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Headmaster's Blog

Activities, Enterprise and Prism - 18 September 2017

How was your weekend? Whitgift’s was characteristically busy, with 36 teams playing on Saturday, 135 boys from the Upper Firsts alone representing the school, and a satisfying sweep of wins against Hampton. And a DofE expedition for 24 boys. Then on Sunday evening our choristers sung beautifully at Evensong in the Minster.

On Friday evening, after the serious business of presenting ties to junior prefects, I was a bit disconcerted to hear Mr Michael tell me that some of these Thirds were now off to prison. Prism in fact, ‘Prism’ being the academic discussion forum, masterminded by Mr Miller and consisting on Friday of three contrasting talks about Truth. And indeed there were plenty of Thirds there, being encouraged to think outside their exam studies and indeed enter a competition to write most interestingly and thoughtfully about how the concept of truth applies in an area of their choice. (As a linguist, my thoughts immediately go to how truth depends on language, but I’m not eligible…)

Well, we’re all in favour of independent thought aren’t we? I’ve spent years as a Head banging on about it, and you can expect me to continue. Never has it been more important than today for our best young people to use their minds to know, learn and critically consider the world around them. Note the order: first you need to know and respect what others have said and written. Then you learn from it. Then you question and form your own ideas.

HMC, for whom I speak on Higher Education, commissioned some research last year into students’ attitudes at university. And though there was lots that was positive, as well as much to concern us too, I worry that in many areas a gap is opening up between open, academic debate, as it has always been championed in universities (and the best schools) and intolerance. Since our young people are, we hope, increasingly tolerant, they need to develop rigorous, thoughtful independent minds. Breadth of experience, breadth of reading and willingness to engage are crucial first steps.

So hats off to activities, enterprise, Prism, and to all the many things like it at Whitgift.

 

Back to School - 11 September 2017

September is an exciting, re-energising time for anyone with a family. On goes the uniform or the suit, and whether you are back to a school you know well, or start somewhere new, it’s a big jolt, a big change, but hopefully always a pleasure. It certainly has been for me, and thank you to all those who have made my and my family’s welcome at Whitgift so warm.

Inevitably I end week 1 with a number of impressions. Which ones best sum up Whitgift as it is today, in September 2017? The unexpected (or was it?) fire alarm, nearly 2,000 people safely and calmly emptying the building in less than three minutes (the second such, trying the patience slightly more, has just concluded as I write)? The good start to some new arrangements in dining (boys not always adapting to the new so calmly, as I know)? The news of successful sports tours to South Africa and Biarritz, of trips to Costa Rica and China, as well as closer to home? The excellent GCSE, A Level and above all IB results?

Or the magnificent first Saturday morning, site in sunshine, hundreds of boys and staff in pre-season training, whilst teams travelled to Warwick and Sedbergh (well done to all by the way, and bad luck to a close-fighting 1st XV).

Well, two amongst a number of conversations with boys stand out for me. And by the way, though it is always good to hear ideas and thoughts, I hope the boys and indeed any other readers here will have patience as I organise ways of tapping into ideas … and do remember there are others than me you can talk to!

One is a boy who enthusiastically told me how much he was relishing the challenge of Mandarin. Another came with an idea to harness his interest in graphic design to perhaps make a school publication. In both cases, it’s the seeing and going towards (rather than ducking) challenges which I think and certainly hope make the Whitgift spirit. Going beyond what you thought you could do. Thinking that normal and positive, and supporting each other when we do. Taking the chance we might fail, and relishing and facing that too.

These are big things. But if we can’t think big at the start of the year, when can we? Great to be number 1 boys school at IB (if you followed the hyperlink above): we don’t intend it to be our only number one spot this year, or ever!