Thoughts: When I look back on last week, I see such a plethora of activity, both within and outwith the classroom. First, many members of our Upper Sixth, and indeed some mathematicians in the Lower Sixth, received very important academic results for their AS re-sits, new AS examinations results, and new A2 modules. Inevitably, some boys have fared extremely well, and they deserve our congratulations. Others have not fared so well, but for each and every boy, success comes down to the quality of learning and teaching, listening to staff carefully, showing an independence of mind, and embarking upon sessions in the Spawforth Library just for the sake of doing so. We try to look at every single boy on an individual basis, and the Academic Management Team is doing just this. We look forward to meeting the whole of the Sixth Form later this week to discuss these results.
Last week, our Biology Department was extremely busy as the boys are in the process of completing the Biology Challenge during class time. Surely, being a biologist in the Sixth Form cannot be any more exciting than having a 'DNA Day' in the Upper Sixth! Let us not forget that the Geography Department also had two field trips last week for the Lower Sixth and the Fourth Form. Equally, and in tandem with many others, Merchiston celebrated 'Bag-a-book Day' so that we might contribute to World Book Day. In this week's Headmaster's Assembly, I read out to the School some interesting tweets: "Remember to celebrate World Book Day by lighting a Kindle!", "Pick up a good book and realise why books are truly your best friends", "I am going to leave the Kindle on the bedside table tonight and read an actual book in honour of World Book Day".
In this week's Assembly, we also heard from Mr Lucas who advertised to the School a debate shortly to be held entitled, "The One True Religion - Christianity or Islam?" The leaders of this debate will be Professor Sheikh, a Merchiston parent, and Mr Lucas.
We were also delighted to hear from CJ about the recent Merchiston visit to Excelsior Academy, Newcastle. Over the years, Merchiston and Excelsior have made links through the efforts of Lord Laidlaw, a Merchistonian who has greatly helped Merchiston and is passionate about education. He is also the sponsor of Excelsior Academy. I very much enjoy sitting on the Board of Governors at Excelsior, and the Executive Principal at Excelsior attends Merchiston's Education Pastoral Committee, involving both Governors and staff. Students from Excelsior visit Merchiston, and Merchiston Sixth Formers visit Excelsior on an annual basis. Indeed, Ryan (an old boy of Excelsior) is a Laidlaw Scholar in our Sixth Form.
It was also fascinating to read about the recent Fourth Form and Shell Leadership evening held in the School by Mr Timms and Mr Rider with Merchistonian assistance. I know more has been written about this on other parts of the website, but this is a fascinating venture initiated by Mr Timms two years ago and which appears to be flourishing.
Parents will also have been notified of our recent 'Care Service Inspectorate Report' by Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland (SCSWIS) and I think it was extremely important to highlight its conclusion:
"Merchiston Castle School continues to offer its pupils a first rate boarding experience. Boarding pupils are encouraged to give their view on the boarding experience. These views contribute, where appropriate, to decisions about the School's boarding policies and procedures."
SCSWIS is only empowered to examine our approach to the care of boarding pupils, but I would certainly be happy if they also took an interest in the pastoral care, learning and teaching of our day pupils. For, at Merchiston, day pupils are never regarded as secondary in importance to the boarders and our many day pupils enrich life at Merchiston. Indeed, many a day pupil converts to boarding over the course of his career!
Congratulations: This week we congratulated a number of boys in relation to a wide selection of activities. First, the Biology Olympiad results were very impressive; we congratulated Tim and Lawrence on gaining Golds (and indeed they have both just taken the second round paper to qualify for the International Biology Olympiad - this is a first for Merchiston). Likewise, I congratulated David and Philip for gaining Silvers. Dennis, Howard and Arun were 'Highly Commended' and it is important to note that Howard and Arun are only in the Lower Sixth. The have done so well in a competition normally aimed at pupils in the Upper Sixth! Likewise, Johnny was 'Commended' and is also a Lower Sixth pupil.
