BlogFrom the Headmaster of Windlesham House School
Richard Foster is the Headmaster of Windlesham House School in West Sussex, one of the country’s leading IAPS co-educational day and boarding preparatory schools for boys and girls aged 4 to 13.
Another week has flown by and we are gathering ourselves for the much anticipated school exams! My heart goes out to our CE candidates whose French orals begin today – this is the real thing! They are so well prepared I hope and trust no-one freezes up because of nerves.
On Wednesday evening Rachel and I fly out to Bermuda where I am giving a generic presentation about the merits of boarding in the independent school system. We hope to capitalise on the interest being expressed about Windlesham. We are very much looking forward to meeting up with some past and present families as part of our trip.
When we return in the early hours of Monday morning we will be straight in to the run up towards half term. I have always been of the view that the most important aspect of exams is finding out what you do not know. We put great store in going through the exams in detail so that the children of all ages and ability can learn from their mistakes. It is extraordinary how much knowledge can be retrieved in most, if not al,l subjects. The point I will be making to the subject teachers and the children in assembly is that next week’s lessons become the most precious of the year!
It was disappointing not to have more young golfers for our Windlesham Open Championship on Sunday but those who did play could not have had better conditions and I don’t believe our 9 hole golf course has been better.
Dr Anthony Seldon, the Master of Wellington College, was our guest speaker in our Sunday service and he made my day by starting his address by saying “Windlesham’s setting is the best of any school in the country”. Praise indeed and good reason for all those associated with the school to appreciate how lucky we are.
I am so pleased the glorious weather of last week has extended into the bank holiday. It made sense for us to extend our long weekend so families could all be together. I spent the best part of last week attending the annual Boarding Schools’ Association conference which this year, conveniently for us, was held in Brighton.
Like all the prep school heads attending the conference I was delighted that the Chairman of the B.S.A. challenged the Senior Schools’ Heads over their obsession with academic selective entry almost at all cost. Christian Heinrich went on to extol the virtues of allowing prep school children to enjoy and savour their childhood. Like us at Windlesham, his school allows children to climb trees and have a sense of freedom. My only retort being that as a predominantly day school his pupils do not have much time during the day to make the most of these opportunities; another reason why I promote full boarding so strongly.
It was a very good conference and I took much heart from the desire to promote the virtues of a boarding education and the obvious fact that Windlesham almost stands alone in the Prep School world given our very strong full boarding numbers.
Next on my agenda is to chair this week’s Oxford Group Meeting at Radley College. I hope much good will be gained from reflecting on the mood of the B.S.A. conference.
It was indeed very touching to return to school last Thursday and be given such a warm welcome back by the children and staff alike. It was quite a sight with a sea of 8 year olds immersed in the Windlesham Challenge. For many of the children from the ten schools, being in the woods and making pizza in our open air pizza oven would, I expect, have been the highlight.
We have had a marvellous start to the summer term helped by enjoying lots of sunshine. After ten days, I can honestly that say all our new children are well settled and the school as a whole is in excellent heart.
We have just about recovered from the ‘Parents of Windlesham Have Got Talent’ show. It was a fantastic effort on the part of a good number of parents. Needless to say, there was talent in abundance but I think the whole event will be long remembered for bringing everyone closer together and it is very clear that lots of new friendships have been forged as a result. Rachel and I look forward to giving the winning act a slap up dinner in our apartment in a few weeks’ time.
The first full week of any term is always so important and I am delighted with the work ethic and general demeanour that has been set. We wish our Eton scholarship candidates all the best for their exams – there cannot be a more exacting few days for 13 year old boys.
Like any prep school headmaster, the sound of bat on ball is the hallmark of the summer term and our 1st XI look very promising, as indeed do our senior girls’ rounders team, given their convincing win in the first round of the national JET competition.
We had something of a national feel this Saturday in hosting 34 senior schools for an exhibition whilst combining this with Open Morning. Once again the sun shone so the wow factor was very prevalent. Much to my delight, we had a lot of visitors and the show was very well attended. It was lovely to receive so many compliments from the exhibitors about the general atmosphere and how impressed they were by our children and the parents! All in all, a hugely successful day.
Over the next few days, Rachel and I are attending the B.S.A. Conference which conveniently for us is being staged in Brighton this year. Let’s hope we are inspired and come back to Windlesham bubbling with new ideas.
The sun is shining, the children are all back and the place is buzzing again. We enjoyed a very smooth and happy first day yesterday. As I said in my newsletter to parents and indeed reminded all my staff, there is no better place to live and work in than an English Boarding Preparatory School in the Summer Term. Biased I may be but it would be hard to beat Windlesham when it comes to setting and atmosphere.
To endorse this sentiment we generated a special welcome back for all the boarders by having a BBQ on Wednesday evening. It was a delight to see such a sea of happy faces catching up with their friends and members of staff – everyone clearly genuinely pleased to be back at school. How I wish these people who dismiss the merits of boarding could see this for themselves!
