Category: The Headmaster’s Blog

I am delighted to announce the arrival of the two new boys who joined the school at half term. They did have a rather difficult first night getting used to their new surroundings and I am ashamed to report that they both tried to run away at bedtime. It was only when I and the Junior Mistress went to check on them that we realised they were not in bed. A full search was undertaken and they were eventually spotted making a break for freedom across the front lawn. When I arrived with my torch, I found them both hiding in the bushes and no amount of verbal persuasion would shift them. However, as I approached, they shot out of the flower beds and across the front field – with the Junior Mistress and me in hot pursuit! After 10 minutes of charging around in the dark, we finally cornered them and persuaded them to go back to bed. I was concerned that they might try the same trick later so I locked the door and barricaded them in for the night. I was relieved therefore, although not surprised, to see that they were still there the following morning. Since that eventful first evening, I am pleased to say that they have settled very happily into school life and have made many friends amongst the boys and staff. They love being outside, running around and getting dirty, they have huge appetites and, when excited, make a terrific noise – just like all the other Woodcote boys!

 

May I introduce you to……

 

 

 

Ronnie & Reggie

 

 

 

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Ronnie

Ronnie

Reggie

 

That is all.

Sadly the weather has been anything but dry recently – let us hope for more normal weather patterns in February. That said, the rain has not affected what has been an excellent start to the year: We began the term with a good number of senior boys (and some less senior ones too) sitting the first part of the Townsend Warner History prize; this was followed by the House General Knowledge quiz (won by the Blues).

Sticking with the cerebral theme, we had our inaugural Assessment Morning on the first Saturday of term. I particularly enjoyed interviewing all the candidates – one chap even managed to shoehorn the word ‘ procrastinate ‘ into his interview!! The rest of that weekend was filled with matches against Horris Hill (work in progress) and a trip for the whole boarding community to Gravity Force (definitely less cerebral).

So far this term we have had a steady stream of boys heading off for their pre-tests to various schools – Marlborough, KGS, Hampton, Sherborne, RGS, Canford etc. One sixth former has just returned from the Art Scholarship at Charterhouse and another is sitting (?) for the Bradfield Sports Scholarship, as I write. Results to follow shortly….

In week 2 we had Pingers against Papplewick but most of the rugby against Milbourne Lodge was cancelled due to the first proper frost – only the U9s got a run. The 6th form went on a Geography Field Trip in the New Forest to do river studies for their CE projects. It was wet.

Tower building!

Tower building!

I don't like Field trips....

I don’t much like Field trips….

Week 3 saw matches against Brockhurst which certainly kick-started the season for all teams and then there was the cross country fixture at Sunningdale, where we finished somewhere near the back! The boys have just returned from Exeat and this week there are rugby matches against Sunningdale and Pilgrims as well as a tour match against the Geneva English School on Sunday. Far more importantly though, it is Mr. Mark’s 92nd birthday on Thursday and he will be having his birthday table at supper; cupcakes with candles for every boy in the school!

Finally, the theatre is now almost finished; we will start using it for Fencing, Judo and Archery this week and it will be ready for Music & Drama teaching after half term. The Official Opening & Grand Musical Gala takes place on Friday 18th and Saturday 19th March at which each year group will perform, as will a ‘choir’ of staff and, I believe, there will also be a parental song – any volunteers?!

The DoM inspecting his new auditorium....

The DoM inspecting his new auditorium….

That is all.

 

 

There has been so much packed into the second half of this term, it is only now, as I wait for the first of my two Christmas Lunches today, that I can take stock of it all….

The first weekend back after half term revolved around our Bonfire night; the boys chose, as their ‘Guy’ for this year, Sepp Blatter – beautifully made by the Dominites under the careful guidance of the Art Department. I believe that Marschall Blucher’s head (used for the Waterloo parade in London in the Summer) was recycled for the occasion!

Once again, the Remembrance Sunday service centred around Mr. Mark’s thoughts on the purpose of remembering the fallen in all wars. He served, and had friends who were killed, in the 2nd World War and it makes the whole occasion far more poignant to have him talk to the boys and their parents each year.

Thursday 12th was Spanish theme day – the whole school dressed in Red and Yellow, prayers were said in Spanish, and the chef provided Churros and Hot Chocolate for breakfast; Paella for lunch; and a selection of Tapas for supper – delicious!

