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Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 14th February 2020

Dear Parents,

The Year 8 and 8S boys have been cheerfully stoic this week as they have been sitting their mock exams. Even though, with honourable exceptions, we came out of the Common Entrance system a few years ago and haven’t looked back, we have retained exams for a number of reasons. One is that the boys need to be prepared for the public exams ahead of them in a few years, and it is much easier to face those exams happily and effectively if you have been carefully and gently prepared in advance. This training will come in the form of study skills and learning academic content, but also in the psychology of facing tests (as I mentioned last week) in a ‘high challenge, low threat’ way. Exams are also one way, and a good way – but not the only way – of assessing what someone knows, how they can think, how they can structure their answers, and how they can present their ideas within tight parameters. All of which are things that most of us have to do in the course of our working lives.

Charity Week fundraising; Year 7 Science

But we need to make sure that exams do not become the dominating feature of education. They can be one tool in our pedagogical kit, but we should guard against them being all we think about – i.e. a truly twentieth-century education. In a league table world, with a constant desire to rank things, exams are an easy but sometimes unimaginative way to assess what people can do. Again – they are one way, but not the only way. And the more I think about rankings in education the more uneasy I become. It took me a while to realise why ‘orders’ are called ‘orders’ – because historically the boys were publicly ranked in order of their marks in each subject, something abolished at NCS decades ago. Quite why you would want to humiliate young people by doing this, I don’t know. (As I’ve noted before, success does not have to be a zero sum game and there are scenarios when one can be performing perfectly well, but coming twentieth out of twenty is plausible just because the other nineteen are performing a little bit better – what does that do to one’s self-esteem?). Anyway, of course we don’t order the boys like that anymore and I firmly believe in having a culture where we do not constantly compare one another, especially along certain limited lines like exam results. All achievements, skills and positive qualities should be celebrated, without fetishizing just one sort.

Pre-Prep QED

As someone who spends quite a lot of time looking at application letters and CVs, I noted with interest a recent suggestion in the media that employers no longer look at the names, backgrounds and universities of their applicants. I got the first two immediately; but the third? The more I thought about it, the more I concurred that so many of the qualities we are looking for in our colleagues have little to do with the rank (there’s that word again) of the university they have been to. Don’t worry – I’m not going along totally with the suggestion, because there are many roles in life, certain kinds of teaching included, which require a decent academic grounding from decent people in decent institutions. But there are plenty of excellent people who navigate their success around the ‘traditional’ or straightforward routes that we have taken for granted over the past few decades. And the definition of the word ‘decent’ is very much open for negotiation, and it is the best form of that word that I am determined to pursue at New College School.

Have a relaxing and enjoyable half-term,

Matt Jenkinson

Person of the Week: Mary Somerville (1780-1872)

Artwork of the Week: ‘Pieta’ (1489-9) by Michelangelo (1475-1564)

Word of the Week: foible

Sport. As we arrive at the end of a very busy half term on the hockey pitches, I have the pleasure of reporting on the U13 first team and their endeavours at the IAPS regional tournament at Cheltenham College last week. After finding ourselves in a tough group with Hazelgrove, The Downs and The Elms we knew it would be tough to qualify for the cup and the quarter finals. However, after two wins and only one defeat in our group, we finished up in second place and in the quarter finals. Our next match was a very intense game and we were facing a very physical Bromsgrove School. We took the lead thanks to another captain’s goal from Fraser. After this we found ourselves camped in our own half after a Bromsgrove onslaught. With only minutes to go the opposition eventually scored to level the game and, despite a period of extra time, the two teams could not be separated. With our captain injured, the brave soul still stood up and led his team into a penalty shoot-out. Unfortunately luck was not on our side and we lost the shoot-out 2-0. Mr Morrison and I were extremely proud of the boys and we congratulate them on such a strong performance.

Also this week I have had the pleasure of taking the U7 teams for their first TAG rugby fixture against Windmill Primary. In four fantastic games of rugby we managed to score a great many tries and every boy played their part in recording two wins, one draw and only one defeat. A special mention must go to Eli, George T and Mustafa for their efforts, as all three boys showed particular skill in attack and defence.

Finally this week I have had two reports of boys working hard on their chosen sports outside school. Firstly Thomas H has achieved his “White Arrow Badge” in archery and is going to represent Wallingford Castle Archers team in the Oxford Indoor Junior Championships in March. Meanwhile Benedict has been competing in the South Regional Gymnastics Finals and he won the gold medal last weekend. Benedict now goes on to represent the region at the National Finals and the British Gymnastics Tumbling English Championships. Many congratulations to Benedict and please have a look at the video of his routine below. CB

Well done to Peter and Isaac who played on the Oxfordshire U9 Chess team at the English Primary Schools Chess Association Nine-Team Inter-County tournament in Twickenham. Oxfordshire were silver medallists, with both NCS boys playing very well, and Peter winning all of his games.

A big thank you to all the families who contributed cakes to this week's Charity Week cake sales. It has been a busy week of fundraising activities for Crisis Skylight, ranging from a lively Staffroom Globetrotters versus Year 8 basketball match organized by Xander, and rubber chicken toss led by Ben, to cake sales and dodgeball games. Once again the boys enjoyed a film, viewing the IMAX documentary Hubble, whilst munching popcorn made by Charity Reps and Mrs Showell-Rogers, to whom many thanks for coordinating such a successful and enjoyable week. Over £600 was raised in total.

