Friday, 29 November 2013

Head Master's Weekly Notes - 29th November

Whilst England were doing everything they could to throw away the First Test, Government funding and the importance of state boarding schools were the topics of debate and discussion at last weekend’s SBSA Conference in Norfolk. Politicians, government officials and educationalists led a very useful conference which will I am sure help further shape the educational landscape as we see it. State boarding schools are the jewel in the state sector’s crown and the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Michael Gove mentioned Sexey’s on The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC on Sunday morning - in a positive way I hasten to add! You can watch the interview in full by clicking here (until tomorrow!) and read the story on the website. The story has obviously generated a lot of media interest but it’s important we keep our feet firmly on the ground and concentrate on what we do best and that’s to provide an excellent all-round education for our students. Do please keep an eye on the website for useful information and important updates and for those of you who are social media savvy, do follow us on Twitter (@SexeysSchool) - we hope the regular posts on Twitter and Facebook help to keep you up to date with the myriad of activities that occur in the School.

It is the most wonderful time of the year - with Christmas decorations nearly up, the Choir in fine form and staff practising in earnest for the Staff Review, the festive spirit has certainly arrived at Sexey’s - and it’s still only November! Thank you to all parents who have contributed gifts for the Senior Citizens Christmas Party next week (Weds 4 Dec) – Mrs Latif and her elves are busy wrapping up the presents in time for Father Christmas (our very own Mr Keith Partridge) to deliver them. That very evening, the Christmas Concert will be taking place at 7pm in the Main Hall and it would be lovely to see you all there to see in the festive season – it will prove to be a most wonderful occasion!

In preparation, I’ll be decking the hall with boughs of tinsel and the like, and thank you to those students who have volunteered to help. A sense of humour and a Santa hat are essential!

A reminder that we are holding an eSafety Evening for all parents next Thursday (5 Dec) at 7pm in the Humanities Building where Mr Ian Gover, an eLearning specialist from Somerset County Council, will be talking to parents on how to help their children be responsible and careful whilst on-line and provide necessary strategies in order to facilitate this. I do urge you to attend this very useful event which can only help support our students navigate safely while they are connected – please do let my PA, Mrs Sarah Stallion, know if you are attending so that we can make the necessary arrangements for the event. Staying on the technology theme, Y11 Trial (Mock) Examination results will be available for Y11 parents to download from next Thursday – full details on how to do this are below – my thanks to Mr Dan Bull for arranging this facility. A hard copy of the results will also be given to the Y11 students on Thursday morning too. I hope you find this new method of communication useful and the intention is that from the New Year you will be able to download all of your son’s/daughter’s reports. Again, if you know of any parents who do not have on-line access, please do ask them to get in touch so that we can make alternative arrangements for them.

This weekend will see our Mo Bros shave off their cultivated upper lips after growing and nurturing them for a month and I am proud to announce that the 6th Form together with staff have raised over £1000 for the Movember charity. Similarly, yesterday’s Second-hand Book Sale in the Library in aid of the Zambia Exchange raised £100 – thank you all for your continued support and efforts – it is very much appreciated by the school.

The boarders are off to Bristol for Christmas Shopping and by my reckoning, there are only 26 shopping days left to Christmas and only 5 days left to the Second Test in Adelaide…

