Headmaster’s Headlines

Headmaster’s Headlines

6th December, 2017

First, it was a pleasure and a joy to wish Yaotian and Lachlan happy birthday on Tuesday morning!


Members of the School must sometimes think I am very strange! On many a morning, I really enjoy listening to the BBC Radio 4 News Briefing at 5.30am to 5.45am! Quite often, I am on my way to do some swimming at the Royal Commonwealth Pool (and how fortunate we are in a school like Merchiston, Edinburgh, to have the amazing resource of Edinburgh Leisure so close to hand), but on Tuesday morning, because of Headmaster’s Assembly, the timing is a little tight! And I love the Radio 4 News Briefing, because it is precisely that, and it encompasses the news; business; the papers; sport; and to be honest, my favourite bit, Prayer for the Day.

So, at 5.42am I heard a wonderful talk which only lasted 1 minute 55 seconds (and how I wish I could be so precise!) by the Venerable Karen Lund, Archdeacon of Manchester. There is no harm in attaching the theme of the talk to a special day, and I learnt from the Venerable Karen Lund that Tuesday 5 December was International Volunteer Day, as set up by the United Nations in 1985. Venerable Lund spoke about how volunteers give of themselves, and how they are friends; how they are present with and for others, and sharing with others; and how they share a love that is unconditional and give time and friendship. Well, as I said to the pupils on Tuesday morning, there are many aspects of Merchiston which fit this definition. Other staff are not contracted to do many things which they do on a daily basis. So, I think for example of our academic clinics and surgeries (which are not cramming the pupils, they are the opposite – we are supporting the pupils to our utmost). These academic surgeries and clinics are not part of the learning and teaching quota for any one of the members of staff. The staff push the boat out. I think too of our Upper Sixth student leaders in the Houses or departments or other areas of School life such as sport. I think of the Lower Sixth helpers, who learn the skills of leadership, teamwork and mentoring skills, particularly in the Houses over the whole of their Lower Sixth year. I think also of our Lower Sixth formers who participate in Koinonia (Teamwork with the Community), whether this is in the Place2Be scheme, working at Braidburn School for children with additional support needs, or even speaking to residents in Davidson House, let alone our developing MVP (Mentors in Violence Prevention) scheme. As I said to the pupils, I am absolutely convinced that our Koinonia programme makes our young men better young people. Essentially, Merchiston depends hugely on volunteers and volunteering, and the gifts which have been shared with others. It is interesting that later on in this entry under debating, we come back to this topic!

Secondly, last week I could not give you any feedback on the trip as Mrs Hunter and I had just returned from visiting Seoul in South Korea, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. I quote directly from the words I spoke to the School:

“The purpose of this trip was multifaceted. First, we always endeavour to say hello to the parents of as many of you as possible. We really enjoyed meeting so many of your parents and saying hello to them, and in a way, we are reciprocating the huge decision you and your parents made to come from these countries to Merchiston, Edinburgh, Scotland, the UK. This was a big, brave and bold decision, and we realise the confidence, faith and trust you are investing in us as a school, Merchiston. It is wondrous and incredible to imagine the miles you travel to join us and enrich this school. Equally, we enjoyed meeting many prospective parents, prospective pupils and educational agents. Many of you wrote case studies to help us reflect your individual Merchiston Journey. We also met some former parents, and indeed, many, many alumni, or Old Boys of the School, called Merchistonians. It was fascinating hearing all about their individual journeys since they left Merchiston. And, it is always a huge pleasure and privilege for Mrs Hunter and myself to represent the School. The word of mouth with regard to Merchiston in all these countries around the world is extremely high. That is down to one thing. It is down to the Merchiston magic being woven by every pupil in this School and your mentors and persons of warmth, both within and outwith the classroom, including in the critical area of pupil support. Yet again the trip has reminded us of the world coming to Merchiston and the diversity of the modern Merchiston, and this is an illustration of the diversity of the modern Merchiston.

With regard to Shenzhen, along with Mr Rider who has helped hugely with this project, and the Chairman of the Board of Governors and Deputy Chairman of the Board of Governors, we attended an inaugural ceremony which saw the formal signing of the papers between Merchiston and the investors of Merchiston Castle International School, Shenzhen. It was remarkable that in this inaugural ceremony and signing of the legal documents we received so much support from members of the alumni. Indeed, each member of the alumni present contributed to the ceremony. It is important to note that one of the investors is a former Merchiston parent. He wishes to recreate as closely as possible the ambience of Merchiston, Edinburgh, in Merchiston, Shenzhen.

Merchiston Castle School Shengzhen

This is a tall order, but we have appointed, we believe, an outstanding founding Head, who himself was born in Scotland, and educated at Edinburgh Academy, before teaching in many schools in the UK and then teaching in many schools in the world. At present, he is Head of Secondary at a school in Malaysia.

So, these are exciting times for Merchiston. But actually, what I find really exciting is our attention to detail, sitting alongside the grand plan. No grand plan can happen without attention to detail, creativity, and hard work. And that’s the fun of it! Sir Alex Ferguson reminded us of that last week.”


First, we congratulated our young tennis players. In tennis, the U13 and U15 teams travelled down to Bolton for the AEGON UK National Schools Finals. This is a fiercely competitive weekend with some outstanding tennis on display. The U15s won against Bournemouth Collegiate School and lost against Culford on Day 1. The U13s lost two very tight matches against Reeds and Millfield. On Day 2, both teams had good wins against Warwick and Repton. Overall, both teams finished in third place.