We welcomed 17 new pupils into the Prep School yesterday morning and I was made to feel very proud of our hosts and senior buddies as they put to rest the minds of both the new children and indeed their parents. I think everyone can recall their first day at a new school. One is knotted up with nerves and excitement. I like to think at Windlesham we go out of our way to make this experience as painless as is possible. The jury is always out as they say so I will make sure we get feedback from the new families over the next few days.
I looked out of my study yesterday afternoon and watched a group of Under 8s having their first cricket coaching session with the backdrop being the last green of our nine hole golf course. The blossom on the cherry trees by this green has just started; our stunning grounds are surely about to look their very best ever. On top of all this, we have discovered a pheasant nesting in a flower bed right in the middle of the school; nature really is at work at Windlesham.
Back to school for the Summer Term brings with it lots of excitement and outdoor fun and games as I have alluded to but it is also a vital time on the academic front. The whole school have exams to face in a month’s time and it is of course Common Entrance straight after half term. A number of children are still preparing to sit their academic scholarships so the work ethic throughout the school needs to be at its very best – the rallying call I made in our first assembly.
On Saturday evening the Windlesham parents are going to be entertaining us all with their range of talents. It is their ‘Windlesham Has Got Talent’ show and my goodness, have they taken up the challenge! Rachel and I have been witness to all sorts of secret rehearsals; it promises to be quite an event. I for one cannot wait!
What a memorable last week of term. Rachel and I hosted a Drinks Reception on Sunday for past parents which was a hugely enjoyable occasion. It means such a lot when you catch up on news of past pupils and it is really gratifying to be reminded of how much Windlesham means to them all. This was further brought home to us when we attended the Prefects Drinks at Marlborough College on Monday night. We were very touched to be invited by our three prefects and felt immensely proud to have, this year, more prefects at Marlborough than any other feeder Prep School. Our alumni gave us such a warm welcome and were such great company throughout the evening. It was reassuring that their personalities had not changed at all but my goodness what impressive young adults they have become; it was very uplifting.
In the midst of writing my end of term reports and seeing every tutor group in my study for a review of the term I dashed off yesterday to support our senior girls in their second Sussex Cup Final this season. This time it was hockey on the full size astro pitch at Eastbourne College. My heart went out to our girls as the final whistle went and we again had to accept runners up medals after going down 1 – 0 to a very good Ardingly team. To their great credit our girls held their heads up and were very gracious towards the opposition as indeed I would expect of them.
I feel bound to say that I become increasingly more eager to have our own new astro pitch up on Campbell field. It would make such a difference to the standard of our hockey which I can only applaud given the short season and wet conditions we have endured. The astro pitch is the first phase of our Capital Development Plan and thanks to a couple of very generous pledges the dream looks like becoming a reality.
I am now off to organise my Easter egg treasure hunt for the whole school which goes ahead this afternoon, providing of course packing has been done really well!
The end of a really hectic term is in sight!
I wish you all a very Happy Easter.
I have been reminded that I have not kept up my new year’s resolution of a weekly blog. Sincere apologies.
Guess what? We have had more fun and games in the some quite heavy snow. A long walk in glorious sunshine with 150 12 and 13 year olds was most entertaining and very therapeutic. Always amazes me how much you converse on a good walk; you learn such a lot with young people.
It is hard to believe two weeks have elapsed since half term. The days just fly by when you are so busy and my goodness we have been inundated with prospective parent visits and a very full calendar. I am thrilled for those children who have gained scholarships, the numbers of awards are creeping up which is very satisfying. Telling a child they have won a scholarship has to be one of the most memorable and special moments of being a Head. I have to confess to loving the emotion that comes with announcing wonderful news like this.
Talking of good news such is the strength and academic ability of our current Twos (year 7) we have decided to have two academic scholarship forms next year. I believe this is a first time ever scenario which speaks volumes about the quality of children we are attracting and indeed, the standard of teaching.
Outside the classroom we have enjoyed considerable success over the past two weeks. On Wednesday afternoon our senior girls netball team played in the Sussex Cup Final and came a close second cheered on by an enthusiastic bunch of supporters. Well done all! We had a wonderful Windlesham Rugby Sevens Tournament last week. It was perfect weather conditions and the sight of our magnificent games fields awash with boys playing rugby to a very high standard was a spectacle to treasure.
We are going to keep normal lessons running right up to the last day this term and have a very busy final few days ahead of us – Fingers closed we all can stay on our feet, such is the work hard, play hard atmosphere within the school. Happy St Patrick’s day I say because there is no nation who epitomises the ethos more readily.
It has been a whirlwind few days leading up to half term. I am delighted to have made some new appointments in the School Office and Marketing & Admissions Department and we look forward to welcoming the new personnel to the team next month. These are exciting times for the school given the level of interest and the number of parents signing up; we are well on course to have a new record number of boarders next term.
I have to confess to being immensely proud of the children who entertained us all last weekend in the finals of ‘Windlesham Has Got Talent’. There was such a buzz in the audience and choosing the winner was very difficult given the all round quality. Just goes to show what I meant about lighting fires in my last blog. Rachel and I visited Wellington College last week to see a performance of ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Three of our alumni were in the cast and Martha Gray played the lead part of Christine. Her singing and acting would be good enough to grace the West End . I vividly recall her in ‘Windlesham Rocks’ during her last year with us and she also happens to be a past recipient of the ‘Spirit of Windlesham’ Award. Again, I was immensely proud.
