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Headmaster's Blog

The latest Headmaster's Blog can be read under "News".  Please see below for archived blogs.

9th June 2017 

A titanic struggle finally resolving who is supreme on the field, no, not the General Election, which is not particularly resolved if some commentators are to be believed, but the two contests that really mattered: Firstly, House Cricket – well done Excalibur, who pipped Lancelot to the trophy by one point! And, of course, the second contest that has taxed our Years 4 to 8 boys this week was their struggle against the examinations. Always demanding, but hopefully never overwhelming, the boys have made herculean efforts to show themselves at their best in these exams. I hope this weekend they have an opportunity to rest and reflect on having done (I trust) their best and will therefore be justly rewarded.

My congratulations go to Class 2W for their superb assembly this morning, which both the boys and the parents who attended enjoyed immensely. I never cease to be amazed at the confidence in delivery, as well as the content of these joyous occasions. Well done, boys, you were fabulous. Staying with the Juniors, our Reception Classes visited Bockett’s Farm this week and had the most marvellous time, whilst our Year 1 boys have been practising their animal husbandry through the visit of the chicks that have hatched whilst here with us (an annual event that draws even the most stony-faced of us to come and sneak a peek and say “Ah”).

As we move from this week into next, we see our Year 8 boys begin their post examination Activities Week with paintballing, skiing and the annual trip to Thorpe Park beckoning. These boys have worked so hard this year and I want to congratulate them on their efforts since September to prepare for these examinations. It is, once again, cause for celebration and praise for this cohort, who have reached the acme of what Willington has to offer and really given it their all. I hope that next week’s revelries are enjoyed in the spirit of just reward. Of course, their more fulsome reward will come in the shape of the results, which we now await with eager anticipation.

To conclude for this week, I continue to look ahead to next, for Friday of next week is nothing short of a packed day of sporting activity. In the morning we have Junior Sports Day, with the Seniors to follow in the afternoon. Can Galahad retain their Sports Day trophy for the third year in a row and finally get a win for the first time this year? Or will the other Houses continue to lock them out? Will Lancelot build on their lead of three trophies won, or will Excalibur win their third and pull alongside them? Will Merlin bag their second and go head-to-head against Excalibur? It promises to be a wonderful day of sport. If that were not enough, following on from Sports Day will be the POW Football Tournament and BBQ, which was postponed from earlier in the term.

 

19th May 2017 

Disappointment abounds as we watch the weather, cruel mistress of outdoor activities, cut down our plans for the much anticipated Parents’ Football Tournament more savagely than the recipient of a sliding tackle from defender supreme Norman “Bite Yer Legs” Hunter. Fortunately, we have only postponed this glorious festival of football and so Sports Day will be an event of epic proportions this year. I trust that the additional time to train will only add to the spectacle we hope to enjoy. With adaptation having featured here, I must say how lovely it was to attend the first of a new format of Music Department performances this week. The new Musical Performance Series offers an opportunity to hear an array of instruments from across the orchestral family - a shorter event than our full concert programme, this is a delightful way to hear a sample of the talent that our musicians have to offer. My thanks go to Mr Parker for introducing this new format, which we shall review following this trial period during the Summer Term.

Next week we welcome the Self-Esteem Team Charity, who are providing a talk for parents on Monday evening. With the increasing focus on Mindfulness, Self-Esteem and Wellbeing, alongside good mental health, this offers an excellent opportunity for parents to hear a little about the work being done in School, as well as ask questions about how to support their sons in an increasingly pressurised world.

From the pressure of modern life, I turn to the pressure of competition, as we await with eager anticipation the Inter-House Cricket, which takes place next week. Year 3 open the batting (so to speak) on Wednesday, whilst Years 4 to 8 conclude matters on Friday in our traditional conclusion leading up to Half Term. Galahad and Lancelot shared the honours last year; can one of them wrest it fully into their grasp this year or will Merlin or Excalibur snatch it away?

