Headmaster, Jonathan Standen's, regular newsletter to parents. Mr Standen talks about his vision for the school, new initiatives and latest news.
What a start to the week it was, when our senior rugby squad returned from the Millfield 7s on Sunday as runners up. This is a fabulous achievement, and I would like to thank our hardy travelling parents who braved the miserable weather conditions to travel to Somerset in support of the team. Along the way to the final Plymouth College beat Millfietd Ists and 2nds, and Bryanston, before coming runners up to Blundell's in the final. Last week ended on a similar high with our Gala Concert, held at the school. The St Dennis Band combined with our students for a second successive year, putting on an uplifting concert, showcasing a range of talents. Well done to David Green and to Darren Hawken, who conducts the St Dennis Band, and to our students for their performances. This Saturday we look forward to welcoming Year 6 students to the College for their entrance exams. There has been a significant upturn in applications, and over 70 students will take the exam.
Great news too from Fencing at the weekend: in the South West county Qualifier for the British Youth Championships taking place in Sheffield during the Bank Holiday weekend 29th-30th Aprll • - 1 st May. Plymouth College was represented with 15 fencers in eight categories for both genders and, with the exception of U14 boys, we will have Plymouth College representatives in each age-group fencing at the finals. Starting with the girls; in the U 18 category, Catherine Bishop claimed second place and qualified, Tia SimmsLymn got a bye. A gold medal for Taylor Foxwell-Moss in the U16 event with Emma Andrews and Katie Miles joint third place meaning that they all qualified, together with Georgina Mitchell. Abagael Black U14 and Martha Miles U12 both qualified in true style by winning golds as well.
In the boys event Tomas Maksimovic qualified third in the U 18 category and Leon Payton qualified in the U12 category winning a silver medal. Ben Andrews was given a bye for the U16 category. Following a successful run of international performances in Austria, Denmark, France and Luxembourg, Ben is now ranked No.l in Great Britain (UI 7). With another year to go in his current age category Ben has exceeded expectations and is the only Cadet on the British Team to have achieved a top 32 finish at all the international competitions nominated by British Fencing in the 2016-2017 season, the only British fencer to have done so this year, With a highest ranking of 13th at international level Ben's official European ranking is 40th in the UI 7's. This puts him in a great position for the European Championships which take place in the last week of February in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, for which he is one of only four chosen to represent Great Britain in the Mens (UI 7) Epee. Congratulations to all our Fencers and their coaches, Michal Janca and Pete Barrett, on these excellent results.
Today is Jon Rudd's last day as Director of Swimming at Plymouth College, and it was a fitting tribute to his work in the city with us and Plymouth Leander to see him awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Sport award at last night's Herald Sports Awards. Andy Banks, the driving force behind diving in Plymouth won the Sports Coach of the Year award, along with Marc Holdsworth, also from Plymouth Diving. Tom Daley OPM picked up the Champagne Moment of the Year. Ben Proud OPM, Kerenza Bryson OPM and Victoria Vincent (Yearl 1) also received nominations.
I am delighted to announce that Robin Armayan will succeed Jon Rudd as Director of Swimming for Plymouth College and Plymouth Leander. Swimming parents in particular will be aware that we have been interviewing candidates in recent weeks. The post attracted an excellent field, including international and Olympic coaches. Robin was, without question, the best candidate and having worked as Jon's number two for the past three years, he knows the programme inside out. The panel were particularly impressed with Robin's vision for the future. Robin is an ambitious man determined to build on Jon's impressive work, taking our programme to new heights. Robin will shortly set to work with the appointment process for his deputy.
Lastly for this week I would like to share with you some thoughts about the new sixth form programme of study. When the government "reformed" A levels, it "de-coupled" the AS level from the A2 level. For the past 15 or so years, an AS level has counted towards the award of an A level. That is no longer the case, AS is now a stand-alone qualification, and in consequence the approach taken by schools to their sixth form programme of study has changed. The old orthodoxy saw students study four AS levels in year 12, at the end of which they were entered for four AS exams. Most students then chose to drop an AS level, continuing with 3 A levels.
Under the new system AS levels simply do not count towards A levels. AS questions differ in style to A level questions, and in some subjects the content differs too. We have seen a lot of students decide to drop their fourth AS level, continuing with three subjects. Many of these students have decided that they do not want to enter AS exams as they simply are not needed with a two year linear course.
Does this matter? Quite simply, no. Universities understand that schools have adopted different approaches. What matters if you are aiming at Oxbridge or Russell Group is your grade in three subjects, two of which must be "enabling" subjects. Our students recognise that there js a danger in entering an AS level, since it is a stand-alone qualification it will be certificated and it will be entered on a UCAS application. Under the old system schools did not have to certificate AS levels, meaning that if a student underachieved, that result would not be visible to admissions tutors.
For the 17-18 cohort, our policy is that most students should start with three A levels, recognising that a few will still wish to begin with four. The new qualifications are more challenging, and this is the right decision for our students.
I write briefly at the end of a busy and fulfilling term to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Our Autumn Term newsletter is being posted to you with your end of term reports and gives a wonderful summary of academic successes and the many co-curricular opportunities that have been offered this term. I hope you enjoy reading it. We have advertised for a Director of Swimming following Jon Rudd’s appointment to become Performance Director for Swim Ireland and we have had several excellent applications already. We will be interviewing during January and I will write to you again after this process has been completed.
A reminder that the Spring Term starts on Monday 9th January and in the meantime, I hope you all have a very pleasant Christmas break.
With my best wishes.
The sun continues to shine, and sports results have been very impressive generally for Plymouth College in the first couple of weeks of term. I would like to thank all the parents who attended the First XV rugby fixture against Llandovery College, making a wonderful atmosphere. The result was a comprehensive win for Plymouth College, 39-5, against one of the best rugby playing schools in Wales. The boys then backed this up with a comprehensive victory against Mount Kelly in midweek, 48-11, before wins for the 1st XV and the U15 against Christ College in Brecon this weekend. Basketball last Friday evening saw a good win against Mount Kelly 51-45, and the previous weekend saw good wins for the U14 and U15 rugby teams against Mount Kelly. Hockey results have been a little more mixed with good wins for the 1st XI against King’s Ottery and Torquay Girls Grammar School, both 3-1, but there were three losses from the four fixtures against Exeter School last weekend despite spirited and promising performances.
As you are no doubt aware, the UK's public examination system is changing all the time and it is vital that, as a school, we keep up-to-date on not only the examination specifications to teach to the pupils, but also university requirements and what pupils will need in the future. This is why we have been reviewing our L6th public examination system for this year.
A levels have been “reformed” in all subjects except Maths, DT and Classical Civilisation, which will follow next year. The specifications have changed for the remaining subjects and AS levels have been “de-coupled” from the A level. This means that the AS level is now a standalone qualification, and the results no longer count towards the A level award. Simply put, this puts the examination system back to that which pre-dates 2000, with linear A levels, but it raises two significant issues which require careful consideration for the current year 12 cohort in reformed subjects.
Firstly are the new AS levels “co-teachable?” With the exception of Music and Art, the content is co-teachable, but in these subjects our Heads of Department judge that it is not possible to teach the content for the A level paper and sit the AS at the same time. However it is important to recognise that AS examination questions are very different from A level questions, and that preparing for AS levels will require students to understand and utilise different techniques.