It will not be long before we choose the next ‘Spirit of Windlesham’, there will certainly be no shortage of contenders given the strength in depth of this year’s Twos . I am increasingly impressed by this year group and am really thrilled that our Director of Studies is of the view that we shall need to operate two academic scholarship forms next year! That will be another first and really whets the appetite!
My goodness so much has happened since my last blog; it is hard to believe how much we pack into a week at Windlesham. There have been some truly memorable events to share with you.
‘Music in the Library’ week: amazing solo performances from children who would otherwise not usually sign up for an informal concert. Clearly, variety of venue is an excellent initiative.
52-52 score in a 2nd XV rugby match: you could only get a score like this in a Prep school rugby fixtures; that’s what team sport is really about.
Boarding Open Evening: the chance for day parents and indeed existing boarding parents to see the dormitories in action at bedtime. We have done a couple of these before and the feedback was so positive we now do this every term. I honestly believe the majority of parents have their eyes opened as to what a lovely, homely atmosphere is created in both the boys and girls wings.
Parent Year Dinner in the local pub: a super evening and the chance for parents to get to know each other, which all helps to add to the family atmosphere we strive to generate.
Junior Public Speaking Competition: two representatives from each house speaking in front of a packed theatre; all their peers and a hundred plus parents. You had to pinch yourself to remember these were only 10 year olds. Not only was their delivery so impressive but the content of their speeches was astonishing, especially when one knows they have written them themselves. I do not know how the Head of Drama and my wife Rachel were able to pick the winners but there was general agreement within the audience. For my part, I felt I had to give each of the competitors a Headmaster’s Commendation, so proud was I of their performance.
On top of all this, we have welcomed one of my ex-pupils from S. Anselm’s to give a talk on a charity project he is helping with during his gap year.
Our Bursar’s daughter gave a polished talk at Scholar’s Evening about ‘Learning more about Primates’; she is studying Zoology at Cardiff University and has worked for 10 months on a project in the Limpopo.
Frances Osborne gave an inspirational talk to the seniors about writing and being an author. It was all the more poignant since she was a pupil here herself.
On Wednesday evening, Raven performed at our first MFT event of the calendar year. A string quartet made up of young women with incredible talent and stage presence. They have played in The Royal Variety Performance but never had a more appreciative audience than at Windlesham. I know of two children who have merrily announced they wanted to start learning the violin as a result of last night’s performance.
Inspiring young people is the most rewarding aspect of running a school where children are in their formative years. You can literally sense ‘fires being lit’ and if I have anything to do with it, these fires will continue to burn for the rest of their time at school.
It is very good news that the snow has now disappeared and we have been able to resume normal games and activities. We all know the importance of young people being able to run off their energy and there is nowhere better than Windlesham to do this and in a very constructive way. Even I, as Headmaster, was beginning to feel deprived of my early morning runs with our black Labrador in tow, or rather the other way round.
This last week has been dominated by interviewing for various non-teaching posts and, indeed, my giving our many scholarship candidates their own interview practice. I love interviewing; there is no better way of learning more about people and often oneself. Interviewing is all about the interaction between people in an effort to discover what an individual has to offer and, just as importantly, what their make-up is all about. It is vital to try and determine their personality and I am always fascinated to learn how an individual has been brought up.
A person’s upbringing obviously starts at birth and continues right through till they gain independence from their parents. No wonder I place such great store on this as a Preparatory School Headmaster. A good upbringing is never dependent on wealth or possessions; it is all about core values in life: honesty, integrity, kindness, reliability and self-discipline. The list is endless but these and the many other attributes that constitute a good upbringing must be taught and learnt.
It could of course be argued that this needs to be the backbone of good parenting. Whilst never taking the responsibility away from parents, or indeed underestimating their influence, experience tells me that instilling these virtues into a child during their formative years is a key part of an all-round education at school. The difference between a good school and a great school is that the latter naturally offers and delivers an excellent upbringing.
It goes without saying that by being an Independent co-educational Preparatory School and having a full boarding ethos, Windlesham has everything on tap. I do not think we can have any excuses for not providing our pupils an outstanding all-round education and it’s the upbringing that these very lucky young people need and, indeed, should want.
Sadly, we were thwarted by the snow and sensibly called off the Netball Tournament and postponed the Senior Schools Show and Open Morning. I know a lot of parents were disappointed but we have rearranged the latter two events for Saturday 27th April. Let’s hope the elements are kinder and we have a glorious Spring day.
I did the honourable thing and clad myself in my ski gear ready to face the 200 + children who stayed in school on Saturday. Myself and several other staff became children all over again and needless to say, came off second best in the mass snow ball fight. My goodness what are all these schools doing closing simply because someone might slip and hurt themselves; I would suggest staff and pupils are being denied an opportunity to bond and have a bit of fun together.