Friday, 22 November 2013

Head Master's Weekly Notes - 22nd November

I woke up this morning and was reminded of two things as I looked outside onto the Somerset countryside – firstly, the freezing cold spell is here to stay and secondly, England’s remarkable talent of snatching defeat in the jaws of victory. The teams collapse (136 all out) in their first innings after their commanding performance in the field with Stuart Broad taking 6-81, is I hope not a taste of things to come over the bleak winter. The sledging will continue (as I am sure it will here when the snow eventually falls) and I hope Cook and his men can regroup and turn things around Down Under – it will be an exciting Ashes contest. Speaking of contests, the 1st XV put on a great display against Sherborne losing narrowly in the final kick of the game 14-15, whereas the U14s and U15s found considerable success winning convincingly against Sherborne. More details about the week’s sporting success from the Head of Sport, Mr Boyd, below. Also many congratulations to Jemma Jones (12 GLY HA) who is through to the U21 National Tetrathalon Finals and is also being considered to represent Great Britain in Australia next summer where she will be competing in the four disciplines of shooting, swimming, horse riding and running.
Our commitment to Charity continues to be strong, not only did we raise £580 for Children in Need, we also raised £2150 for Cancer Research UK through the Race for life event that took place last term. The school presented a cheque to Miss Lisa Sweeting from the charity on Tuesday and spoke to the 6th form (many of whom took part in the 5km race) during morning assembly. Next year we hoping to get the whole town involved, so expect to see a splash of pink around Bruton! Mr Stephen Baker from the Somerset Rural Youth Project also spoke to the 6th form about the work that they do in communities. The SRYP will be running the National Citizen Service programme in Somerset next year which offers opportunities for those in Year 11 and 12 to become involved in community projects and I am delighted to inform you that 10 of our Y12 students have signed up to this worthwhile project. With university offers coming in - Justine Taylor (13 KNI RH) has already picked up 5 offers to read History - our Y13s were given a lesson in financial management by Student Finance England during assembly. It will be the students responsibility to manage their money come next October – with student loans, tuition fees, accommodation and living costs to juggle as well as attending lectures, tutorials (and the odd disco) - careful budgeting must be one of their priorities. The 6th Form team are always on hand to provide advice and guidance in this important area of higher education; please do not hesitate to get in touch with them. Also, if your Y13 son or daughter has yet to submit their UCAS form in, please do hurry them along!
With the Siberian weather upon us and icy pavements and footpaths the norm over the next couple of months, please do make sure that your son and/or daughter is wearing a suitably warm coat to protect them from the harsh chill – any colour so long as its black; gloves and a scarf (the School scarf, which is reminiscent of my old college scarf, is great value and is available in the school shop) and an umbrella would be useful kit travelling to and from school over the next few months. A good hot breakfast inside them too will keep away the dreaded cold and avoid them having to go to see Nursey in the Health Centre – prevention is much better than cure. Preparations are well under way for the Christmas Concert on Wednesday the 4th of December with the Senior Citizen party taking place in the Main Hall that afternoon – if you could donate a small gift for this party, both Mrs Latif and I would be most grateful –the students would really like to show the old people a good time at Sexey’s. A week later we have the School’s Christmas Carol Service at St Mary’s, Bruton and you are all cordially invited to attend. However, due to the limited capacity of the Church, if you could let my PA, Sarah Stallion know that you will indeed be attending we can then plan for the afternoon accordingly. After the service, the PSA will be organising mulled wine and mince pies in the warmth of the Main Hall – again you are welcome to this and it would be lovely to see you at the end of term. According to tradition, it is the Head Master’s duty to decorate the School’s Christmas Tree in the Main Hall – any help would be gratefully received! There are plenty of Christmas events in and around Bruton, to get the community into the festive spirit – whether it is Carol Singing on the High Street or doing a reading at St Mary’s, Bruton – I hope to see many of you around. It is easy to keep up to date on all the latest news by following us on Twitter (@SexeysSchool).

The Year 11s are now in the home straight with regards their Trial Examinations (Mocks), and having spoken to many of them over lunch and the like, they have found it a useful experience and I am sure they will do the school proud come next summer. They are sitting their English this afternoon and on Monday afternoon will be sitting Religion and Philosophy. On Monday morning, the Y11s will be given guidance on study skills and useful revision techniques by the Positively Mad team which will further consolidate the work they have done already and help them prepare for their GCSEs next year. Results for these Trials will be made available to the students on Thursday 5 December and will be available for you to download from Moodle – details on how to do this will be sent to you in due course. From the New Year we are looking to have all reports (progress and full) available on-line for you to view and download – if you do know of any parents who do not have on-line access please do ask them to get in touch and we will make alternative arrangements. We hope you will find this a more useful and effective way of keeping track of your child’s progress at school.

