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Monday, 12 February 2018

Headmaster's Blog Spring Term 2018 - Weeks 4 & 5

Wow, the last two weeks before half-term went absurdly quickly. Before we knew it we had reached the half way point of the Spring Term, and it felt as though we had only just begun.

The Patrol Music Competition proved to be a real turning point for the term and exceeded expectations by some stretch. It was absolutely lovely to see both the pupils and staff get behind the venture. As the big night approached, urgent requests for more rehearsal time were lodged and met; the excitement grew along with the tension and we seemed to get to Friday 6.30pm in the Ashton Hall in a flash.

A super Lunchtime concert earlier in the day whet the appetite – I love these moments: 20 minutes of sheer pleasure. One is never quite sure who will be playing or what, but it never fails to delight, and I think it is a very important opportunity for our children to learn to perform in front of a sizeable audience.

Speaking of sizeable audiences, I had to take a step back on entering Ashton later that day just before the start of the Patrol Music competition; it was packed! Our parents had really come on board; there was a real buzz in the room. The patrols waiting to perform were at the back of the auditorium, a large audience in between, including Malvern College’s Director of Music, who had the unenviable job of judging; and the patrol performing on stage. We kicked off with the Cuckoos who set a superb standard, not just of technical ability, but joie de vivre and performance gusto. What followed over the next hour and a half was simply a joy from start to finish. It encapsulated all that is best about Abberley and it made me very proud indeed. The kids loved every minute, either when performing or while watching, and they were not the only ones; the rest of us were wrapped up in the fun too. I really must note here how chuffed I was by the members of staff who led this event and each of the patrols. From a standing start, and with barely any musical expertise, using charisma, charm and momentum, they galvanised the pupils to a point where they excelled. It is going to be hard to replicate this next year, but it is now a firm fixture in the annual calendar.

I hate to puncture the mood, but the cold weather and mud could not be ignored over the weekend. It is one of those winters where one just has to dig in and grit one’s teeth. Some more strong results on the sports fields on, particularly in the Colts football matches brought us rapidly to Sunday morning. I must confess that it is a fairly frequent anxiety that the person coming to preach in Chapel on a Sunday morning fails to make it on time, which would leave me to fill the breach. I really ought to have something up my sleeve for such an occasion, which is bound to happen sooner or later. This Sunday looked like being that time. I waited expectantly out on the drive for Peter Middleton, Deputy Head Co-curricular of Shrewsbury School, to arrive. He is a keen and high class cross-country runner, and the extent of my concern can be measured by the way at one point at 10.28am, when I saw a lycra clad runner on their way up the front drive, I thought it might be Peter, who had run all the way from Shrewsbury… wrong. To my great relief he drove up the hill 30 seconds later and let me off the hook. He was certainly worth the wait and delivered a very funny and apposite talk in Chapel about learning from and finding success in our failures.

The rest of Sunday was dominated by the Abberley Relays. This has become a huge event with 12 different schools participating, some from as far afield as Cheam, and over fifty teams taking part in the U11 and U13 races. After the foul weather earlier in the weekend I was expecting our pitches, where the mass of spectators gather for the start and end point of the race, to turn into a quagmire, let alone the course itself, which has a reputation for its steep hills and mud (deserved!). As it was the strong, cold winds dried off the top surface remarkably well. Nigel Richardson did a fabulous job, as always, of organising the whole event, ably supported by Steve Joyce, doing his final Abberley Relays in charge of times and results.

The runners did very well indeed; some of them are outstandingly quick and it was a measure of mental strength as well as raw ability. It wasn’t to be Abberley’s day, Cheam School cleaned up on the medals, but there were some super individual performances. I was particularly impressed by those pupils who stepped up very late in the day to fill in for those who dropped out at the last minute. This showed real team spirit and guts. Running this course is a test of character, and volunteering to do so speaks volumes of someone’s personality. After it was all over we met in Ashton for hot chocolate, sandwiches, cake and flap jack. Almost everyone showed good manners and took their muddy boots off when they came indoors, and luckily I had one of my better pairs of socks on. There must have been several hundred people here that afternoon and the home team of staff and pupil marshals were a credit to the school.

We charged into half-term, with an even busier than usual week: Maths Challenge at Cheltenham College for the Shells on Tuesday – they did brilliantly and came in a highly commendable 3rd place; rugby 7s on Wednesday – a work in progress; the Form 1s play – Cleopatra and the Egyptian Way; and on the same day a trip for the 100s and Top Year to the theatre to see Great Expectations. We were also supposed to have Boats – the patrol swimming competition – but the swimming pool itself must have decided that this was over egging the pudding and decided to break during the preceding night, forcing a postponement. And we rounded things off with the Shells Parents Meeting on Friday morning.

It would be fair to say that everyone was pretty tired by the time we reached Friday afternoon; tired but happy. I loved the Form 1’s play, which was very ambitious and successful. They had learnt their lines very well indeed, and that was no mean feat; the costumes were fantastic (thanks to the parents), the stage set a master piece by Mr Beswick; some of the acting showed real talent and bodes very well for the years to come; the Egyptian dance at the end was a scream; and Mrs Eynon must have been very proud of her crew.

Frankly if the children and staff can do all of this and to such a high standard in the teeth of a tough winter, I wonder what they will achieve when Spring starts to break out.

Will Lockett, Headmaster

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