Friday, 30th September 2016
As I sit here writing in my study, the deep tone of Tom, the mediaeval bell hanging in Tom Tower, is ringing out over the city to celebrate the Inauguration of the new Bishop of Oxford, The Right Revd Steven Croft. It is indeed a joyous moment, particularly as it has taken over two years for it to come to pass. One of the most moving parts of the ceremony was when the Bishop stepped out of the Cathedral and emerged into Tom Quad from where he blessed the City of Oxford and his new diocese. The Diocese of Oxford, created by Henry VIII, is the largest diocese in England taking in all of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire and as Miss Farmer and I sat in the Cathedral, I had a very strong sensation that we were at the very heart of this vast diocese. Once again the part that the pupils of this school play in some of the important events of the area struck me very forcefully. Of course every pupil's life is unique and lived at a certain time and only at that time, but we are very fortunate, being part of an ancient foundation, that we can view the lives of our present pupils in the context of a long tradition. Of course in some ways, our natural inclination is to feel ourselves diminished if we see ourselves as only a very small part of a long story; we share our school with the many pupils and teachers who have gone before us and we know that there will be a great number who will pass through here when we are gone; and our role is indeed a very small one. I'd rather not think of this though as a diminishment but rather of engendering a proper sense of humility. Of course we should always be reminded that we are not the only people here, that our contribution is only one of very many and that we must always think about those around us; that tolling bell which I still hear should remind us, as the tolling bell of Lincoln's Inn reminded the seventeenth century poet and Dean of St Paul's, John Donne, that "no man is an island entire unto itself". As he said so eloquently, we are all interconnected, that we all depend upon one another and, in the context of what I am writing about now, that we are a small part of the lengthy thread that runs through the life of our ancient school. But of course, what I think about too as I hear the sonorous note of celebration ringing across the City, is that the responsibility we bear, as pupils and teachers and staff of an ancient school, is very great. We have a responsibility to all those who have come before us, who have handed the school on to us, to pass it on in a healthy shape. So whilst we are properly humbled by the longevity of our institution, we do have responsibilities which those who do not stand in a long tradition, lack. These thoughts crossed my mind as I had the privilege of witnessing the happy events in the Cathedral today. As ever the choristers sung magnificently and were a great credit to the school.
In terms of passing on the school in a healthy state, may I thank you very much for your support of Open Day tomorrow. It is such a vital day for us and for attracting new pupils to the school. Of course the most important element of any Open Day are the pupils and it is for this reason that we ask you to bring in your sons on a Saturday. Our wonderful pupils are our greatest asset. One of our new teachers remarked to me today how delightfully enthusiastic and keen to work our boys were. This really is most gratifying; I always find them so but it is good to hear this from someone who has come from outside and who has taught elsewhere.
It was indeed very shocking to read of the abduction of the Oxford School girl in Summertown this week. I spoke to the boys this morning and warned them about being careful if they travel to school alone, something we allow in Forms 7 and 8. Obviously such incidents are extremely rare and there is much to be gained from allowing your sons reasonable freedoms such as being able to travel to school on their own, but we should think very carefully about the process and it is very important that they should have an operating mobile phone with them, which they should, of course, hand in to the office upon arrival. I will be speaking to the pupils about safeguarding in general on Monday and about how they can take common sense steps to keep themselves safe.
Last Friday I attended the Parents' Association wine-tasting event. It was a tremendous occasion run by Theo, a most entertaining speaker from the Oxford Wine Company. The parents behaved with appropriate joie de vivre and there were many amusing moments. The least amusing moment though for me was when our table was presented with a wine which turned out to be a Chardonnay, my favourite grape. Did I identify it correctly? Of course not. I wondered whether this failure disappointed the assembled parents or whether there was a sense of secret relief that my wine-tasting skills were found to be less than perfect.