It’s been a busy few weeks to say the least and I wish you all a relaxing and peaceful exeat. I will be keeping up to date with Captain Cook’s exploits this weekend whilst at the State Boarding Schools’ Conference in sunny Norfolk…

Friday, 15 November 2013

Head Master's End of Week Notes - 15th November

The glorious weather last Sunday set the tone for a wonderful Remembrance Service at St Marys, Bruton. It was a proud moment for me leading the school through the town to the Church.  Sgt Major Hill ensured that proceedings were in order and the Head of School, James Russ laid down the wreath in memory of Sexeians who gave their lives defending our country in conflicts past and present. I was impressed by our students who were impeccably turned out and well behaved and were a real credit to the school and to the town. After the service, we were invited back to At the Chapel where Catherine Butler looked after us and it was a useful opportunity to meet the Mayor, Mr Alex Rubbo, and other Brutonites such as the Headmaster of King’s, Mr Ian Wilmshurst and Mrs Botterill the Headmistress of Bruton School for Girls. I look forward to working with them all on various initiatives in the future. The School had its own Service of Remembrance on Armistice Day on the Monday and I was equally impressed at how the students conducted themselves during the service and the respect that they showed which says a lot about the school. The silence was eerie and the Last Post, played by Faelan Sydenham (9 GJ CSN) moving. I would like to thank all staff, the Heads of School and the prefects for their help and support during the service.

As ever, we had a packed week of House events sporting fixtures and trips, with the Year 7s travelling to Cardiff Castle on Thursday, the Inter House Hockey and Rugby matches (full details below from the Head of Sport, Mr Boyd), House Writing Competition and of course all the other clubs and societies that take place at lunch times and after school. Some of our boarders are off to see England vs Chile tonight at Wembley! The Y11s will be sitting their Mock Exams next week and I am sure there will be lots of work done this weekend and the staff and I wish them the very best for the task ahead. Our commitment to Charity fund raising continues with Children in Need today and early calculations suggest that a considerable amount of money has already been raised for this worthy cause and of course, the School’s Charity Cross Country which takes place on Friday 6 December – from what I have heard, it will be a fabulous event and it would be great to see you there – don’t forget to bring your wellies! We are also mindful of the tragic events in the Philippines this week and our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families affected by Typhoon Haiyan during this testing and difficult time.

As you are aware, the school was recently inspected for its boarding provision and the Ofsted Report is now available for you to read on the website under Statutory Information (on the bottom left of the front page) – please do read it and I would welcome any comments that you may have on it.

I received an email from our Facilities Manager this week asking about Christmas trees for School and the Boarding Houses and it hit home that we are now just 4 weeks to the end of term and only 40 odd days to Christmas! Preparations are underway for the Senior Citizens’ Christmas Party and Christmas Concert on Wednesday 4 December, Acoustic Night on the Tuesday 10 December, the Christmas Shopping Evening on Bruton High Street on Wednesday 11 December, where the PSA will be in full force as well as our Carol Singers and the Christmas Carol Service on the last day of term, Friday 13 December at St Mary’s Bruton, which will round off the term and put everyone in the Christmas spirit. After the service, all parents and friends of the school are invited back for mince pies and a glass of mulled wine in the KDR – I look forward to seeing you at this very special school occasion.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Head Master's Weekly Notes - 8th November

Over the half term, I had a very successful trip to China - please do read my blog and the article on the website 'Made in China' - I look forward to working with our partner school in Yueyang over the coming years to provide valuable enrichment opportunities for our Sexeians.

The second half of this Michaelmas Term is well underway with rugby fixtures, badminton matches, hockey matches, the Movember Campaign, Children in Need (next Friday 15 Nov) and the Senior House Music Competition dominating this week.

It has been a privilege for me to be part of the 6th Form Interviews this week with our current Y11 students. To hear about their aspirations and their plans for the future shows a great deal of maturity and I hope they do well in their Trial Exams in a couple of weeks time. The Exams Officer and I will be giving an Exams Briefing to the Y11 students after assembly next Tuesday so that they understand the exam protocols and procedures - I wish them well in their endeavours.

