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The First Folio is Four Hundred!

This year marks the four hundredth anniversary of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, and to mark the occasion we will be welcoming staff from Winchester College into Bishop’s on Monday 13 November bringing a copy of the Folio with them. The girls and boys of our A level English classes will be able to see a copy of arguably the most important book in western theatre at close quarters. Excitement is palpable, anticipation intense - such experiences imprint on memory for a lifetime.

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A view from the tops.....

Yes, I freely admit it, the choice of Lakeland for the half term break this year was ‘brave’ in the parlance of the civil service – in other words foolhardy in the extreme and probably destined for disaster. The coat tails of Storm Babet were still trailing across Northern England and the Eastern Cairngorms as we launched towards the M6, and gloomy skies greeted us as we meandered our way through to our hotel on the Eastern shore of Haweswater. Having said that I didn’t really care. There is something deeply impressive about travelling through hills whose tops are brooding in cloud, and High Street to the West of our local lake did not lose its shroud for the entirety of our stay. We stayed in the low stuff this time; walking on the tops could wait for a better, clearer window of opportunity to open.

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Inspiration of the Spire…

There’s something in that view of the Cathedral Spire that takes your breath away – it still happens to me even after 25 years of coming in to school through the Exeter Street Gate. The arresting immediacy of the spectacle, the improbability of such a thing rising above the city centre. I travel around to a lot of different schools these days to talk to youngsters about the prospect of joining Year 12 to study A levels here, and one of the things that I invariably do for students and parents is to sketch a verbal picture of that view. Bishop’s is, to my knowledge, the only state school in the country to be sited within a cathedral close; there are plenty of private choir schools that share living space with various deans and chapters across the UK (Worcester, Gloucester, Ely, Westminster and so on) but no other maintained school has such a privilege. We are very, very lucky.

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Letter from Stratford-Upon-Avon…

…and so to Stratford for this year’s Annual Conference of HMC. A very large number of School CEOs all crammed into a large, rather impersonal hotel for an intense 3 days, in this case the Crowne Plaza on the inner ring road of Shakespeare’s market town. From Monday to Wednesday of this week the streets of Stratford were invaded by an influx of lanyards, blue & white brollies, suits and laptops. Though the attendees are largely colleagues from the private sector there are a very few state maintained schools hanging on in there – in the mainland just Bishop’s, The Judd and Pates, high octane grammars all. A decade ago there would have been more, but changes in headship seem to have eroded the state grammar representation, a loss to both constituencies I fear.

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Augustus Pugin – Year 10 assembly at St Osmund’s Church

Bishop’s sits right opposite St Osmund’s Church on Exeter Street and, with the very kind permission of the Priest and the Diocese we are have begun to use the church for year group assemblies on a regular basis. We are very lucky to be able to meet together for collective worship in such a beautiful building, and last week I wanted to sketch out some of the history that lies behind the design and building of St Osmund’s by Pugin in the nineteenth century. Here is the script…

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HM Speech for Prize Giving 2023

Well Ladies and Gentlemen we are finally all in here together with the cream of South Wiltshire and West Hampshire Youth – all 1,200 of them. Last year we couldn’t quite get in because of Grayson Perry. The year before, only Years 12 and 13 could come, and 12 months before that I had to record my speech on Youtube. Now Bishop’s students fill every corner of this magnificent building, so that every way I turn from here on the platform I am confronted with serried ranks of young faces. That’s a really good thing. I don’t take it – or this amazing event – for granted. Though there are seasoned campaigners in the nave and transepts who have seen it all before (pillars permitting of course!), there will also be many here this afternoon who are witnessing it all for the first time. Whatever your perspective I hope that you ‘get’ what this event is all about; the combination of magnificence, recognition of a shared endeavour and celebration of individual achievements. Whether our prize winners are in Year 8 or whether they are just about to depart for a far away place at the end of their Bishop’s story is of little consequence. What matters is the fact that we are finally all together to share the experience of Prize Giving and celebrate what we have all achieved – together – over the year just past.

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And autumn returns once more...

As a Head the start of the autumn term combines a whole range of conflicting emotions. That 'on the edge of the abyss' feeling as you wait for the arrival of all of the staff, especially those who were appointed months ago in the spring or summer; will they all show? That first Staff Meeting of the year where you tread the thinnest of fine lines between getting the messages across and yet avoiding information overload. The adrenaline rush of suddenly encountering (and addressing) hundreds of young people, many of whom are unfamiliar faces. The feeling of trepidation as the timetable and rooming arrangements steadily unwind through the first week and the inevitable fire fighting from time to time as occasional undiscovered glitches emerge into the light. The sheer pleasure of seeing, hearing and engaging with the enormous reservoir of youth and vitality that is Bishop's, after the lull of the summer break.

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Start of Year Newsletter

As promised, here is a brief communication from me to outline who’s who among the new staff arrivals, together with some more routine and (I hope) useful reminders about sources of information and so on. There have been (for Bishop’s) an unusually high number of staff changes from the last academic year. The full list is below for you, and no doubt you will meet some of our new colleagues either virtually or face-to-face during the coming year. Here is the complete list:

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End of Year Newsletter

As the end of the summer term approaches the school seems to be in a headlong rush towards the holidays. Every day in late June and July has at least one major event happening as trips vie for attention with off-timetable days, induction sessions and expeditions. As I write we are in the middle of the latest teacher strike days too – so with a Middle School trip to Germany, the Chemists out at Southampton University and Great Yews the school population is much smaller and the site is a little quieter than my customary experience. Single big events have removed whole year groups over the past month or so, especially due to the programme of activities for BWS adventure led by Mr Oldham. Bronze, Silver and Gold Award Groups have all fanned out across the rural landscapes of England and Wales and all of Year 8 and now the whole of Year 7 have made the most of the opportunity to explore the Longford Estate. In exactly the same way as Music and Sports encourage the progressive development of skills and team work, the BWS Adventure Path Way builds boys’ and girls’ bravery, initiative, endurance and resilience as they move through the year groups. It’s what universities and employers want; students that will stay the course, and employees who will be able to get hold of a problem by the scruff of the neck, give it a good shake and come up with a solution. Subjects and learning remain axiomatic, but we are working on those soft skills too in all sorts of ways, and of course all of this is an obvious sign that we are post-pandemic too.

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