Thoughts: First, I would like to mention that it has done absolute wonders for the School to have been blessed with such superb weather! Yes, the inclement weather since the beginning of term will have helped the boys in our Fifth Form, Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth settle down to revision, but I am also a great believer in boys having fun and playing sport. Last week was an action packed week at Merchiston, and it was wonderful to host (for the 15th consecutive year) our 'Primary Schools' Evening of Music'. This was a very happy, collaborative occasion, on which each participating school presented a programme of fifteen minutes before coming together for a massed choral item! I am also delighted that our Head of Music, Mr Dennis directed the Merchiston Boys' Community Choir, with just fewer than forty boys from Bonaly, Balgreen, Craiglockhart, and Merchiston who have met weekly since the start of term, enjoying 'fish and chips' on a Friday, before a rehearsal and a game of football! Who said that teaching boys to sing was all about bribery! The choir performed very well indeed, starting the concert with a rousing rendition of What Shall we do with the Drunken Sailor and The Factory Boy. This event, involving Bonaly, Craiglockhart, Balgreen and St Peter's Primary schools and St George's and Merchiston Juniors. It is not about recruiting pupils to Merchiston; it is about extending the hand of friendship. There were 250 voices in the final item, I Wish I Knew How by Nina Simone and as is our tradition, a packed Memorial Hall full of younger siblings, Mums and Dads, Grandmothers and Grandfathers all joined in during the encore!
Indeed, we received a charming note from a parent in attendance, saying the following:
"I was at the concert last night as a Mum of Bonaly Primary School children and my children loved coming to Merchiston to perform and to listen to the other inspiring performances! Many of my local friends are also parents and commented on how beautiful the surroundings were, how well run it was and they were all pleasantly surprised by the refreshments offered at the end - particularly the children and the ice-lollies in the heat!"
In this week's Headmaster's Assembly, we practised (again!) the School song, Ready, Ay, Ready! Why do I insist that the School practises this? I do not believe that it is twee, old fashioned and whimsical. In fact, I think it lends to a sense of belonging when one is at Merchiston. It crossed my mind that our Upper Sixth Form, who have some mighty important weeks in front of them, are striding closer to embarking upon the next stage of their lives. Surely, it must be one of the tests of any school that its leavers are Ready, Ay, Ready, and prepared for the next stage of their lives. Equally, I think one line of the hymn we sang epitomised my thoughts: "Past put behind us, for the future take us".
Congratulations: I have met a considerable number of boys in the Lower Sixth in recent weeks to hear their points of view on 'Leadership' and other aspects of the Merchiston way of life. One searching question I asked was as follows: "Which recommendation or suggestion would you like to put forward to make Merchiston a better school?" I thought it was interesting that more than a few boys indicated that they felt that the minor sports at Merchiston needed to be highlighted more. We play in excess of 20 sports at Merchiston; of course, there are major sports in this School (namely rugby, cricket and athletics) but there are numerous other sports on offer and we try to provide a combination of opportunities for the boys in both individual and team events. We are delighted that our badminton players re-entered the Edinburgh Schools' League for the first time in 14 years, and the boys won all of their matches. It was a pleasure to congratulate Jeff; Marcus; Jun Hay; Ralph and Ying, and to see Mr Reid, the master i/c presenting them with their medals.
Highlights: I have several highlights from last week. As I have indicated, it was an extremely busy week, but Mrs Hunter and I enjoyed taking some time out and going to watch 'Beating Retreat' at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The Palace itself is an extraordinary setting, and it was a truly wonderful occasion where our boys play alongside the pupils from Fettes, The Edinburgh Academy; George Heriot's; George Watson's; Mary Erskine and Stewart's Melville and Loretto. Every year, it is an unforgettable occasion. I was also so pleased (despite the fact that our Upper Sixth are revving up for examinations) to see so many of the Upper Sixth leaders in the Pipe Band showing the way. Due to the generosity of a Merchiston parent, I revelled in seeing some of the younger boys in the School (alongside that incredible pipe band supporter Mr Rickard) at Holyrood being inspired and thinking "I wish to do this in the future."
My second highlight involves sport, having fun and participating in House activities. It is just wonderful that over the last week, we have played 20 cricket matches; our tennis players lost in the North Final of the UK National Championship, the Glanvil Cup; there has been athletics against Riley House, Strathallan and there has also been much full bore shooting. If we add to this the House activities (Blakerston Camp for Pringle boys, the Chalmers West dance and supper with St George's; the Chalmers East Social and Yellowcraigs with Kilgraston), we could actually say that these sorts of activities are the 'nerve centre' of a good school.
Another 'nerve centre' of the School, is the quality of learning and teaching. All I can say is that I am absolutely staggered by the efforts of the staff on behalf of the boys in recent weeks. This is not an issue of 'cramming' the boys with information. It is about caring for each and every single pupil and trying to ensure that each one puts his best foot forward in challenging examinations. The number of clinics and ongoing academic surgeries is remarkable. We do not have study leave, and even our Half Term is short so that the boys settle back down again into the Merchiston way of life before restarting yet more examinations! All I can say to readers of Headmaster's Headlines is that I commend the teachers for 'pushing the boat out' for the boys. I also commend the staff in the delivery of sport and the provision of House activities for their huge commitment to these important parts of school life.
I believe it is important to finish this entry with the words I spoke to the School yesterday morning. Readers of Headmaster's Headlines will know that I reduce education to the simple: "try your hardest; make the most of your talents; look after each other". Mrs Hunter and I have adopted each of these three phrases from the experience we have had in looking after children in schools. I like each one of them. The second one is interesting because it is trying to encourage boys to feel that sense of accomplishment and achievement (the two 'a's) so that they might say "Yes, I did that well". However, the third 'a', namely 'arrogance', must never exist in the same vein as the two original 'a's. The boys must never display an attitude of superiority; they must never act in an overbearing manner. The pride of the boys must never be linked to claims of rank; dignity; estimation or power. The boys must never show contempt of others nor act in a 'lordly' or haughty fashion. I reminded the School that all members of the School must never take for granted what is being provided for them. I concluded my talk by questioning whether or not the culture of praise (or too much praise) is necessarily the best way forward. I believe in the culture of praise, but I do not believe in a culture of expectancy.
This week is action packed yet again. Yesterday was a huge day for public examination candidates of the Fifth Form and the Lower Sixth. It is a revision week for all of our junior classes in preparation for internal examinations after Half Term. The intention of such examinations is to say to the boys: "Show us how you are learning to like learning more!" Pringle is holding a 'World Issues Week'. On Friday, there is a performance by the University of Edinburgh Wind Band at lunch time as well as the Commemoration Art & Design and Design & Technology Exhibitions and the Headmaster's Music Concert during the evening. On the Saturday we will officially open Mount Olympus; parents will be entertained in Houses as part of the transition process and the Commemoration Day Service (at which the visiting speaker will be Professor Tim Burt of the University of Durham) will take place. Thereafter, I really hope that parents and boys enjoy some time out over the weekend.