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Remembrance 2019

I have always thought that, given the history of the school and the number of families with Armed Forces connections, we have undersold the Act of Remembrance a little here. Not disastrously so of course – there have been some very moving assemblies and chapel services, and there is always 2 minutes of tranquillity as teachers and students take stock at 11.00am on anniversary day. Nevertheless, for a school which numbers Salisbury’s only VC amongst its alumni and a previous Head who was awarded a DSO at Vimy Ridge we should be doing more to mark those from the school community who have given so much.

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‘That’ World Cup Final…

I arrived back at Heathrow at just after 0600 last Saturday and after a dash down the M3 I was firmly planted on the sofa, fighting the jet lag whilst watching the teams bellow out their respective anthems in the International Stadium in Yokohama. I am not going to even attempt to argue that England should have won the match. Despite their heroics in the semi-final they came off distinctly second best. It wasn’t for lack of effort, or training, or preparation, or passion for that matter. They were just outplayed on the day, but they can emerge from the experience with their heads held high. They have done us all proud but it just didn’t happen for them on the day. That’s sport. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Sam Underhill (England’s No7) was playing Rugby for Sir Thomas Rich’s, Gloucester a very few years ago; he would have taken on some of the best from BWS, as we habitually play STRS annually at the start of the Autumn season. Sam was undoubtedly one of the stars of the England World Cup Team, and there will be BWS boys who would have been on the receiving end of some of that tackling!

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The long shadow of austerity…

…is still with us, though a welcome email from our MP during the week contained welcome news about funding for the future. The promise is for all schools, not just Bishop’s – one of an increase in the National Funding Formula from £4,800 per Year 7-11 pupil to £5,000, together with a commitment to fund the recent increase in employer’s pension contributions for the next three years. Together this represents an encouraging increase in funds of around 4.5% and, if it comes to fruition, will strengthen our budget considerably. The current political uncertainty does not give grounds for confidence at any level however; growth predictions for UK PLC as we exit (or perhaps don’t exit, or think about exiting) the EU vary considerably, and I worry about therefore whether pre-election commitments will turn into post-poll reality. Time will tell.

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Creationtide - first service of the academic year...

…took place last Thursday in the Cathedral. After a swift registration in school, the bells summoned the great phalanx of blue-blazered bodies onto the North Walk and Bishop’s Walk, and the diagonal path across the Green filled rapidly. It is only really on such mornings that I suddenly realise just how many boys there are at our school as they stream towards the North Porch. Once inside Bishop’s Boys decant into the nave and transepts, settling in a chattering mass and changing the dynamics of the medieval building dramatically. That must be how it has happened for over a century and, as I said when I introduced the service, the hand of history on the shoulder is inescapable. We benefited from some rather rare sunshine on Thursday morning which transforms the nave into a work of Art, diagonal shafts of light falling across the space and catching the dust spiraling upwards. Golding wrote of this in ‘The Spire’, and it easy to see why it caught his imagination. We are so privileged to be able to come into such a space so often, and I urged everyone in the service to not take it for granted, to soak up the atmosphere for themselves. It is of such things as these that memories are made.

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National Poetry Day 2019

There’s something really brave about reading a piece of poetry in public. You never really know how the audience might react – if it is humorous will they ‘get’ the funny bits? Will they laugh at all or will they sit there stony-faced or cynical, asking (without actually asking) why you bothered in the first place? If it’s not funny will they laugh anyway, at rather than with the reader? Or will they simply be mentally elsewhere, coming to at the end of the last stanza with a telling look that says ‘oh good, finished at last then?’. And of course it’s worse if you are not entirely used to doing the job. Will I get the flow and rhythm right, will I stress and un-stress so as to make sense of both what the poet has written and what underlies the words? And do I really understand what the meaning of the words really is – not just the literality spelled out by the words and phrases. Do I know enough? Do they know more than me?