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The school Cross-Country took place on Tuesday 17th November. However, this year we decided to make it a ‘Race for Life’ in aid of Cancer Research UK. All the boys and (most of the) staff took part – 1 lap for the over 50s; two laps for the over 40s; three laps for everyone else – and we raised just short of £2,500. It was a fantastic effort by all concerned; I promised no pictures but thought those who sponsored us deserved one or two….

Under starters orders....

Under starters orders….

The Registrar sets the pace...

The Registrar sets the pace…

The HM struggles over the line!

The HM struggles over the line!

Tail-end Charlie!

Tail-end Charlie!

The boys knuckled down for the school exams, interspersed with the first rugby fixtures of the season (it’s all looking very promising!) and then went on a short Exeat to recharge the batteries before the final two weeks of term. Since their return, we have had the Juniors’ Christingle service, a Dads’ quiz night at the local pub (I’m afraid I slunk off early – too many senior school references to write!), a Horse-racing night followed by £250 of delivery pizza, and an outing to the Christmas Market at Winchester to buy their presents. If that didn’t make them feel Christmassy enough, this was delivered for them…..

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It was so big, we couldn’t actually get it into the school. Needless to say, it was devoured in a matter of minutes!

Prize-Giving is now complete, the boarders are out in the grounds hunting for chocolate (obviously!) and I am about to join the day boys for their Christmas lunch. We then have the first of two Carol Services, followed by the Break-Up supper for the Boarders (Turkey & all the trimmings – Round 2). Tomorrow morning is the Boarders’ Carol Service and then term is really over….I hope!

With my best wishes for a very peaceful and Happy Christmas.

That is all.

 

 

Apologies for the late arrival of the first HM’s ‘blog of the new academic year. It has been an extraordinarily busy start to the term. Only the arrival of the Exeat weekend has allowed me to stop and take stock of all that has happened over the last three weeks.

We started the year with 31 new boys (almost one third of the school) and I am delighted to report that they have all settled happily into life at Woodcote, as have the 6 new members of staff – 2 teachers, 2 matrons and the 2 gappers (who are both Woodcote Old Boys!)

The first weekend of term included a lecture on the Rugby World Cup (obviously) delivered by the wonderful Pyemont brothers. This was followed on the Saturday evening with a barbecue and camping in the Headmaster’s garden and on Sunday there was a T20 against three other Proprietorial schools and a trip to ‘Ride the Hill’ – big skateboards, steep hill…you get the idea.

Week two began with the annual Tatler bash at the Dorchester – a great write-up for us, once again, in the magazine and great champagne but sadly no prizes this year. I was hoping that we might win ‘Best Food’, especially as we have just started family service at lunch, but that looks as though it will have to wait until 2016.

We had our first matches of the football season, against Bishopsgate on the Wednesday and Hall Grove on the Saturday, with promising results. In between these fixtures, we took the boys to the Help for Heroes T20 at the Oval – we had great seats in the pavilion stand , enabling the boys to secure the autographs of some of the legends of cricket and also win a cookery course for two at Waitrose!

There was a Boarders’ outing – Paintballing – on the second Sunday of term; it is a brave member of staff who puts his hand up for that excursion – but a great, if slightly painful, time was had by all.

In the week leading up to the Exeat, there were further matches against Brockhurst (best egg sandwiches on the circuit) and I also went to an Oxford group conference at Caldicott on Thursday, where the hot topic of discussion was the current and impending changes in the laws of rugby at schoolboy level – more to follow on that in due course.

The Colts are currently away in Switzerland on a football tour to the Geneva English School – they return on Tuesday evening and we have further fixtures this week for all teams, both on Wednesday and Saturday. There is also the Captain Snow trophy – an annual Under 8s football tournament at Woodcote for several of the London pre-preps; it is always great fun. Our Harvest Festival service is on Saturday and the Boarders are out again on Sunday at Coral Reef.

In the midst of all this action, the new theatre is beginning to take shape – the foundations have been dug, the steel structure is up, the roof is on, and the bricks are now being laid. It is very much hoped that the external work will be finished by the Christmas holidays and the internal fitting can begin in January, with a completion date of early February. It will be sensational when complete! The proprietor an the Head of Music and Drama are already in discussion over the first production….

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That is all.

 

 

Royal Ascot Week: The home stretch….?