The U13 team consisted of Matthew, Luke, Euan and Lachlan.

The U15 team were Johannus, Charlie, Lachie, Nikos, Harris and Marcus

Well done to all the pupils who competed in this event who will all have gained invaluable experience from the weekend, so many congratulations to Matthew, Luke, Euan, Lachlan, Johannus, Charlie, Lachie, Nikos, Harris and Marcus.

Sports Roundup

In rugby, the 1XV, B1s, C1s, D1s and F2s won against George Watson’s. The 2XV, 3XV, U16Bs, B2s, B3s, C2s, C3s, D2s, D3s and F1s lost. So, the roll of honour reads; P15; W5; L10. The D1s and D2s won against Loretto and the F1s lost. The U9s lost against Cargilfield and won against The Compass School.

In football, the 1XI won against Stewart’s Melville B team and the 2XI lost against Loretto. In squash, the U14s lost against George Watson’s. In badminton, the U18s won against George Heriot’s, 5-3.


It is always difficult bringing forward highlights from any week at Merchiston. And of course, I do not wish to offend any members of the community. So, I am delighted that the November reading groups have been such a success! And staying with the Arts, I do wish to commend our young debaters. If we are talking about life skills, this has to be one of the most important ones. On Thursday 30 November, Merchiston’s two junior debating teams competed in the English Speaking Union’s National Debating Competition held at Heriot’s. The motion was a very challenging one as they had
to support and oppose the motion: ‘This house would introduce compulsory community service of one year for all school leavers.’ Freddie and John had a very confident win defeating both Clifton Hall and Tynecastle High in their round. The pupils were commended for their team work, confident rebuttal and full engagement in the cut and thrust of the debate. In the second tie, debating novices Teddy and Tristan also prevailed, defeating Cargilfield and the second Tyncastle team; an astonishing result as neither pupil had debated until the Clan in-house debates held a few weeks a


go. The presiding judge commented that they were “head and shoulders” above the other teams and again the strength of persuasive argument was the deciding factor. A special mention must be made of Teddy who had the very difficult job of summating the whole debate. This meant very little pre-prepared material could be used and he had to spontaneously react and explore why his side of the debate triumphed.

Merchiston Debating

The pupils all now progress to the second round of this national competition; a real achievement given their novice status. So many congratulations to Freddie, John, Teddy and Tristan, let alone Ms Cunningham for inspiring and motivating these young men.

And staying with the Arts again, last week three actors from the School stepped on stage at St George’s in an energetic and tense production of A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. And actually, acting in the St George’s production takes even more dedication, as first of all the pupils have to get Merchiston Dramaacross to the other side of town! The theatre rewards discipline, effort and team spirit, and Douglas, John-Ross and Charlie all produced excellent performances and reaped the rewards of three months’ hard work. So many congratulations to Douglas, John-Ross and Charlie, let alone Mr Kristjansson for guiding this important part of the arts world at Merchiston.

Thirdly, and moving to sport, I do wish to commend the XV, B1s, C1s, D1s and F2s. I tried to spend time on all the home pitches on Saturday, and I enjoyed seeing the spirit of the B2s and the B1s and seeing the B1 make the right decision, at the right time, under pressure to come back from defeat. And what about the XV? Well, I remember looking in “on the huddle” after the loss against George Watson’s College in the second round of the Scottish Schools

Cup, I heard Mr Deans and Mr Blair rightly say, “I am tired of us losing matches which we should not lose and indeed we should win!” When the squad was asked whether anybody wished to contribute or not, I heard some honest and realistic words as in, “What we need to realise is that we have not been the best team in Scotland for the last 10 years.
That team is the one over there, George Watson’s, which has beaten us again today.” Honest leadership is the way forward. So, really well done to the XV on Saturday. This was an important win for the team, the School and the coaches. Recognising that “momentum moment” and seizing it is a skill which applies to all parts of life. And we have retained the Merchiston Memorial Bowl, presented by Mr and Mrs Lascelles.


One of the great advantages of this school is simply our location, Merchiston, Edinburgh. So, last week there were two inspiring talks in School by Lynsey Sharp and Dan Brown, and I really hope that all of our pupils have learnt something enlightening from the presentations. Let’s not forget that our Upper Sixth Formers, our academic tutors and the Academic Leadership Team have been extremely busy completing UCAS forms. And we have already read in this edition that our clan events have given pupils the opportunity to embrace the opportunities and enjoy the sense of internal competition. So, we have many of these this week! And another one of the magical components at Merchiston, Edinburgh, is the links with our two sister schools, namely St George’s and Kilgraston. This week some of our pupils will experience the language morning with St George’s, and this surely is a wonderful way to share a love of learning with our peers at one of our sister schools. We are all looking forward to attending A Midsummer Night’s Dream this week, where we will see another wonderful Merchiston team in action, both on stage and off stage, involving so many staff and pupils. And there are many end of term trips and activities planned! I do hope that all members of the School enjoy these and appreciate them, and I reminded the School that that word of thanks, “Thank you Sir and thank you Ma’am”, including to the coach driver, goes a long, long way. We have a Whole School Service of Nine Lessons and Carols on Sunday evening, and this always a magical event, which marks the beginning of the Christmas season. I enjoyed listening to the choir rehearsing last Friday, so good luck to the Choir and the readers. And we in the congregation will pull our weight too with our contributions to the carols!

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