Headmaster’s Blog 07.05.21

10th May 21

On ‘Super Thursday’, I set out before school to vote at my local polling station only to discover it was no longer there. For a moment or two, I was slightly nonplussed before gathering my wits and checking Google.  It had moved from St Vincent’s Primary School to the Marylebone Library in New Cavendish Street.  The more I thought about it the more I felt that this was a very good idea and why it had taken the pandemic to encourage us to realise that to sacrifice a day of schooling for young children was not on.  That is not to say that democracy is not precious and that sacrifices must be made to cherish it, but that principle allied with pragmatism often gets the very best outcome.  What better place than a public library, redolent of the opportunity to read and to think freely as it is, to be the location for the polling station? I was reminded of the importance of an open mind when I sat in on an English class in Year 7 this week.  The boys had the task of defending the actions of the indefensible Lady Macbeth, something they did with aplomb as they expressed their case built on the evidence of the play.  It was fantastic to hear their confidence and reasonableness in giving their speeches.

In the spirit of democratic discussion and fresh ideas, the School Council re-convened this week with the Juniors (Years 7-10) meeting on Wednesday. There was a very mature and constructive discussion of the co-curricular club provision and how to encourage boys to run the clubs as well as how best to establish a system for constructive, student-based feedback on lunch menus.  It is great to hear boys of different ages expressing their ideas and listening to each other to agree recommendations and to represent their tutor groups.  The Seniors (Year 11-13) are due to meet on Monday.

School was awash with colour today as boys took part in the charity mufti day.  Boys were encouraged to wear clothes in the colour of their Trib and seemed to enjoy the break from the routine. Looking ahead, rehearsals are underway for the Lower School Play, Unman, Wittering and Zygo, directed by Mr Hayes, which will premiere at the end of term.  Both Mr Hayes and Miss Twomey have been working very hard to devise ways in which the boys from different bubbles can take part in the play and I am very much looking forward to seeing the finished product.  In the meantime, though, all the best to the boys who have dedicated themselves to the production and are busily learning lines and rehearsing.

I also look forward to the reopening of pre and after-school sports club activities as we have been working hard to secure local facilities and additional games options but I will say more about the detail of that next week.

I hope you enjoy the weekend.

Headmaster’s Blog 30.04.21

3rd May 21

I was struck this week when reading the obituary of the US astronaut, Michael Collins, that he embodied an important message for us all about the nature of selfless service and dedication to the team. With Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin he flew 238,000 miles to the moon in 1969 but his duty was to pilot Columbia as it kept orbit at a distance of 60 miles over the moon whilst he waited for the lunar lander to return.  His was a lonely vigil of vital importance whilst the other two became icons of the modern age with their televised moonwalk.  Collins’ seniority and experience meant he was selected for the least glamorous but most important job of all – getting them home safely.

Service is an important aspect of life at Wetherby Senior.  I have been delighted to read applications and recommendations from boys in Year 12 who aspire to be prefects at the School.  The standard has been fantastic and a reminder of how much those boys – and boys generally – have been contributing to the broader community without expectation of recognition or reward.  Boys have been tutoring younger boys in various curriculum subjects and acting as peer mentors to provide friendly advice and support for younger boys.  Boys are on the youth board of the Votes for Schools current affairs programme, and are Financial Times ambassadors and are increasingly looking to lead clubs and societies.

Another aspect of service involves giving back to the community at large.  There are a number of charity initiatives for boys to support this term. Next Friday, 7th May, is a Mufti Day – where boys can wear home clothes in Trib colours – more details are outlined below. The proceeds will go to the School’s two main charities, chosen through the School council, Steel Warriors and United World Schools (UWS). Wetherby Senior is also supporting the West London Mission’s 5k ‘Run for Heroes’. This will run (no pun intended!) throughout the month of May and again I have asked the boys to join many of the staff in taking part to raise money for a very worthy cause.  West London Mission, based in Marylebone, care for some of the most vulnerable and needy in the neighbourhood. As you know, community is a core value at the School so it is a great opportunity to demonstrate that in practice.

Wishing you all the best for the bank holiday weekend.

