Friday, 7th September 2018
I am sitting in my study looking over a sunlit Brewer Street, the light glistening on the limestone walls of Pembroke; Oxford seems to be a very lovely place to be at the beginning of September, particularly so when the stones echo with the sound of excited voices. It’s lovely to be back and lovely to see so much activity and energy.
As ever each year schools renew themselves. It was lovely to see, on the first day, a large number of new boys and their families arriving; we welcome them very warmly to our community and hope that they all flourish. Do please get to know the new pupils and parents particularly those in your child’s class. We have some new staff too; Madame Loyer will be teaching French, Miss Milton will be teaching maths and be the Form 7 tutor and Mr Potts, whom many of you know through after school clubs, will become a member of the games staff, helping Mr Dickinson on most afternoons. Again we welcome them warmly and hope that you will introduce yourselves to them in the near future.
I spoke to the boys about the importance of manners, which I said were the outward signs of civilisation and of an attitude where others are considered. Boys have been running backwards to open doors for people and have been stepping several paces back to let people pass. Pleases and thanks yous have been much in evidence. Do please feel free to reinforce this at home. I am certain that manners are so much more than outward show and that they help to fashion and shape behaviour and attitudes. I suppose it’s the case that James Bond villains, as they stroke their cats and adjust their eye patches, are always well–mannered but I suspect they are the exception!
As you may be aware we have passed the management of our catering over to Thomas Franks, a highly respected catering company which specialises in catering for schools. Being a small school it is difficult for us to manage such a central aspect of the school’s life without some external assistance. Thanks to them, and to our ever- loyal staff, Kate, Sinisa, Sergio and Olivia, the food has been delicious; almost everything, including bread, is home-made. The menus have been inventive and well-balanced and children have been enjoying trying new things. The presentation too has been a work of art, beautiful porcelain dishes placed carefully, ochre wooden boards, covered in appetising meats. I have been very interested by how the quality of food has such an effect on people’s morale and happy functioning. It’s a well-known saying that “armies march on their stomachs” but it seems to me to be completely obvious that schools do too, even if we tend to specialise in working and playing.
On the days before the beginning of term, teachers in every school in the country engage in in -service training which is known as INSET. This year we decided to take the staff to a high ropes course in Culham belonging to Mr Pointin, father of Max in Form 3. We started with a team – work task, the idea being to construct as high a pyramid as possible using small crates upon which two people had to stand. It was a hilarious and engaging task for which teams had to use their initiative and decide which people would do which roles. I did not volunteer to stand on top of the crates but opted instead to hang on to the rope which kept the climbers safe from falling. Perhaps it was an appropriate symbol of the fact that one of my most important roles in the school, in some ways my most important role, is to keep people safe; indeed I am what is called the DSL or Designated Safeguarding Lead and as such staff or indeed parents and pupils should come to see me if they have safeguarding concerns. I can then pass those on if appropriate to OSCB, Oxford Safeguarding Children’s Board. This is an aspect of school life which is rightly taken very seriously and in all schools now there is a shared culture of safeguarding awareness. Children are now far safer than in the past but there is never room for complacency. At any rate, I was very pleased to be able to prevent Mrs Green from crashing to the ground and I think once she had got used to it, she enjoyed hanging in mid air on the two occasions upon which my rope work was needed.
We then advanced to the High Ropes and zip wire; this was hugely entertaining for most people, the zip wire allowing people to speed at breakneck rate through the wood. The landing strip was a pile of wood chippings and it was splendid to see many of my colleagues, including the Bursar, who seemed to have a piratical glint in his eye, come crashing in to land. Finally there was a huge telegraph pole with big metal staples hammered into the side. Some of us were able to climb gingerly to the top of the pole, walk out onto a flimsy platform and then launch ourselves into the air. I have, at this point to explain that this was not some form of self – destructive eccentricity but that we were attached to a harness. Though I was initially pretty petrified the sensation of flying through the air was exhilarating. I thought afterwards that it was a perfect symbol of the sort of approach that I would like our pupils to take towards their education. They should always try to push the boundaries both mentally and physically, proving to themselves how much they can do. Advances in thought and maturity are rarely made where no risks are taken and though the prospect of taking such risks is often frightening, the results of doing so are sometimes life – changing. As I did when I jumped off my platform, I hope, this year, that our children will take flight!