Turning to sport, it was a great pleasure to congratulate Joe on his International Cap on Sunday as he represented the Scotland U18s against the Wales U18s. Joe played at number 7 and played the whole match. It must be a wonderful achievement to be selected to represent one's country, and indeed this link can take one back to all previous representatives in rugby in recent years. It is a wonderful personal, family, and Merchiston achievement for Joe to join this role of honour. In the same vein, we also congratulated Magnus and Ben on being selected for the Scotland U17 training squad, and Henry is on standby.
The next one is fascinating! Occasionally, we do have boys at Merchiston who really enjoy amateur boxing, and Tom is the latest one! Tom won his first ever competitive bout in the Usher Hall last Friday, fighting for the City of Edinburgh against Edinburgh University. The first round started at a very fast pace with Tom protecting himself skilfully. In the second round, Tom began to dominate with some well placed punches and fast foot movement. The referee stopped the fight midway through the second round, as Tom's opponent could not continue and Tom was declared the winner. At that stage, Tom was the only participant from the City of Edinburgh to have won. Tom had a large amount of support amongst almost 2,000 spectators from family, staff and friends from Merchiston. Interestingly, Archie Thorburn, a young Merchistonian, was also in the same event, but representing Edinburgh Varsities!
Moving back to academics; it was a pleasure to congratulate on the stage boys who had been called forward to interview for the Arkwright Scholarship. This is an external scholarship predominantly awarded to potential Sixth Form Design students, and these boys will have to compete with boys and girls from all over the UK at the next stage. However, I congratulated Cameron, Lee, Cameron, Thomas and Benson for clearing the first hurdle.
Finally, we also congratulated on the stage representatives from the Pipe Band. Our Pipe Band has been extremely busy recently participating in the Piping and Drumming competition at George Watson's in addition to the Glasgow Highland Club Competition held at Hutcheson's. Competing for a new trophy this year, the band came third behind Preston Lodge High School and Glenalmond A. In the process, the boys defeated St Columba's, Edinburgh Academy, Strathallan and Glenalmond B. Angus was placed sixth individually in the senior piping. These competitions are fascinating. Just like any other competition, each individual is pushed to the limit, and they take hours and hours of practice. It could be said that the Merchiston way of life is too busy to allow our pipers and drummers to practise every morning at 7:45am all year for such competitions. Maybe this is something that needs to be looked at, but as one of our leading pipers recently said to me "A boy at Merchiston might enter such a competition knowing that he was not going to win, but on the other hand, it would not stop him from competing and endeavouring to do his very best". This is an interesting message. Last week we also held our own internal piping and drumming competition and the following were congratulated as winners of their sections:
Chanter - The Parent's Quaich: First- Magnus, Second - Rupert, Third - Alexander
Junior Pipes: First - Sean, Second - Callum, Third- Michael
Intermediate Pipes - The Morrison-Low Cup: First - Morgan, Second - Lorne, Third - Angus.
March: First - Angus, Second - Lewis, Third - James
Strathspey & Reel: First - Kerr, Second - Lewis, Third - James
Senior Pipes Overall Winner - The Wighton Cup: Lewis (placing second twice)
The Pringle Drumming Cup: First - Harry, Second - William
Junior Drumming: First - Ruairidh, Second - Gavin, Third- Gregor
Intermediate Drumming - The Seivewright Shield: First - Caspar
Senior Drumming - The Arthur Cup: First - Ruari, Second - Andrew
Highlights: I have so many highlights from last week. First, it was a pleasure to welcome to the School the five-school German and Spanish Conference. Representatives from Fettes, Glenalmond, Stewart's Melville, Strathallan and Merchiston enjoyed a whole morning of Modern Languages! I cannot imagine anything more fun and enticing, and indeed as I said to the Lower Sixth Formers from all of the schools, they should endeavour to do Modern Languages just for the sake of doing them, and of course in this modern world, I believe that they will rightly be much more employable as a result.
Secondly, I popped into the Maths Fun Day; yet another oxymoron! However, this Fun Day was more heavily subscribed than ever this year. There were twenty six schools represented, and whilst Edinburgh Academy may have won the competition (with Loretto placing second and St George's third), I was particularly pleased to see so many of our local primary schools participating, namely: Bruntsfield Primary School; Corstorphine Primary School; Fox Covert Primary School; Colinton Primary School; Oxgangs Primary School; Clermiston Primary School; Flora Stevenson Primary School; Pentland Primary School; Ballgreen Primary School; St Peters Primary School and Trinity Primary School.
