Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 5th March 2021

At the turn of the millennium, John Carey – former Merton Professor of English and NCS parent from the 1980s – published Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books. Based on his Sunday Times column, Carey picked out fifty of the books that he had most enjoyed, while admitting that he had left out some big-name novels, and indeed some big-name novelists – the ones that he couldn’t in good conscience recommend to the young, impressionable, and easily put off reading. What I found particularly intriguing about his collection was not so much the choices themselves – trying to narrow down literary greats to fifty or a hundred is necessarily arbitrary and ends up being a bit of a navel-gazing parlour game if we are not careful. It was more Carey’s reflections on reading, and why we should read. During this week of World Book Day, when we celebrate books and reading in all forms, this is particularly relevant, though I concede I am preaching to the converted when it comes to defending reading. If this body of parents isn’t reading, and encouraging their children to read, then I don’t know which is.

World Book Day

Carey points out, though, that we are wrong to think ‘that what people gain from reading hardly needs spelling out’, ‘because if it were more obvious more people would read’. There are, of course, the hackneyed arguments against reading, with which we will all have been faced, quite often from those who point to television or cinema as quite acceptable alternatives to books for, say, opening our minds, getting lost in a plot, or learning about worlds beyond our own narrow ones. What makes reading different, argues Carey, is the mental process that goes on when decoding black dots on white paper, which is closely linked to ‘individual judgement’ and ‘the ability to empathise with other people’. It is those two qualities – individual judgement and empathy – that help to prop up our civilisation, our societies, and Carey suggests that the latter may be in danger if the former dwindle. So it is all very well me pointing out the oft-quoted arguments or statistics, about how those who read x books are y years ahead at school. Or those who have z books at home go on to universities a, b and c, and get good jobs which are both fulfilling and financially satisfying.

Andy Goldsworthy-inspired art

All of those things may well be, and probably are, true. But the value of reading needs to go a bit deeper than saying ‘if you read, then your future material life will be better’. There are, of course, the benefits and joys to be gained from reading well-written prose or poetry, from escaping from the day-to-day, from learning in the company of great writers through the ages. Carey reminds us, though, that honing our skills of individual judgement and empathy – and those of our pupils – help to keep societies functioning healthily. It would be an interesting experiment to track the reading habits of those members of societies where empathy has atrophied, where critical independent judgement has dwindled, and where populations are therefore more vulnerable to snake oil salesmen promising futures posited against ‘the other’, and where the words of such ‘leaders’ are accepted pretty much uncritically. My hunch is that the healthier societies, the healthier democracies, are those where reading is a high priority, where citizens delve into books to find alternatives to the ‘facts’ given to them from on high, and to the lifestyle and systems in which they may happen to find themselves. Our boys only need to walk up Holywell Street to find themselves at the Bodleian where only three and a half centuries ago books were being burned because they suggested alternative ways of running society and politics, which were uncomfortable (to put it mildly) to the leaders of the time. So while we celebrate World Book Day and its excitement, costumes, and competitions – and while we keep telling our charges that reading is good for their brains both intellectually and recreationally – we should keep our eyes on the bigger picture: that reading is what keeps our societies functioning healthily.

Have a great weekend,

Matt Jenkinson

Pre-Prep virtual instrumental concert; Street Tag

Congratulations to the following boys:


Ollie Platinum Commendation for achieving 400 House Points

Jack Platinum Commendation for achieving 400 House Points

Charlie Merit For a huge effort with his remote learning


Michael Merit For a spectacular description in an independently written story

Max Merit For impressive independence and high standard of work during remote learning

Max Merit For excellent determination, high standards and self-extension in Maths

Jack Merit For excellent work revising addition

Alex M Merit For excellent work in Maths and all-around dedication during remote learning

Tristan Merit For superb independence and determination during remote learning

Tristan Merit For excellent attitude and self-extension in Maths


Arjun Merit for an impressive effort in completing Pop Art drawings to a high standard.


Luca Merit For a detailed and objective essay on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in RSP

Ben Merit For a detailed and objective essay on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in RSP

Kian Merit For his research into renewal energy

We are very much looking forward to welcoming the boys back on site from Monday 8 March. All parents should have received our PDF guide to NCS’s return to on-site schooling for everyone from 8 March. Please note that the DfE states that from this date “pupils of compulsory school age must be in school unless a statutory reason applies.” A reminder, please, that on Monday Year 8/8S should arrive at 8am and go straight to the sports hall via the bifold doors, ready for their first Lateral Flow Test; then Year 7 should arrive at 8.30am and do the same.

We have received the following guidance from the DfE regarding the availability of Lateral Flow Tests for families: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/rapid-lateral-flow-testing-for-households-and-bubbles-of-school-pupils-and-staff?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_source=ca1c659b-95d6-490e-87c6-d6c09e85ecfb&utm_content=daily

Many thanks to all those who have been taking part in our World Book Day activities this week, even though these have largely been done remotely, and to all my colleagues who have come up with ingenious ways of keeping WBD going despite the restrictions of lockdown and remote learning. I hope that you have been enjoying Mrs Hess’s annual WBD Quiz; do please send your final scores to her at elizabeth.hess@newcollegeschool.org. Entries for all other WBD projects should be sent to lucy.gallagher@newcollegeschool.org.

My continued good luck and best wishes go to those Year 8/8S boys applying for senior school scholarships over the coming weeks. Covid-19 has meant that this has been more of a drawn-out process than in previous years, with some schools choosing to delay their scholarship processes, but I am hugely impressed with how the boys have taken all of this in their stride.

British Science Week runs from 5-14 March and despite the current restrictions in place we will still make sure we have plenty of fun demonstrations and activities in Science next week to celebrate! Your sons may also be interested in entering a poster competition that is being run by British Science Week. The theme is "Innovating for the Future". Please see the website for details: https://www.britishscienceweek.org/plan-your-activities/activity-packs/

StreetTag update: Well, the competition heats up another notch this week with Cable accelerating closer to 3rd place! A tight race remains for 4th place between Cable and sjc16 with only several hundred points between them. Magda1 has stormed ahead this week, her first week on the table. She is well poised to move into a top position – watch this space. Well done for Kelsey taking a big step up this week. Granny Showell-Rogers continues to hold tightly on to 1st place, passing 200k this week. Keep it up! Points: Today: 1,363,105; Thursday before Half-Term: 1,072,000. Team Members: Today: 63; Last Thursday: 62

The boys have one more week to submit entries for the school's Earthshot prizes. Please note the due date is Monday 15 March. Submissions may be uploaded to the VLE in the Wellbeing course (Yrs 3-8) or large file or Pre-Prep entries can be sent by email to caroline.showell-rogers@newcollegeschool.org. There will be a camera available next week during break times for boys who prefer to share their ideas orally. A written collection of the best entries will be shared with David Attenborough at the end of the competition. There is further information in the attachment.

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