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Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 8th January 2021

I mentioned on Wednesday the idea that we are all living through history, and a kind of history that we really would not like to be part of. Little did I know that, within just a few hours of my message going out, we would be witnessing even more history across the Atlantic. Irrespective of one’s personal political views, I think it is fair to say that there are some core principles about how our societies, our democracies, run. And I hope that our boys never have to see the kind of scenes that we saw streaming on Wednesday evening outside and inside the US Capitol. Half of me thinks that the boys should not see those scenes, that they should be protected from them; the other half of me thinks that the boys should indeed see what has been happening, to see what happens if certain fundamental principles are not valued and protected.

When the British government brought in a policy of all schools teaching ‘fundamental British values’ (tolerance of different cultures and religions, mutual respect, individual liberty, democracy, and the rule of law) there were a good number of people who criticised the policy. This was, in part, because it seemed silly to call them ‘British’ when they were not just British, but shared by many, many other political systems. It was also because there was the argument that certain ‘British values’ should be absorbed by osmosis, that curriculum time was already tight, so why should we devote that time to values that should be naturally picked up from parents, the media, or whichever other influence pupils encountered in their day-to-day lives? The cause was not helped by those schools who promoted ‘British values’ by colouring in London buses or drawing Union Flags. But ever since those birth pangs of the ‘fundamental British values’ policy, I have become more and more convinced that – yes – we do need to use our education system to inculcate certain values, certain liberal democratic values, in our pupils. The future belongs to them, and if we do not explain and promote how healthy liberal democracies work, then quite frankly we end up with the kinds of scenes we saw in the US this week.

Again, this is not a commentary on the policies of individual political parties. It is a defence of how democracies function, and how we respect core principles like the rule of law. It is a defence of truth, evidence, due process, and all the other things that make up a principled and healthy society. It is a defence, too, of education systems and media cultures where critical thinking is encouraged and lies and conspiracy theories resoundingly debunked. There are all manner of pressures on society at the moment, with some extraordinary points of tension that we are all experiencing. We often hear the phrase ‘build back better’, but that surely cannot happen unless there are some core values on which we all agree.

To return to my point about living through history: those who know a fair amount about history, and many of those who don’t, know there are certain episodes from history that we do not want to re-live. Mark Twain is reputed to have said that ‘History never repeats itself but it rhymes’. There is a big question mark over whether this quotation did indeed come from Twain, but that is not the important point here. The important point is that the events of the past few days rhyme alarmingly with other episodes in history which I hope, for everyone’s sake, never have to be experienced again. This is a difficult week. We are all dealing with some extraordinary physical, mental and emotional pressures. But we also have to maintain perspective, keep our eyes on a brighter horizon. That horizon will only be brighter if, amidst all our remote learning, we instil in our pupils core values that transcend the irritations of Zoom or the VLE, of life not being as normal as we would like it. This short period will pass; let’s all work to make sure that the most negative points of the period pass quickly too.

Have a great weekend,

Matt Jenkinson

Congratulations to the following boys:

YEAR 3

Jack Merit for his outstanding composition in Year 3 Music

Hugo Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House points

Henry Silver commendation for achieving 200 House points

Henry Merit for writing an excellent booklet about Ancient Sumerian farming

Eli Silver commendation for achieving 200 House points

Eli Merit for his outstanding composition in Year 3 Music

George Merit for his outstanding composition in Year 3 Music

YEAR 4

Myles Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House Points

YEAR 5

James Merit for excellent reviewing and improving in piano studies

James Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House Points

Herbie Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House Points

Thomas Merit for excellent poetry writing

Thomas Merit for excellent leadership in Year 5 Folk Music composition

Thomas Silver commendation for achieving 200 House Points

Jake Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House Points

Eddie Merit for an outstanding piece of description of an enchanted wood

Eddie Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House Points

Mark Merit for excellent poetry writing

Vedant Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House Points

Alexander Silver commendation for achieving 200 House Points

Jacob Merit for his excellent contribution to Year 5 Folk Music and composition

Jacob Silver commendation for achieving 200 House Points

YEAR 6

Finley Silver commendation for achieving 200 House Points

Josh Silver commendation for achieving 200 House Points

Alexander Silver commendation for achieving 200 House Points

Rishaan Silver commendation for achieving 200 House Points

Tolly Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House Points

Max Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House Points

Finn Silver commendation for achieving 200 House Points

Edward Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House Points

Ashwin Silver commendation for achieving 200 House Points

Didrik Merit for excellent work in piano studies

Isaac Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House Points

Benji Bronze commendation for achieving 100 House Points

Benji Merit for committed independent work in French on Memrise

YEAR 7

Nahum Merit for committed independent work in French on Memrise

Luca Merit for an excellent empathetic account in RSP

Ben Merit for his work on chemical reactions in Science

YEAR 8/8S

Leo Merit for a sophisticated epistemological account in RSP

Joseph Merit for a sophisticated epistemological argument in RSP

Nat Merit for his excellent contributions to the French Puzzle Newsletter

Nat Merit for providing a well-researched and sustainably sourced seafood menu in Geography

Many thanks for your extraordinary patience and support as we enter this second period of remote learning. As you will appreciate, the government’s policies changed at rather short notice, but I am very proud of the way in which pupils, colleagues and parents have once again moved so nimbly to keep the boys learning and in touch with one another. I have had the pleasure of observing (and teaching!) a good number of Zoom lessons this week, as well as the online form times. As I mention above, this is a difficult period for a lot of people, but by taking one day at a time and keeping connected and learning, we will do all we can to make the most of it. We have had one or two queries about fees; these are set by the school’s governing committee and, as you will appreciate, amidst the policy changes of the past week, they have not yet had a chance to meet to discuss the implications of this period of remote learning. There is still uncertainty as to how long this period of remote learning will last, which may well impact any decisions. We will be in touch with further information as soon as we can.

Obviously a good number of events, exams and auditions will necessarily be affected by the lockdown. We are beginning to hear from senior schools about their plans, and those schools will also be corresponding with the relevant parents directly. Our Zoom parents’ evenings will go ahead as planned. We will take a view as term progresses about how workable certain in-house events would be online, or whether it would be better to postpone them, and of course we will keep parents updated about these as the term progresses. We would rather be flexible rather than dogmatic at this stage, and in this current period of uncertainty.

Many thanks to all those who have donated to support the NCSPA after their fantastic efforts in helping to keep the boys Christmassy and entertained at the end of last term. The link is https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ncspa-christmas-activities if any parents still wish to make a donation.

As with our last lockdown, we would love to include photographs of the boys engaging with their remote learning over the next few weeks. Do please send pictures to jemma.kilkenny@newcollegeschool.org.

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