Thirdly, so many of us enjoyed the Pringle production of Sir Spence and a Dragon Named Horace and Hansel and Gretel. The plays greatly amused and entertained the audience and the dragon looked spectacular! Hansel and Gretel involved all of the boys in J4/J5. The young boys projected their lines extremely well, and clearly relished being on stage and entertaining a full theatre; this was a performance to linger in the memory. Special thanks and congratulations go to Mark (in the Upper Sixth) for taking on the enormous project of being stage manager, designing, and supervising the creation of the set, scenery/special effects, and managing the backstage teams with such diligence and determination. This is an example of real servant leadership.
Highlight number four was the Rugby Sevens hosted at Merchiston on Sunday. We have been hosting this event since 1990 and on Sunday, there were roughly 400 boys playing rugby at Merchiston; 38 teams were involved and 64 matches took place! In addition to the many teams of staff who coordinated this extremely slick event, there was a team of boys from Merchiston who assisted with car parking, acting as touch judges, ball boys and runners. Frankly, what really mattered was seeing so many boys playing sport and it was an exhilarating day. Our 1VII squad did extremely well, defeating the Edinburgh Academy in the Final. These boys, amongst many others in the 1XV have come a long way over the course of this season and it was a pleasure to congratulate Angus (Captain), Teddy, Angus, Josh, Claude, Angus, Andrew, Douglas, Patrick, Matthew, Gavin and Flynn.
The next highlight for so many was the Sixth Form Highland Ball, which was held on Saturday evening. Harvey, a member of the Fifth Form gave up a house cinema trip to pipe in the guests as they arrived, and led the participants in the Grand March. Dr Mitchell reports:
"The boys were very smartly turned out and the girls all looked extremely elegant in their long dresses. The catering staff turned out an excellent meal with their usual first rate service. They were thanked by Angus, and, at the end of the evening Rupert delivered a vote of thanks and presented Ms Claire McShane, our dancing instructor and former member of the English Department, (now Head of English at Kilgraston!) with a bouquet of flowers."
All in all, it was a very successful evening for the boys and girls of Kilgraston, Merchiston and St George's.
Finally, a Headmaster often receives different types of letters from members of the public and, indeed, parents. Last week I had to deal with a complaint from a member of the public about the behaviour of one of our Upper Sixth Formers. This was dealt with, and what matters is that the Upper Sixth Former has said 'mea culpa', and that he has learnt from this experience. We must all remember that being at School is about growing up, and sometimes we make mistakes as we grow up. We become better people as we learn from making such mistakes. Certainly, when I was at school, in either my prep school in Kenya or my senior school in the South of England, (which I flew to backwards and forwards to from Kenya) my record was extremely blemished! But, I found this small snippet from a letter that I received earlier this week very interesting:
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and all the staff at Merchiston for the wonderful work you do with Andrew and all the other boys. Andrew seems to enjoy every packed minute of his time and I know that even when things do not go so well he has been taught to learn from that so that no experience is wasted. That is important I think."
Again, I think we can see an important message coming through from this simple note and indeed many other events at Merchiston. One could actually say that real success can be measured by how one 'bounces back' from coming second, or even failing. That is the nub of resilience, emotional intelligence, and 'bounce-back ability'!
And so, we are in the midst of Week 10! Our Choral Society is in the final stages of rehearsing for performing Fauré's Requiem on Sunday and next Tuesday and our Economists are attending the Target 2.0 Finals in London on Thursday at the Bank of England! Our 1XV squad will also be in London later this week performing at the Powder Byrne Six Nations Tournament. Many boys in the Sixth Form will be attending the Kilgraston Sixth Form Ball, and younger boys in the School will also have gatherings on Friday evening. We have fixtures in tennis; golf; rugby sevens; squash; hockey; swimming and fives, and let us not forget that there is much learning and teaching going on, as well as much prep!