Well done to our Y10/Y11 (KS4) girls’ Badminton team who on Tuesday became the South Somerset County Badminton Champions and are now through to the County Finals and to our Y10/11 (KS4) boys’ team who came 3rd in this national competition. On Wednesday the Y8/9 (KS3) girls’ team came 2nd while the Y7/8/9 boys’ (KS3) team came 3rd – a tremendous effort by all involved.

Mrs Stallion and I will be at the Independent Schools Show in London flying the flag for Sexey's and I will be back up on Sunday morning for the Remembrance Service at St Mary's, Bruton. Please do try and join us if you can on Sunday as we process down the High Street to the Pack Horse Bridge. It will be a sombre and moving occasion. The School laid down poppies this morning in the Millennium Garden in front of the Music School and will have its Service of Remembrance on Monday morning with Faelan Sydenham playing The Last Post.

Half term seems like such a long time ago!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Made in China

We think we know China. The world's most venerable and self-confident civilisation, home to the largest unified race of people on the planet, China manufactures the objects that fill our lives, from the humble iPod to the cars on our roads. We see a country peopled by docile and determined factory workers, domineering 'Tiger Mothers' obsessed with education and achievement, and a society that has put the accumulation of wealth above political freedom. Above all, we see a superpower on the rise, destined to overtake the West and to dominate the 21st century.

My recent visit to China took me rapidly through my preconceptions; dismantled them, challenged, confirmed and left me wanting to learn more about the people, its rich culture and chequered history.

I was fortunate to be invited by the Somerset-Yueyangpartnership to visit China with a group of SomersetHeadteachers to experience first-hand this misunderstood place – I had never travelled to either Hong Kong or Chinabefore (only as far as India and Nepal) and I only had my preconceptions about the place to guide me. I was truly surprised by China – its astonishing growth, the hospitality and generosity of its people and its vision. Mr Osborne, who visited China only a week before we did, is right – we either watch China usurp the West or be a part of it.

Having arrived in Changsha in Hunan Province from Hong Kong we had a two hour coach trip to Yueyang. The trip through the Chinese countryside gave me the opportunity to witness just how much development is going on in this vast country. There was hardly a kilometre that went by that there was not a new building going up or an engineering construction project underway. Thousands of coal trucks up and down the motorway were transporting energy all over the country. When we finally arrived at Yueyang the story was unchanged. This may be a “small” city in the depths of south China, living in the shadows of Beijing and Shanghai but it was also a beautiful and modern city with all the trappings of a Western one with a population of 800,000 - the whole of Somerset only has a population of 920,000! The tall skyscrapers, vast shopping malls, theatres, libraries and hotelssuggest a city that is going places.

Our plush hotel by Lake Nanhu which was a hotel primarily for state officials provided us with the comforts of home overthe next week and we were greeted with a huge sign welcoming us. We immediately felt at home and following avery short rest to shower and change we attended the meeting with the local Education Bureau who hosted a presentation by both Yueyang and Somerset about their hopes for the partnership work at school level. It was also an opportunity for us to experience Chinese culture through a range of musical performances by teachers and students from variousschools, including the university, in the district. Theenthusiasm, skill and confidence exhibited by the childrenwas simply breath taking and the range of activities was impressive - from traditional Chinese music played on thegaohu to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5. The talent on display was inspiring and it was evident that the children were enjoying themselves and were really proud to be representing their schools. After the formalities of the opening Ceremony and meeting the various dignitaries of the Education Bureau we were then treated to a Chinese banquet in a private dining room in one of Yueyang’s top seafood restaurants – the Chinese certainly know how to cook and to entertain.Delicacies such as crab, turtle and eel were on offer as were other more traditional dishes such as prawn, sea bass and lobster. The evening was also an opportunity to meet theHeadteachers of our partner schools and it was a real pleasureto finally meet Mr Cheng Hao who spoke very highly of Ray McGovern and Sexey’s School. He had visited the school last October and was overwhelmed by our kindness and generosity – I have a lot to live up to! The evening ended with numerous toasts being made in honour of the schoolpartnerships, with fortified Chinese wine – 47% abc!

