Wetherby Preparatory School

Wetherby Preparatory School

Headmaster’s Blog

3 July 2015

Dear Parents,

There are hot Sports Days and then there are Sports Days in weather like last Wednesday.  That really was quite some event to take part in, with conditions like that, but hats off (or rather hats on) to all boys and parents for turning up and bringing water, ice pops, gazebos, refreshments and, most of all, their support for the occasion.  Lots of parents were saying to me how much better organised our event was than their other children’s sports days and that’s obviously great to hear.  Well done to Mr Redmond and all the Games staff for orchestrating such a brilliant event and anticipating how to deal with such testing conditions.  The sight of Mr Dwarka, corralling the sprint section under the shade and then bringing them section by section to do their race was a sight to behold and minimised the exposure to the sunlight – such care and attention for the children in our care is great to see.  As a Geographer, I am always impressed at how, these days, the weather is so accurately predicted.  In last Friday’s Assembly, I was slightly dismissive of Mr Redmond when he suggested that he had heard that the weather on Wednesday would touch 40 degrees but he was absolutely right.  The fact that we can now predict the weather accurately, several days beforehand, is incredibly impressive and a significant evolution from how it used to be, only a few years ago.

Lots of predictions of a different kind in the corridors and Staff Common Room these past few weeks, as we build up to tonight’s annual ‘Prize Giving Decision Meeting’.  This is always a highlight in the Staff Calendar for me, as it is so heartening to see so many staff wanting to have their say on who is awarded prizes and who gets the nod for Head Boy, Prefects and House Captains.  Year 7 has many strong candidates and the process is, rightly, a fair and entirely democratic one.  It’s not up to me, or even the Senior Management Team; all staff and everyone that works at the School are canvassed.  We also ask Year 8 for their thoughts.  Disappointment is inevitable for many, of course, but they might wish to take assurance from the fact that so much has gone into the decision making process.   Prize Giving is a whole school event and attendance is compulsory for all boys and actively encouraged for all parents.  It is always a great occasion and, with a few “New for 2015” elements, it will unlike any Prize Giving you will have been to before…

We are all looking forward to seeing some old faces at the Alumni Event on Sunday.  Many Heads will say that their brains are like a hard drive, with leaving children and parents overwritten with the new ones coming in.  The ‘deleted items’ stored far away, though never truly forgotten, take some excavation before coming back to the surface.  I can understand that but for me, Mrs Noval, Mr Redmond, Madame Sebag and Mr Bayes, who have known every single boy and parent who has ever attended Wetherby Prep, I think our brains are configured differently.  It doesn’t take much to remember our first returning Alumni though, with Tom Metherell visiting the school today. Great to see him - just like he’d never been away!

Have a good weekend!

26 June 2015

Dear Parents,

With report writing taking up a lot of the staff’s workload this week, it would not be unreasonable to expect a more conventional week that was relatively ‘event free’.  Not at Wetherby Prep, of course, and Kate Bailey and I were just musing when the last time we had a ‘normal week’ might have been. I’m not sure whether we’ve had one this year and with this particular one including an Instrumental Competition, Art Exhibition, Mandir Exhibition, New Parents’ Afternoon Tea, Inter-House Cricket and a Tea Party for local elderly people, hosted by Year 8, maybe ‘event heavy’ is just the way we like to do things round here.

All this off the back of the ‘Headmaster’s Ball’ last Friday.  Great fun had by all and some superb (dubious) dance moves and (even more dubious) singing from the dance floor area.  My thanks to Kate Groes and Leyla DaCosta, who masterminded the whole event, and to the many other parents who helped with the organisation, donated prizes for the auction and supported the event in such number.   The night was summed up for me at the drinks reception when I asked a parent who was seated at his table. “Don’t mind,” he replied, “They’ll all be fun tables!” – great attitude and, you know what, he was absolutely right!

With next week’s Sports Day hospitality, the curtain comes down on another incredibly busy and successful year for the PTA, lead expertly this year by Kate Groes, with Joanne Brown as Secretary.  My thanks to Kate for her organisation, enterprise, support and good humour throughout the past year, not to mention the last 9 years that she has been associated with the School.  I also thank and congratulate Joanne Brown (James and Anthony Vazquez-Brown) on becoming Chair of the PAT for 2015/2016. Judging by her baking and superb organisation of yesterday’s Inter- House Cricket hospitality, I know she will do a great job!

