Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 30th April 2021

Dear Parents,

There are themes that ebb and flow throughout the school year. But there is one that must be a constant: that of respect. It is something that has been on our minds especially at NCS this week as we encountered the life and work of Mary Wollstonecraft in Monday’s assembly, alongside the heterodox political views of John Milton, before hearing Dr Marietta Van der Tol, an expert in religious diversity, toleration, freedom and visibility, in chapel on Wednesday. Respect – or rather the absence of it – is something that has underpinned so many of the school-related stories that have been permeating the media over the past few weeks. Independent secondary schools, especially boys’ schools, or those schools that have relatively recently gone coeducational, have been at the forefront of this coverage – though as the weeks have gone on, we have encountered more reports which suggest that there are profound issues in a number of different arenas. The responses from schools, parents and teenagers themselves have been interesting, and I must say very welcome in bringing egregious behaviour out of the shadows, the better to excoriate it and hopefully vanquish it. This is all while, we sadly have to admit, we are facing a resurgence in toxic masculinity as part of an increasingly accepted form of social and political dialogue.

Library reading; Building electro-magnets; surveying the building works; Roast beef lunch courtesy of a former NCS pupil

In a school with pupils as young as four, and those only taking the first steps of adolescence as they leave in Year 8, it can be difficult to broach some of the subjects that we have all been exposed to in the media. But even schools like ours, perhaps especially schools like ours, should put in place the right behaviours from a young age which, all being well, lead to the correct behaviours later in life. If only it were as simple as this, and the reality is that we face a welter of factors that mean that good teaching (https://www.newcollegeschool.org/wellbeing-and-happiness), good habits, can be undermined by both internal and external influences. It is now par for the course for teachers, in their PGCE year, to learn some basic neuroscience, about the frontal cortex regions of the teenage brain, and how they interact (or don’t especially well in the developing brain) with the striatum, amygdala and hippocampus. I’m not going to pretend that I understand it all, or very much of it, only to say that I think I get the analogy that was put forward by Tony Little, former Headmaster of Eton: ‘The engine is powering away, but the selection of gears and indicators and use of the brake can appear randomly applied.’ I used to teach this to Year 8s in PSHCEE – now rightly rebranded Wellbeing – lessons, hoping that my bright young charges wouldn’t turn around and tell me ‘Aha! It’s not me doing the wrong thing, it’s my frontal cortex/striatum/amygdala/hippocampus’. It was a worrying development in pedagogical awareness that explained why young people sometimes did very stupid, and sometimes very wrong, things, but did not do a huge amount to help us guard against those things. If anything, as I say, it almost gave people an excuse. But this should not lead us to shrug in resignation.

Breaktime play and chats

It was a relief to read in the New York Times a few months ago about those countries and educational systems that have instead tried to develop a ‘culture of resistance to doing stupid things’ – thinking through safe dry-runs of certain situations, so there were right ingrained responses, well-worn neural pathways, for when real situations arose. Well, relief combined with a certain degree of scepticism: adolescents in China apparently had lower rates of risky teenage behaviour than their American counterparts; only two per cent of Indonesian teenagers reported that they had tried alcohol in the past month, compared to half of teenagers in Argentina. We have to wonder, of course, how many of the surveys’ respondents were telling the truth, and the extent to which – if they were – suppression of certain experiences merely made those experiences more attractive and led to a burst pressure valve situation a little later in life. Either way, this creation of ‘clear rules for decision-making’ or what are called ‘bright lines’ is vital, and really does need to start through habit from early in life. They should be bright lines based on how we view and therefore treat one another, whoever we happen to be. Grandstanding does not always make cultures better – it might bring short-term attention to an issue, but that attention can too quickly burn out. It is day-by-day actions that change culture: people standing up and stating what they will and won’t stand for. And that culture can only be created if we all, and I mean all, work together in the same direction.

Have a great weekend,

Matt Jenkinson

Congratulations to our Year 7 boys who have been awarded the following positions for the 2021-22 academic year: Headboy – Benedict; Deputy Headboys – Jasper and Timon; Huxley House Captains – Carter, Kian and Shivi; Reynolds House Captains – Paddy, Henry, Albie, Leo and James; Spooner House Captains – Harry and Luca; Wykeham House Captains – Patrick, Ben and Nahum.

Congratulations to Miss Harriet Cannell who has been appointed to a post in the junior school at Cokethorpe next year. There will be plenty of opportunities at the end of the term to thank her for her sterling service to our pre-prep, and to NCS in general. I am delighted to announce that we will be welcoming to Year 2 Mrs Hannah Hopkins who joins us from Chandlings Prep School, where she has taught Reception, Year 1 and Year 3, as well as being Head of Year 2. She has over twenty years of teaching experience, and she has also taught at Tanglin Trust School and United World College, both in Singapore. I am sure she will be made very welcome here at NCS.

Following our digital partnership project in Hilary, we have received the following message from Steven Rose, Executive Headteacher of Charlton Primary School and Millbrook Primary School: ‘Thank you for your generous gift to Charlton Primary School and Millbrook Primary School. We are thrilled to have your support. Through your donation we have been able to deepen our STEM curriculum, provide BBOX coding software and extend Millbrook’s Accelerated Reading Programme, all of which will play a significant part in helping move us closer to our goal of closing the digital divide within our community. Your donation has truly made a significant difference for us, and we are extremely grateful!’. I would like to extend my thanks to all members of the NCS community who so generously supported our digital partnership initiative, and to Mrs Brown for coordinating it.

We are very much looking forward to the NCSPA meeting on Monday 10 May at 19.00 via Zoom. Form reps will be in touch, if they haven’t already, to collate any items for discussion, while my colleagues and I are, as ever, very grateful for the financial support provided by the NCSPA for our projects.

Well done to the choristers who have been back in chapel singing evensong (Years 7 and 8) and vespers (Years 4-6) already this term. The Choir's YouTube channel and streamed services can be accessed via https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVcnwduEzSALq6s1L9cY9ww/playlists

Chapel speakers: this is the time of year that we turn our minds to inviting speakers for our chapel services on Wednesday mornings in Michaelmas. If you would like to speak in chapel (usually for around five minutes as part of our service), or you know anyone else who would be a suitable candidate, please do let me know on matthew.jenkinson@newcollegeschool.org.

Upcoming Events

Monday, 3 May 2021

School and bank holiday

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Deadline for ABRSM Music Theory exam entries

Deadline for ABRSM Practical exam entries

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

8.25 School council meeting

9.00 Chapel. Speaker: The Revd Dr Mel Marshall, Associate Chaplain, Merton College

Monday, 10 May 2021

9.00 Class Group photos

10.30 Year 7 workshop with Royal Observatory in Science lesson (Zoom)

19.00 NCSPA Meeting

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

8.30 Eco Committee Meeting

9.00 Chapel. Speaker: Mr Stephen Jones, Warden, St Edward's

Thursday, 13 May 2021

10.30 Year 5 workshop with Royal Observatory in Science lesson (Zoom)

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