sheep that are pictured in her books; indeed, having made an enormous sum of money from her writings she bought a number of farms in the area and then gave them to the National Trust, stipulating, in so doing, that they must keep Herdwicks on that land. Thus the preservation of this beautiful and extraordinarily hardy breed is much to do with her, as is the fame of the red squirrel, one of her most famous stories - Squirrel Nutkin - being about a red squirrel who can convey himself across Derwent Water on a leaf and then pose riddles to a grumpy old, squirrel - consuming owl.
Herdwicks have stocky legs, hard grey wool and a beautiful, smiling white face. I have been thinking about them a great deal recently as I have been reading a book entitled "The Shepherd's Life" by the Lakeland shepherd James Rebanks, a man whose family, like the Herdwicks which he keeps, have been living in the Lake District for generations. At school he was entirely disengaged; he felt that school was preparing him for a world which was entirely dismissive of his world and which had nothing but contempt for the life that he was preparing to lead. As a result he returned to the farm as quickly as he could without any formal qualifications. It was only when he found a book by WH Hudson about a shepherd's life in Victorian England on his mother's bookshelf that he started to read. And before he knew where he was he had worked his way through all of his mother's books. By means of an English class he achieved some A levels and from thence to Oxford.
I thought this a fascinating story and it occurred to me that there are so many ways of coming to learning. A decent school should always try to meet a child in a place where that individual feels inspired and one of our most central roles is to discover what it is that animates each of our pupils. Fortunately we are a small school, where this should be possible, and good teachers such as ours will always be looking for the place which exists in a child's world, where that connection can be made, where inspiration may be found and where the life of that child can be changed. The greatest moments in my teaching life are those when suddenly I have seen that never-to-be-forgotten moment of enlightenment when a pupil understands the importance of something that they have read or discovered, a moment where their approach to life and learning is changed. What a privilege it is to be in a position to witness such things. Today, in the Cathedral, we held a minute's silence to honour those who had been the victims of attacks. We had in mind particularly the victims of the horrifying massacre in Orlando last weekend and then the terrible murder of the MP, Jo Cox, in Yorkshire yesterday. Our preacher, The Revd Jonathan Beswick, Vicar of St Barnabas Jericho and of St Thomas's Church by the station, reminded us though that there were other massacres and murders equally as horrific but because they happened elsewhere in the world where such things were more common, they were things which we paid far less attention to. Therefore we remembered the victims of those massacres and murders too. The fact that, understandably, the murder of an MP here in England, strikes us so forcefully is a sign, I believe, of how extraordinarily lucky we are that in this country, such episodes are very rare. Indeed we take it for granted that these things don't happen, that we live in a country where we can say what we like without retribution and that people who might be different from ourselves are, for the most part, treated with respect. All the more reason then to vote to stay in the European Union to ensure that our values are shared as widely as possible – it could be argued – or indeed, a very good reason for imagining that, having been the champion of such values in the past, that we are more than capable of continuing to be without the support of a larger body, others might say. By the time I write my next newsletter, we should know what path this country has decided to take.... We'll see.