On a sporting note, great excitement and a fair bit of bewilderment in my village last Sunday when the women’s Tour de Britain came through.  It was quite a spectacle seeing the road closures and police motorcycles and then the leading racer, chasing peloton and then the stragglers.  Mr Meyer and I love the Tour de France and though this wasn’t quite on that scale, it was still a great event to witness.  Not for Patrick and Joseph who said afterwards, “Was that it?”  Admittedly we had waited an hour to see a split second of action but maybe they will grow to appreciate such things!

19 June 2015

Dear Parents,

Having written my ‘Buzz Piece’ before last Friday’s Fete, I cannot let the opportunity pass to say what a triumph of organisation and creativity that was.  Like the ‘VE Street Party’ before Half Term, I love these whole-school community events as they really do epitomise Wetherby Prep.  As with every aspect of the School, the Fete gets bigger and better every year, with ever more imagination and thought going into every stall.  Call me egotistical but my favourite stall this year had to be the ‘Have your photo taken with Mr Baker’ one, where a life-size cut out of me had been produced.  Slightly disappointed that the boys seemed keener on throwing a wet sponge at me than having their picture taken with me but there you go!

My thanks to all of our ever willing and enthusiastic parents. You really are an amazingly helpful, supportive and clever group of parents and we are lucky to have you.  Special gratitude must go to Michelle Byrnes, who orchestrated the event so magnificently. Thank you to her and all of our parents, staff and of course boys, who put so much into making the event a success.

Frequent visitors to the School will have seen by now that we have made some changes to our ‘Front of House’ arrangements.  First of all, Mrs Tilly Rugge-Price has moved from the back office to the front desk to work alongside Helen.   This will help maintain the efficient and professional way we run our increasingly busy School.  To facilitate two people at the front desk, we have a new, larger, smarter desk, emblazoned with our crest.  It also has a plaque (on the right hand side of the picture below) listing all members of our current Year 8 who will be leaving this year, as the desk has been donated as a gift to the School from our leaving parents.  A farewell gift, detailing the names of leavers has become a tradition in our School and means that all boys’ names are listed somewhere, on something, in the building.  We have a clock, a painting, a coffee table, a weather station, a desk, a portrait and now a smart new reception desk. Thank you to our Year 8 boys and their extremely benevolent parents.  I am sure you will agree that our new reception arrangements, both in terms of personnel and furniture, are a real enhancement to our School.

It is the Ball tonight, so I am sure you may well read this column on Saturday morning, busy as you probably are now with making yourselves look fabulous. 

See you on the dancefloor!

12 June 2015

Dear Parents,

At the Fete this afternoon but more so at the whole school photograph yesterday morning, there was a clear sense of relief and celebration amongst boys and staff.  School atmospheres are driven by their eldest boys and Year 8 has been, understandably, a little on edge this week in anticipation of their Common Entrance Results, which permeated down to all children in the School.  Combine  this with teachers (and Management Team and Headmaster!) awaiting reassurance that every boy has done justice to himself under the rigours of examination conditions and a tense atmosphere is created, lifted completely yesterday morning, when the final set of excellent results came through from senior schools. 

All boys in Year 8 have done OUTSTANDINGLY well.  I said last week in this column that they were more focused than in previous years but it seems that their application has paid off as these results are extremely impressive.  Many of the CE results we received were graded A or A*, which equates to those boys achieving marks of 75% and above on the hardest levels of Common Entrance papers.   Our final ‘Exit List’ of Schools this year is shown below. It is,  I am sure you will agree, an impressive list and one that, arguably, ‘beats’ last year, which many of us cited as a vintage year for our School.    Well done, Year 8! We are so proud of you and, quite frankly, such success couldn’t have gone to a better bunch of lads.

Well done also to our brilliant teaching team, who care so passionately about the boys’ success and challenge them to greater and greater heights every year.  They can be incredibly proud of their work and the exam results that they have enabled the boys to achieve this year. And, lastly, well done to our parents! I know that there will have been testing times, getting the boys to revise and worries about them not getting the required grades for such demanding schools, but all that support, encouragement and compassion that you have given to your boys over the past five years has paid off.  It has been a truly fantastic week and year for our School.

Have a good weekend,

5 June 2015

Dear Parents,

No Year 8 boys in the building today but still an air of celebration and relief is palpable as all the seniors have now finished their exams.  Good luck to all of our CE candidates and we look forward to sharing results this time next week.  I must say that the focus and application of the current Year 8 boys have been even better than in previous years. They are a credit to their School, families and, of course, themselves.