I see Libby Purves has written an article in The Times yesterday (January 21st) in which she makes the valid point that ‘the virtues of courage, resilience and honesty are not taught on the exam treadmill or by modern worry-guts parent’. I am not suggesting a boarding school environment is the answer to everything but it certainly is one sure way to have the chance of developing the above virtues naturally whilst also receiving an outstanding academic education.
Life is actually very simple and a preparatory boarding school is the most wonderful environment to keep it that way.
As the new Chairman of the Oxford Group of Preparatory Schools, I have another opportunity to fly the flag and promote the advantages of boarding at an early age. I am now on something of a mission and I have every intention of enjoying it and indeed being successful.
A belated Happy New Year. It is amazing to think we are nearly three weeks into 2013. It is lovely to have the school back in full swing and our 12 new recruits have all arrived and are very well settled. We had a friend of our youngest son Sam, from Edinburgh University staying with us for the start of term and he then spent a few days at Windlesham doing work experience. After the first day, he said to me ‘I cannot believe how happy the children all are to be back at school, they really want to be here’. Needless to say, that put a big smile on my face!
The children and staff have returned in good spirits and there is a great buzz about the place; the Ones (Year 8) will be a bit more subdued in the coming week as they sit their C.E. mock exams. I seem to be spending most of my time giving children interview practice as so many are about to go off for pre-tests and it is not long before the scholarship season begins in earnest.
As I write, we are keeping fingers crossed that snow is not going to thwart our Open Day this Saturday or more importantly, disrupt our Senior Schools Show. Our Head of Marketing and Admissions has worked wonders to get no less than 36 Senior Schools to come and exhibit. What a golden opportunity for our parents embarking on the process of identifying their first choice Senior School for their child/children. Added to this we also have 24 teams coming to play in our annual Netball Tournament. It should be quite a day.
I was very interested to hear on the radio yesterday that Dr Anthony Selden, the charismatic Master of Wellington College was promoting the need for good manners and punctuality to be instilled in the young of today. Anyone associated with Windlesham will know that I place huge store on these attributes. I would argue that it is fundamentally important to any prep school’s ethos because these all important life skills need to be nurtured in a child’s formative years; waiting till adolescence sets in is leaving it too late!
At Windlesham good manners are an integral part of everyday life and a day does not go by when I do not make reference to it. Punctuality is something you work on throughout your life and is one of the new year’s resolutions I have put to the school.
I remain very excited about the year ahead and hope we can really build on the momentum we have generated.
My next blog will follow in a week’s time…
It is hard to believe the end of term has come and gone and we are already a whole week into the Christmas holiday.
As anticipated, our final Christmas celebrations were great fun. The children love their House Christmas parties and they certainly all entered into the spirit for the Headmaster’s Disco. It was great seeing all the Ones dancing so happily with the children they are senior mentors to and I never felt I had to do any persuading with anyone to take to the floor. I was not surprised to hear from the respective Heads of Boarding that everyone in the dorms fell asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow.
Despite atrocious weather on the last day of term, the Christmas concert was a triumph. I am fairly sure everyone who attended could tell what a wonderful buzz there is in the school. It was a fabulous way to round off a very successful term.
I hope those reading my blog will have time to read the article in the latest edition of Sussex Life. If nothing else, it is very gratifying to see that I have been quoted correctly.
The year 2012 is ending with my feeling very proud of all that has been achieved and I feel very excited about the prospects that lie ahead for Windlesham in 2013.
Have a wonderful Christmas everyone.
This really is an amazing school. Last night, I witnessed every dormitory, both in the girls’ wing and the boys’, above our apartment, hearing Christmas stories being read to them by members of staff; even our new Chairman of Governors was good enough to be one of the story readers. This lovely scene follows on from a wonderful boarders’ Christmas dinner on Saturday when we enjoyed some hilarious entertainment. What an atmosphere.
I look back on the last ten days with immense pride. Everyone who saw our production of Les Misérables would seem to have been ‘blown away’ by the quality of the singing and acting; it will certainly live long in the memory.
Many, but by no means all, of the lead parts then had to concentrate their minds on our Carol Services. Much to my delight, the Chapel was packed full on both occasions and they have simply been the icing on the cake to a very atmospheric and special week.
Nothing was quite as moving as the Thanksgiving Service for Lord Denman on Friday. We estimate that some 300 people came to pay their respects and support the Denman family. Our choir led the singing beautifully and you could hear a pin drop throughout the service. I was so impressed that not a word was heard from the rest of the school. From the moment all the guests drove up our drive, they were extremely well looked after and I know that the Denman family are incredibly grateful to the school. It was the perfect way to pay tribute to a truly remarkable man.
We now build up to the end of term and there is cause to enjoy much celebration. I believe the infamous ‘whole school Christmas medley’ will be a fitting way to do just that come 12 noon on Friday.
Happy Christmas everyone.
I have failed in my best efforts to write a weekly blog but I make no excuses because it must always be my priority to put the children and the running of the school before anything else.