 

So we return for the final push towards the Summer holidays – now only three weeks away. This academic year has passed in a blur but I am so pleased to be able to report that the boys at the top of the school have remained focused throughout and, as a result, achieved outstanding grades at Common Entrance.

 

Once again, all boys have passed into their chosen Public schools, with several ‘subject’ and ‘overall’ prizes being won along the way. This, added to our three scholars, has made for another hugely successful year.

 

I do hope that those of you who came to Speech Day on 6th June enjoyed the day? The weather could not have been more kind and we were treated to some wonderful exhibitions in the morning, followed by a most memorable concert given by the Junior and Senior choirs, singing a medley of Adele, Queen, Coldplay, Journey, Bon Jovi and Bruno Mars – quite an eclectic mix!

Speech Day 3Speech day 6

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The Athletics in the afternoon was a slick affair and the Open 70m hurdle record, one that has stood for some time, was smashed. Jonny Saunders, the housemaster of Faulkners, the Year 9 boarding house at Bradfield, handed out the prizes and gave the address, ensuring that half term began in excellent time!

 

Now we are at the business end of the term, the calendar is bursting – this week the Leavers are making films about the school for the website, rehearsing for their play “Back to the Future”, attending a Rock School and learning how to perform in a rock band, as well as fitting in matches against Sunningdale on Wednesday and Papplewick on Saturday.

 

The boys further down the school are preparing intently for their exams in a week’s time, but they are also involved in cricket, athletics and fencing matches as well as a lecture on “Waterloo” given by the Pyemont brothers on Thursday and a procession through London to celebrate the battle, on Sunday. The Juniors are off to Ascot this afternoon to greet the Queen as she arrives for the first day of the Royal Meeting.

 

We are certainly not ‘winding down’…..

 

That is all.

 

 

 

 

 

As I look out of my study window, across the Front Field and 1st XI cricket square, the rain has just started to fall. This is the first rain for a good few weeks and must therefore signal the onset of the cricket season. Our first match against Pilgrims’ is due to begin at 2:30pm – let us hope for more clement weather this afternoon!

 

The term has begun with a real sense of purpose – it was great to see all the boarders return mid-afternoon on Wednesday. It meant that we could get their unpacking done and they were out playing cricket and swimming by 4 o’clock. The chef cooked up burgers and chips for their tea and then there was a mixture of football and films before bed – what a great way to start the term.

 

Looking through the calendar, I see little respite from constant activity. Apart from the usual Summer term business of Common Entrance, school exams, cricket and athletics fixtures, swimming sports, camping and pizza nights, barbecues, a school play, a concert and Speech Day, there are also countless educational visits, a battlefield tour, a parade through London to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, an election night, themed dinners, boarders’ outings, two familiarisation days for the September new boys and the leavers’ programme – to include a four day surfing expedition to Cornwall. We have even managed to squeeze in a couple of staff cricket fixtures against local opposition! We shall all need a rest come the 8th of July!

 

Amongst all this activity, the two little pigs (although not so little now) continue to flourish. They are being very well fed and cared for by the boys and, like the boys, are enjoying their surroundings immensely. They love company (the pigs and the boys!) so do come and see them when you are next here.

Piggy 1

 

That is all.

 Dry January?

 

Shamed again by the first line of my last post – I do hope you all had a Happy Christmas and that the New Year has begun in prosperous fashion, without the need for a 5:2 diet or a juicer?

 

We have made a great start to the Lent term and the school is buzzing. The Shell boys are gearing up for their academic scholarships to Harrow, Bradfield, Sherborne and Wellington and those sitting sports awards have just returned from assessment – we shall find out their results before half term. The 1st XV (and Colts B) remain unbeaten and there have been famous victories at every level.

 

The boarders have been on cinema trips, ice-skating and also had exclusive use of the water park at Woking, one Saturday night. We have had a Bingo night and Greyhound Racing as well as a talk from the Proprietor to the boys about his recent trip to South America – along with a tasting of the wines he and Mrs. Nick discovered along the way (Staff only!).

 

There have been Ping Pong matches against Papplewick and Archery ‘bouts’ against St. George’s Weybridge, as well as a cross-country fixture at Sunningdale against 5 other schools, which we won for the second year in a row.

 

The Junior Play has been cast – 35 parts in all – and will be performed on Friday 20th and Saturday 21st March. It is an ‘updated’ version of the ‘70s children’s television programme, “Camberwick Green” – featuring Windy Miller, Peter the Postman, Mickey the Master Baker and, of course, the soldier boys from Pippin Fort. It is not to be missed!