Another credit to our alumni came to visit this morning, with James Josephson (House Captain of Dawson 2013/2014) taking a few minutes out of the start of his day at St. Paul’s School to return the trophies he had won last year.  I saw him as I walked into the Church, shook his hand but then realised I had left the list of Headmaster’s Good Shows back at School.  He’s only 14 but it is never too young to train a past pupil to become a future gap student, so I sent him back to School to print off the document and get it back to me, ready to be read out in assembly.  Mission accomplished and then, with assembly over, as he had done all through his last year at the School, James helped Hal put away the chairs and collect up Hymn Books.  Once back at school, a few hellos and handshakes from staff and then willingly to work again reorganising the Hall after CE Week.  Thanks for coming in James!

A mood of celebration then and where better to continue it than at the second of our ‘Dads’ Nights Out’ last night?   Great chat and humour amongst our community, as always, and, with the leaving parents this year, it was hard to resist the temptation to go to first name terms, reflecting genuine affections on both sides after so many years of working together.  Warm handshakes even turned into semi hugs with some dads and very welcome they were too!  A further opportunity to celebrate is just two weeks away, with our bi-annual Ball at the Grosvenor.  I know that many of you are coming to the event but, as it is the Grosvenor and it is a grand event, we can accommodate anyone who wants to come, so please do purchase a ticket by following the attached application procedure and join the party – it will undoubtedly be a memorable occasion if what dads ‘in the know’ alluded to last night transpires!

The silent auction will also go live from tomorrow morning.  Having a look through, there are some amazing lots here – thank you for the generosity of all parents in offering and sourcing prizes – it really is appreciated and much welcomed. www.headmastersball-auction.com

On Thursday, we have one of the most important dates in the school calendar – the whole school photograph.  It is really important that all boys attend on this day as it is an important historical record of the School.  All boys must be in or bring full school uniform.  There is no need to wear the school jumper but tie, blazer, white shirt, grey trousers and black shoes are essential.  If your son is ill on the day, please bring him just for the photo, unless he is completely incapacitated, and then take him home afterwards.

Have a good weekend,

22 May 2015

Dear Parents,

What a remarkable week that was!  It is very difficult to implement anything completely ‘cross-curricular’ within a school timetable but I think we have managed it this week.  From experience, the good intentions of cross-curricular endeavours often fall by the wayside as the theme doesn’t always fit into all subjects and staff are sometimes reluctant to change track from their normal schemes of work. Not the case at Wetherby this week though, as the whole school got behind Miss Olney’s fantastic initiative and managed to engage all departments, teachers, children and parents in the process of celebrating VE Week.  The boys have learnt and experienced so much; I am sure it will be a week that is remembered for the rest of their school careers and no doubt beyond.  Some of the outfits are brilliant today: special mention to the female staff and Mr Billingham and Mr Blundell who have really got into the spirit of the occasion.  As you know, I’m never one to shy away from the opportunity to wear fancy dress and I thought my RAF outfit was really quite becoming today until Miss Hodgson remarked, “Hmmm, not quite Richard Gere I’m afraid.”  Oh well…

A memorable week, punctuated by a memorable occasion on Tuesday, as many of the Junior School dads turned up for ‘Dads’ Night Out’.  There was a super turnout and a whole range of interesting conversational areas were discussed at length:  General Election, state of the economy, experiences at PGL, Bushcraft and UKSA were early ones but these morphed, as the night progressed, to who is going to play in the Staff/Parents Football Tournament (new and improved for September 2015…watch this space), school sporting achievements, how one became a banker/lawyer/doctor etc. and, most interesting of all, misdemeanours when at school.  A most illuminating evening all round!

Have a restful half term and good luck to all of our Year 8 boys taking Common Entrance the week after we come back.  Congratulations to John Julius Schwabach and George Coombs for passing their Winchester Entrance Exams this week. I know the Year 8 boys have taken great encouragement from their success and can take this confidence with them through to Common Entrance. 

Have a great half term!