Secondly, what is best for our students as we look towards university entrance? Universities recognise that schools will adopt different approaches. It is essential that each school explains its stance on the UCAS reference form. This ensures that students will not be disadvantaged.
We have decided, for this year, that pupils will sit AS examinations in L6th in all subjects, with the exception of Music and Art. This will give pupils a good indicator of how they are progressing and allow them to make sensible options about their future. Maths, DT and Classical Civilisation students will enter for their AS as these subjects are unreformed. However for the remaining subjects it is important to remember that as the AS no longer counts towards the A level grade, it will now be “certified” which means that any AS result taken in a reformed subject will appear on the pupil’s university reference. A poor result in a reformed AS level can no longer be disguised by a re-take a year later. Therefore following mocks in January, we would strongly support any pupil who felt that taking four subjects was not going to be a sensible option and allow them to drop down to three subjects at that stage.
Lastly as parents are aware, we have been consulting on what should be our major second term sport for boys. I invited parents to contact me via e-mail, from the fifteen replies, seven parents were favour of football and eight were opposed to the proposed change. We have also consulted the boys, and the results are quite evidently in favour of the switch, with 137 in favour of football and 64 in favour of hockey. The result was much closer in the senior years however, and the Upper Sixth voted in favour of hockey by one vote. Therefore we have decided that it would be best to phase the change in, with football for years 7-10, and senior hockey remaining on the fixture list for 2017.
One question that I have been asked by parents is whether football is an “independent school” sport. When you consider that Eton, Marlborough, Westminster and so forth offer football, I think it is quite possible to see that it is just as much an independent school sport as rugby and hockey are. However I do understand and share parental reservations about the ethos than can surround football. I would like to reassure parents that we will be playing other similar schools.
With my best wishes
A reminder to all parents whose children are new to the school of the Social Evening on Monday 19th September at 7.00pm in the OPM Suite. Please do come along to this every enjoyable event, meet other new parents and members of staff in a relaxed and informal setting. I would be grateful if you could let Sharon know by emailing email@example.com.
I write with an appeal from the Parents’ Association which is looking for new members to join the team.
The key aims of the PA are to support students and staff in every aspect of school life and to provide a useful link for parents/guardians as well as between parents and the College.
Parents currently make a contribution of £1.50 per student per term to the Parents’ Association (PA) and these subscriptions are added to the funds raised by the PA through various fundraising activities throughout the year, including the voluntary running and management of the Swap Shop.
Each year staff are invited to submit requests for donations towards facilities/equipment which will benefit our students, as well as considering suggestions by the students themselves through the School Council. The PA funded for example the electronic noticeboards around the College; a Black Star Stage Curtain for the Performing Arts Department; a Kanon bowling machine for Cricket; educational software for the German Department; electronic wristbands for Athletics; sofas for the Sixth Form Centre and Year 11 Common Room; and a keyboard for the School of Rock.
Not all of the PA’s activities focus on fundraising. They aim to maintain and foster positive relationships between parents as well as with the College and to this end provide opportunities for parents and staff to meet on an informal basis. The PA run social events and assist at school events such as the Carol Service, Cross Country and Sports Days and have a key role helping to market the College at the annual Open Day.
The AGM is on Monday 26th September at 7.00pm in the Boardroom at Ford Park and I look forward to seeing you.
To view the Headmasters September letter, please click HERE.
Welcome back to you all at the start of the summer term.
I’ve written before about just how busy a place this is, and the end of last term was no exception, with many highlights. I spent an afternoon with the Cadets on the range at HMS Raleigh. The Spring Music concert programme gave students plenty of opportunities to shine and showcase their talents. I particularly enjoyed the Piano evening, which included performances from students at the Prep School as well as those here with us at the Senior School. The House Captains’ dinner was an opportunity to thank senior students for their service, assisting staff running the various House events throughout the year. Beauty and the Beast was performed magnificently, with wonderful acting and singing together with our musicians providing the score. Our last day of term was a staff training day, led by Professor Barry Hymer, focussing on how best to motivate students for high achievement, underpinned by a growth mind-set. We will consider carefully now how to build on this day in our lessons as we move forward. As I’m sure you are aware, we have a “Teaching and Learning Community” at the school. Teachers meet each half term to discuss best practice and to share good experiences. The TLC group will no doubt focus on Barry’s stimulating training this term.
It was lovely to see many of our parents at the House Cross Country event, held in Newnham Park. We are very grateful to David Cobbold for allowing us to use this magnificent venue. The weather held out, and Palmers emerged as the victorious house. Congratulations to our winners:-
Event Pupil House
Year 7 Boys Will Stevenson Dales
Year 7 Girls Lola Oke Sargents
Year 8 Boys Ollie Smart Dales Course Record
Year 8 Girls Izzy Courtman Dales Year Record
Year 9 Boy Sam Mills-Shute Sargents
Year 9 Girls Elena Sidman Dales Year Record
Year 10 Boys Ed Smart Dales
Year 10 Girls Lauren Singleton Palmers
Year 11 Boy Jamie Murphy Palmers
Year 11 Girls Jess Manning Dales
L6 Boys George Hillson Palmers
L6 Girls Seren Allin Dales Year Record
U6 Boys Myles Pillage Palmers
U6 Girls Poppy Tank Palmers Course Record
Special mention must go to Poppy Tank in the Upper Sixth, who was the fastest athlete on the day, and smashed the girls’ course record by a very impressive 1 minute 24 seconds!
I would like to bring you up to date with staffing matters.
Andrew Longden is still recovering from illness, and remains off work at the present time, but it was lovely to see him at the Cross Country supporting the students and the school. We wish him all the best for a speedy recovery.
A number of senior staff are moving on from the school at the end of the academic year.
As Sarah Dunn moves to take up the Headship at the Maynard in September, I am delighted to announce that Jo Hayward has been appointed to take her position as Deputy Head in the school. Jo is a Geographer by training and currently the Deputy Head of The Mount School in York. Jo joined us for a day this week and enjoyed meeting parents at the Cross Country. She is looking forward to moving to a larger school, and one which is co-educational as she furthers her career. Her role in school will focus largely on academic matters, and perhaps more closely resembles that held by Duncan Rhodes at the current time. Nevertheless there will be pastoral aspects for her to consider also.
Duncan and Alix Rhodes are moving to Peterborough, where Duncan will take up the Deputy Headship at The King’s. We have appointed Charlie Irish to the position of Assistant Head. Charlie is a PE teacher by training and is currently Housemaster at Aldenham School and is an OPM. I know that he is looking forward to coming home to Plymouth. Charlie’s role will focus primarily on pastoral matters, but will include some academic aspects too.
David Baylis retires from his position as Bursar at the end of the academic year. We are currently advertising for a Financial Director, to oversee these crucial aspects of the school.
Heather Chapman has left the school to take up a position working for a local charity, although she will continue to keep in close contact as she is continuing with her evening boarding duty in the week.
These movements give me the opportunity to look at the structure of the senior leadership team at the College. I will write with more details at the start of the new academic year in September to explain everyone’s roles going forwards at that point in time.
Our Director of Modern Pentathlon, Andy Hill, has also announced his retirement at the end of the academic year, and once again we are in the process of advertising for his replacement.