I conclude this week by reflecting on the General Election Campaign. We have seen the educational programmes set out in manifestos this week. These come against a backdrop of claims of huge cuts, a Governors’ strike in West Sussex, an enraged Jamie Oliver debating free school meals, arguments over how many teachers are leaving (or not) the teaching profession, and whether or not plans to scrap university tuition fees, limiting class sizes and increasing funding for Sure Start Centres are affordable under Labour Party taxation plans. My head is spinning almost as fast as the political football that is our national debate on education and I give thanks once again for the independence and freedom we enjoy as an independent school. I hope we start to see a little more light and a little less heat being generated as election day draws nigh.

12th May 2017
 

I am so pleased to be writing to you all this week following a number of wonderful trips for our boys in Years 4, 5 and 6. Year 4 went to Kew Gardens, one of the world’s great botanical treasure troves, whilst Years 5 and 6 explored human development from the Stone Age, through the Iron Age, the Roman Conquest and up to the arrival of the Normans at Butser Farm. Experiential learning in these environments remains a vital (in both senses of the word) part of life at Willington and I know that the boys will have benefited enormously from these trips. Speaking of Year 4, I am delighted to congratulate four boys in that year group who have been selected for the Surrey Under 9 Cricket Squad. Our quartet of county boys are Isaac, Freddie, Roshan and Harry; very well done, boys! We are very proud of you.

Speaking of pride, it is with an abundance of such that I speak of the Choristers who sang Choral Evensong at St. Paul’s Church, Augustus Road yesterday. Their rendition of And the Glory of the Lord from Handel’s Messiah was sublime. Mr Inglis-Kidger continues to lead the Choristers to greater and greater heights and I feel compelled to urge you to come and hear these marvellous boys perform. The perfect opportunity for this will be at our Annual Gala Concert on Wednesday 28th June, commencing at 7:30pm and also being held at St. Paul’s Church. This is the high point of the Arts Festival we hold every year.

Finally, to round off our congratulations, we must say an enormous “well done” to Finn (who sang at Evensong) on his superb accomplishment of achieving an Academic Scholarship to King’s College School, Wimbledon for next year. We are delighted for Finn and we wish him every success.

I must now conclude this week’s piece by offering my deepest thanks from the School to a former Willington parent, who has been attached to us now since 2002. I speak, of course, of our Chair of Governors, Di Griffin. Di has decided to step down as Chair at the end of this academic year and the mantle is being taken up by Rob Stewart, our current Vice-Chair. Di brought her eldest son Jack to Willington as a Reception Class pupil and he was followed by his brother Felix. Jack went on to be Head Boy and he and Felix both eventually went on to Epsom College. Di was one of the founding mothers of POW and has served on the Board of Governors for 12 years; a considerable proportion of that time as Vice-Chair and now as Chair. We shall undoubtedly miss her insight and her resolute determination to guard all that is good about Willington, as well as being instrumental in supporting the development work we have undertaken in recent years. I should like to thank her publically for the support she has given to me during our time working together, which has been invaluable. She takes her formidable skillset to work as a member of a newly formed NHS scrutiny panel, which makes use of her background in healthcare and governance oversight. We wish her every success and happiness for the future and thank her for her dedicated service to the Willington family.

5th May 2017 

The Bank Holiday at the start of this month always feels like having several days off, rather than just the one. I am not sure how this feat is achieved; perhaps the secret to time travel lies therein. However, after an extra day’s rest, we then launched ourselves into the week on Tuesday and we were treated to a Bilingual Assembly taken by Year 7.  Reflecting on their annual visit to France for a week’s residential, they told us in both languages of their exploits, much to our delight. Accompanied by a variety of photos that captured their experiences, I am sure it rekindled wonderful memories for the Year 8 boys, whilst the younger boys looked ahead to their turn on this annual adventure with a keen sense of anticipation.

Speaking of a keen sense of anticipation, the Cricket season began this week with matches against Kingswood House acting as the opening fixture. I have always been intrigued by the way in which Cricket, despite being a sport at which a ball is propelled often at great speed by fast bowlers and requires lightning reflexes and considerable sprinting, is seen as a slower game by some compared to Football and Rugby. However, with Mr Jaffer’s keen eye being cast over the boys as they train and with some very talented cricketers in the school, I look forward to this summer sport bringing us some results to savour.