The next day I visited Yueyang Middle School for the first time and really didn’t know what to expect. I was given a warm reception by the staff and I was asked if I could give an assembly to 2000 children! So some quick thinking needed to take place – I did find that you were thinking quite a lot on your feet in China and this was both exciting and quitedaunting! I managed to deliver my assembly (some of it inMandarin!) and once I was finished I was mobbed by the students – I now know what Justin Bieber must feel like – it was very surreal and the staff had to hold the children back while I walked through the playground for my next engagement. Once lessons had started, I was given a tour of the school and its facilities. The students conducting the tour were dressed in school uniform which was a two tone track suit (blue and white) with a special red sash (instead of our prefect tie) which signified that the student is the student leader for that particular year group and was selected to hostthe visitor. Each of the students took turns to show me one significant and interesting aspect of their school – the history room, the laboratories, library, ICT suite, Dining Hall etc and did so in very good English – I was impressed with both their fluency and vocabulary. Like Sexey's students they wereimmensely proud of their school and keen to impress and they were excellent ambassadors for their school.

Throughout the course of the week I observed lessons (up to 17 other teachers would observe another colleagues’ lesson – talk about pressure!) in art, music, mandarin, history, English and chemistry; gave an impromptu Chemistry lesson on water and the elements to 65 students; was asked to prepare an English lesson to 75 children (class sizes are on average 65!)but was then told with 5 minutes to go that it would be 150 – quick thinking on one’s feet again; ate with the children in their KDR – the food was delicious and they were impressed that I could use chopsticks (the operation of feeding 2000 children in an hour was slick and very impressive indeed) andI was guest of honour at their Sports Day – which quite frankly resembled the Olympic Games – organising 2000children is no mean feat and I was taken aback by the quality of the opening ceremony and the games that followed – truly remarkable. It’s no wonder they do so well at the Olympics – sport is a major aspect of a child’s education in China and a lot of investment has been made to realise this. And yes, I was asked to speak again at the ceremony, but this time in Mandarin….

Miss Zhang, who was at Sexey’s last year teaching Mandarin to our students, was my translator for the week and I was given a driver, Mr Peng, who took me around Yueyangvisiting colleagues and taking in the impressive sites. Driving in China for a foreigner must be a scary experience as is being the poor passenger – wearing a seat belt is essential! There is a kind of ordered chaos on the roads, with considerably more chaos than order, with horns appearing to be the preferred means of communication. The cars on the roads are all very modern and I am astonished not to see more with damaged front wings or rear ends. At junctions which we would consider to be major junctions, traffic management appears to be based on the assumption that you simply squeeze through regardless of how big the vehicle next to you might be. I'm sure there is a system but I couldn’t quite work it out. The car industry is booming here and a million cars are produced eachmonth which will use up precious fuel and produce greenhouse gases that will effect the entire plant. The future of the Chinese car market could be one of the most important issues facing the world. And Mr Peng still manages to miss that pedestrian and coal truck while driving on the wrong side of the road and answering his iPhone 5.

Capitalism, rampant consumerism and incredible wealth is something I didn’t expect to see on my visit – the orange Lamborghini outside the Sheraton Hotel in Changsha; £8 for a cup of coffee and the lavish banquets we were treated to spoke volumes about the place. Every single person I spoke to from the current generation to those who grew up under the Maoist regime have said that their lives have got better. Despite the greatest economic boom in history, China is still a developing country and it is home to a fifth of the planet’s population. Remarkably, it is poorer by person than countries like Costa Rica and Bulgaria. But it is a country that has developed rapidly, under the economic reforms implemented by Premier Wei Jengbao, raising millions out of poverty, but which faces important challenges: a lack of healthcare and support for the vulnerable, heavy pollution, and growing inequality. There is a lot more change to come. I do hope that both Yueyang Middle School and Sexey’s learn from one another over the coming years to help strengthen this very special and important relationship and that we both strive to provide valuable educational opportunities for our students which will enrich their international perspective and provide a cultural dimension to their learning.

I look forward to welcoming Mr Cheng Hao and his students to Sexey’s in due course and me returning to Yueyang with a group of Sexeians to experience what live is actually like in the Far East.

I H Latif
Head Master
November 2013