Headmaster’s Headlines

Headmaster’s Headlines

14th March, 2017

First, Happy Birthday to Javier, Marcus, Hamish and Williiam!

At the beginning of our Gathering, I asked members of the different teams of pupils (The Juniors’ Jungle Book; Merchiston 7s; Choral Society’s The Greatest Hits of The Beach Boys) to stand up so that we could visually see all the participants. Why? Well, my theme for the morning was Pulling Together and Rallying Round!

If you do not mind, I leave you to read my message to the pupils and staff. I hope there is something for everybody!

Pulling Together and Rallying Round!

When I speak to prospective parents about the Merchiston Total Curriculum and developing you as young people, I sum up the two parts of this as: developing your mind; and developing you as a human being, a character and a person.  With regard to the latter, I think that participating in leadership, team work and mentoring activities is critical.  Yes, we do not tell you every day, “Please pay attention for today we are concentrating on leadership, teamwork and mentoring skills.”  It’s just a fact with regard to the way of life at Merchiston.  Often these activities happen in the co-curricular world, but often they also happen in the academic world of the School.  Think about the numbers of teams in the School which traverse the academic and co-curricular.  It is vast.

A recent study by psychometric researchers AQR, published in January, said independent schools excel in fostering “mental toughness” – emotional control and a commitment to achieving goals.  That’s why we ask you to participate in so many different activities involving leadership, teamwork and mentoring skills.  And let’s not forget that sometimes an independent school can be an over-competitive environment, but that’s why I say to each and every single one of you, “You concentrate on achieving your personal best, your PB; don’t worry too much about the people around you.”  But, this concept of “mental toughness” is also to do with learning to cope with coming second, or improving my lines in a play, or my performance on a rugby pitch, or my singing of numbers from The Beach Boys, through purposeful practice.  So many of the activities we ask you to participate in challenge you and challenge you to dig deep.  And of course, to work at something you find challenging is a crucial skill to equip you for the excitement and inevitable turbulence of life.

And that is what I meant last week by, “Everyone must be on the Merchiston number 10 bus of opportunities”, for bouncebackability and resilience allows you to seize opportunities no matter what your future ambitions or hopes.  So, this pulling together and rallying round is all about balancing your desire to excel with looking after your mental and emotional health.  This pulling together and rallying round is all about life not being a binary choice between happiness and excellence.

There’s lots of stuff at present going on in many a school with regard to mindfulness, including at Merchiston where many of you have recently participated in Mindfulness sessions organised by Mr Campbell.  Mindfulness is the opposite of overthinking and worrying that puts you in an internal conflict as you ruminate on the past or worry about the future – a toxic mindset of “what if?” questions.  So, as we are pulling together and rallying round, let’s be grounded in the present moment by promoting a sense of calm and focusing on our breathing.  All the activities that we are asking you to participate in as you learn leadership, teamwork and mentoring skills, are all about the ‘real’ as opposed to the ‘perfect’.  It’s a waste of time concentrating on talent.  We all need to reward good hard work, rather than gifts of ability.  And as you are learning these skills, don’t knock yourself.  Pat yourself on the back – you are doing well!  We will know in the development of leadership or teamwork and mentoring skills that there is no point in thinking about the idea of wishing to be perfect.  We need to break that idea down!

So all the pulling together and rallying round of so many recent events, such as the Juniors’ drama performance of the Jungle Book; the Celebration of Rugby Dinner; the Sixth Form Highland Ball; the Scottish Schools’ Pipe Band Competition; and the Merchiston Sevens, involving five squads, let alone all the pupil and staff volunteers rallying round, is all about creating opportunities for you to find out who you are, run with it and become young people who can embrace challenge.  If everything is easily achieved, we cannot build our mental toughness.  And let’s not forget that this pulling together and rallying round and the development of leadership teamwork and mentoring skills is teaching so much for your futures: perseverance, self-discipline, attention to detail, and finally, learning to look after yourself.

I hope you enjoy pulling together and rally round for the Choral Society Concert – The Greatest Hits of the Beach Boys!

Successes and Awards:

Many congratulations to all the Pringle pupils and staff who made the Merchiston Juniors’ production of the Jungle Book such a huge success last week.

It was once again so heartening to witness senior pupils working collaboratively in such enthusiastic support of our juniors: on sound and lighting; playing in the band; make-up; backstage management and front of house. Thank you to the staff, led so ably by Mrs Binnie, for all their dedicated support. The evening was just great fun and the audience left well-entertained and very happy after each performance.

Well done to all the actors.  It was good to see so many of you involved and there is clearly much acting talent and potential and I hope you will develop this as you move through the School.


