Monday, 29 May 2017
Headmaster's Blog Summer Term 2017 - Weeks 5&6
I am struggling to catch up with my blog, and rather than leave a week out hoping that no-one will notice I am going to squish two weeks into one blog again and make the most of some time waiting for our flight back from Madrid this evening.
Beth and I have been here for 24 hours to meet prospective pupils coming to Abberley next year. Abberley’s relationship with Astex is now a long one of well over ten years, and our Spanish contingent is a very welcome and important element of the school. I continue to be impressed by the Spanish families who send their children to us for a year or sometimes more, and it worries me that such an outlook no-longer exists among the British – we are guilty ourselves. When I grew up it was very common-place to go on ‘French exchanges’ – two weeks living with a French family, probably who you had never met, but who were a friend of a friend of a friend with a child roughly the same age as you. It was a bit of a lucky dip and the deal was that they would come back at least once. If things went well then it might happen, back and forth, several times. There was much to be said for the experience: sometimes life- long friendships were spawned and a generational exchange game continued long after; wonderful and unique experiences of different corners of French life – deeply rural, crumbling chateaux; proper coffee and a first cigarette (a proper one too); boredom and no-one to moan to; strange food and no way of saying no; immaculate apartments in Versailles and Paris; awkward inclusion in family occasions. It was an eye-opener; it was good for developing resilience and self-reliance; it was great for realising that the world is a bigger place than you had thought; it sowed the seeds of a love for French culture; and this was all before the mobile phone existed – so there was no easy ‘Get out of Jail’ option. Who goes on French exchanges nowadays? However the Spanish are very conscious of the benefits their children accrue from a year at a British boarding school. Of course they miss their young ones, of course it is expensive, but it is a gift that will stay and enrich their children for life.
It is great too for our ‘homegrown’ children to meet and get to know peers from a different culture to their own. Real friendships develop that often blossom and endure with invitations back to Spain and France. They understand from an early age that there is vastly more shared in common than differences. And this is proved time and again when our overseas children return the year after for the Summer Term; we love having them back again.
The downside of trips out of school for me is that I have missed a packed afternoon of cricket matches. It really has been a super season for all our cricketers, which has exceeded expectations and even hope. The increasing integration of the girls and boys for school matches has been a great success, with the girls benefitting from a more demanding and varied context in which to compete, and the boys have barely batted an eyelid at the notion of players being picked for teams on merit. It just seems right and I think it is a credit to the culture of the pupils that they have all taken it without comment; no resentment, patronising comments or surprise. Dean Close gave us a more challenging range of fixtures than we have had so far this term, than perhaps Pestfelde did. Nonetheless all the Colts sides did extremely well with some good wins. Our 1st XI have had a cracking season so far, but stumbled last Wednesday; let’s hope that an exeat weekend sees them return to form next week. They have shown the importance of working as a team and never giving up self belief. As is often remarked – cricket and life share a great deal.
Our tennis players have had several outings recently. We do not have the depth of many other schools, and although the courts are always busily occupied at break times, during Games and in the evenings, our players simply do not have the time to push their game as far as others, who one suspects, specialize in this sport and have many more hours on the court each week. Nonetheless, under Mr Raven’s quietly competitive leadership our tennis teams have ventured forth and claimed moments of success and certainly kept their pride intact.
We are very much entering exam season now. The fact that 95% of the country have broken up for half term only accentuates the fact that our Top Year are homing in on their final exams. There has been a palpable increase in focus and intensity and the teaching Common Room have started to feel more confident about the marks coming through in the practice papers. An Abberley education is nothing if not broad, and we value our creative arts, sport and strong strain of outdoor education and challenge highly – just look at the time devoted to this breadth week in week out. However, we also drive our pupils hard in the final stretch to achieve exam results of which to be proud. This has been a super Top Year, who have had enormous success over a great range of things this year, but we have had to cajole, inspire self-belief, remind and demand a final push so that they do not sell themselves short. Only a week of revision left now; we are with them every step of that last lap.
I cannot write this blog without mentioning the drama surrounding the peacocks since the Fun Run – I’ll come back to that later – suffice to say that there was a good deal of excitement in the school when the new peacocks arrived in their specially built pen. The box in the Front Hall collecting possible names is nicely filled and we were looking forward to releasing them from their pen just before half term. To our horror, on Sunday evening Beth discovered that they were gone from their pen. The door was found wide open and naturally not a sign of them. The word went out, search parties of volunteers assembled rapidly and a spontaneous peacock hunt combed the woods and grounds, but to no avail. Rumours circulated that Mrs Richardson had seen one of them while walking Elvis beyond the Clocktower, but there seemed some doubt. I had a good search on Monday evening and again before breakfast on Tuesday, helped by three Shells boys – nothing, not even a feather. Had they been stolen? Mr Orchard thought not given how difficult it is to catch a peacock. But if not, then who would have opened the pen and why? No Abberley pupil would even think of it; a bored Fun Runner? A disaffected youth passing through? I felt both furious and flat: the peacocks had only just arrived, and it had felt so right.
In Ashton on Tuesday I broke the news to the school, and asked for all vigilant eyes to report back anything of relevance. I did not have to wait long. At Bun Break a breathless posse caught me on my way to the staff meeting and urged me to come quickly – four peacocks had been sighted; more shortly confirmed the sighting and the Removes and Shells threw themselves at the task of herding them back towards their pen and trying to get an accurate count. I emerged from my meeting to be escorted by Jackson and David to the most recent spot where they had been spotted. Yes, it was true, four peacocks, the three girls and one boy, were definitely back! Hurray! In the woods around the Water Garden, one high up in a tree and the familiar calls. Thank goodness! My spirits lifted no end. And they were with us on Wednesday too; at least four of them were and one male was roosting up on the Clock Tower itself. Beth and I went off to Madrid with a far more settled mind than expected.
We relaxed too soon. Since returning there has been no sight nor sound of any of them. The neighbouring farm spotted them on Friday and the Maintenance team managed to capture one of the males, but not for long. We are peacockless once again, and it is not a good state to be in. I am hoping desperately that they will be back tomorrow, or the day after, but it has been three or four days now, and I am feeling unconfident.
I have not written about the Fun Run, which was great fun and with some super fancy dress efforts, nor the Grand Summer Concert, which was simply wonderful. However, I am hoping that enough parents were there to spread the word without me having to do so here. It is time to sign off, with our thoughts with those about to take CE (and of course the peacocks!).