I must begin by celebrating with you all our latest Independent Schools Award 2012. We were voted ‘The Best Independent-Maintained School Collaboration’ for our work with Littlehampton Academy, The CRED Foundation, St John’s Ambulance and St Joseph’s School in India. Not only do I feel that our philosophy and ethos of thinking ‘outside the box’ has been recognised but I am also very proud to be the first independent school in the country to have won two awards and consecutively at that. I am thrilled that our effort to work alongside the maintained sector and to have supported such a worthy and worthwhile charity as CRED, has been so successful. Life is not about winning prizes and awards but two distinguished trophies have now taken pride of place above the mantelpiece in the front hall of Windlesham.
The last few weeks have been dominated by the mock exams for our academic scholarship candidates. The results have been most encouraging whilst also reminding us all how increasingly competitive the individual examinations are for the young people.
In between this all, our school play production Les Miserables has grown in pace. I have tried to attend as many rehearsals as I can and, to be honest, have been blown away by the standard of the singing and acting. This weekend’s performances should result in much acclaim and I know I am going to be immensely proud of the whole cast.
We also have our Carol Services to look forward to in a week’s time and I have no doubt Anthony Hutchings will ensure they are as memorable as ever. With Christmas lights adorning the front face of the main house and Christmas trees up and beautifully decorated by my wife Rachel and her band of willing young helpers; the festive season is already upon us.
We have been graced with a visit from the All Blacks legend Sean Fitzpatrick this week which will no doubt inspire our very promising rugby players on to even better performances than they have enjoyed to date.
The last 48 hours have been spent in all day meetings; firstly in my capacity as a Governor at Dulwich College and yesterday at the IAPs Council meeting where I represented the BSA Executive Committee. – All part of my rich tapestry of being a Headmaster. Whilst I do learn something new every day, all I do know is I am at my happiest and my best back at the coal face of Windlesham.
The very sad news of Lord Charles Denman passing away last week has been felt deeply in the Windlesham community. He was a great friend of the school and will go down in history as being instrumental in helping the Malden family establish the school as the front runner in co-educational boarding at the prep school age. We are honoured to be holding a service for Lord Charles Denman next week in our chapel. His and the Malden legacy is one I will continue to enhance as long as I am Headmaster of Windlesham.
I close by welcoming Christina Maude as the new Chairman of Governors. Rachel and I look forward to working very closely with her in the months and years ahead. We shall most certainly be planning a worthy send off for the out going Chariman, Lucinda Williams, on Open Day, July 4th 2013.
It is hard to believe we have been back at school for two weeks since half term. So much has happened. I feel as if my feet have yet to touch the ground following my trip to Singapore and Hong Kong. We had a very successful time in the Far East and, as always, making the effort to be there was much appreciated.
So frenetic is life at Windlesham, it felt like no time had passed before I was running in the ‘whole school cross country event’. What an atmosphere there was – everyone bust a gut for their house! No sooner was that over, it was time for the inter-house singing competition. Never has the standard been higher and it was quite clear how much everyone enjoyed taking part. I was especially proud to see all the new children so involved and singing their hearts out.
Then there was Bonfire Night and, my goodness, what a firework display. Certainly, the best to date and we probably had more people here than ever before. It was especially good to see so many recent leavers back and still so enthusiastic about Windlesham.
Our rugby season is well underway and we have the potential to enjoy a very good season both at 1st XV level and below.
In between all this extra-curricular, we have enjoyed two outstanding scholars’ evenings and a truly impressive presentation by our Ones on the India Trip. The standard of their speeches and the way they each delivered their own words was incredibly impressive. I feel sure the Governors will be equally proud when they hear a shortened version at tonight’s Governors’ meeting.
On top of all this Rachel and I have been interviewed by a journalist for a national newspaper. Watch this space…
I am writing this week’s message from Singapore where I am meeting prospective parents and then moving on to Hong Kong for the same reason . It is very good to be back in the tropics , I feel quite at home given my colonial up bringing in East Africa . I spent a lovely evening last night in the company of several young expatriate families and it brought home to me how much they appreciate my making the effort to be here over our half term .
I left Windlesham after welcoming the India Trip safely back; their adventure has clearly been an experience of a life time and I will share lots more of their achievements with you in the weeks ahead . I am conscious that today the school will be buzzing with excitement as all the children will soon be reunited with their families; for some it will have been six weeks since they were together . It is such a happy thought and I am sorry to be missing the special atmosphere that is creating in our front hall . It is rather nice that they all have the Autumn Fair to enjoy before setting off home .
I am hoping everyone will return after half term well rested and raring to go , the build up to Christmas is always a lovely time with this age group and there is so much to look forward to in our calendar .
Have a lovely half term.
Another week has flown by and, as always at Windlesham, so much has happened. Thankfully our party in India are all well and clearly already making a difference to the lives of the orphaned children they are supporting.
We enjoyed a very memorable Harvest Festival Service at Warminghurst Church on Sunday evening. Our Chapel Choir sang beautifully to a packed full church and helped create a truly special atmosphere. One parent whose daughter is actually out in India made the effort to come from London just to support the rest of the Choir! It says much for the special occasion it has become and of course says much about the family concerned.
I will be spending the next 48 hours studying the childrens' progress reports and writing my own little comment on each one. It's an exacting exercise but a very rewarding one, especially when I reflect on how very well settled all the new children are and how happy the whole school is at this moment in time. There is a very good work ethic running through each year group.