Robin Prichard is retiring as Head of English at the end of the academic year, and will return in a part-time capacity to teach English in September. I am delighted to announce that Siobhan Currie has been appointed as the new Head of English. Furthermore, Mark Bennett has agreed to continue teaching English next year at the College, having stepped in on a temporary basis at Christmas when Felicity Murphy moved on to teach elsewhere.
Anya Starling has been appointed as Head of Geography at Millfield School. Natalee Paice has been appointed to replace her. Natalee is currently Head of Geography at Stoke Damerel School.
Finally, after many years of loyal and fabulous service to the school, Stephen Terry is retiring at the end of this term and as a consequence, I will be teaching some lower school Latin next year.
Parents will be aware that we were inspected by ISI last term. The ISI inspection model is changing. Rather than enjoying a full inspection, which would include educational quality, we were inspected under the new framework with a “Regulatory Compliance Inspection.” The good news is that the College is FULLY COMPLIANT with all the various standards that are expected. This is a significant achievement for the College. Unfortunately the report, which is attached and available on our website, does not make exciting reading at all. It is important for parents to understand that this type of inspection simply seeks to judge whether the College meets a number of standards, or not. It is not an inspection which measures the quality of our provision, and therefore it does not use adjectives such as “excellent” or “good.” This is a shame, as with our results last summer, including the exceptional value-added we achieved, I feel that the College would have been well placed to achieve an “excellent” full report.
Lastly, Governors awarded Sarah Dunn a short sabbatical, several years ago, to mark her excellent service for the school. Sarah has typically not taken the offer up until now, finding life at the College simply too busy. However this term Sarah will be taking up the opportunity offered, and will be in school less often, as she prepares for taking up the Headship at The Maynard as well as other interests. Sarah will continue to teach her classes and is overseeing a number of projects for Plymouth College this term.
I hope to see many of you at the various events this term and these are detailed in the Calendar which I trust you have now received.
J P Standen
Last week was fairly typical of the hustle and bustle we enjoy at the College.
Monday night saw the College well represented at the Herald’s Sports Personality of the Year 2015 awards, with nominees in the majority of categories.
We were delighted that Sarah Dunn won the “Outstanding Contribution to Sport” award, recognising the excellence she has brought to sports development at the College in her twenty years of service. The evening was rounded off with the award of Sports Personality of the Year to Henry Slade OPM, who gained his first full England cap in the World Cup warm up match against France. It was good to catch up with Henry again, and see that he is well on the road to recovery after his recent injury. On the other side of the world, our Sixth Form pupil Felicity Passon has just been named Seychelles Young Athlete of the Year – congratulations to her.
The MFL Speaking Competition reached an exciting climax on Tuesday with the House Final. The library was full and 23 acts from KS3, 4 and 5 took part presenting in French, Spanish and German. The event organised by Mr Randall, is now in its third year and showed pupils whose efforts culminated not only in a high level of language skills but also presentation skills. Mr Mike Zollo, chief examiner for over 32 years and an author of over 20 language textbooks, judged and was impressed by the calibre of the competitors and gave a thought provoking speech on the real importance of being able to speak a foreign language in today’s world. The evening was further enhanced through music by Julia Banholzer on the electric piano and refreshments. Pupils performed in non-native and near native categories and were accompanied by powerpoint presentations. All winners and runners-up in the 3 age groups will continue to the Regionals in Barnstaple on Wednesday 9th March and then, if successful, to the overall Final at Bath University on 29th June. Plymouth College has been the most successful school at getting pupils through to the Final in the last 2 years with Luc Dewulf winning the near-native KS5 final for French last year and Sauri Roche-Walker coming overall Runner-Up in the non-native KS5 for Spanish. We hope for continued success this year! Congratulations should go to all those who performed.
The week was rounded off with a truly magnificent Gala Concert, held in a packed Emmanuel Church. The concert brought Plymouth College musicians together with Annabel Kennedy OPM and the St Dennis Band, which Mr Hawken conducts. The concert season continued this week with a Guitar Evening at the College on Tuesday and the ever-popular Piano Evening on the 24th February.
There is a lot more to life than examination results at the College. Nevertheless we were also delighted at how well the College performed in the DfE School Performance tables, published in January. The College topped the tables for value added in the sixth form in Plymouth and across Devon, by a considerable margin. The average points per examination entry was strong again, higher than two of the local selective schools.
We celebrated Chinese New Year - The Year of the Monkey – on Monday. Our Art Technician, Becky, made a fantastic lantern and this was decorated by the students who then processed around the school accompanied by a Samba band and drums – lots of noise and colour!
News from other areas: Catherine Bishop has been selected to the U17 Great Britain Fencing Team for the European Fencing Championships and Ben Andrews reached the last 8 of the British under 17 epee fencing Championships in London. Excellent result considering he has two more years in the same age group. In cricket, James Degg is currently representing the college and Devon U15s in South Africa on their annual cricket tour. With games against Western Province and a chance to play at The Wanderers test match venue, James will no doubt come back a better player in preparation for the summer season. Some swimming results from the Luxembourg Euro Meet: a gold and bronze for Elle Ussi, a gold for Darren Lim, Jessica Jackson won a bronze and Anita M’Cartney broke a Kazakhstan senior record as did Felicity Passon for the Seychelles. Finally, I understand that the Ratsey brothers are putting in many hours pre-season training (and travelling all over the country) with the Feva Class National Squad for sailing and we look forward to seeing their progress in the months to come.
I hope you all have a restful and enjoyable half-term break. The second half of the term is quite short but promises to be as busy as ever.
The Easter term is in full flow. It is a short term this year, with five weeks to half term, and four afterwards, meaning that our older students preparing for examinations will need to be mindful of timescales and deadlines. They will need to be well organised.
I wrote to inform you of staff who were leaving at the end of term, and now I can let you know about their replacements. Mark Bennett has taken over from Felicity Murphy in English. Chris Chillcott replaces Charlie Lyndsay in Outdoor Education. We welcome May Sim and Joey Thomas, both from Australia, as our “gappies” for 2016. Mr Rees has asked for some parental leave this term, meaning that he is teaching fewer Physics classes. We welcome Rebecca Grace to the school, who is covering these lessons, along with Jean Pope who returns to the school.
My beginning of term assembly looked at the true story of Aron Ralston, memorably captured in Danny Boyle’s film “127 Hours.” The film itself is beautifully shot, but carries a 15 rating. Fortunately, I found a film trailer with an appropriate rating which summarised the story. Aron Ralston was an accomplished skier and mountaineer, who had set out to be the first person to climb all 55 of the mountains in Colorado over 14000 feet high. One spring day in 2003 he set off alone to go hiking in a remote part of the state, operating well within his comfort zone, although undoubtedly not giving due thought to best practice by letting friends and relatives know of his plans. While climbing down a narrow ravine Ralston dislodged a boulder which crushed his right forearm, pinning it against the rock wall. His cries for help were met by silence, and still trapped after five days of trying various ways to free himself, Ralston took what to most of us would be an unthinkable decision. Ralston amputated his arm, using a pen knife, in order to free himself. The story begs the question, what would I have done in that situation? Would I have been brave enough to amputate my own arm, or would I have given up hope? It is an extreme example of resilience, but it is a true story, and Ralston survived. At school there will be times when your sons and daughters will feel challenged by work. Unlike Ralston’s predicament, this is a perfectly natural and safe occurrence. We all need some of the Aron Ralston spirit though, neatly distilled into an unquenchable desire to overcome whatever problem we face, so that we enjoy the sense of achievement that then comes.