Headmaster’s Blog 23.04.21

26th April 21

I was delighted to welcome the boys back to school on Tuesday for the start of the summer term. They were looking refreshed and well rested after the Easter holidays and ready for the busy term ahead. Although the news in the media remains positive and the country begins to gradually exit lockdown it is important that we continue to adhere to the guidelines and the boys maintain their bubbles, take care when moving around the school and continue to wear masks. The Department for Education has stressed the importance that boys continue to self-test at home using the LFD test kits and I am very grateful to you for your support in conducting these.

Our Lower Sixth boys returned to begin their scheduled examinations.  I have been impressed with the manner in which they have conducted themselves throughout the week, displaying both maturity and a sense of purpose. The importance of these exams should not be underestimated as the boys start thinking about the next stage in their education and planning their university applications in the autumn term. What has become evident during the pandemic over the last year is that consistent hard work is vital and this will stand the boys in good stead.

Our Upper Sixth boys continue to receive some fantastic university offers including Mathematics at Imperial, and History, Psychology and Mathematics at UCL. Boys applying to universities in the USA have also received some great offers from Georgetown, Northeastern, University College San Diego and Bucknell. It is gratifying to see the boys’ ability and potential recognised by prestigious universities both here and abroad.

Today sees the launch of the Marcos Burnett photography competition with this year’s theme of ‘Spring’.  The competition, which is always very popular and generates a high calibre of photographs, is in memory of our fondly remembered former pupil, Marcos, whose life was cut so tragically short by the Italian earthquake of 2016.  Marcos, a lovely boy and a real live wire, was passionate about photography and about nature and this competition honours his memory.

We also congratulate Mr Andre Astbury-Palmer, our Head of Maths, on winning the ISA remote teaching award in the STEM category. This showcased a video of one of his remote lessons from last term and demonstrated a high degree of interactivity and live feedback. Well done Mr Astbury-Palmer!

I hope you enjoy the weekend and the spring sunshine.

Headmaster’s Blog 26.03.21

29th March 21

The importance of respecting others has been a recurring theme of my assemblies over my time at the School.  It was one of the key values that the boys and staff identified when the Values Wheel was designed a couple of years ago and it is something that visitors to the School often commented on.  A conversation that began with the first set of anti-bullying ambassadors, the importance of being an ‘upstander’ and speaking out when you see another person being treated with disrespect and unkindness, has grown over the course of this week to make it clear that as a community we should be ‘upstanders’ when we encounter racist or misogynistic behaviours or any other discrimination against minorities and those with protected characteristics.

I mentioned in my newsletter a couple of weeks ago that we had conducted a survey through an organisation called Flair to give us a better understanding of how this important issue impacts on our community, to help us identify the areas of this complex issue that the boys need our help to understand, and what we can do to ensure we are not just a community that is tolerant and accepting of others, but is anti-racist and actively working to challenge these views. I was very pleased when we received the results of the survey.  Not only did we have one of the highest returns that the organisation had seen, strongly suggesting that the boys and staff want to engage actively with this issue, but also that the community embraces its diversity, that the vast majority of our non-white British students do not feel that their ethnicity makes them feel less included at school and that students across the year groups feel confident talking about issues surrounding race.  It also identified that boys need help understanding micro-aggression and need strategies to help them challenge racist behaviour.

Those of you who regularly read the newsletter will know about the work that the School has done with Beyond Equality (formerly Great Men) as part of our vision to help the boys face the challenges of being a young man in the 21st century.  What began with workshops has grown into a project that has seen them working with us on the PSHE programme, complemented by the Great Men Lecture Series coordinated by Miss Eaves.  The recent tragic murder of Sarah Everard, the testimony of former female pupils of many other schools, has meant that we as a School are bringing this same approach as we are with racism to sexism and misogyny. The School’s stance on disrespectful unkind behaviour has, I hope, always been clear but I am pleased that we are going to be working with the boys to give them the confidence to be anti-bullying, anti-racist and anti-sexist and feel ready to make a positive influence on the School community and more widely.  I hope you will join us in challenging these views and tackling the difficult questions that your sons may have.

I hope that you have a good weekend.