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Letter from Greenwich…

HMC’s annual get-together this year is at the Intercontinental O2, an enormous monument to steel and plate glass architectural ambition on the southern mender of the Thames. As I write I am facing the mesmerising panorama of Canary Wharf as the outriders of Hurricane Lorenzo race through, the gleaming slabs of the financial district reflecting a sky in turmoil. It’s an image that has parallels with the mood of the meeting this year, as independent school Heads contemplate the latest policy announcements from the Labour Party Conference last week; taxation, abolition and redistribution, the storm clouds seemed to be gathering as HMC prepares yet another rearguard action against a battalion of threats. The very good opening address by this year’s Chair, Fiona Boulton (Guildford High School) focused as might be expected on the benefits of collaboration with the state sector, the investment in bursaries and the sharing of facilities and resources with state school which continue to suffer from underfunding. But there was also defensiveness there too, inevitable given the context, and some justifiable defiance. Angela Rayner really had thrown the proverbial kitchen sink at the private sector in a speech that went down very well at the Labour Conference but then had a distinctly lukewarm reception from the broader audiences, both public and media. Sticks and stones I guess in the end and maybe the brief political squall served both sides well as it galvanised opinion as much as it polarised views.

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A Different World

…or at least that’s what it felt like to me when I visited a large 11-16 comprehensive school over the border in Hampshire last week as part of our recruitment campaign for BWS Sixth Form 2020. I always like going to visit other institutions, and this experience was no exception as the school concerned was different from BWS in so many ways. On the surface there were similarities, as the boys and girls were well turned out, very smart in their blazers and ties and very polite and welcoming throughout. The staff were great too – making sure that lost souls like me who meandered around the site were directed on the right path to the Sports Hall, and then fed and watered through quite a lengthy session. But then the differences hit home as I set up my stand and arranged prospectuses and paraphernalia over the BWS display cloth. There were no other schools at all at the HE and Careers event. Instead, mixed in with the apprenticeship providers, employers and public service stands were at least 5 colleges with thick, glossy publicity booklets full of a myriad of courses for youngsters to consider once the age 16 milestone has been passed. I had sort of anticipated that contrast to Wiltshire, but the reality of the world of FE only really hits home when you are in the thick of it; it hit home last week for me forcibly.

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Looking back – and looking forward

Prize Giving is always a bit of a glance in the rear-view mirror. As the last academic year dwindles in the memory we take a last, nostalgic look before turning to glance at what is coming up. This year the event felt rather different, as it started at 1530 and was finished well before 5pm. Instead of coming out through the North Porch of the Cathedral into darkness, this year there was a lovely spectacle of families reuniting to celebrate achievement in the autumn sunshine. The sun also played its part in the service itself, as I think that the nave always looks utterly spectacular when the source of light is outside the building.

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HM Prize Giving Speech 2019

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and boys, and a very warm welcome to Bishop’s Prize Giving 2019. Just that first sentence marks this event out as being rather different, a break with tradition as we start and finish the annual celebration of our boys’ achievement as the shafts of Autumn sunshine pierce the windows of the Nave. For the first time in living memory our new Year 7 boys are at Prize Giving with the rest of us too; in fact this will be the first time that they have been in this wonderful place for a school service at Bishop’s. The first of many – so boys you are especially welcome, read, watch and listen carefully to what goes on here, as this shows what Bishop’s is all about. The young gentlemen who are collecting prizes are a little further down the road than you, and that very long list of university places will probably be you in 7 years’ time. It’s all here on this Thursday afternoon – awe and splendour, legacy and tradition, spirit and celebration, aspiration and high achievement and, at the very heart of all of that, nearly 1,000 boys. Thank you all for joining the school this afternoon, and I do hope that you enjoy the novel experience of emerging through the North Porch onto a bright sward amid a bustling cityscape, rather than stumbling out into the gloom and drizzle of an autumnal mid-evening…

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