I have been here for over nine months now, and I have spent a good deal of time looking at how Plymouth College works. It is a very good school indeed, and to help us improve it further we have just received the independent Kirkland Rowell survey findings from the pupil and parent surveys. These will help the Governors and myself to set the priorities for the College’s development over the next year and beyond. I will report back on the key findings from these surveys shortly.
I would like to tell you about one important decision which the Governors have taken on my recommendation. Year 11 students are considering their sixth form courses, and so it is only fair to let parents know as soon as possible that with very great regret we have decided not to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) course in year 12 from this September. IB is highly regarded, and we have achieved very great success with IB students in recent years, in fact as you will remember the IB results in 2015 were a College record. On this basis the decision may seem counter-intuitive, so why has it been taken? The IB is a “high volume” course: students take more subjects than those taking A levels, in consequence it takes more staff to teach an IB curriculum than an A level curriculum and it is therefore an expensive option for a school to run. Plymouth College has given the IB a good deal of time to establish itself, but it has not proven attractive enough to our students and there are just not enough students choosing to take it, perhaps partly driven by the perception by students that it is more difficult than A levels. It is a crucial part of my job to ensure that every pound we receive from our parents is well spent. Whilst the IB outcomes our students achieve are excellent, the level of resource that goes into supporting IB is disproportionately high.
Students currently taking the IB in year 13 will complete the course as normal this summer, and I wish to reassure students and parents currently in year 12 that this too will be the case next year when they are in year 13. This decision will not affect anyone currently studying the IB. If you have any specific questions, because your child is currently studying IB, or you were hoping to be able to choose it for your child, I would welcome an opportunity to talk with you. Please contact my PA, Sharon Lambie, to make an appointment. I will also be available at 3.30pm on Tuesday and Thursday this week, if you would like to drop in.
The Governors and I believe this decision will benefit the whole College. It enables us to preserve the broad and balanced curriculum offered throughout the school. In the sixth form we will concentrate on A levels and the Sports Baccalaureate. From a higher education perspective A levels and the Sports Bacc provide just as good a grounding for entry to university, especially now that A levels have been reformed by Ofqual.
Myself, the Governors and the entire teaching staff here at the College are very proud to work here and we hope the pupil and parent surveys will help guide our future. Nine months into the role, I am thoroughly enjoying leading the school. Taking tough decisions like this will, I believe, enable us to build a much stronger future.
J P Standen
We have reached the end of a long term. Thank you for your support. I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a successful New Year.
Our Winter newsletter records just what a busy term it has been. Busy academically in the classrooms and in enriching activities such as the In2Medicine Conference and the UKMT Senior Team Maths Challenge amongst a host of others. We have welcomed back Michael Ball, and Henry Slade to the school, as well as hosting a number of outside speakers, including Melanie Leach, the CEO of Twofour group, Jerry Gore talking about his speed ascent of the Eiger and his charity Action4Diabetics, and the MPs Oliver Colville and Gary Streeter. Plymouth College is a family, and we have welcomed back OPMs to the school at our Gala Dinner, as well as travelling for the London Dinner. We have a vibrant OPM club, and it is lovely to see just how much our old boys and girls valued their time at the school, and how supportive they are of the current generation. Sporting and musical success feature strongly in the newsletter too.
This week has been great fun, with a fantastic Carol Service on Tuesday evening followed by Senior Awards on Thursday evening.
Chris Dawson was our guest speaker, with his theme centring on the importance of believing in yourself, backing yourself, and “going for it.” His theme resonates with what we offer here at the College, our holistic vision of education; balancing academic success and enrichment with the development of the whole person. The degree to which we naturally believe in ourselves varies. One of the many things we excel at is helping our young men and women develop their self-belief. It was lovely to see Chris spending time with our students at the end of the evening. He referred to them as our nation’s future currency. I will, of course, write to thank Chris for investing so much of his time in that currency.
We say goodbye to several members of staff at this juncture.
Liz Undy retired from her post as UCAS co-ordinator at half term. She has been at the centre of life in the Sixth Form for many years and, indeed, her favourite memories are of A level results days and of being a Tutor to “a group of 17 boys who were enormous fun, bright rugby players who lead me a merry dance but who, I think, I managed to control!”
Charlie Lindsey is leaving the College after three and a half years, and will begin teacher training in 2016. Charlie’s contribution to boarding, to Duke of Edinburgh, to outdoor education has been immense and she will be missed. Rarely though will someone be so well equipped to teach at the beginning of a PGCE course as Charlie will be, with all the experience she has gained here.
English teacher, Felicity Murphy leaves us to take up a teaching post elsewhere in the city. She has been with us for three years and tells me that a “A particular favourite would have to be co-writing and co-directing the lower school production of Matilda. It was an utter joy to work with such committed students and staff- especially the puppeteers!”
Finally our two gap year students, Arizona and Hayden return to Australia and South Africa after spending 2015 with us. I’m sure you will join me in thanking all of these members of staff for their service to the school, and wish them every success going forwards.
I would like to conclude by thanking all of the staff, both teaching and support, for their sterling work this term. I wish them, your sons and daughters and of course yourselves an enjoyable Festive season, which hopefully will allow time for batteries to be recharged for the start of our next term.
The weather has finally turned autumnal, and the lovely green grass of our sports field is beginning to turn muddy; the nights are drawing in. It is the business time of year for senior students, as they put in the groundwork in preparation for their exams next summer.
My newsletters to date have focussed firmly on the all-round education that we provide. This week I would like to look closely at the academic standards in the school. Our parents value the holistic education in the school, with the rich programme of enrichment and extra-curricular activities, and the focus on developing the “whole person.” This is part of the value added by Independent Schools. Nevertheless, exam results are the life blood of any school, and it is important we ensure we are doing everything we can to secure great results in the classroom.
In the autumn term I meet with every head of department to review examination performance last summer, and I have to say that I am very pleased overall with the standards achieved. We measure performance to ensure we are offering you the very best academic standards, enabling us to examine where we have been highly successful, and where we can continue to tweak things a little further. We use the University of Durham’s CEM data to underpin these discussions, as it is externally validated using national data, YELLIS for GCSE and ALIS for A level.
When I look at results, I consider two things. Firstly how good are the actual results, the raw data so-to-speak. These, after all, are the grades that go on your sons’ and daughters’ certificates. As you are already aware, we enjoyed a successful year in 2015. At A level a third of grades were A* and A, with over 60% at A*-B. IB averaged 34 points. At GCSE half of the grades were A* and A, and 92% of the grades were A*-C. For a school with a broad range of ability, these are very impressive statistics in themselves.