Pre-prep had a wonderful QED Day (Question, Explore, Discover,) focusing on the theme ‘Up in the Sky’. The boys, once again, threw themselves into the day with a considerable degree of excitement. They enthusiastically completed an array of challenging skills in PE (eagerly collecting stickers upon completion of each) and participated in a wonderful Science Oxford workshop designing and launching their own ‘mousetronauts’ on a variety of launch pads. Reception made rice crispy cakes and participated in bubble maths in Computing. Year 1 made some very streamline paper planes and flew them in the playground and Year 2 designed and made egg-protecting pods which they tested out in the playground (fortunately with few eggy catastrophes!). It was an extremely busy, but fun and worthwhile day. Thank you to Mr Bradley and his wonderful team of Year 6 helpers. And a big thank you to the pre-prep staff for their enthusiasm and effort in making the day such a wonderful learning experience for the boys. Special thanks to Mrs Hitchings for her inspiration! RC

We are very much looking forward to the NCSPA Quiz on 28 February, hosted expertly by our resident question-masters, Professors Mackenzie and Timmel. Do get yourselves on a team – one that is not quite so good as the teachers’ team, preferably.

On 21 and 22 February, Miss Rose will be producing a new opera, The Gentlewoman, about the life and works of the 'concerto delle donne,' the three extraordinary virtuoso singers at the court of the d'Este at Ferrara in the late sixteenth century. Performances will take place at St. Mary Magdalen's Church at 20.00.

Parents’ evenings. Please find below a few dates for your diary. Unless otherwise stated, parents’ evenings begin at 18.00, though a few colleagues are usually available a little earlier if you would like to make a head start. Please arrive as early as practicable, and no later than 19.00, so we can finish the evenings by 20.00. If you have any issues that you think would require longer discussion than possible in a five-ish minute meeting, especially with form tutors, please do book a separate appointment.

26 February – Year 8

4 March – Year 5

11 March (17.30) – Pre-Prep

29 April – Music Teachers

Coronavirus. We continue to monitor the university’s website which advises on risks and precautions concerning coronavirus: http://www.ox.ac.uk/news-and-events/coronavirus-advice. The Foreign Office has advised against “all but essential travel” to mainland China and so we ask that anyone with plans to travel to China strongly considers cancelling their travel plans as boys who have travelled to these locations, or have been in contact with those who have, will not be permitted to return to school for 14 days after return to the UK, to cover the incubation period of the virus. While the risk of contracting coronavirus is small, we continue to remind the boys of the basic precautions to take to avoid spreading infections, including washing hands regularly and especially before eating.

Forthcoming Events

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Start of Half-Term

Monday, 24 February 2020

Return from Half-Term

MCS Academic Scholarship starts

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

10.30 U8 & U9 House Matches XC, Uni Parks

12.45 Year 8 Boys to CTL- return 15.30 (Intro to Rice to the Challenge Project)

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Abingdon Art and DT Scholarships

10.00 School Service, New College Chapel

Speaker: the chaplain. Coffee afterwards in the Undercroft for parents and visitors

13.00 U11 A Hockey vs St Edward's Festival, St Edward's

14.00 U13 A-D Hockey vs Dragon, Away

18.00 Year 8 Parents’ Evening, Sports Hall

18.15 Ash Wednesday Service, New College Chapel (collect from NCS 19.40)

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Abingdon Drama Scholarship

14.00 Year 4 trip to Book of Roger (Weston Library)

No after school chorister rehearsal or service

Friday, 28 February 2020

7.00 U11 A IAPS Hockey vs Haileybury, Away

14.00 U9 A-C Hockey vs Dragon, Away

19.30 NCSPA Quiz Night

Monday, 2 March 2020

Abingdon Academic Scholarship starts

14.00 U13 B-D Hockey vs CCCS, St Edward’s Astro

17.15 Junior Concerts Pt 1 (Yrs 3,4,5), School Hall. Drinks in HM Study at 17.00

18.15 Junior Concerts Pt 2 (Yrs 3,4,5), School Hall. Drinks in HM Study at 18.00

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Marlborough Academic Scholarship (optional papers at NCS)

13.00 U11 A&B Football vs Sibford, Away

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

9.00 Year 8 Boys to CTL - return 12.10 (Practical Work - Rice to the Challenge)

10.00 School Service, New College Chapel

Speaker: Oliver Wright, ordinand and former NCS pupil. Coffee afterwards in the Undercroft for parents and visitors

12.30 Eco Committee Meeting

14.00 U13 A&B Hockey vs Summer Fields, Away

14.00 U13 C&D Hockey vs Hatherop & Summer Fields, St Edward's Astro

14.30 ABRSM Grade 5 Theory exam, Dining Room

18.00 Year 5 Parents’ Evening, Sports Hall

Thursday, 5 March 2020

World Book Day

14.00 U11 House Matches XC, University Parks

Friday, 6 March 2020

Marlborough Academic Scholarship

14.00 U8 & U9 Hockey House Matches, Iffley

14.00 U7 A-C Tag Rugby vs Windmill, Home

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