 

Hopefully, this will be the final play to be performed in the old ‘gym’. The fundraising has proved to be a great success and while we are still a little way short of our goal, we should be able to begin work on the new theatre soon.

 

On Thursday we had our inaugural drinks party in West London for pre-prep and prep heads and prospective parents. It was a huge success and I am delighted that so many of those who attended have already arranged come and see us at Woodcote, over the next few weeks.

 

This weekend, we are entertaining 60 Old Boys and their families who are coming to chapel, lunch, watching the matches against Horris Hill this afternoon and then staying for the famous Woodcote tea. It will be great to see some old faces and to meet some of the ‘older’ old boys too!

 

Tomorrow we have a touring side from Geneva coming to play rugby against our Colts and then in the afternoon there is going to be an ‘Open Fire’ chip competition – something of which the Old Boys would definitely approve!

 

Over the next couple of weeks the sixth form will begin to prepare for their mock CE exams; the almost daily exodus of fourth and fifth form boys to sit their pre-tests will continue; we have full fixtures against Sunningdale, Pilgrims’ and St. Andrew’s Pangbourne; there is the much-loved, ‘Gameshow Challenge’, a boarders’ outing to see Thriller – Live! at the Lyric theatre, and a Chinese New Year feast!

 

Plenty then to keep us busy in the run-up to half term….

 

That is all.

ures against Sunningdale, Pilgrims’ and St. Andrew’s Pangbourne; there is the much-loved, ‘Gameshow Challenge’, a boarders’ outing to see Thriller – Live! at the Lyric theatre, and a Chinese New Year feast!

 

Plenty then to keep us busy in the run-up to half term….

 

That is all.

 

Happy Christmas!

The close of the Michaelmas term each year is signalled by the arrival of Advent. I cannot believe that we are ‘coming towards’ the end of term already, let alone Christmas, but what a term it has been.

 

Since my last post (Remembrance Sunday), much has happened. Perhaps the highlight has been the Play weekend. This kicked off with a Friday evening performance of ‘Dick Whittington at Strutham’ – a play about a calamitous dress rehearsal. The second performance took place on Saturday afternoon and was followed by some excellent House Music and then the annual House Shout competition, won this year by the Blues.

 

Over the course of the weekend, every single boy in the school was on the stage at some point – a fabulous achievement. It was, undoubtedly, the most entertaining couple of hours in the ‘Gym’ for quite some time. I look forward to more of the same next year, although hopefully in slightly more comfortable surroundings, once the new theatre has been built.

 

Sandwiched in between these two performances we hosted an Open morning for prospective parents. It was a pleasure to welcome 20 new families to Woodcote, all of whom were treated to an in-depth guided tour of the school by some of the senior boys, who did a wonderful job as hosts for the morning. The feedback was extremely positive and we look forward to welcoming the boys and their parents back to the Awards morning in March.

 

We had the final football matches of the term against Horris Hill and also secured a victory against a touring side from Beaudesert, before indulging in a few weeks of rugby training. The 1st XV are about to return from a pre-season tour and have already taken the scalp of Old Buckenham Hall 38-5. I have just heard that they also put thirty points on Brandeston Hall, winning 36-12. This is where James Loveridge, who many of you will remember, now teaches.

 

This week we have had our school exams – the end of which was celebrated with a ‘Night at the Races’ followed by an obscene amount of pizza, courtesy of Dominos. The boys are now gearing up for the final week of term – a visit to the Christmas Market in Winchester, Dormitory Charades, Prize-Giving, Christmas Lunch, Carol Services and the Break-Up Supper.

 

It has indeed been a busy term – let us hope for a peaceful Christmas.

 

That is all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apologies again for the relative infrequency of the HM’s blog. I had made the foolish mistake of lulling myself into a false sense of security, convincing myself that the Michaelmas term was going to be a cake walk….and then the inspectors called.

This has been my fifth inspection in six years as Headmaster, so I’m getting pretty used to it now. But it still takes control of your life from the moment the ‘phone call comes in until the moment the inspectors leave 10 days later.

The final report is being sent out to all parents next week and should go online soon after that but, in summary, I am tremendously pleased with the result. For me, the most interesting and, perhaps, most valid feedback during the inspection came via the pupil and parent questionnaires. It was fascinating to see what the boys and the parents really thought of Woodcote, and their experiences of it.