But they beg the question, are they good enough? This is where YELLIS and ALIS data comes into play. These analyses look at the value we add to our students in the classroom. Are they doing as well as students of similar ability in schools in this country, or are they doing better or worse? I am very happy to report that YELLIS shows we add 0.4 of a grade at GCSE level. Put simply our GCSE students achieved 0.4 of a grade higher than their peers nationally in every single GCSE they entered. That is an outstanding level of achievement. For statisticians amongst you, the GCSE results are “significantly positive,” a pattern replicated in our year 12 AS results. Our year 13 A level results show a value added of 0.2 of a grade, which is right on the border of being significantly positive, again a very good result indeed.
The school is certainly performing very well, and this gives us great confidence as we look forward to an ISI inspection later this academic year.
Suzie and I attended the London OPM dinner last weekend, meeting up with OPMs, some of whom have recently left, some who are well established in their careers and some who are now enjoying retirement. These are really important events for schools such as ours. They help to connect the current generation of students with their predecessors and they give us an opportunity to develop work experience contacts and placements. For example we have troduced our Pre-Med programme this year, and I am very grateful to the many OPMs who have offered us their assistance. Indeed, this Saturday two OPMs, Ryan Hext and Tim Bray, will run the second in2medicine conference for students in Year 11 and the Sixth Form. Our ESOC programme continues to go from strength-to-strength. We were very lucky to have Melanie Leach (Two-Four productions) visit us before half-term and Gary Streeter MP is visiting today. The programme is a very valuable one to us, not just in terms of the talks given to the students but also because a lot of these senior people are able to offer work experience to our sixth formers.
Plymouth College finished second in the regional final of the UKMT FMSP Senior Team Maths Challenge last week. The team consisted of Ben Gittins, Dan Pengelly, Claire Lou and Hannah Chatfield. Ben, Claire and Hannah will all be eligible for next year's event when they hope to go one better and qualify for the national final in London.
We welcomed Henry Slade back to the school on 10th November when he was interviewed by Sky Sports and generously took the time to coach some of our younger players as well as drop in to see Mrs Undy who was retiring the next day (Mrs Undy was Assistant Head of Sixth Form when Henry was here). I have enjoyed watching some of the girls’ hockey and they have played very well. Most notably was the U14s’ performance in the National Cup where they narrowly lost to Exeter in the semi-final. The First XI have enjoyed a good run most recently with a win against Wellington School (whom we have never played before) as well as local rivals Mount Kelly 5 – 0. The U14 rugby team continued their unbeaten season with a hard-fought 22 – 17 win over Torquay Boys Grammar School. The match reports can be found on the Intranet under “Sporting Review”.
Last week saw our Remembrance Service in the Sports Hall. It was a formal occasion, and very moving.
Finally, I remind you of the Jerry Gore talk in the Library next Thursday at 7.30pm on his record-breaking attempt to scale the north side of the Eiger in aid of diabetes – it promises to be a fascinating and enjoyable evening.
With my best wishes
J P Standen
It has been a busy month, for students, staff, and myself. I usually try to write every couple of weeks or so, but a week in Hong Kong and last week in St Andrews at the Headmasters’ Conference has disrupted my schedule somewhat, so please accept my apologies.
Suzie and I enjoyed meeting our current parents in Hong Kong, as well as our old boys and girls. It was quite an experience, and when I started teaching I never thought I would be able to say that I would visit Hong Kong on business. HMC last week in St Andrews provided time for thought provoking lectures, and networking with fellow heads.
We were fortunate to have Matthew Syed address the conference, which gave me my theme for whole school assembly this week. Matthew Syed is a two-time Olympian, and a Commonwealth medallist at table tennis. You may well remember his book, “Bounce”, published a few years ago which considered the theory that world class athletes are world class due to the quantity and quality of training rather than being born with an innate ability. This theory is easily translatable to the wider aspects of school and adult life.
Matthew gave a fascinating example:- during his playing days he had been flattered when a journalist wrote about his: “gift of superfast reactions.” Later, as a journalist, Matthew was interviewing the Wimbledon champion Michael Stich, and gently knocking balls around a tennis court. Syed asked Stich to serve at full speed, feeling sure he would be able to return the ball. After all, in his mind he had played the fastest ball sport in the world, reacting to smashes at 70mph with just a nine foot distance between him and his opponent. He knew that the tennis ball would be leaving Stich’s racquet face at around 130mph, but the distance across a tennis court appeared vast in comparison to what he was used to. And, although now retired from professional sport, Syed had been blessed with the “gift of superfast reactions.” Stich served and the tennis ball hit the back of the court before Syed moved, again and again……..
Syed explained that he had been watching the ball, whereas Stich would have been looking at his opponent’s hips and upper body, knowing from his opponent’s postural orientation where the ball would be served before it even touched the racquet. Syed’s conclusion from this experience was that his failure to even move before the ball passed him was nothing to do with superior or inferior eyesight, or innate reaction speed. After all, both men were retired professional sportsmen, and in his own sport Syed had been a champion. Rather it was the months and years of specific practice, and the quality of that practice and experience that made the difference.
I asked our students what they could learn from this example, how could it translate into their schoolwork, and their mind-set? One of the potentially destructive facets of our culture is that too often we think that someone is world class because they have “natural talent.” It is corrosive because it may then lead us to think: “well I’m not blessed in Maths, therefore what’s the point?” (I give Maths as an example because it is a subject I found challenging at school.)
Syed’s point is that we all need to work hard and practice if we want to master something, no matter what our natural level. We all have strengths, aspects of school work we are better at, and to master these areas requires just as much dedication as it does to overcome the difficulties we face in our weaker disciplines.
From personal example, I remember thinking at age 15 that: “I don’t have a brain for numbers,” a dangerous thought if one becomes resigned to it and accepts it. I recognised a weakness, but I was determined to do something to overcome it. I decided to sit next to the best mathematician in the class, and learn from him as well as from my teacher. I returned the favour, helping him with his History. This wasn’t copying or cheating, we completed our own individual work when teachers required that, to me it was common sense.
Today we would call this a “growth mind-set” as opposed to a “fixed mind-set.” I didn’t know this at the time, what I remember is thinking I need to do well in this subject, how can I improve more quickly? I wasn’t afraid to get things wrong, after all making mistakes was what told me I was finding Maths challenging! I’m really glad I persisted, as I would say that I use Maths skills as a Headmaster more regularly than I would ever have imagined at age 15, from analysing statistics to budgeting. What I remember from those days though was the persistence needed, there was no magical turnaround point, but I got there in the end.
Developing “growth mind-sets” in our students is something I believe in most strongly as one of the key determinants of success, in exams, but more importantly in life itself. We want students to have growth mind-sets in all aspects of their lives. Often I find that students will adopt this attitude in some areas, not all round.
As Matthew Syed stressed, the key thing is practise, and making sure that our practice is high quality, something that challenges us from our comfort zones. Lessons should stretch and challenge. Over the course of a couple of weeks, a new concept that seemed unobtainable at first should come within reach. Resilience is a key factor, what happens when we first fail or get something wrong? Do we give up, or do we accept that it is a natural part of learning, and put that learning into practice enabling us to bounce back?
Professor Hymer’s visit in the New Year will give our teachers further insight into these theories, combining university level thinking with practical classroom strategies.
With my best wishes
J P Standen
Welcome back to the start of another academic year. I very much enjoyed meeting so many of you at the start of the first week of term, particularly parents new to Plymouth College. There was a palpable buzz of excitement in the air, along with some understandable nervousness and trepidation.