We now have a two week all important session before half term. The children will be encouraged to be very focused on their work and to enjoy the last of the longer days.
I am preparing for my visit to Singapore and Hong Kong over half term. I have appointments to meet prospective parents and will be attending the Academic Asia Exhibition in Hong Kong. Rachel joins me half way through my trip; her priority being to ensure our Autumn Gift Fair runs smoothly – it promises to be a superb event with a wonderful array of stalls and we expect many visitors to descend on the school. It's on Friday 19th October from 10am – 2pm in The Malden Family Theatre and everyone is, of course, welcome.
I am delighted to be sending out my first blog of the new academic year. It is a measure of how busy we have been settling in all 64 of our new children that I have not made an entry before now. Our new intake are, without exception, doing ever so well and are all very happily settled. It is indicative of what an excellent start to the term we have enjoyed. There is a real sense of optimism running through all the year groups and the atmosphere both in the girls' wing and the boys' dorms is very special.
On the eve of our team of 11 children setting off for India, I want to express the sense of pride I enjoy in seeing our children make the most of the opportunities on offer here at Windlesham. The team travelling to India will be away for 10 days under the umbrella of The Cred Foundation. I know it will be an experience of a lifetime and they will return considerably richer in spirit and mind.
I have made a new academic year resolution to attend to my blog on a weekly basis and we will also be 'tweeting' on a daily basis – do follow us on Twitter!
It’s been an amazing week, what with my 48 hour trip out to Kenya and the surreal experience of being back at Pembroke House as a Guest of Honour. We can look back on all our end of term events with tremendous satisfaction and a good deal of pride. Saying goodbye to our top year was very sad but I was very touched by the sincerity of their thank you messages.
It’s extremely exciting to have launched the Windlesham Foundation on Saturday at Open Day. It has been very well received and there has been much interest expressed.
I am going to share various extracts from my recent speeches which hopefully will be of interest and indeed informative!
Pembroke House, Kenya:
I’m passionate about giving a child an all-round education. Of course, academic excellence must be a top ingredient and, in this day and age, private schools simply have to deliver on this front. The standard of teaching has got to be not ‘just good’ but ‘outstanding’. The ingredient that is also totally essential is common sense.
We want children to succeed and to grow in confidence, we want them to have the courage to try new things out but we also want them to fail. There are many blessings to living and working in the UK but it is extremely challenging to constantly be on your guard about health and safety, risk assessments and litigation.
Most schools in the UK are afraid of failure and remove all possibilities of children not succeeding in everything they do. We must allow children to take risks, to get things wrong and to learn from their mistakes.
If we are not careful, we will end up with a society that cannot cope with getting things wrong or children and young adults who fall apart the very first time they fail. The knock on to this state of affairs is that there is a blame culture sweeping through modern British society. Dare I say that there is a now a tendency in modern parenting to make excuses at almost any cost for their child’s mistake or failure. Spoiling young people has always been a common mistake made by adults. Never admitting that a child may have got something wrong or really is not good enough at something, is a nasty virus that makes educating young children as once we could, almost impossible. I like to hope and think that this virus I have just alluded to has not spread to Kenya and certainly not to Pembroke. I urge you all to do everything in your power to protect yourselves or should I say, your children.
Open Day at Windlesham:
We say goodbye to The Ones who deserve applause, especially for gaining more scholarships than any year before them and particularly, when you also acknowledge that the academic scholarships have been to schools whose academic status is of the highest in the land.
We are sending our Ones to no fewer than 32 different senior schools which is very much the norm. I think that it says much about the diversity of Windlesham. We really do take every child for what they are and very, very rarely do I ever feel that someone has not reached their full potential by the time that they leave. This year’s Ones have, if anything, exceeded our hopes and expectations. They and their parents deserve your applause.
Moving forward, I like to think that my recent appointment to be the IAPS representative on the BSA (Boarding Schools’ Association) will give me the opportunity to give Prep School boarding more gravitas than it currently enjoys.
I recently asked a current parent and a past parent to try and identify what they most valued about Windlesham’s ethos – I share a few of their responses with you.
- Windlesham is about educating the whole child, whatever his or her background, whatever his or her skill set.
- Windlesham fosters an ethos of bringing the best out of each child in a manner that helps to encourage and secure their talents whatever they may be – music, sport, art, drama and, indeed, all academic subjects.
- At Windlesham, a child’s background is almost irrelevant to their future in the school. Through inspirational teaching and excellent facilities, we have been blown away by the incredible positive difference it has made on our children. Windlesham has created a springboard for future success.
- Windlesham fosters tolerance and empathy amongst the children whether it is with regard to different cultures, religions or a child’s personal attributes. Children are not singled out as different; there is an inclusiveness which is very special.
- Happy, fulfilled and confident children is Windlesham’s U.S.P. and it cannot get better than that.
One of my big concerns in educating children these days is that as each year goes by, they seem to be worse at listening. Maybe it is because we teachers and parents are not communicating as well as we used to – I don’t think so. I believe it is largely all down to children using modern technological devices and thinking that they can concentrate, at the same time as people are talking to them. If you do nothing else over this long holiday, please try to develop your children’s listening skills.