15 May 2015

Dear Parents,

I have long resisted the temptation and social norm to engage with Facebook or Instagram and use Twitter only from a School information point of view.  I have this week, however, found myself completely immersed in social media with a 24/7 addiction to ‘Track My Tour’.   With four separate residentials out and all not just using the same app but using it so regularly, it has become an obsession.  Every few minutes this week I have been ‘notified’ that ‘paul16’ has updated Slapton Sands, ‘wetherbydrk’ has updated Windmill Hill, ‘elliemartin’ has updated Bushcraft and ‘Nick.Morrison’ Year the 5 Isle of Wight sailing.   The pictures, comments and locations have been so enjoyable, informative and distinctly reassuring, from a Headmaster’s point of view, one shared, I am sure, by all parents with boys on trips this week and indeed the boys themselves, who received warm messages from parents at home.

Every now and again, we do something as a School that draws a line in the sand as it were and we then forever do things that way.  As Miss Hodgson said to me yesterday, “This app has changed trip reporting forever!” and she is absolutely right.  As a School, we have always taken trip ‘reporting’ very seriously.  Things have moved on from when I attended school residentials as a child: aged 11, on a trip to North Yorkshire, 20 of us were dropped off in Whitby and sent off, completely unsupervised and simply told to meet back at the same point three hours later. Nowadays, centres are extremely professional and well organised with their staff and our own teaching staff well trained in all eventualities that might occur on a school residential.  That said, we acknowledge that, for parents, school trips can be anxious times and we have always sought to keep them informed.  Some years ago, I would ask staff to ring me every day to give me an update, which I would then relay to parents via a voicemail message with Clarion Call.  We then moved to group emails, sometimes with pictures and even Blogs, but nothing beats what we have done this week, even if the designers of the ‘Track My Tour’ app did not realise that Schools would use it in this way.  Hats off to Miss Northey for introducing ‘Track My Tour’ to Wetherby Prep. It will be interesting to see how many other schools start using trip reporting in this way!

No reporting necessary for our ‘trip’ to ‘The Union’ in Paddington Basin on Tuesday for our Junior School ‘Dads’ Night Out’. We have around 45 dads from Years 3, 4 and 5 attending at present but it would be good to see as many more as possible.  No need to let us know, so please feel free to join all your favourite staff from 7pm onwards at Union Bar, Sheldon Square, Paddington, W2 6EZ. See you there!

Have a good weekend,

8 May 2015

Dear Parents,

It would be unwise of me perhaps to assume that the opinion of the Wetherby Prep boy is an accurate barometer for the feelings of UK society as a whole but at lunch yesterday, when Returning Officer Mr Blundell announced that the Conservatives had achieved a 63% share of the Year 8 vote, maybe it was more accurate than I first thought.   Even more prophetic was the 12% of Wetherby Prep boys living in Central London who voted for the SNP – got to hand it to Ms Sturgeon, her influence has clearly stretched far and wide!   As they mature academically and socially, all children are expected to form their own opinions about all manner of different things, so it was great to see them take such an active interest in something as important as a General Election.  As teachers, we are also keen to stress the importance of the open and professional  democratic process we have in this country – something we take for granted in the UK but not the case in many parts of the developing and developed world.

A busy week next week as Year 3, 4, 5 and 7 go off on their annual residentials.  As was trialled so successfully in the recent Jordan and Israel Trip, you can follow your son’s progress and experience using the ‘Track My Tour’ application, so please follow the instructions sent to you by your respective ‘Party Leader’ and feel free to interact with the trip.   For boys in 3, 4 and 5 this will be a great opportunity to let off a bit of steam after a hard (four day) week of exams. Have a great time, boys, and enjoy what is often the highlight of the school year.

Staff News

I am delighted to announce that Mrs Sarah Humphrey is pregnant and, with her husband Toby, will be expecting a baby in the autumn.  Everyone in the Wetherby Prep family knows Sarah to be a fantastic teacher but also a caring and compassionate school mistress to all the boys.  She is also one of our most gregarious, vivacious and entertaining characters and, much as we know that these qualities will make her a fantastic mother, we will miss her around the School.  To replace her teaching, we have moved swiftly to appoint Mr Iain Goodman who will teach Geography, History and English from September.  We are familiar with Iain as he worked alongside Miss Bailey and Miss Hart at Westminster Under School as Head of Geography.  He is not only an engaging and creative teacher but will also bring his love of golf, fishing and many other outdoor pursuits to our extra-curricular programme.  He is very much looking forward to meeting parents, boys and staff in September.