The Bursar and his team spent much of the summer holidays working hard on our estate, smartening up the entrance and the buildings and I hope that you have noticed these improvements. We have also accelerated our boarding refurbishment programme since our boarders make up a quarter of our student population and, I am sure you will agree, it is important that they have a home-from-home experience.
I spoke to new students about the importance of making the most of all the opportunities that Plymouth College provides, within the classroom and beyond on our sports fields, in the arts, music, drama and so forth. At our start of year assembly, held in the wonderful environs of the Mutley Baptist Church, I spoke to the whole school about the ethos and character we expect here as we help your sons and daughters grow into well rounded young adults; with those all-important soft skills, that aren’t measured in examination league tables, but which are certainly a measure in the real world of employment beyond our gates.
On the rugby field the first and second fifteens competed well at the weekend against a very strong Hereford Cathedral outfit, and whilst they were defeated they will take a lot of positives forward into the rest of the season.
Thank you for your support with school fixtures. Independent schools are not large, which is one of our enduring strengths, but it places a premium upon attendance at fixtures, both after-school and at the weekends. School sport can only survive and flourish if there is a strong commitment to it from all members of the community. We want those selected for teams to regard it as an honour to represent their school and their fellow pupils and we take it for granted that all those who are chosen will take part in matches, practices and games, as requested. If there is a clash of commitments with outside activities – for example, with a Saturday job, membership of another team or avoidable family commitment – the school expects pupils to honour their school commitment.
Suzie and I are off to visit parents in Hong Kong this week, as well as OPMs, and of course the various agencies important for business generation, so I apologise if I am not my usual visible self around the school and on the touchlines.
With my best wishes
We head into the break after a short but intense half term. I have thoroughly enjoyed it.
I have one brief item I would like to draw to your attention this week: the thorny subject of mobile phones. Mobiles are very useful technology, gone are the days of schools seeking to ban them, rather like King Canute seeking to hold back the tide. I fully appreciate that parents want to be able to contact their sons and daughters if, for example a bus or train is going to be late home. In school their usage, however, must conform to the following expectations:
• Phones are only to be used at break and lunchtimes and after school. I have observed many students texting in between lessons, moving in consequence at a snail’s pace, delaying the start of their next lesson. Using mobile phones in between lessons is not permitted.
• Phone use in lessons is only permitted when directed by the teacher for educational purposes. For example, when I dropped into Mr Prideaux’s biology lesson, students were using their phones to time an experiment. Mr Prideaux was actively touring the room, supporting students, and it was evident to him that phones were not being used inappropriately.
• Taking photos or videos at any time is strictly forbidden, again unless expressly directed by a teacher for educational purposes.
• Teachers may choose to direct students to leave their phones at the front of a classroom if they wish. Personally I have not felt the need to do so, when I teach I actively engage with the students, and it has always been obvious to me when a student appears to be off task.
• Students need to remain very wary of reacting instantly, particularly when using social media. The internet and social media apps have had a very great impact on how we interact socially today, and there is a pressure to react instantly and to reply straight away. We must always think carefully about the consequences, before we post information about ourselves to the ether. Many employers today actively search the internet when making decisions about appointments. What we post to the ether is almost impossible to delete afterwards.
There are a few notices from staff:
Mr Randall has purchased Vocab Express for French and Spanish and entered students for the Piccolo Vocab Learning Challenge Cup. Plymouth College came first in French, beating a number of very good schools.
Our musicians have had success with their Grade 5 theory exams. Claire Tinmanee gained a distinction; Moritz Backu a Merit (in just 6 weeks after starting from scratch); Robin Willoughby was rewarded with a Merit and Catherine Bishop a Pass. Well done to them all. Mr Green is also very grateful for the donation of the Bluthner Grand Piano from the Wannell family, which has now arrived and has taken up a prime location in our Music suite.
Mr Gregory writes: The Drake Society
‘The Drake Society is named after Sir Francis Drake, entrepreneur, adventurer,
profiteer and one time Mayor of Plymouth. The economics, geography, history, philosophy and politics departments are coming together with an initiative to enhance the skills of gifted sixth form students who study one or more of our subjects at A level or at IB. We intend to launch the Drake Society from September. It will meet approximately once every three weeks over lunchtime. Each meeting will provide an opportunity for students and teachers to come together to discuss important topics. For example, one week we might consider "Is it time to say goodbye to Scotland? ", and on another occasion "How ethical is Fair Trade?" Clearly, there are links with TOK in IB, and this will also give an opportunity for our IB and A level students to learn together. In the autumn term it is likely that the Society will be aimed primarily at Upper Sixth students who have indicated a wish to study a related course at university. We think that Lower Sixth students could be join later in the academic year as the attention of the Upper Sixth swings towards their exams.’
I was delighted to see OPM Henry Slade receive several accolades this week - Rugby Players’ Association Young Player of the Year, the Premiership’s Best U23 Player and inclusion in the England training squad for the World Cup. Just rewards for all the hard work he has put in over the years. It is also very pleasing to learn that Lower Sixth pupil Natasha MacManus has been selected to dive for Ireland in the European Games in Baku; 3 metre, 1 metre and platform from the 18th to the 21st of June and I wish her well with this.
With my best wishes for an enjoyable and relaxing half-term break.
J P Standen
When you start at a new school your eyes are inevitably wide open, and you see and observe a lot of things. It is important to record them, because as time passes things which marked themselves out for attention in the first weeks, have a habit of becoming “just part of the furniture.” I’ve spent a considerable amount of time out and about in the school, talking to staff and students, making sure I capture those first impressions for future reference. As part of this process I’ve been dropping into lessons, and I’ve seen a good number now, enabling me to understand the day to day diet for your sons and daughters. First impressions are positive, there is a lot of excellent practice that can be shared widely within the school. Inevitably though there are things we can tweak and improve a little further. In 2008 Professor John Hattie produced a seminal work, “Visible Learning,” which has been described as “teaching’s Holy Grail.” In this book, Hattie synthesised over 800 theses relating to achievement in schools, enabling him to prioritise the effectiveness of different teaching strategies according to the extent of their impact on learning. Prince Charles’ “Black Spider” letters have been in the news this week. In one dated 2004, Prince Charles challenged: “the fashionable view that teachers should not impart bodies of knowledge, but should instead act as “facilitators” or “coaches.” Prince Charles makes a good point, for too long teaching debates have been stifled by the dogma that teachers should be the “guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage.” The truth is that highly effective teachers combine a range of approaches. They are not afraid to teach, but they structure lessons carefully so that there are well designed opportunities for students to practice, make mistakes and learn from them. On the other hand, an overlong poorly planned discourse by a teacher is hardly likely to lead to effective learning in today’s world. I firmly believe that all teachers, no matter how experienced (and I include myself in this) should continue to look for those 1% differences that Sir David Brailsford refers to. I find that teachers really like Hattie’s book and engage well with its evidence-based conclusions.