Headmaster’s Blog 19.03.21

22nd March 21

As I said last week, I have been very impressed with the manner in which Year 11 and Year 13 have approached their work and I was delighted to be informed that Year 11 have managed an outstanding week – no late preps and no red notes.  I am so pleased that they have responded to this difficult situation by taking responsibility and recognising that they still need to work hard to provide us with the evidence that shows they are eligible for the top grades.  The School is alert to updates from Ofqual and please be reassured that the focus throughout will be doing the best that we can for the boys in those year groups.  Equally, as we saw with last year’s GCSE and A Level sets, the boys should not make assumptions about grades that will be given and should continue to work through to the end of the course.

Something I have enjoyed seeing as the School has matured is the number of boys who are prepared to take on responsibility for improving the school and its community.  Following on from the success of our first anti-bullying ambassadors, who had the challenge of promoting an anti-bullying stance via Teams, seven Year 10 boys attended online training yesterday provided by the Diana Award. Miss Murray remarked that they were great representatives for the School; the trainer was very impressed by their understanding of bullying behaviours and their articulate and sensitive answers. I know that she was very proud of them! They are setting a wonderful example of leadership and promoting a sense of community.

They will be working over the year to implement strategies and ideas for anti-bullying behaviours in School. They have already come up with some great ideas including training teachers about cyber-bullying, Feel-good Fridays, Ambassador working lunches, videos to highlight bullying behaviours and creating a student-friendly anti-bullying policy.  Watch this space!

The sensitivity and the positive engagement that these boys showed with the issue of bullying has also been in evidence in the discussions that have taken place this week around the difficult topic of violence against women and how we can find solutions.  All boys in Years 7 to 13 have had age appropriate lessons on this topic and the tutors have been very impressed with sensible suggestions and the mature approach they have shown.

I am very pleased with the way all the boys have returned to school and that on our return the key threads of the School’s vision – that they make the most of the opportunities to grow academically and as people – are still central to what the boys are doing here.

Have a good weekend

Headmaster’s Blog 12.03.21

15th March 21

There has been such a positive atmosphere in the School this week and we have enjoyed welcoming the boys and staff back.  The good humour of the boys as we settle back in has almost erased the memory of the last few weeks of lockdown.  A particular mention goes to the Year 11 and 13 who have returned to assessments to help build the evidence we need for the summer.  There have been many comments about the professional and serious way they have approached them and I am very impressed by their positive response to the unusual circumstances.  All in all, it is good to be back.

Of course, whilst in almost every way the School has settled back to normal this week, we have continued to test in the new location of the drama studio.  The boys have become old hands at it and it has continued to work smoothly.  This is in no small part down to the squad of parent volunteers who have processed swabs and recorded results with enthusiasm.  I am so grateful to them all for giving up their time to help with this.  It has given the staff the chance to focus on settling the boys and delivering the lessons which is so important after their time away.  Thank you all – not every Head and school are so fortunate.

In spite of the challenges of finishing their school career in such unusual circumstances I am pleased that the UCAS offers continue to come in.  Since we returned Year 13 pupils have received offers from Bath, UCL, Durham and Queen Mary, including the second medicine offer in the School’s history.  That the boys are picking up offers from such competitive institutions in such a challenging year is a testament to them.

We have marked International Woman’s Day in assembly today.  In recent weeks Year 10 and 11 have had workshops from Beyond Equality (formerly known as The Great Men Initiative) and several boys from those year groups chose young female role models whom they admire and presented about them to the School.  Before the end of term, the boys will have a talk from a positive male role model, Willem Marx, a foreign correspondent for NBC News, as part of the Great Men Lecture Series that was cut off after one session by the pandemic.   Actively challenging bias and stereotypes will be something I return to as we have recently received the results of the survey the School carried out to reveal the community’s understanding of the issues that surround race. The survey results underscore the strength and understanding that has grown in our multi-cultural community and has identified ways in which we can help boys respond to racism when they encounter it and understand the nuances of this important topic.