All the boys in Year 5 and above filled in the pupil questionnaire, and I was delighted to see that 100% of them ‘strongly agreed’ that they were making good progress in their work, that there was an excellent range of extra-curricular activities; that their teachers really helped them to learn; that they felt safe; and, that they thought the food was good!

It was really pleasing that so many parents took the time to fill in the questionnaire – nearly 70%. Again, there was a whole raft of statements with which 100% of the parents agreed: that their children are happy at Woodcote; that their children are well looked after; that the school achieves high standards of behaviour; that communication with parents is good; that their children enjoy boarding; that the school keeps their children safe; that boarding helps their children’s development, and so on.

The response to both questionnaires was commented on by the inspectors, who had never seen such positive responses, or in such volume. I cannot tell you how much it means to us all to know how much the boys enjoy and benefit from being here but also the huge level of support that we have from parents.

Inspection aside, the term continues to gather pace. We have celebrated Harvest Festival, enjoyed a Spanish theme day, run the House Cross – Country, taken the Juniors on an overnight stay to Ufton Court and the 6th form and Shell on a Geography Field Trip to the Brecon Beacons, and enjoyed a Halloween Feast and ‘Fright Night’.

The boarders have been on outings Mountain Biking, Go Karting, Rock Climbing, and, this week, to Gravity Force. There has also been a trip to see the Remembrance Poppies at the Tower of London.

We have had matches against St. Andrew’s Pangbourne, Greenfields, Ashdown House, Milbourne Lodge, Pilgrim’s, St. George’s and Sunningdale, with return fixtures against the ‘Dale on Saturday. Almost every boy in the school has had the opportunity to represent the school at one level or another.

We have also had a series of development drinks evenings to show off what we have already achieved and what we propose to do as far as the redevelopment of Red Lane and the gym is concerned. I am enormously grateful for all the pledges that have already come in and we are steadily making our way towards our goal. It is looking increasingly likely that we will be able to begin the building of the new theatre / concert hall in March next year, so that it will be completed ready for the first day of the Michaelmas term 2015.

This weekend is Remembrance weekend, which will begin with a lecture on Saturday given by the grandfather of one of the boys who is a collector of medals and the stories behind them. He is coming to talk to the boys and parents about some of those acts of gallantry.7

On Sunday, we have our Remembrance service and, once again, Mr Mark will talk to the boys in Chapel about ‘Remembrance’, having not only been alive, but actually taken part in the Second World War.

It is a talk not to be missed.

That is all.

 

 

 

I’ve been meaning to ‘blog for a while now but there always seems to be something that takes precedence. I’m afraid to say that I have been shamed into it by the launch of the ‘new’ website, which splashes the last ‘blog all over the front page and it embarrasses me that I have written nothing since the end of the Summer term…..so here goes.

As those of you who have been back to Woodcote since September will have seen, the ‘new’ Red Lane is finally finished. We are absolutely thrilled with it, and with the two new classrooms off it. I do hope that if you haven’t had a chance to visit yet, you soon will.

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Red Lane

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C Classroom

Phase 2 of our development plan will soon be under way as we are currently fundraising for the building of a new theatre / concert hall on the site of the old ‘gym’. The plans have been posted in the new C classroom and I would be delighted to talk you through them at any time.

The term itself has started brightly, especially due to the continued good weather and we have been able to organise cricket, swimming and a camping evening alongside all of the usual Michaelmas term events.

The weekday evenings have been filled with Fencing, Archery and the newly formed Karate club, as well as cookery and film nights. There have been Science demonstrations, trips Mountain Boarding, Paintballing and to Legoland, Bingo and Game Show nights, a social at St. Mary’s, Ascot and plenty of football.

The Colts have just returned from a three day tour to Geneva, which was a huge success, with the boys hosted in pairs by local families – all of whom were hugely impressed with their manners and behaviour. This is far more important than the outcome of the matches – although we did win both games!

Next Friday, James Shone – an ex-Housemaster at Monkton Combe, who was discovered to have a brain tumour and subsequently lost his sight through two life-saving operations, is coming to share his story and hopes for the future with the boys in the 5th and 6th forms.

It will undoubtedly be a thought-provoking talk and will, I am sure, demonstrate to the boys how lucky and privileged they really are. I very much hope it will inspire them to even greater things, both now and in the future.

That is all.

 

Woodcote House School