I remain struck by how busy a place Plymouth College is, as I observed in my last letter, and by the quality of the many and varied activities we put on for the pupils. Two weeks ago the MCC visited, captained by OPM Andy Maddock, and played our 1st XI. This proved to be a fabulous day at Ford Park, with an excellent standard of cricket backed by great company in the OPM suite and the grounds. Andy gave the boys a great talk about the spirit of the game before the toss, “play hard but play fair.” Having won the toss for the hundredth consecutive year and once again elected to bat, the MCC found themselves 100 for 5 at lunch, ruefully noting just how hard our boys had played. The 1st XI went on to record a rare victory over the MCC after a thrilling run chase. Very well done indeed! And last weekend Tom Dinnis scored his first hundred for the school first XI on Saturday in the win against Wellington.
The senior sports day at Brickfields saw many records tumble. Four students produced county standard performances: Poppy Tank (Open Girls 1500m), George Hillson (U17 Boys’ 100m), Damon Akerman (Open Boys’ 100m) and Lily Mills (U17 Girls’ Shot and U17 Girls’ Javelin). There were also four new school records created: Poppy Tank (Open Girls’ 1500m), Lily Mills (U17 Girls’ Javelin), Natasha MacManus (Open Girls’ High Jump), John Alao (U17 Triple Jump). I love seeing the competitive spirit amongst our staff
as well as they cheer for their house. The result was controversial, and after
much pouring over the rule book, Dales emerged victorious.
I was hugely impressed with the quality of work produced by our students in design technology. My congratulations go to Mr Palmer and his team and, of course, to our students for the magnificent exhibition last week. It ran so smoothly and was so polished, that I wrongly assumed this was an annual event, when in fact it was a new addition to the calendar this year. I was particularly struck by the individuality of the work produced, as well as the quality. I am pleased that this evening will now become a regular occurrence.
Ten Tors took place last week and the school entered two strong teams again in the 35 mile and 45 mile categories. Both teams were very successful finishing by lunchtime with all six members still smiling at the end! Overall 20 students stuck with the arduous 7 month training programme covering over 200km in their preparations. Many thanks go to the team of six staff who regularly gave up their weekends to walk almost every step of the way with the students, often in pouring rain, fog, sleet and snow!
Suzie and I very much enjoyed the Lower School production of Matilda this week. Jayne Ashenbury and her talented team of staff helped our boys and girls to put on a witty and engaging show, with great acting and singing, aided by the puppeteers. These events take a huge amount of time and commitment, and it was pleasing to see so many staff attend to lend their support as well as parents and family members. I’m also grateful to the staff for making adjustments to lessons for missing pupils as they rehearsed as well as covering classes for the teachers involved.
There is a lot more going on in the Drama department at present. The sixth form are writing essays in preparation for their drama exams whilst Year11 students are re-reading Confusions by Alan Aykbourne, refining their knowledge of costume and hairstyles from the 1970s and practising short answers together in class for the exam on 19th May. Year 10 are also working on the set text Confusions with Miss Husband and Year 9 have just started working on producing a murder mystery in class. The whole of year 8 are taking Performing Arts and either have music or drama lessons that will rotate and Year 7 are looking at a range of short scripts or focusing on physical theatre depending on their group. It’s a busy time and most pupils are working very well.
The Theatre Club has also been active. Mr Prichard writes: “On Thursday 7th, 3 pupils and 10 staff went to "Top Hat". This was a really happy evening's entertainment with great singing, amazing dancing, a comic plot and beautiful sets. I wish more pupils had availed themselves of this wonderful opportunity! On May 20th we shall experience the terrifying ghost story that is "The Woman in Black" and on Thursday 18th June it is "Dirty Dancing". Later on in the term, I shall send out letters about a trip to the musical "Annie" in September.” Please do take up these opportunities as Mr Prichard asks.
The Chemistry Investigation days for the Sixth Form chemists went well. The department uses these days to do the laboratory assessments that require almost all of the AS and A2 courses to have been covered, hence their lateness in the academic year. The unmoderated results for the A2 practical unit were: 7 x A*, 1 x A, 4 x B and 1 x C. The AS unmoderated results were 8 x A, 14 x B and 2 x C (A* is not available at AS). Particular thanks from Mr Hambly to the Chemistry Laboratory Technician, Ruth Gilbert.
Our swimming programme continues to go from strength to strength, with the following recent results. Congratulations to Jon Rudd and his team, and of course our talented athletes.
Qualifying for the World Championships in Kazan:
Ruta Meilutyte (Lithuania)
Jamila Lunkuse (Uganda)
Jon Rudd also selected as a coach to the Lithuanian team
Qualifying for the European Games in Baku:
Joseph Hulme (Great Britain)
Laura Stephens (Great Britain)
Thomas Fannon (Great Britain)
Qualifying for the World Junior Championships in Singapore
Joseph Hulme (Great Britain)
Laura Stephens (Great Britain)
Thomas Fannon (Great Britain)
Darren Lim (Singapore)
Molina Smalley (Namibia)
Robin Armayan also selected as a coach to the Great Britain team
At the British Championships in London
Thomas Fannon 2 x British & 2 x English Records in the 50m Freestyle
Joseph Hulme 1 x English Record in the 200m IM
Emma England (Gold Medallist in 50m Freestyle Junior Final)
Thomas Fannon (Silver Medallist in 50m Freestyle Senior Final)
Laura Stephens (Gold Medallist in 100m & 200m Butterfly Junior Final)
Joseph Hulme (Silver Medallist in 100m Backstroke & 200m IM Junior Final)
Charlotte Atkinson (Bronze medallist in the Senior 50m Butterfly)
Finalists included Shauna Lee, Eliza Duffy, Ethan Harrington and Oliver Goodhew
There has also been great news from Andy Hill, our Director of Pentathlon. Ben Andrews U14 boys and Tia Simms-Lymn U16 girls both became British Champions at the National Fencing Championship in Sheffield recently. Bronze medallists were Josh Hellings U16 boys, Kerenza Bryson U18 girls and our September scholar Abagael Black from the Prep in the U12 girls. With these results our Academy reached the landmark of 50 National Champions since its inception.
The array of cakes provided to sell for Nepal was amazing. The event raised over £200. The generosity of the Plymouth College family in providing clothing and blankets meant that we were able to deliver 12 bags to Oxfam. Our BTEC Sports Baccalaureate students also arranged a charity, fancy dress fun run – well done to Dr Norris and Dr Jordan!
Finally, I wanted to let you know that Jonathan Shields has been investigating some new technology to support parents in understanding what homework is being set and Year 8 are involved in test-marketing Plymouth College's own online homework planner called Backpack. Designed by OPM Alistair Wass as part of a Young Enterprise project in 2012 the product has been refined and is now undergoing testing in school. Available on the Internet at www.backpack.ac and on both iOS and Android for a download as a mobile phone app, Backpack allows homework to be accessed anywhere in the world. Backpack gives parents a clear idea about what homework has been set and when the deadlines are and late homework results in an automated email to parents. If the tests are successful, it is planned to open this application up to all pupils from September.
J P Standen
As I reflect after nearly two full weeks here in the College as Headmaster, one thing in particular strikes me: this is a very busy place. The tapestry of life here for our students is a very rich one indeed, and that is of course one of the main attractions and advantages of an Independent School education. The College is able to offer not just a first class academic education, but also a wealth of enrichment and co-curricular opportunities, including: the arts; music; drama; sports; and of course the numerous and diverse school trips.
