27th January, 2015
We began Headmaster’s Assembly this week with our usual tradition of singing Happy Birthday to those boys celebrating their birthday that day, and this week it was a pleasure to wish Diego and Fabien many happy returns as they turned 14 on Tuesday. In schools it is always extremely important to keep an eye on what is going on beyond the Castle walls lone and bare. So,on Saturday 24 January, it was the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill and on Tuesday 27 January, it was World Holocaust Memorial Day. Equally, it was marvellous to have William in our midst, playing the cello and playing Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. William joined us on a half term exchange from St Andrew’s College, Christchurch, New Zealand and he is a remarkable cellist! He is way beyond Grade 8 and I heard William playing in our House Gatherings last week, so it was a great pleasure to bring William in front of the whole School. And why move from something so serious to a topic I listened to on the Discovery programme on the BBC World Service on 20 January titled Hot Gossip 2? Well, readers of Headmaster’s Headlines may wish to follow the link to this programme and in particular from 17:05 onwards. Equally, the text is here. I then led the School on a brief talk on the topics of Gossip; Why do we gossip? The downside of gossip; Gossiping and social media; When does online meanness become bullying? Social media ethics, etc. The slides are here. What we have to do when youngsters are at School is not waste an opportunity to educate them. For, we all make mistakes, and the purpose of being at School to a certain extent is to learn from making mistakes and to become truly educated. After my address to the School on 13 January I received this wonderful anonymous letter from a member of the School:
I’ve been meaning to write this letter all week, but have struggled to find the time.
I just wanted to say that Tuesday’s assembly, and your story from it, was very important to me, and how it reflected on myself. I have also had a colourful history with Merchiston (for a while), though Merchiston’s impressive grace helped me get over that, and improved myself. I was also bullied initially, and while I never ran away, I did get to extents similar to your own. However, again Merchiston was instrumental in changing that situation, and helped hugely, turning my situation around.
I can’t tell if I’ll take the role of Captain of School, but I have been considering what I would do if I did; I also would be very interested in helping the younger area of the school, and finding way to improve their Merchiston experience.
Again, I want to express how thankful I am for how Merchiston dealt with the case that I was those years ago, and for the transformation I’ve made with Merchiston’s guidance and help – not many schools would have done quite the same.
Rightly, this week I wish to give pride of place to some of our university offers. Each year, we watch with real interest university offers coming on. I was so impressed with our young people’s UCAS applications; in particular, their personal statements and the care staff took over writing references. I have talked before about each young man having their own personal Oxbridge equivalent. We do feel it is right to recognise and congratulate exceptional academic achievement and I have decided, with the Academic Leadership Team, to slightly change the criteria for recognition of university offers, in assembly. From now on, I wish to recognise any member of the Upper Sixth gaining an offer from any institution ranked in the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd World University Rankings) top 10 in the World or from one of the top 20 of Forbes’ best college list and any institution which is the top ranked University in its country. Of this year’s destinations that would include Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Imperial College, Brown University, Amherst College and Hong Kong University. Not all offers are in, but at Headmaster’s Assembly on Tuesday I congratulated successful applicants from those elite universities who have completed their admissions process and we will recognise others, once the full process has been completed. Seumas (Amherst College USA – Liberal Arts), Alexander (Brown University USA – Liberal Arts), Cameron (Oxford University – History) and Thomas (Oxford University – Japanese). We await the final raft of UCAS offers with interest, and will return to this topic in the weeks to come.
Looking back at sport last week, once again the sports fixtures were affected by the frozen spell; however, we managed to have some matches in swimming, fives, hockey and rugby. The Senior Fives team had a win against Fettes and the hockey team lost to Glenalmond in the cup. The swimming team was successful against Clifton Hall in a really good match. On Sunday some Pringle boys joined Cargilfield players to make a joint team to play the representative teams from Yorkshire and Northumberland. Weather permitting, we should be able to get back into the swing this week with our normal programme.
I have three from last week. First, Merchiston’s links with Lord Laidlaw. Lord Laidlaw has helped me considerably as the Headmaster of this School with a donation to Laidlaw House and then an equally huge donation for scholarships. The generosity with regard to the latter is coming to an end, but we still have one Scottish Merchiston/Laidlaw Scholar in the School, and we have two other scholars known as the Laidlaw Excelsior Merchiston Scholars. As Lord Laidlaw helped me, it was absolutely right that I in a very small way endeavour to help him with his project at Newcastle called the Laidlaw Schools Trust. Accordingly, I sit on the Board of Governors of Excelsior Academy, the academy in Newcastle from which Callum (Lower Sixth) and Thomas (Upper Sixth) come. Mateusz, the Springboard Merchiston Upper Sixth Scholar, is also from Excelsior Academy. Last week, ten of our Sixth Formers and two members of staff visited Excelsior Academy, and they were welcomed very warmly by staff and students alike; they were shown around the Academy and our representatives felt that one of the most impressive features was the vibrant artwork on the walls. Excelsior staff prepared a programme for the students of Merchiston and Excelsior, which included a teamwork exercise in which the students were divided in mixed groups and had to prepare presentations on different aspects of their lives at school, in leisure time and in their future hopes. The purpose of the exercise was for the boys to share their aspirations and inspire each other. I understand that all four groups did extremely well; they did their presentations with aplomb and energy. After lunch, our young men and staff went to the Newcastle quayside where they visited the Baltic Contemporary Art Gallery and the Sage. Whenever I visit Excelsior Academy, I always learn a huge amount. We continue to work out how we can nurture these links even more.
My second highlight was our annual Edinburgh Merchiston Journey. (I understand that this metaphor is now part of Merchiston folklore!) Essentially, at our Journey events, members of the Upper Sixth do a presentation to prospective parents, and this year we had Alex, Captain of School, speaking on the academic, Alan on the Merchiston Juniors, Morgan on the Middle Years, Jamie on the co-curricular, William on the international, Alex on joining Merchiston in the Sixth Form and finally John, who answered the question What makes Merchiston so special?” In addition, we were entertained by Antoni with his violin and John, with his remarkable voice. Again, I recommend readers of Headmaster’s Headlines dip into the words of these young men. Over the course of the evening, I said words to the following effect, “It is inevitable that I feel a huge pride in these young men of Merchiston. I know they are not my sons, but they feel as if they are.”
My third highlight is our annual fundraising Burns Supper. As ever, this function was sold out! Many raffle prizes were generously donated by parents, and the proceeds from the evening will be divided between the charities Hearts and Balls, Place2Be, and Braidburn School. The Pipe Band playing in the Memorial Hall, the superb organisation of the event by Mr Rossiter with his parent helpers, Mr Chris Gray doing the Immortal Memory address, Mr Moffat proposing the Toast to the Lasses, Mrs Jenny Blythe proposing the Reply from the Lasses, Rev Blair as Master of Ceremonies, let alone the two wonderful pieces of music, made it all a really, really special occasion. But why was it so special? Apart from all the factors I have mentioned, it is just simply the mums and dads (and some former parents) really enjoying being part of Merchiston. That too, makes me extremely proud.
This weekend, we have a short Weekend Leave and this will be an important moment for boys and staff to recharge their batteries and I hope everybody has some wonderful relaxation time! We concluded the Headmaster’s Assembly gathering with one of the pieces of music played on Saturday night, namely The Beaches of Harris, played by Tom and Jamie on their pipes. Even though I say it myself, a Tuesday morning gathering full of much variety.