We have also appointed two new full-time members of the Games Department.  Mr Ryan Underwood, a football specialist but also all round excellent sportsman and coach, joins us from Rokeby Prep School and Mr Robert Dean, a well-qualified rugby, swimming and cricket coach who can also teach in a number of other curriculum areas, from the Focus School in East Sussex.  Both are extremely talented coaches and schoolmasters and are excellent acquisitions.  Mr Seamus Betts will also move from his role as Teaching Assistant to a full time member of the Games Staff of the School.  As we continue to develop our Games provision, following the acquisition of Wetherby Sports Ground, I am sure you will agree that it is as important to invest in the actual teaching as it is in the facility.  Ryan, Robert and Seamus will undoubtedly enable us to further our ambitions for school sport at our School. 

Have a great weekend,

1 May 2015

Dear Parents,

Thank you for the many emails of congratulations on Watford’s promotion last Saturday.  It was such a memorable day, with the win at Brighton, then the results going our way and the constant stream of emails and texts from friends, family and the Wetherby community – all good fun!   The most memorable moment for me, however, was when I arrived home on Monday to hear Patrick tell me that, “It’s brilliant; everyone in my class now says that they’re a Watford supporter!”  At last, Patrick has credibility with his choice of football team – he will suffer in the playground no longer!

I received quite a few emails and comments from parents this week, expressing support for the idea of Mandarin lessons and how they are puzzled by any negativity towards the idea. I was unaware that there was any. I have only had one email against this decision and that was more of a polite query, so the suggestion that the teaching of an additional language was in any sense the subject of debate was news to me. It’s not like a Wetherby parent to be shy about coming forward regarding any issue at the School, so please feel free to contact me in your normal way if you are concerned about swapping Latin for Mandarin in Year 5 from September. Mr Vogiatzis and I do not feel that half an hour in Year 5 prepares the boys for the two hours a week of Common Entrance Latin that they subsequently have in Years 6, 7 and 8.  With two hours a week, we devote more timetable time to Latin than most schools, so we are certainly not degrading or preparing to scrap Latin – far from it!

Have a great weekend – real Buzz in the building and in Assembly this morning – must be a Bank Holiday!

24 April 2015

Dear Parents,

Welcome back and I hope everyone had an enjoyable and restful Easter holiday. From speaking to the boys over the past two days, it appears that Wetherby boys have covered pretty much every corner of the globe in the past four weeks and have completed a wide variety of exciting, interesting and enjoyable activities. The Bakers were no different (though not quite so global or adventurous!) but the highlight remained a visit to Mead Open Farm near Aylesbury not far from our house. It is both warming and humbling that there is nothing more satisfying or enjoyable for Patrick (9) and Joseph (7) than to feed sheep and goats and play on slides. I’m realistic enough to know, however, that it won’t last and that trips to Thorpe Park and Alton Towers, will eventually take precedence!

Great excitement as well with Watford FC getting to the top of the Championship table with just two games to go. A win against (Mr Snell’s) Brighton tomorrow and then the same at home to (Mr McClinton’s) Sheffield Wednesday will guarantee promotion to the Premiership. Exciting of course and, whilst I never get that carried away with things like this, I have found myself feeling extremely nervous this week for no reason whatsoever and can only conclude that it is the pressure of the closing stages of what has been such a competitive season. It is such a bizarre thing about sport that, as ‘entertainment’, it is often something that you often want to end as quickly as possible – I can’t think of any other form of entertainment that comes close to this sense of emotion.

The Summer Term is always a particularly sociable one at Wetherby Prep and no more so than with the return (due to popular demand) of the ‘Dads’ Nights Out’. The first one, for all dads of boys in Years 3, 4 and 5 is just a few short weeks away on Tuesday May 19th.  Formal invites by email will follow next week and, as quite a few mentioned last year, the fact that Dads can say to their partners that they will only be in the pub with Mr. Baker generally meets with approval. I must be a safe pair of hands then!

Have a great weekend,

26 March 2015

Dear Parents,

As I mentioned in last week’s Wetherbuzz, we have been busy making appointments this term.  Partly, this is due to staff leaving but in the main it is concerned with the future development of the School.

Art

Oli Meyer has been appointed Head of Art and Design Technology at Wetherby Senior School.  Oli has been an outstanding Head of Art at Wetherby Prep over the past five years and has put our Art Department ‘on the map’ with its many exhibitions, competitions, trips and workshops.  By staying within the Wetherby ‘family’, Oli will be able to oversee the transition of art-teaching at the Prep School. 

