Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 15th October 2021
Wednesday was a very special day for the NCS community. It was our annual ‘admission to the foundation’ service in chapel, during which all of our new boys and colleagues were formally ‘admitted’ into the New College foundation by the Warden, who you will know is both the head of New College and the chair of the school’s governors. Though this might sound all terribly formal – and, yes, there was a smattering of Latin – it is actually a happy and heartwarming welcome ceremony, in which we get to combine tradition and looking forward. It is those youngest boys who were ‘admitted’ on Wednesday, after all, who will be going off to their senior schools in 2030, their universities in 2035, and the world of work from 2038 onwards. I’ve just scared myself with those dates; I hope I haven’t scared you.
One of the distinctive features of NCS is its balance of history and progression. I was pleased that this was noticed in one of our recent national reviews: ‘Despite being one of the oldest continually functioning schools in the world, New College School is decidedly modern,’ it read. The bits of tradition we do like – the odd bit of ceremony, the occasional gown, the aforementioned touch of Latin – are there to remind us of the privilege of our history, the importance of strong foundations, but they are not there to bind us to that history nor to suffocate us in 640 years’ worth of dust. The dangers of ossification and blind obedience to the past are laid bare in the 1968 film If, directed by Lindsay Anderson. If you haven’t yet seen it, please don’t watch it until the boys have gone to bed. Its final scene begins with an old boy’s speech at a boarding school prizegiving: ‘It’s a very sad thing, but today it is fashionable to belittle tradition. The old orders that made our nation a living force are for the most part scorned by modern psychiatrists, priests, pundits of all sorts. But what have they got in their place, hmm? … I know the world has changed a great deal in the past fifty years – But England – our England doesn’t change so easily. And back here in College today I feel – and it makes me jolly proud – that there is still a tradition here which has not changed, and by God, it isn’t going to change! It’s up to all of you chaps to give the world a lead. It is Britain’s tradition that you have learnt here. Self-reliance, service, self-sacrifice. A tradition of College. And it’s up to all of us to reassure the world by our unquestioning obedience, that we still hope …’.
At that point the speech breaks off. I won’t tell you what happens next, but it doesn’t end well for those begowned characters embodying the unchanging ‘English’ values of which the old boy was speaking. I am, of course, not advocating the kind of things that happen in If – even if the film does provide a stonking quotation for a newsletter – but it does serve to remind us not to get stuck, not to become too obsessed by what we used to do, but to move forward openly and judiciously to make ourselves, and our school, a better place year on year. In short, we value and enjoy looking back, but we do so at the right times and in the right ways, such that we don’t stop looking forward too.
Have a great weekend,
Please note a slight change to the arrangements for charity week next week: our home clothes day will be on Thursday 21 October (instead of Friday 22 October) because on the Friday we will be going over to College for the triennial inspection of the city walls. Please could you spread the word via Whatsapp class groups, on the slim chance that some parents haven’t read this far down the newsletter?
A huge well done to Mr Bishop who completed one hundred press-ups at breaktime today, to go towards the four thousand he is doing, along with his son, over the course of October. Mr Bishop and his son are raising money to support children who have experienced the death of a parent serving in the British Armed Forces: Scotty’s Little Soldiers. The boys donated one or two pounds as Mr Bishop completed his press-ups; the rest of the school joined in the final ten!