Headmaster’s Headlines

Headmaster’s Headlines

20th January, 2015


Last week I enjoyed reading a report written by World Challenge entitled Giving You the Edge: What is the Real Value of Extra-Curricular Experience in the University Application Process?  Actually, at Merchiston we never call it extra-curricular, but rather we call it co-curricular, and the reasons for that can wait for another read!  The full report was fascinating, for don’t we all – the boys, the parents, let alone the teachers – want to have the secret to a university place revealed?!  You can follow the link to the relevant slides, but essentially, and indeed obviously, the main things universities are looking for on a successful university application are academic grades, followed by an interest in the course/university and the core subject.  At the same, universities acknowledged that they look for evidence of a candidate’s co-curricular activities in their personal statement.  When asked which types of activity added most value, the most commonly cited was work experience, followed by regular volunteering.

Readers of Headmaster’s Headlines will know that prospective parents (and many of you are now present parents!) usually assess a school on the following criteria: the quality of the academic record, the quality of pastoral care, the quality of the co-curricular programme and finally the quality of the leadership.  Our co-curricular programme is extremely important for we are trying to teach the boys and young men at Merchiston ‘soft skills’ – the skills that they develop as they tackle and overcome challenges in their lives.  These soft skills are communication, teamwork, time management, decision making and taking responsibility.  I took the opportunity to outline to the boys that it is not just university admissions teams that are looking for evidence of these skills, but it is their potential employers of the future who will be looking for them too!

Readers of Headmaster’s Headlines will know that I like the Today programme, and there is always a business section on the Today programme on Radio 4 circa 6.13-6.25am (and often I hear a Merchiston parent on this slot!).  Last week I heard James Caan, the entrepreneur, being interviewed in this area.  You can follow the link to the text of the full interview, or indeed, you can still hear it on Radio 4 iPlayer through this link (at 23’30 – 27’17).  And finally, with regard to ‘soft skills’ in the workplace, I delivered a quote from Neil Carberry, Director for Employment Skills at Cnfederation of British Industry (CBI) on precisely the same area: “Business is clear that developing the right attitudes and attributes in people – such as resilience, respect, enthusiasm and creativity – is just as important as academic or technical skills.  In an ever more competitive jobs market it is such qualities that will give our young talent a head start and also allow existing employees to progress to higher skilled, better paid roles.”  So without over-hammering this point, I indicated to the boys that of course their academic achievements are really, really important.  But, rightly, universities and employers are placing increasing value on ‘soft skills’, so I urged the boys to make the very most of the opportunities that they have on offer here at Merchiston.  When it comes to co-curricular activities, I reminded the boys that it is not what they have done but what they have got out of it that will impress on their UCAS personal statement, their CV and indeed, in the workplace.


Arts-honours-musicFirst, I am very fond of all aspects of School life, but in particular, I salute musicians.  I deeply regret giving up learning a musical instrument at my senior school, and it was a mistake.  So, it was a great pleasure to award Arts Honours for Music to recognise the commitment and contribution to choral singing and music in general, and the leadership the respective young men have shown to this highly valued part of Merchiston.  So, Arts Honours for Music were awarded to AledGeorgeAlanAntoniJack and Tom.

VictorWhile I am talking about musical instruments, it was a pleasure to congratulate Victor, who passed his Grade 7 piano exam last term.  Naturally, the Director for Music, Mr Dennis, helped me congratulate these young men.

Moving to young writers, last week we congratulated a large number of budding poets, and this week I was pleased to acknowledge boys for the writing of fiction.  I received the following letter:

Dear Mr Hunter

Recently your school entered our ghost-themed writing competition.  I am delighted to inform you that a selection of your pupils has been successful and they now have the opportunity to be published within a special anthology.

We’ve received some fantastic work, which has been selected for publication based on perception, imagination, expression and creative use of language.  This is a great achievement that you and your pupils can be proud of.

A copy of the book your pupils’ work appears in, Spine-Tinglers – A Collection of Ghost Stories, will be kept in the British Library and further libraries across the UK and Republic of Ireland, providing a lasting record of their achievement.  As a thank you for entering the competition, we will send your school a complimentary copy of the book, which is scheduled for publication on 31 March 2015.

I’d like to close by congratulating your school and staff, and hope this achievement will encourage confident participation in future creative activities.

