Headmaster’s Headlines

Headmaster’s Headlines

24th May, 2016

Often, I think that families have an ambience of tone about them. And tone is often an intangible thing. It’s to do with ethos. And actually we pride ourselves, and I am sure that every school does, on the tone of the extended family of Merchiston. But let’s not forget that human beings are not perfect and that’s exactly how it should be. In school, we should all be having a huge amount of fun because if we don’t have fun then that development of the mind, that development as a human being and that enjoyment of the co-curricular just does not happen. And of course, if we cannot make mistakes at School, when can we?  But what is so important is that we learn when we make mistakes. It’s important that we step back and reflect and think, “And how would I do that better the next time”?  So, here is an example. I received an email from a member of the public on Saturday evening which went as follows:

“I hope you don’t mind my out of the blue email.

I thought you would be very keen to hear about an incident that occurred earlier today which I feel reflects negatively on the boys.

On my way back from Tesco today, carrying several bags of shopping, there were four boys (around 16 years old and wearing Merchiston tops) walking towards me. There is some construction work going on around that area and part of the path is very narrow. I decided to wait for the boys to walk along the particularly narrow part of the path before continuing, because there wouldn’t be much space. I was very surprised when the boys walked past and not a single one either said thank you or acknowledged the fact that I had waited for them. I would expect anyone in the same situation to say thank you and I was disappointed by their behaviour. I know you are a strong advocate of good manners and this is why I felt it appropriate to let you know.

I am aware that you may want to share this with colleagues and the boys and I am happy for you to do so as long as you make it anonymous.”

My reply went as follows:

“Dear Madam

Thank you very much for this email. Naturally, I am very disappointed at the contents. But I sense that you understand my style of leadership and for sure, I do not believe in sweeping things under the carpet. I will anonymise you as a person but I will be reading this out to the whole School on Tuesday morning in my weekly Headmaster’s Assembly and reminding all members of the School of the central importance of courtesy and manners. I do not often receive emails like this and your email is a good reminder that we can always do better. And we must….

Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”

So, I urged the boys in the School to think, think and think!  And moving to that man Claudio Ranieri again!  Well, I made no apology for referring to him with the boys again because it is a quite, quite remarkable story. We will remember that in Leicester’s final home match of the season, he invited the opera singer Andrea Bocelli to sing Nessun Dorma to the whole crowd. I would not wish to be pejorative but I imagine the concept of opera, a football crowd and a football stadium might be a rare occurrence. But actually, what I also felt fascinating about watching this YouTube clip was observing Claudio Ranieri control the crowd. What a man!  How many of us as leaders control in a negative way as opposed to leading and controlling through relationships and a mentoring style of leadership?  Just look at the way in which the huge crowd reacts to him just putting his hand up, asking them to be courteous and listening to the world famous opera singer Andrea Bocelli singing Nessun Dorma. And of course, readers of Headmaster’s Headlines will know that Andrea Bocelli, this tenor opera singer, is blind. There are all sorts of lessons for us to learn. If you listen to the whole YouTube extract, I actually like his second number Time to Say Goodbye and he changed the lyrics to Time to Win Again!


Junior Music Cup winnersFirst, the Junior Music Cup was held last Wednesday, with Dr Joanna Allsop, Director of Music at Cargilfield adjudicating. We saw one of the biggest entries ever and Mr Dennis was pleased to have a bassoon player entering for the first time!  So, well done to all who competed. It was a pleasure to congratulate Kenny, the overall winner playing the piano; the Third Form winner James (voice); the Second Form winner Paul (trumpet); the First Form winner Finlay (violin) and the winner from J4 and J5 Andrew (trumpet).

Sports Roundup

In Athletics, the O17 and U17 teams both won their respective meets against Glenalmond, Fettes and Strathallan. The Junior athletics squad also performed very well at the Fettes invitational competition winning a number of events. The Junior Games took place on Saturday. This was a great success with over 100 boys competing from J4 through to Third Form.

The U15 Golf team won against Clifton Hall. In Cricket, the 1st XI lost a close T20 encounter against The Merchistonians. Well done to Angus on his 76 off just 46 balls. The U10s lost against Loretto. The U15Bs won against Fettes. All other games were abandoned after the first innings due to heavy rain.

It was wonderful to see two Merchistonians, James Johnstone and Magnus Bradbury in the winning Scottish team at the London World Series Sevens Tournament at Twickenham – the first time Scotland has ever won a World Series Cup competition!


HM-commendationsI am leaving the best until last. We have an award at School called The Headmaster’s Distinction and this is intended to recognise outstanding academic achievement in a piece of work and is available to any young man from the Fourth Form upwards. A distinction can be awarded for a single piece of work which is of a very high standard; it could be published in the School website and in the screen; it should be something which goes beyond the standard which we anticipate in a pupil of that age. So, it was wonderful to be able to congratulate Lewis, Ryan and Kirill as learners on being awarded The Headmaster’s Distinction.

Lewis’s Cecil Stagg project reads like a proper scientific literature review. In fact, it wouldn’t be out of place if submitted by a 3rd year university under graduate in Biology. He has used 52 references from scientific journals to illustrate his report, put in six figures in a glossary to illustrate various genetic and anthropological threads within the body of the report.

Secondly, Ryan proved that friction at the top of a ladder can never make it slip at the bottom by reducing the reaction force from the ground. This question emerged in class discussion, and Ryan went away and solved it independently. He also produced a formal written solution to an extremely difficult physical puzzle that involves sliding and turning numbered tiles. Both showed independence and initiative, as well as clear logical thinking.

Thirdly, Kirill created an application for plotting the probability distributions of discrete random variables (Binomial, Geometric, Poisson), for any (allowed) values of the parameters. It is such an excellent tool that two of our Maths gurus, namely Dr Vian and Mr Vaughan, have been using it in delivering the learning and teaching of Statistics 1 and Statistics 2!  Moreover, fellow pupils have also praised Kirill’s ingenuity.

What amazing minds!  So, so inspirational!


Looking back on last week, on Saturday we held a very successful fundraising dinner for the New Zealand Rugby Tour and equally on Saturday the whole of the juniors were involved all day with The Games – with records broken, huge participation and good team spirit. And this week yes, we have many young men in public examinations. It’s all a question of balance and keeping calm. Our term dates for this term are slightly different for on Thursday we hold the Annual Art & Design and Design & Technology Exhibitions and these will also be open on Friday. Thereafter, on Thursday evening we host the Headmaster’s Annual Commemoration Concert, which traditionally the whole School attends. Moreover, our Pipe Band has been preparing for the Annual Beating Retreat at The Palace of Holyrood.

We are starting half-term slightly early on Friday afternoon as opposed to Saturday lunch time. I hope that all members of the Merchiston extended family have the opportunity to do something different. Yes, half term is about taking a break so our exam candidates will need to take this time out to relax and recharge their batteries. And as ever, I reminded the School that one of the responsibilities of belonging to the extended family of Merchiston is making the right choices in holiday periods as well as in term time as we all enjoy time with family, friends and guardians. And boys have to remember to think, think, think!

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