Keeping with technology, Windlesham has long been ahead of the game and we have no intention of not staying that way. I am pleased to tell you that the Governors have approved just over £100,000 expenditure on a complete overhaul of our server system over the summer holiday. We will be upgrading our entire networking infrastructure this summer, replacing our 9 servers with a virtualised environment, giving us more security, safety and speed. Along with this, we will be updating our Internet Content Management system with internet safety and education for our children very much at the front of our minds. This gives us a hugely solid basis to grow our ICT over the next few years with particular emphasis on extending our provision of resources across the internet and with a view to introducing more mobile technology (ipads) within the classroom, but not before we have the infrastructure to manage this.
This is the 175th year in Windlesham’s history; the Pre-Prep is 15 years old in September, it is my 5th year as the Headmaster and my 28th as a Headmaster. We should really be making something of our 175th Anniversary. Well, we are. Apart from embracing it with such a successful year, we have two significant initiatives to announce.
At the beginning of this academic year we launched The Windlesham Award. The Windlesham Award is a personal development initiative, designed to build a stronger community here at Windlesham and beyond. The course is for the Twos and has taken place over the academic year. The children have developed a wide range of skills throughout the course of the programme. It is designed to give the opportunity to work and challenge each child over the course of the year, involving a range of activities, pursuits and projects. It is a prestigious award, which will both extend and reward each child. The children have completed many core events including a working bee day, mostly based up in the woods, working on the Bushcraft area, putting up fences, sawing logs and clearing areas. They have also completed a first aid and personal survival training session. The final major hurdle was the Twos’ camping weekend.
The awards include Bronze, Silver and Gold for the varying degrees of commitment shown over the course of the year and also the Malden Award, presented to the most outstanding candidate in the year. The recipient of the first ever Malden Award was announced in Final Assembly but I thought it would be rather special if one of the Malden Daughters, Grace Moody-Stuart, presented the winner, Ellie Whiteside, with the Certificate. Now the baton will be passed on to the new Twos in September.
It is very fitting that, in the year when the school celebrates being in existence for 175 years, the Governors have agreed with my proposal that we launch the Windlesham Foundation.
This Foundation will comprise of three funds: a bursary fund, a hardship fund and a capital development fund. Donations can be given at any time and will, we trust, be gift aided. Donors will be asked if they wish their donations to be restricted or unrestricted, the latter meaning that the funds can be used at the Head’s and Governors’ discretion, the former that the funds can only be used specifically.
We have architect plans in hand to build a new 25 metre Indoor Swimming Pool and a Purpose Built Sports Hall. Planning permission is all but guaranteed according to the architects. All we need now is to raise a substantial sum of money in order to give the Governors the confidence to go ahead.
Windlesham does need to move forward with this development plan and the knock-on effect will mean further new facilities can be created in the current swimming pool area. This would therefore also mean that the theatre can have a facelift and be dedicated solely to the performing arts rather than the multi-purpose use it currently endures.
I would love to see some of the current children benefit from this and it will provide a legacy for future generations. Several parents and friends of Windlesham have expressed an interest in supporting one or other of these funds and this year has given us a very good reason to ensure there is provision to help families who have to face up to a tragedy. We need to raise a substantial amount and quickly.
We are not entering into this impulsively. Last year I talked about exciting Capital Development Plans – these are still there and it is now time to ensure that they come to fruition and as soon as possible. We are a lucky generation and your children are possibly even luckier, given the quality of teaching and the all-round education that a private education of this standard provides.
I also want to uphold the legacy of the Malden’s – that no child should be short changed and if it is appropriate to make a difference to a child’s life, we should do all within our power to make that provision.
We have given several children that opportunity in the past and there is an obvious and shining example of someone in the Ones’ production who has had her life and that of her younger sister transformed. Nobody wants to be involved in charity tokenism. That is ill-founded, badly conceived and often poorly executed to satisfy the Charity Commission.
We don’t need to be pioneers. The private schools have a brilliant role model in the Arnold Foundation at Rugby School.
I am experienced enough to know that the Windlesham Foundation will only gather momentum when there is clear evidence that donations are forthcoming. I have had several pledges already and am very happy to discuss this in more detail, privately. Quite rightly donors like to know that other people are prepared to match their generosity – people even want to engage in a dialogue with one another. Please let’s make this happen.
On a lighter note, I wanted to share with you a few classic remarks made by children which I have noted down over the last few months.
One boy who shall be nameless asked one of our teachers the other day, “Can I be punished for something I haven’t done?” “Of course not”, replied the teacher. “That’s good”, replied the boy, “because I haven’t done yesterday’s prep!”
I saw one of the children, clearly late for a lesson and walking at a stroll (which he is prone to do!). I called out to him, “Late again”. He waved and called back, “Oh, bad luck Mr. Foster, so am I”.
How about these from exams or this term’s exercise books:
Asked to write an essay on what they would like to do when they grew up, the opening line of one of the Threes was: ‘I very much enjoy being a child but I am looking forward to adultery’!