Headmaster’s Blog 05.03.21

8th March 21

Another unusual week in the life of the School with a COVID testing centre set up in Hannah House hall.  Thanks to the planning of Mr Lawrence and his team and the hard work of staff and parent volunteers, all boys who opted for one have had a lateral flow test and I am pleased to announce that none have been positive.  All agreed it was good to see boys back in the school again, even if it was only for around half an hour, and we are looking forward to welcoming all back to school on Monday morning. When not teaching or testing the staff have been busy this week sprucing up the School ready for the boys’ return – staple guns and backing paper have become highly prized possessions!

We will be following the same procedures as we did in the Autumn Term with boys working in their bubbles for the most part, the exception being classes that require specialist facilities. They will also be required to wear face masks in classrooms and as they move around the School.  We will ensure that all classrooms and communal areas are well-ventilated and that hand sanitiser is available throughout the School.  The boys will also be given a reminder about social distancing and the importance of following our procedures on Monday morning.

I am very pleased that we will have a musical accompaniment to our return.  On Tuesday evening you will be able to view the Spring concert on YouTube.  This will be combination of the Brass Bash and the Spring Recital.  The programme will consist of solo and ensemble performances, including the Brass Band, SuperBrass (the Year 7 Brass Band), the Year 7 String Quartet, the Guitar Ensemble and many more outstanding musical performances by the boys. All performances including the brass band were put together virtually.

With best wishes, Seth

Head’s Blog 26.02.21

1st March 21

Dear parents,

I am sure you are pleased, as I am, that the boys will be returning to School in the week beginning 8th March.  We appreciate that lockdown life is challenging for families and learning online can be difficult for the boys but, as we approach the end, thank you again for all you have done to support the boys and the school during this time.  Your help following up work, encouragement of your sons and the kind emails you have sent are much appreciated and we look forward to getting back to work under the new normal in the next couple of weeks.

Whilst the focus in the media is on the logistical challenges, we must remember that the return to School is about so much more than those things that we have to do over the next few weeks.  I have spoken to the boys this afternoon about the importance of rekindling the things that make Wetherby such a warm and welcoming community even though the way in which we have to operate puts barriers in the way of some of our usual interactions.  Even with the testing that will need to continue in the first and second week of our return, I hope we can quickly start to move towards the warm, collegiate school that is a big part of who we are.

I hope that you enjoy the weekend.

With best wishes, Seth

Head’s Blog 12.02.21

14th February 21

And so we come to the end of the half term.  I very much hope the boys and staff enjoy their week away from their computers.  I have been impressed again by the boys’ resilience and hard work, particularly from the examination years as they have added uncertainty to deal with; Ms Bainbridge has written to Year 11 and 13 parents today with an update but we will not know more until Monday 22nd February.  I am also grateful for the continued commitment of the staff and for your support with keeping the boys focused.

One of the events we are missing this week would have been the second Diversity Day.  The School Council had been planning this event and this afternoon’s assembly would have been based on it.  I was pleased to learn that Faaris and Max from Year 12 have contributed to the conversation on Diversity as part of the Votes for Schools Youth Advisory Board.  Votes for Schools is used in some of our PSHE lessons to structure debate around important issues.  The focus of the meeting was diversity and black history in examinations and internet safety and the results of the conversation are being passed to The Black Curriculum and the National Cyber Security Centre.  It is very impressive that the boys have been selected for this and that they are playing such an active role in these important conversations.

We are very lucky to work in such a diverse community and, as such, we feel it is important not only to be non-racist but anti-racist in our approach.  To that end, we are now working with Flair to gather data from boys and staff to gain a greater understanding of how inclusive we are and what we can do to continue to move forward with this complex issue.

Finally, the latest issue of the Barometer is out today. Boys from all year groups are welcome to submit articles and I encourage them to do so.  Last week I spoke about the importance of reading as a break but penning an article for The Barometer would also be a good use of the half term.  This edition also includes the fourteen best entries from the Lockdown Cooking Competition.  I have been following the posts in the Team over the last few weeks and I am delighted that so many boys chose to take part.  I really enjoyed seeing boys asking each other online where they can buy a particular type of olive oil, reminiscences about cooking with family members and boys trying cooking for the first time.

So for those of you who would like a break from the kitchen this weekend, your sons now have no excuse not to step up!

With best wishes, Seth

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