Moving from the sporting contests of the term to the political contest that is taking place across the country, I see with dismay that education has once again become a political football to be kicked about. I note that some schools at a conference held just a few days ago, argued that they will have to close for half a day a week, or perhaps more, if they are to meet their budgets in the future. I know that our position here in the independent sector, with both the freedom and flexibility to act in the best interests of the pupils, is something that you value, as do we, but I want to thank you for your ongoing support as we plough a furrow of our own, rather than that of the DfE’s choosing. 

17th March 2017 

Another busy week has come and (almost) gone (the POW Quiz and Disco is being set up as I write!) with trips to Cadogan Hall for Years 3 and 4 and to the Weald & Downland Museum for Year 1. Our Years 3, 4 and 5 boys performed their annual Violin Scheme Presentation and, all the while, our Year 7 boys have been in France enjoying a languages trip. The Book Fair has now concluded for another year. Keeping to the theme of literature, I was delighted to receive the school’s invitation to participate in the next Wimbledon Bookfest Short Story Writing Competition. Hopefully, we will see some more successful entries just like Archie Wilcox (one of our Oates Scholars) in Year 7 earlier this year. Also speaking of success, I want to congratulate Ollie King, Captain of Rugby, on being awarded a Sports Exhibition to Epsom College. This brings the total number of Scholarships won by current Year 8 boys to six, as we add to Ollie’s award Finn Kearns’ Academic and Music Scholarships to Whitgift, Alex Ludlow’s Art Scholarship to King’s College School, Daniel Ortiz’s All-Rounder Scholarship (for Academic, Languages and Art) to Whitgift and Kohtaro Harada’s Music Scholarship to City of London School; a brilliant set of Scholarships, which were earned through a great deal of hard work on the part of the boys involved, together with the help and support of their teachers through the school’s Scholarship Support Programme.

Looking ahead to the remaining two weeks of school before the Easter Holidays (where has the term gone?), I am looking forward to Choral Evensong next Tuesday at St. Paul’s Church on Augustus Road; a marvellous venue for our superb Choristers. The following day we will be hosting dozens of families who have registered to visit us during our Open Morning. We will be showing them what a wonderful school Willington is and what fabulous boys we have here! Thursday sees the House Swimming Gala at Merton Leisure Centre, as Merlin seek to recapture the trophy that Galahad wrested away from them last year, as they sought to claim a hat-trick of Galas. Competition for this will be fierce.

Finally, in the unyielding war to send your son to bed, the following article is a new tool in the arsenal of weapons for parents to use explaining why scientists think children should go to bed at a reasonable hour; clearly, they are to blame, not you! http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/children-bed-chard-timing-exact-bedtime-stories-wilson-elementary-school-a7631631.html

A number of parents have been asking me about my thoughts on the Green Paper regarding education (Schools that work for Everyone) and its proposals for grammar schools. I leave you with this link to an article which gives an interesting perspective on why they may not be the nirvana that some are making them out to be: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/theresa-may-grammar-schools-future-of-work-failing-childrena7630971.html.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

10th March 2017 

As ever, school continues at a relentless pace and, amidst Parents’ Evenings for our Junior boys, we have seen the POW Film Night today and our first ever Scholarship Showcase last night. The Showcase was well attended and gave parents the opportunity to see what our internal Scholars have been doing as part of the Oates Programme, as well as seeing the work boys are doing to pursue Scholarships to destination schools. On that note, I must offer congratulations to Daniel, Alex and Finn for their successes in Scholarship Assessments. Daniel has been awarded an All-Rounder Scholarship to Whitgift, who have also offered a Music Scholarship to Finn. Alex completes this triumvirate with an Arts Scholarship to King’s here in Wimbledon. A talented group of boys indeed!

I read the story on the BBC website about threatened cuts to Music in schools that could render the subject extinct. As a school where Music has such a high profile, we watch in horror at the thought of the creative opportunities for our boys coming under attack elsewhere and so it is with extra zeal that we look forward to next week’s Violin Scheme Presentation and to Choral Evensong the week after.