In a Junior Science lesson, a child had copied this down from a Science text book: ‘The first three minutes of a person’s life are three of the most dangerous.’ Underneath, the same child wrote: ‘The last three are pretty dodgy too!’
I especially like the response to one of our Science teachers who told me about a recent Fours’ Science lesson. On being told that a single rabbit could reproduce itself a hundred times in a year, somebody piped up, “My word, I wonder what a married rabbit could do!”
More reflections of the academic year will follow over the summer holiday.
I am about to depart for Kenya for 48 hours (!) to be Guest of Honour at Pembroke House Speech Day. Needless to say, I will be rolling back the 28 years I have relished being a Headmaster. In many respects, things have changed quite dramatically but then again, managing children and grown ups is just the same as it ever was. It is important never to lose sight of how rewarding it always is to celebrate another generation's achievements and that it what Speech Day is about.
The end of an academic year is full of emotion and no-one generates that more than I do! This occasion at Pembroke House will bring back so many happy memories for me. I have a few powerful messages to put across and if they go down well, I might just put some extracts on this blog when I return.
We have just put the Sports Day results online and I want to reflect on what was such a fantastic Windlesham day last Saturday.
Thank goodness the weather was fine; in fact near perfect for athletics. The parade of houses at the start was extremely colourful and it was very special hearing the Captains of the Athletics read both the Olympic oath and the Olympic creed. We witnessed some outstanding performances and there was a wonderful team spirit to everything. I was personally kept very busy at the medal ceremony and was privileged to see lots and lots of very happy gold medal winners.
We adjourned to our magnificent Walled Garden for Prize Giving. It was a lovely occasion and Johnny Barclay kept everyone amused before presenting the prizes. It was very obvious that the Walled Garden gave everyone the WOW factor and it was an honour to have Laetitia Maklouf officially open it for us. A very happy afternoon was had by all, especially those who threw wet sponges at me in the stocks!
There have been lots of very memorable moments this term and Saturday was certainly one that will be remembered forever.
Fantastic Common Entrance Results22/06/2012
Not only have all our children passed their Common Entrance exams, but they have all gained places to their first choice of Senior School.
Well done and warmest congratulations to them all!
Much to our delight, we have gained more scholarships this year than ever before – a record 20!
To celebrate this achievement, I surprised the whole school last Thursday (just as our Common Entrance candidates had finished their exams) by giving them a 'half morning holiday'. Instead of lessons after break everyone enjoyed some free time; mind you, the staff all offered activities which was even better.
It was great to see the cricket nets full and the children all playing happily.
A day to remember!
The National Trust have been running a campaign,‘50 Things to do before you’re 11¾’ which encourages sofa-bound children to take to the outdoors and enjoy classic adventures, from skimming stones to building dens . This is in response to some research which highlighted that fewer than one in ten children regularly play in wild places compared to almost half a generation ago, a third have never climbed a tree, one in ten cannot ride a bike, and three times as many are taken to hospital after falling out of bed, as from falling out of a tree! Children should be allowed to be children and encouraged to do things like climb trees, throw snowballs, play conkers and run around in the rain. I am sure we would all agree with the article, who wouldn’t? However, with busy lifestyles and city living, this is not an option on everyone’s doorstep. We are very lucky at Windlesham, in its 60 acres of glorious countryside, children can be children . They are positively encouraged to climb trees, build camps in the woods, go horse riding or just run freely in the beautifully kept grounds. I wish I was a child again! Actually come to think about it is survival night tonight when all our 10 year olds put their skills to the test and camp out for 24 hours and guess who will be joining them!
19th April 201219/04/2012
Today marks the start of the Summer Term and we are welcoming sixteen new children, along with seven ‘short stays’. Twelve day children have converted to boarding since last term so, come June, when another batch of ‘short stays’ join us we will have forty seven additional boarders this term! I am delighted that we begin the term with the most boarders we have had at Windlesham during my five year tenure. It’s very exciting to have all our dormitories full and when they returned last night, you could feel the buzz!
The Summer term is generally recognised in the Prep School world as being the best term of the year. This is most definitely true at Windlesham. With half decent weather, the children are able to enjoy our outstanding outdoor facilities with the freedom to play in glorious grounds and wonderful woods. Climbing trees and skateboarding become even more popular. The sound of bat and ball from the cricket nets can be heard right up to 8.30pm and I love to see the children gracing our magnificent grass tennis courts. The groundsmen have been working very hard to ensure that the games’ fields, our nine hole golf course and tennis courts are in perfect condition. This term sees us launch our new Golf Academy and we are inviting Windlesham families and friends of the School to join our Golf Club.
In between all this, we hope to add to our impressive tally of scholarships and I certainly want to wish our remaining candidates every success.
Excitement mounts in the Art Department as we prepare for our major art exhibition, Art in Motion, at the end of May and we hope to see families and friends there. Our spectacular walled garden will enjoy an official opening by Laetitia Maklouf, a former pupil of Windlesham and now a talented and successful gardener and writer. The opening will be on Sports Day on 23rd June along with our Summer Fete organised by the Parents of Windlesham Association. It promises to be quite an occasion.
Let’s hope the sun shines for the best part of the term!