Yesterday’s Summer Music Concert in the Meade-King Hall is a case in point. I have had the privilege of attending many excellent musical events during my career, but this was undoubtedly several notches up. Mr Green, Mr Hawken and our music teachers will be feeling very proud of themselves this morning, and justifiably so. The concert displayed the many and varied talents of our musicians and singers. The quality was outstanding. What struck me most however was just how much our students enjoyed themselves at the same time. Their performances were not just technically brilliant, they also had the confidence to perform, to smile and to engage with the audience. I would like to thank the parents and grandparents who attended, filling the hall, and in so doing creating a marvellous atmosphere for the students to perform in. Should we highlight certain performances in a great team effort? This is always a difficult question, but perhaps we should focus on the Upper Sixth performers, for whom this was their last concert, one that will live long in their memories. Mayson Tam’s infectious sense of humour helped to set the tone for the evening, ably assisted by the brilliant double act of Messrs Green and Hawken throughout. James Douie on the classical guitar and Annabel Norris on the saxophone starred before the interval, after which, the beautiful singing of Will Hambly and Annabel Kennedy brought a tear to my eye. The School Orchestra and the School Choir raised the roof, before the finale, when the Choir and Orchestra were joined by the Staff Choir and our Year 7 students for a magnificent ending.
Suzie and I enjoyed the House Cross Country last Thursday in the warmth of Newnham Park, lent to us for the occasion by Mr and Mrs Cobbold, to whom we are most grateful. Conditions were perfect and school records tumbled in Year 11 and Sixth Form with George Hillson, Myles Pillage, Bizzie Dinnis all achieving school records for their year and Harry Preston lowering his previous Upper School record of last year by 37 seconds to 13 minutes 42 seconds. Dales now have the lead in the Forsyth Cup; Dales 184, Sargents 177.5, Chaytors 160 and Palmers 127.5. We also appreciated meeting parents at the cricket on Saturday, where the U13s were at home, playing in a quadrangular tournament. The weather proved rather challenging, indeed it was a day in which shares in Persil, Ariel and so forth soared, as cricket whites turned green and more than a little soggy. The boys’ reached the final, in which they faced a strong side from Wellington. They came second, but acquitted themselves well. There were many fine performances, including Adam Talbot with a half century and Alasdair Lambie who very nearly carried his bat.
Meanwhile our Ten Tors teams were engaged in their final practice before the event, watched over by Miss Dunn and colleagues. Our pentathletes enjoyed success at the British Triathlon championships in Solihull. Georgina Mitchell became British U15 champion. Our U17 girls, Catherine Bishop, Jess Manning and Seren Allin took team bronze. Kerenza Bryson came 5th in Barcelona at a Youth A Pentathlon international. The week before Eimear O'Neill won the Irish Pentathlon Championships in Dublin and Paddy Erskine was 2nd in the boys event. Pupils and staff took on the mighty challenge of the London Marathon on Sunday. Upper Sixth pupil, Robbie Lockyer, powered his way to the finish in an incredible 3 hours and 13 minutes. Chemistry teacher, Jason Burns, comfortably broke his target of sub 4 hours while Communications Manager, Stephi Juckes, completed her 10th marathon. The Lower Sixth’s Poppy Tank proved herself to be one of the top young runners in the country finishing 7th out of 248 girls in the Mini Marathon. Representing the South West, her team came top out of 9 other regions.
On Tuesday evening I attended a presentation from Rob Thomas, who explained the steps involved in applying to American universities, which are very different from applying to British universities through UCAS. It is a far more diverse process. Rob’s lecture was sharply focussed on how to gain sporting scholarships and provided much for those present to ponder on.
With so much going on, it is of course vital that your sons and daughters plan their time well. The balance between academic education and these wonderfully enriching events often proves to have a fine line. At last week’s full assembly I spoke about the pressures facing teenagers today and in particular for years 11 to 13 in the coming weeks with the build up to the examination season. It is quite normal for us to feel nervous about examinations, with the usual symptoms such as butterflies in the stomach. Indeed as a teacher I continue to experience these myself, waiting to hear what questions the exam board have asked this year when my students open their History papers. These feelings are of course quite normal, and can in fact aid performance. Negative stress is of course very different, and adversely affects performance. Proper planning is therefore essential. I reminded students about the importance of building in relaxation time as well, and how much more enjoyable that time is when you know that you have just put in a good shift of revision prior to spending time unwinding. The key to success in the build up to exams is proper time management. When you are able to tick off the tasks, one by one, that is crucial to preserving a healthy state of mind, preventing those negative thoughts from becoming dominant. Lastly I reminded students that whilst there is no escaping the fact that this time of year, more than any other, requires the 99% perspiration that Thomas Eddison referred to; the remaining months of the summer will give plenty of time for relaxation after exams are finished.
The terrible news from Nepal this week focusses the mind. As an international school with student links to Nepal, we are keen to quickly raise funds to send via the online appeal. We will be running a cake sale on Tuesday May 5th so if you are at all able to donate anything to sell that would be wonderful. Traditionally, these events have the tables creaking with amazing creations! We would be most grateful if you would remember to send your child in with a little change to spend at this event as well. We are also hoping to collect any items of clothing blankets and so forth that we could dispatch, so please do send in anything that you feel would be appropriate.
Finally my thanks go to Mr Beavington for organising the local parliamentary candidates to come into school to present to the Sixth Form and Year 11 assemblies. Thus far we have had Oliver Colville for the Conservatives and Luke Pollard for the Labour Party, giving their opinions on what matters for Plymouth and what matters for the country. This has been an excellent opportunity to ask questions and put the candidates politely on the spot, and I hope it encourages those sixth formers eligible to vote, to do so!
With my best wishes
May I offer you a very warm welcome back to the College, at the beginning of the summer term here in sunny Plymouth. I am delighted to be in post, leading the school. I was appointed during the summer term last year, a timescale which is quite usual in independent schools, but which nevertheless has felt like a very long time for my partner Suzie and I.
We moved during the Easter holidays from Gloucestershire, and the sun has shone ever since (colleagues tell me that unfortunately this spell of good weather is due to end this coming weekend, as it is Ten Tors training!). The College community has been most welcoming and we both feel very much at home already.
As I am sure you are aware, I was Headmaster of a grammar school for the past eight years. When a new Headmaster takes over a school, one of the questions everyone wants to know is, what is going to change? Whilst the core skills required to lead one school are transferable to another, I am acutely aware that schools have individual qualities and characteristics, their own set of traditions, which need to be understood. One of my main tasks this term, therefore, will be to immerse myself in all aspects of school life, since it is a well-known idiom that a good coach shouldn’t try to fix something that isn’t broken. In this regard, I shall be spending a considerable amount of time dropping into lessons so that I gain a first-hand understanding of what it is like day-to-day for your sons and daughters. Inevitably some things will change once I gain a thorough perspective of how the College works, but they will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary; this is a very good school after all.
I managed to spend some time away from the business of unpacking boxes last Saturday watching the 1st XI play a warm up game against Plympton. We held an assembly in Mutley Baptist Church on Tuesday so that I could introduce myself to the whole school. As soon as I finish writing this piece I am off to watch the House Cross Country with Suzie in Newnham Park, and we are looking forward to watching the U13 cricketers at home this Saturday.
I sincerely hope I will have an opportunity to meet you at some of our events during this term.
With my warmest wishes,