 

3rd March 2017
 

What a feast of creativity we have been treated to this week!  Firstly, we have enjoyed the magic of our actors and stage crew.  This year’s School production has been of Dream On, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was superb and beyond my abilities to do justice to the talent on display and technical excellence to support them.  Secondly, we have been spellbound by the multifarious ways in which our boys brought famous literary characters to life for World Book Day.  We have also enjoyed a preview of Science week with the return to Willington of the legendary Dr Jasmine (whose experiment to create Art with the absorbent materials that is contained in nappies remains etched on my brain forever!).  Next week, Science week goes into full swing with a panoply of activities that will bring Science even more into our lives at Willington in exciting and new ways.

I am grateful to those of you who responded to my previous comments about the parlous state of our national education system.  I was attending a conference for South London prep school Headteachers earlier this week and Barnaby Lennon, former Headmaster of Harrow and the Chair of the Independent Schools Council came to speak to us.  In a fascinating talk, giving insight into his work representing independent schools to the Government, he explained his attempts to demonstrate the value of independent schools as part of our national education system.

As you may be aware, a Green Paper on education is currently being discussed.  Called Schools that Work for Everyone, it covers faith schools selection, selective state schools (ie grammars), university involvement in setting up new schools so that they can charge higher tuition fees, and lastly what expectations can be applied to independent schools.  As the Headmaster of an independent school who has previously worked in the state sector, I have been intrigued to watch this ongoing debate, particularly given the mixed messages aimed at independent schools like us who are charities.  On the one hand, certain sections of the popular press exclaim outrage over the tax benefits charitable status conveys on the independent sector (which runs to approximately £200 - £300 million pounds for the sector) yet conveniently ignore the savings that any Government makes by receiving taxes from families who choose to educate their children privately and not use their state sector entitlement (estimated to save the Treasury somewhere in the region of up to £4 billion).  Given the stringency of the cuts being applied to the state sector (see a very interesting article given the ability to see the kinds of cuts being made to state schools in our area via this link http://www.wimbledonguardian.co.uk/news/15011453.This_map_shows_how_hard_your_children_s_schools_could_be_hit_by_funding_cuts/) I suspect that that gulf will only grow and I appreciate all the more our independence from such decisions and the freedom we enjoy to deliver a first class educational experience as we see fit to determine it.

It allows us to bask in the glory of our pupils’ creativity and support their academic progress, as well as provide high quality and extensive sporting provision, whilst never having to worry about the ever decreasing focus on results from a narrow and often misleading set of scores that generate statistics that do not measure the things we hold dear such as character, determination, leadership and compassion as well as doing your best.  I thank you all for your ongoing support for our efforts.  floreat Willingtonia!

24th February 2017 

I hope your holiday time together was most enjoyable and you are looking forward to some of the events coming up this term.  Firstly, we build up to National Science week from Monday 6th March with some precursor activities in this week to come. As ever, visiting speakers and a range of scientific events will be engaging the boys with wonders of the scientific world. We all know about World Book Day coming up on Thursday 2nd March, when we shall, I am sure, be inundated with boys in costumes representing their favourite literary characters. This comes in advance of our annual visit from the Travelling Book Fair, which will be with us for a week from Wednesday 8th March, giving the boys the opportunity to find something new to read and enjoy.  

This week our Oates Scholars enjoyed a Shakespeare workshop run by the Globe Theatre Outreach Project.  The workshop explored the key themes of the ‘Scottish Play’ and delved into the mind and motivations of Macbeth himself. The boys greatly enjoyed the practical nature of the workshop and did a fantastic job of reciting and role-playing some of the pivotal scenes and dialogue from the play.

As I write to you this week, the sounds of the school play rehearsal in the Main Hall are drifting into my Study and the ebullient energy of our wonderful boys rings out as they sing with all their might. Of course, whilst the cherishing of artistic endeavours such as these is part and parcel of the life of our marvellous school, spare a thought for those schools being reported in the press throughout the week who are facing stringent cuts and for whom such activities will clearly not fit the new funding structures. I hear reports on Radio 4 of schools having to run a shorter day, dismiss staff or, in some way, shape or form, be less than they are in order to operate in the state sector. Even here in Merton we hear of the challenges facing schools in areas such as ours and I feel so fortunate to be where I am. For just as we reach the culmination of the production cycle with the four performances next week, already the planning for our Annual Arts Festival is being shown to me and, once again, it will be a glorious event in our yearly range of activities.