So, it was a pleasure to invite many young writers (pictured above) to come forward to receive our congratulations: Ubanni,OskarNoahNachoMarcusMaxLucanMarcusJamesEricEdwardChristianDouglas,AustinAlasdairFreddieMatthewAngusThomasTobyTomThomasJamieCharlieMax,JohnNilesBenBenjamin and Barney.  Naturally, Mr Williams, the Head of English, helped me congratulate these young men.Which tie

Douglas_and_OwainBefore moving to congratulate some young men for sport, I discussed briefly our turning wheel entitled Which tie will you wear? Last week, some prospective parents enjoyed hearing about the concept of Which tie will you wear?  Actually, we could not fit all the ties on this wheel, but this simple wheel – and our tie concept – is all about encouraging boys to be aspirational and ambitious.  It is also all about encouraging boys to be inspired by other role models in their midst.  And of course, it is important that there is a different tie to try and acknowledge every type of significant personal and public achievement.  So, it was a delight to award Major Games Ties for rugby to BennFergusAlasdair and Tom.  Their mentor, Mr Moffat, helped me congratulate them. Finally in this section I congratulated Owain and Douglas, who have been selected to train with the Lothian Cricket squad.


Our sporting programme, last week was certainly testing with regard to the weather – frozen pitches in particular.  I acknowledged the staff who delivered an alternative programme, and equally I acknowledged the boys for buying into the sessions.  We did have some fixtures in rugby, swimming, basketball and hockey.  The B1s were lucky enough to play a fixture on the 3G at Edinburgh University against Royal Belfast Academical Institution, otherwise known as Inst, and whilst the game was lost by three tries to two, I received some excellent reports about the standard of the game in tricky conditions.  Our basketball team defeated George Watson’s, and the 1XI hockey team beat the Fettes’ 3XI.  Although they lost their match, I was also pleased to see an U15 hockey match, mainly made up of Chalmers West boys, had a good game at Fettes.  Hockey is growing at Merchiston!  Finally, the Pringle swimming team lost their swimming matches at The Compass.


Cameron_with_chequeFirst, readers of Headmaster’s Headlines will understand that sometimes my talks are circular!  I started by concentrating on the importance of ‘soft skills’ and how to stand out for the right reasons.  It was a great, great pleasure to present Cameron with his Commendation for Achievement.  Last term, Cameron planned and ran a fundraising disco to raise funds for the Daisy Chain Trust.  Cameron has shown great initiative in seeing through this project and raising the handsome sum of £630.  Moreover, Lady Kirkwood (a former Merchiston parent and the founder of this charitable trust) was in our midst to received the donation from Cameron.  Lady Kirkwood then told us of two salutary examples of how previous funds have been used to make a difference: helping autistic children in East Lothian to communicate by learning how to surf, and providing a trampoline for wheelchair-bound children in another school.  And how important it is for us that we remember that we are incredibly privileged and fortunate.  So, I imagine that universities and prospective employers would totally endorse Cameron’s approach …Scholars_Dinner

Mr_Mills_with_nephewsSecondly, universities and prospective employers would be interested in our 17th Annual Scholars’ Dinner held last Tuesday.  Our guest speaker was Mr Simon Mills, the new Head of Robert Gordon’s College, Aberdeen.  A talk by a geographer was long overdue and readers can also enjoy the talk on globalisation by following the link. The evening is all about Reflection on Scholarship, including of course a Latin Grace, but it is the role of the visiting speaker to make us think.  Mr Mills definitely succeeded!  Our academic Scholars, as part of the honour of being a Scholar are expected to attend and it was very gratifying to hear many saying Best ever!  I am very grateful to Mr Newham for his organisation and his contributions alongside Mr Lucas and others, to our Lower Sixth aspect of the Cecil Stagg Society.

And moving to this week, our Fifth Form are in the midst of the joy of their mock examinations, and these are an important preparation for the real exams!  Our PSHE theme this week is resilience and I am pleased the prefects are leading on this topic in sectional assemblies.  All the boys and staff in the School are aware that our recent Education Scotland and Care Inspectorate inspection document is published today.  On Thursday we have visitors to the School for our annual Merchiston Journey evening, and again I am pleased our musicians are contributing to the Koinonia programme by performing at Old Farm Court, a Colinton Care Home, on Friday evening.

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