Ashley Rich, who has been the School’s Art Technician, will also be leaving this summer to move to Germany with his fiancé.  Together with Oli, Ashley has contributed so much to Art at Wetherby, with his passion for printing, as well as his unflappable and resourceful nature.

We have appointed Katie Clifford to the position of Head of Art.  Katie is an excellent practitioner and has a proven track record in the independent sector at Kew College and Berkhamsted Prep.  She is extremely creative and an excellent artist in her own right. 

To support her, we have appointed Ria Kirby as Assistant to The Head of Art.  Ria is a wonderful illustrator who displays a natural aptitude to working with young people.  She will be an asset, not just to the Art Department, but to the School in a wider sense. 

Languages

We have long wished to ‘set’ French in the Prep School.  Whilst it is true that we have a number of bi-lingual children in the School, the main reason for wishing to set is the fact that some boys are better at languages than others.  From September, we will be able to set French in all year groups from Year 4.  We have appointed Katie Taylor, who has previously worked at Hereward House and latterly at a state grammar school in Essex, to teach French at the Prep School and the Senior School from September.  We have also re-appointed Lucy Borg who returns to us after a brief stay in the Middle East with her fiancé Josh.   Ruth Jones will be leaving us at the end of this year and we thank her for her hard work, humour, kindness and creativity over the past year.

We will no longer be teaching Latin in Year 5 and will replace it, on a trial basis through 2015/2016, with Mandarin, taught by the excellent Marcus Reoch and his forward thinking company, ‘Dragons in Europe’.   At the end of Year 5, the intention is for every boy to be able to pass Common Entrance Level 1 Mandarin, 3 years early. Let’s see how we get on with that but I do think that we need to expose the children to at least one other modern language whist at prep school.

Maths and Science                       

Gabriele Uliana will be leaving the Prep School in September to become the Science Technician at our Senior School.  Gabriele is an incredible asset in our family of Schools and we are delighted to retain and transfer his skills and endless enthusiasm for all things Scientific.  We will recruit his replacement for the Prep School next term.

Tom Dawson will also be leaving the School at the end of this year to take up the position of Head of Co-Curricular at Wetherby Senior School.  Tom is a superb teacher and school master and, as with Oli above, we are fortunate to keep and promote him within the Wetherby family.

To replace him, we have appointed Will Froggatt to the School.  Will currently teaches at Hazlegrove Prep and previously St Anselm’s Prep and, though not known to us before the recruitment process, is an incredibly exciting appointment, such is his talent as a teacher, general charisma and intellect.  We look forward to welcoming him and introducing all the new staff to you in September.

As always, we look to improve our provision, year on year, despite times when talented staff such as those listed above (as well as Christina Rossi of course) depart.   The School in 2015/2016 will be stronger than ever in terms of management structure, teaching provision, rigour and variety of curriculum and opportunities for the boys to express themselves physically, musically and artistically.   Further, with plans for 2016 and beyond already in place, we haven’t stopped in our desire to continually develop and progress our great School in all areas.

This has been one of the busiest terms that I can remember in the School’s history.  The School gets busier and bolder with every term but, as last nights’ superb production illustrated, excellence in extra-curricular can still be achieved with limited impact on teaching time.  We say it as a staff all the time and I reiterate it here, we are envious of the boys that come to this School and their exposure to its excellent teaching and pastoral care, as well as the wealth of extra opportunities provided.  They, and we, are lucky to have you as parents - it’s a wholly team effort - and we can’t get to where we want to go without all pulling together in the same direction.

Well done, everyone and have a great Easter!

20 March 2015

Dear Parents,

Nothing like an impending school Rugby Tour to create a frenzied atmosphere around the building, and that’s just the staff!  With that and the Year 6 away in France, as well as Year 7 off to the Tate on Wednesday, I have had lots of pictures to ‘tweet’ on the school’s Twitter feed.  Despite the wide and varied nature of activities at this school, probably my favourite image was from a routine break time at Hyde Park on Monday when Miss Bailey and some boys went to speak to a man who was using ‘our playground’ to create huge bubbles – a great scene and a perfect example of how every day is different for boys and their teachers at Wetherby Prep.