 

10th February 2017
 

I was delighted to welcome a speaker from the charity Digital Awareness into school last week. This was as part of our PSHE Programme and, as well as speaking to all the boys from Year 1 upwards, there was also a talk for parents in the evening after school.  It was so heartening to hear the many positives that the speaker had to say about our work here at the school in keeping the boys safe, but also her view of how lovely it was to meet boys who were able to enjoy a childhood all the way through to thirteen, rather than displaying evidence of the kinds of teenage pressures that often materialise in senior schools for those year groups, especially when they are very young and not so
easily able to take care of themselves.

I would like to draw your attention to a wonderful article that
one mother brought to my notice earlier last week that she had seen online. It comes from the well known and respected newspaper The Washington Post
and is entitled “How to raise kinder, less entitled kids (according to science)”. So much of the advice therein resonated with me with regard to how Willington seeks to support you in raising your children. Sadly, I cannot replicate the article in full, but it is well worth reading (https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/on-parenting/how-to-raise-kinder-less-entitledkids-
according-to-science/2016/10/03/1a74fa3a-7525-11e6-b786-19d0cb1ed06c_story.html?utm_term=.c717ff52e220
).
In summation, it poses the following notions: try to help children think outside of themselves and consider others; beware of “hedonic adaptation” regarding what becomes “normal” i.e. not every Saturday has to have an expensive outing, not every journey home from a match has to stop by Krispy Kreme Doughnuts; watch out for “availability bias” where they assume everyone has exactly the same as them simply because it is what they see (this is especially valuable in private school settings). Finally, it suggests that, if a child is to understand the suffering of others, such as people experiencing hunger or water shortages, it is best to avoid portraying the grand scale of human suffering as it may overwhelm or even frighten them off. Instead, use the “identifiable victim effect”. We see this a lot on charity adverts nowadays, where they single out one case of someone in need to make it relatable, rather than portraying an incomprehensibly large problem.

3rd February 2017 

The penultimate week of this half term comes almost to fruition (there is the rugby tomorrow!) and what a week it has been. We have seen success on the rugby pitch, Year 1 have been out on a trip to the Lookout Centre and Year 2 have been to the Science Museum. Year 4 parents have attended their reporting evening where staff have given their feedback and the Music Department has hosted a vast number of guests who attended our
Willington Voices Outreach Programme (I am sure it had nothing to do with the wine at all!). My thanks, as ever, go to all the staff involved in such activities.

Aside from the House Rugby next week, we are also hosting an Online Safety talk for
parents here on Monday evening and the boys are participating in the Strings Day Concert at Epsom College, following their performance last week in the St. John’s Orchestral Play Day. There is Choral Evensong at St. Paul’s Church in Augustus Road just the other side of the Village from the school on Thursday. I do hope you will come and join us for Evensong. The Choristers are singing to such a high standard and St. Paul’s is a magnificent venue for this.

It probably has not escaped your notice that education in the state sector has featured quite prominently in the news this week, with talks of funding cuts, Governors refusing to sign off budgets, not enough money for staff training, manipulation of pupil populations to give better results figures, and so on. As ever, we find ourselves in a fortunate position in the independent sector of not being at the mercy of Government policy (by and large). I feel heartened to be working in such a supportive environment, where our efforts are valued by parents and by our Governing Body. That is not to say that the efforts of teaching staff in state schools are not valued by parents or Governors, but that the politicisation of education saddens me. I am sure that others could expound upon this topic with greater eloquence, but I feel moved to say that our focus remains on being the best school we can be and on providing the best school experience we can for all our boys and not worrying about league tables, not trying to stage-manage results and not finding ourselves beset on all sides by those who would use us to advance their own agenda.  Here’s to the value of
being independent, something we can cherish and prize.