I can still remember clearly the moment when during a tour of the school I was giving to a prospective parent, we paused briefly in the library and she said “Do you mind if I am frank?”
“Of course, not.” I replied. “As a head, I am quite used to people being frank to me.”
“Abberley is not at all the sort of school I thought it was.”
“Really,” I said, “and how have you found us today? And what did you used to think we were like?”
She then went on to say how friendly and warm she was finding it, how the children were energetic, lively and enjoying themselves, how the teaching staff were extremely approachable, open and how at ease the pupils and staff appeared to be with one another. The slightly informal, yet engaged atmosphere she had observed in lessons and at break time was not what she had been expecting.
It was my turn to be surprised.
“What had you thought we were like?” I asked her. It seems that she was expecting a tough, traditional, old-fashioned, boy-heavy, austere school where parents are kept at arms-length, tears frowned on, where the showers are cold and the Latin lessons long and frequent!
I was shocked because that is not the Abberley I know and always have known (I was a boy here in the early 1980s). It is a school which almost all Old-Abberleians look back on with great tenderness and happiness. I am always welcoming OAs back who tell me that their time here was the happiest time in their school lives. And why, I ask them? A sense of freedom, they often as not identify as the overriding memory. This is the magic ingredient, and one I will cling to as essential to our DNA.
We are blessed to have the site which we do; 90 acres of grounds, space and glorious views both west into Wales and east. We certainly make the most of these, with the children out and about at every opportunity, either playing in their free time, doing games, which we do five days a week, or doing Outdoor Education, which they do on the other day. Drop in on a summer or early autumn evening and you will see the place teeming with children doing all sorts: cricket nets, bee-keeping, playing tag, digging holes, tennis, touch rugby, or lazing on the Flag Pole Lawn chatting to each other amidst the rhododendrons before bedtime. It is a strong reminder of why it is so good to be young.
So, in a nutshell, we are a happy school, where our children are comfortable in their own skins, grounded and energetic. We are a busy school, and I make no apologies for cramming as much as we can into every day. We are a boarding school which welcomes day pupils, and it is our boarding ethos and structures which puts pastoral care at the front of our minds. Staff know every single pupil as an individual and put their happiness and welfare first. From that success flows. Every child is encouraged to find their ‘thing’ and give everything a go. We are a school of ‘doers’; it is the taking part that counts and not the end result.
I am thrilled by the success that this seems to bring. In our centenary year pupils have won an outstanding 52 different scholarships and exhibitions to senior schools. 12 of these have been academic awards, but also for music, art, drama, sport and Technology.