I have no favourites in the School. I have no favourite musicians. But it gives me great pleasure to speak about one musician this morning. I would like to award Mikey in our Upper Sixth Form his Arts Honours this morning. He is in the Jazz Band; he has been in Chapel and Choral Society; he has stood in on countless Sundays to perform solos and performed willingly in the School’s contemporary worship band. Mikey has also played for the functions of Mrs Hunter in The Marquee in the Summer term. He was the guitarist for this year’s Jungle Book. He has been the lead guitarist for all of Mr Dennis’ very clever ideas with regard to secular Choral Society as in The Muse, Queen’s Greatest Hits, The Greatest Hits of The Beatles and this Sunday and will he play bass for Choral Society rendition of The Greatest Hits of The Beach Boys.

Sports Roundup:
In Cross Country, the School hosted its annual Prep Schools Relay competition. There were a number of excellent performances and the U11A and U13A teams both finished in 3rd place in their respective competitions. In football, the 1st XI won against Loretto topping off an excellent season. The U15A hockey team won both of their games against the B teams of Loretto and Stewart’s Melville. In squash, the U16 and U18 teams lost against Stewart’s Melville. In fives, Merchiston were the winners and also runners up of this year’s Edinburgh Schools Colts Championships. Congratulations to Matthew and Douglas who were the winning pair beating Oscar and Chris in the final of the competition

In tennis, congratulations to Matthew and Charlie who won the U12 and U16 Scottish Indoor Championships this weekend.

In rugby, the U10s drew with Cargilfield. The B2s won and the U16Bs lost against Earlston High school.

On Sunday, we hosted our annual sevens competition. This is a wonderful festival of rugby with boys from all over Scotland and south of the border competing across five age groups. It is not just the playing members of the tournament which make this such a special day, but all the ball boys, touch judges, runners, car parking attendants that make this the leading schoolboy sevens tournament in Scotland. Thank you to everyone who made it possible, not least Mr Deans and his team of staff. I would like to emphasise and emphasise my thanks to the staff and the boys who were involved in delivering a most impressive event on Sunday. Looking after 40 teams in 5 different age groups and all of the visiting coaches, referees and families is no mean feat. I enjoyed hearing about new initiatives at the Sevens which included the use of the Pringle pitch for the U11s, the hog roast and the use of the new Merchiston Gilson Gray gazebos.

The results were as follows; the F1s, C1s and B1s were all losing semi-finalists, the F1s unfortunately losing a coin toss, and the C1s lost in extra time. The U16 and U18 teams both won their competitions beating Edinburgh Academy and Strathallan in the finals. I would like to invite the 1st VII and U16 squads on to the stage to receive our congratulations.

Under 16
Fin, Dan, Ross, Matthew, Dean, Douglas, Rory, Marcus, Rory, William, Lachlan (Vice-Captain) and Jamie (Captain)

1st VII
Finlay, Tyler, Harry, Connor, Sean, Rufus, Cameron, Henry, Lomond, Christopher, Robert (Vice-Captain), Angus (Captain)

Activities Roundup:

Last week saw a whole range of typical Merchiston events. In addition to the events I have already mentioned, academically, there was an Upper Sixth Chemistry trip, a Middle Years Maths Team Challenge, J5 and First Form when to the Forth Replacement Crossing Centre and this was in addition to The Merchiston Careers Convention and lecture from the Blood Transfusion Service. In music, there was a performance at Old Farm Court, as well as The Scottish Schools Pipe Band Competition. In sport, we staged the Merchiston Cross Country Relays for the Prep Schools and fixtures in rugby, hockey and fives. On Friday, the 1st V tennis team travelled to Brazil to compete in the World Schools’ Tennis Finals and the cricket squad completed their fundraising Triathlon for their upcoming tour.

This week we move to the penultimate week of term, which includes the Stewart’s Melville Sevens for the boys in Shell and Chalmers West, J4 & J5s Parents’ Meeting, academic trips for the J4 and J5s, the Shell Geographers and an A2 Classic Civilisation Trip to the British Museum. This weekend is the final Boarding-In Weekend, which includes a Lower Sixth Parents’ Meeting and the Whole School Choral Society Concert on Sunday evening, at which the Chapel Choir and the Choral Society will perform. Mrs Hunter and I will be abroad representing the School, meeting prospective and current parents, so we will unfortunately miss this very, very special event, but none the less, I wish everyone involved the very best of luck.

And finally for this morning, a really, really important sentence….

Let us not forget the primacy of Learning and Teaching in our daily life at Merchiston!

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