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Monday, 30 October 2017

Headmaster's Blog Autumn Term 2017 - Weeks 6 & 7

A quick escape to Cornwall soon after we broke up means that I am in danger of not writing a pre-half-term blog. However, after a sunny day on the beach and in the sea, a hearty supper and a controversial game of Old Maid, I am going to snatch a moment to give it a go.

As is usual, we bowled into half-term at quite a speed. In the run up I missed most of the last All-In weekend because I was in Milan marketing Abberley to Italian families. Victoria and I had a busy day talking to families about what we offer to all our pupils and what the experience might be like for students coming from Italy. In the last three years we have had several Italian children coming for a few weeks in the Summer Term, and this has been a real success. However, I would like to persuade them that coming for a full year would be even more productive and enjoyable. As is always the case with Italians, they listened politely and showed real interest in what we were saying. However, time will tell if we made any real headway. What was certainly clear was that many educated and forward-thinking Milanese value British education and see the benefits of their children participating in that. The IB in the sixth form has real traction with them and they appreciate the breadth generally offered by boarding schools , not to mention the independence and resilience bred in this environment. Without wishing to sound cynical, I sometimes think that those further afield discern and appreciate what our system offers more clearly than those closer to home. Not just in the field of education one wonders about the values espoused generally in Britain and how perhaps people do not appreciate what they have until it is gone; thus it ever was, I suppose.

The journey to and from Milan could not have been smoother, and it renewed my faith in modern travel, so I was back at Abberley by 3pm on Sunday. I had missed Nick Mills, OA, speaking in Chapel, which was my loss, but I hope he got a chance to see the school and remind himself of happy times in the past. On my return I found all our boarders busily and happily occupied in the orchard picking apples and feeding them into the mobile apple press. True, some were working harder than others, but nonetheless a goodly quantity of apple juice was squeezed in short order. It has been the second year in a row that we have seen a bumper crop. I would like to think that the school bees, housed on the edge of the orchard, are something to do with this, but I suspect that it has been a good harvest all over the county and beyond this year. We will continue last year’s practice of splitting the juice 2:1 apple juice: cider, and hope to launch last year’s cider vintage to parents later this term – the Bonfire Party may well be a good moment to do this – fingers crossed that the weather is kind.

On top of missing a good Chapel service, I was also away for an exciting ‘Big Match Warm Up’ at Ledbury Rugby Club on Friday, organised by Mark Cox of Malvern College.  Our U11 boys  were grateful to be invited to play in a mini-tournament before Malvern’s 1st XV played Monmouth. In front of a crowd of about 500 our boys played three other teams in a competitive four way set of short games, which they came out of as winners – all credit to them and a strong indication of the progress they have made already this season.

That was the third sporting success of the week after the U13 girls, who have been having a tough season, went away to the IAPS regional tournament at Repton College and played very well indeed. They made it through the group stages and showed themselves (and others) that they have talent and that with a strong mental attitude and team-work they can produce effective and winning hockey. Likewise, the following day, the U11 girls, who have had a great season, followed their elders up the road to Repton with even greater success; they came 3rd in the tournament and made it through to the National finals later in the term – an absolutely fantastic result, which has only happened once before in recent history for Abberley.

The week before half term started with an ominous day when the sky went black and the sun red. The Anglo-Saxon chroniclers would have suspected the worst, and they would have been proved correct. Not many hours later we were struck with a complete power cut on site. The high winds took their toll and all systems were down. Luckily, it is not all that long since the last occasion that we lost power, and, as all teachers know, ‘practice makes perfect’, so a slightly calmer and smoother change of plan was put into place. The electricity company got us back on line at about 4.30pm, but no sooner had they whizzed off to another problem elsewhere, than we were back to square one, but this time with much less daylight at our disposal. It was decided that an early supper (which luckily had been cooked and was still hot) and a call to collect day pupils before Activities was a good idea. The pupils were marvellous, just like last time, and staff adjusted to the new conditions with calm assurance. An outdoor Activity session for all those left in school took place out on the pitches, and I must say that it was an absolute pleasure to see children just having fun. The high winds probably added to the general sense of excitement, but with barely any organising, they just seemed to tear around playing with a sense of innocent abandon that reminded one that electricity, modern devices, and even the intervention of adults, are not really needed for the young to have fun; apparently without a care in the world. Just as light was beginning to fail, and rain clouds began to threaten, the lights came back on, so Activities were back on as normal and we did not get the early night I was expecting/hoping for!

Sometimes one feels that the first half of the Autumn Term, which at seven weeks is the longest in the year, takes its toll on pupils and staff alike, and one is hanging on a bit for half term to come to the rescue. However, though it might be asking for trouble in the second half, this did not feel to be the case this year. Both children and adults seemed in remarkably good shape and spirits were not fraying; I could have done another week! That said, when it went quiet, as it does, on Friday afternoon, it was a good feeling to pack one’s bag and dig out the swimming trunks. A change of scene and some different fresh air does the world of good and amen to that.

Will Lockett, Headmaster

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