Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 11th June 2021

Dear Parents,

About fifteen years ago I thought I would learn to play golf. My first session went fairly well, with a few golf balls going in the right direction, and a not-too-embarrassing number of air shots. Maybe I was a natural, I thought. During my second lesson I got a little bit worse: the ratio of drives to air swings was drifting out of my favour. By my third lesson I was even worse still. There was no fourth lesson, nor is there likely to be. (Which does, I concede, leave me out of the serried ranks of golfing headmasters who seem to populate the independent sector.) Clearly I was going in the wrong direction, even though I was spending more time ‘practising’. I was 9,997 hours short of Malcolm Gladwell’s magic number for true expertise; actually I was 10,003 hours short, and that number was going in the wrong direction. Although I was spending time on ‘practising’, I was doing it wrong. More time, more work, did not necessarily make me any better; if anything, shoddy technique and flimsy basics made me worse and worse. ‘Time’ is not necessarily ‘time well spent’.

This is a concept at the forefront of our minds at the moment, as we come to the end of this week, the final push in the senior boys’ learning over the past year. While we do believe in working hard – and I suspect there have been a few discussions in Year 5-8 households over the past few weeks about what ‘working hard’ means – I am a big believer in working well. There is no point slogging over something in an inefficient way if that time could be better spent learning more effectively and efficiently, freeing up time for self-care, relaxation, and developing broader interests. Just a couple of weeks ago the Cambridge data scientist and pedagogue Vaughan Connolly published his article ‘Can Less Be More? Instruction Time and Attainment in English Secondary Schools: Evidence from Panel Data’ in the London Review of Education. While Connolly’s data came primarily from the secondary sector, there were some potential lessons that could be applied to all education settings: ‘Robust estimates suggest that instruction time has a small effect on attainment … vis a vis instructional time, sometimes less might be more’. I.e., as with my golf lessons above, it was the quality of what was being done through the instruction (and its reception) that mattered rather than the minutes on the clock. I don’t know if that’s a salve to the government at the moment, as they do the hokey-cokey with suggestions for more lesson time, or the same amount of lesson time, and who might pay for/do it.

Measurements in Year 3 Maths; Cricket vs the Dragon; Puzzles in Reception; Break time games; iPad Maths in Year 2

Anyway, as I mention above, this Year 5-8 assessment week has been the final push at the end of an unusual year, and I am extremely proud of the way in which the boys have applied themselves. The longer the Covid situation goes on, the more important it becomes that a sense of ‘normality’ is kept, as much as we can, with the boys’ education. It is also important for us to keep an eye on the boys’ progress as we plan for the ‘join’ when the boys go up a year in just a few months. I am not naïve enough to think that it will have been the most thrilling few weeks of the boys’ lives – though if we can teach them to actively enjoy assessments that will stand them in good stead for the next several years of their lives – but I do hope that it was time well spent. By which I mean: not time spent for the sake of it, or in the questionable belief that more necessarily equals better.

Have a great weekend,

Matt Jenkinson

Our virtual open morning is tomorrow (12 June from 10.00) via Zoom. Please do pass on the booking form to anyone you think might be interested in joining our wonderful community: https://www.newcollegeschool.org/open-day-booking. New College Choir also have a virtual open morning on Saturday, please see https://www.newcollegechoir.com/choristerships.

Having tempted fate a few weeks ago, and seemingly single-handedly caused a wash-out during May by asking parents to prepare their sons for hot weather, please could I remind parents once again to ensure that their sons come to school slathered in sunscreen, and with hats and water bottles? Cue the umbrellas …

Like everyone else, we are watching in anticipation for the government’s decision about the proposed 21 June reopening. Again, like everyone else, we are expecting this date to be pushed back, which will have an inevitable impact on some of our proposed end-of-term events. We will be in touch as and when we know more, and we are working in the background on Plan B (C? D? E?) so we can do what we can, especially for our leavers, within government guidelines and with a keen eye for public health.

From Mrs Hitchings: Equipment needed for budding architects of the future! If you are looking to find a good home for boxes of small building bricks or shapes which can be used for imaginative play, the Pre-Prep Chill and Challenge Club would be very grateful for them. We are looking for Jenga bricks, tessellation shapes, marble runs, blocks and shapes whether they fit together or not, for a group of boys who love to build and design. All donations gratefully received either in the school office or by Mrs Cox at the gate in the morning.

From Mr Bishop: What a fantastic week back at school after the half term break with bright sunshine, hard cricket pitches and some excellent play from the boys. With the younger boys taking a break from matches this week it was the turn of the U12s and U13 boys to play and, indeed, shine. First off this week was Ethan’s first team and once again he did a fantastic job as captain. He led his team superbly, setting very attack-minded fields to ensure his bowlers had the best chance of taking wickets. His bowlers certainly repaid this hard work with some brilliant performances, in particular Jack R who was outstanding with the ball as he used his hostility and aggressive pace to take 2 wickets for only 9 runs from his 3 overs. Jack is now our leading wicket taker in the team and he backed this up with a simply brilliant run out after hitting the stumps with a direct hit that left everybody open mouthed in admiration! This performance was backed up by everybody in the field and the NCS team worked very hard to restrict the Dragon to 89 runs all out. With the bat, however, we still need a little more time to perfect our shots and to try to tame our desire to smash everything! This slightly rash approach to batting saw us lose wickets too regularly and the team fell agonizingly short of the target set. I have no doubt the boys will learn from this and I look forward to seeing them in action again next week.

In the U12 fixture we batted first and Harry D quickly set about scoring very freely and it wasn’t long before he found the boundary. After some resistance from Jasper who amassed 15 runs himself, Harry was joined by captain Patrick and the two boys put on a masterclass of hard, controlled hitting. Both boys managed 50 not out with Patrick even hitting 2 sixes on his way to the magical 50. Chasing 153 the Dragon were certainly up for the fight and the first 2 batsmen certainly hit some impressive shots before they were removed. Our fielding and bowling were both controlled and well-disciplined and the boys showed maturity in not reacting to the odd boundary. They stuck to a plan and executed it brilliantly. Patrick S again put on a fantastic display in taking 4 wickets for just 1 run in his 2 overs. But he was backed up by Carter who was accurate as he took a wicket for just 8 runs from 2 overs, as did Albie and Luca who both deserve great credit for the way they bowled this week. In the end it was a dominant win by the NCS team and we very much look forward to Summer Fields next week.

In other cricket-related news this week. I am really pleased to be able announce that 3 NCS boys have been selected to represent Oxfordshire. To have county players in the school is a great honour. Patrick S, Harry D (Year 7) and Xander S (Year 4) have been selected in the U12 and U10 squads respectively. They will represent Oxfordshire in competitive fixtures throughout the summer. We wish them all well and I look forward to reporting back on their progress.

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