Friday, 3rd November 2017
It was a great pleasure to see one of our pupils pictured on the front cover of the Oxford Times this week. The striking picture visible yesterday for all of Oxford’s inhabitants to see, showed one of our pupils reading a book during our pop-up bookshop which filled the foyer of the Walton centre on Wednesday. One of our parents who runs the Jaffé and Neale Bookshop in Stow-on-the-Wold had arranged this following a brilliant idea on the part of Mr Watson to come and set up a temporary bookshop so that pupils could buy books and indeed that is exactly what they did, 118 books were sold to be precise . It was a real triumph. I was very struck by the fact that the Oxford Times decided that a photograph of a boy reading a book was an apt image for the front of their paper and that a story of a school selling books was worth putting in such an important position, but I think they are right. Increasingly one hears that we need to adapt all communications with young people to suit the very brief concentration spans which we are told are being fostered by their online lives. I have heard it said that young people can only concentrate now for 9 seconds before having to have their attention redirected. I am certain that rather than pandering to this fact (if indeed it is one) we should aim to develop in the boys in our care, longer attention spans. Even in a world of computerised communication, the longer the attention span one has, the more complex one’s thoughts can be and the more sophisticated one’s engagement with the world. I am delighted that our pupils seem to be so keen to buy books and increasingly one sees pupils reading around school. The English Department has introduced reading logs which are discussed on a weekly basis and in tutor periods pupils are given many opportunities to read. I strongly believe that fostering a culture of reading is essential to a proper education and I believe that this is the case more than ever in today’s world where those who can concentrate for longer periods of time will be in huge demand.
I went yesterday to the Upper Library in Christ Church where I was lucky enough to attend the launch of a catalogue of many of the library’s exquisite treasures. In the cabinets were displayed a number of beautiful books including some intricately illustrated pictures. One book, produced in the 12th Century, had page after page of hand-painted illustrations, each one with details so intricate that one needed a magnifying glass to see them properly. It must have taken years of concentrated work to have produced such a tome. This remarkable object seems to me to be symbolic of what can be done if one has commitment and appropriate concentration and if one believes that there are things that are worth working hard to achieve. I feel very strongly that we should foster such an approach in the minds of our children. We should not lead them to believe that all things are for the short term, that anything upon which one works, is like the cup containing one’s takeaway coffee, designed for throwing away after its brief rather uneventful use. I strongly recommend the exhibition in the Upper Library and we will be taking as many of our pupils as we can to see it.
On Monday evening Mrs Fisher will be hosting a session on Internet and social media safety and use for parents. I strongly recommend that as many of you as possible should attend the session. Internet safety is one of the priorities of our age and the way in which our children use social media is something about which we should all take an interest. There are many dangers associated with this use but equally there is so much to be gained. The benefits which such powerful tools give to us are legion and while we want to avoid the many dangers which they present, we also want our boys to make the most of such exciting opportunities. Do please attend what promises to be an informative and engaging evening, starting at 19:30 in the William Walton Hall.
I have just been inspecting a school on behalf of ISI, the Independent Schools Inspectorate. During the course of the two hugely enjoyable days I fell into conversation with a young boy whom I had just witnessed listening to the story of The Twits by Roald Dahl. Mrs Twit had just performed some hideously cruel trick on her unwitting (though equally revolting) husband. I asked the boy whether he would be happy if he were married to Mrs Twit. Initially his face looked troubled as he thought carefully about the implications of such an arrangement but then I saw a change pass over him and he looked me straight in the eye – “It’s all right,” he said, “Mrs Twit is not real – it’s only a story. I won’t have to marry her.” We all looked immensely relieved and then turned our attention back to getting on with real life - which is what I must do now…