Every term is a busy term but this one has been particularly ‘back to back’ due to the number of appointments we have initiated, not so much for the Prep School but for staffing our Senior School.  Such is the structure of an academic year and the manner in which a teacher’s contract is written, that a teacher in an independent school has to give a term’s notice and, as a result, the vast majority of recruitment takes place this term, in readiness for September.  Staff recruitment season is one of my favourite parts of the school year as it is interesting and exciting to see who is out there and what they might bring to the unique atmosphere of a Wetherby school.  I am delighted with the Prep School’s management and teaching teams, together with the recruitment we have accomplished this year and look forward to sharing this with you next Thursday. 

I am also every bit as satisfied with the staffing of the Senior School.  A brand new school requires a certain type of person: a brilliant teacher and school master or mistress is a minimum but ambition, creativity and the willingness to experiment and adapt readily is needed.  Something enduring is being forged from the commitment of those key appointments, yet I know that such individuals are few and far between, so to recruit to the calibre of the staff that we have done has been worth the many hours of interviewing, analysing applications and taking up of formal and, as importantly, informal references.  ‘Getting the right people on the bus’ is probably the most important part of any Head’s job and, whilst that takes a lot of time, it has ultimately been hugely satisfying, both for me and the greater good of both schools this term.

And of course, I can’t let the week pass without mention of every Wetherby boys’ second favourite football team, Watford FC. Their rise to the top of the league this week, with a win against Alex William’s Wigan Athletic has proven to be an exciting time, not only for everyone living in South-West Hertfordshire but also, hopefully, for 320 boys in Marylebone as well.

Have a good weekend!

13 March 2015

Dear Parents,

 It might have been electioneering, with all the rhetoric coming from various political parties regarding education this week, but I applaud their sentiments as such focus identifies the main problem facing teaching in the UK.   Over the past twenty years, huge sums have gone into facilities and equipping schools which, whilst perfectly laudable, ignores the most important resource – a school’s staff.  The Prime Minister is pledging £67m to a recruitment drive , designed to attract the best graduates into teaching, particularly aimed at Science and Maths teachers. This can only be a good thing. How many of the brightest, sparkiest, most creative and personable students from your university year group went into teaching?  Not many, I would fancy, and that’s the main problem facing education that this pledge from Government seeks to rectify.

Contrasting sporting emotions for me on Tuesday, as Wetherby Year 4 travelled to Chesham Prep to play a whole year group fixture.  Captaining the ‘B’ Team for Chesham was none other than Patrick Baker.  Patrick played very well, though as much as I wanted my own son to do well, I was not happy that the referee did not punish a blatantly high tackle from Patrick on Cody Juma (4R) to stop an otherwise certain try for Wetherby. I’ll have a word with his parents…

Wetherby lost the mini tournament 87 to 56, with the winning school determined by cumulative tries, scored across the U11 and U9 games this term.  A defeat for Wetherby then but a win of sorts for the Baker family, as Patrick was asked to receive (from his dad) and lift the trophy on behalf of CPS. Every one’s a winner!

For Wetherby sporting success this week, look no further than the brilliant efforts of the Colts Rugby Team, who won four of their six games in the Blackrock Tournament in Dublin at the weekend.  It was a fantastic performance from a team who gained in confidence as the tournament progressed.  As always, a brilliant weekend away for the dads and their sons and excellent comradeship and company at the Saturday night dinner. What goes on tour, stays on tour…

And then, just last night, some extremely exciting news from the Ski Team who have been taking part in the annual IAPS Ski Championships in Tonale for the first time this week.  Many congratulations to the boys, who managed to win the ‘Plate’ Competition: a fantastic achievement and another example of how we continue to ‘push the envelope’ in terms of what the boys can experience and succeed at our School, encapsulated so brilliantly in the new School video released this week.  Thank you for all the positive (and humorous) comments you have emailed over the past 24 hours.  I agree with them all and concur that Rob McCourt, lead expertly by Miss Bailey throughout the entire process, has captured the spirit and ethos of Wetherby Prep completely.

Have a good weekend,

6 March 2015

Dear Parents,

I write this column just before Mr Bayes and I travel to Dublin to accompany the Colts and dads to the annual tournament at Blackrock College.  This will be the third time we have attended and it is always one of the most memorable events in the school calendar from sporting, as well as friendship and Wetherby Community, viewpoints.   There is something about sport that brings people together and evokes such passion from supporters and competitors alike – something that I have no doubt will be absolutely evident from our Wetherby boys this weekend.  Sporting passion is no more clearly identified than in a column I read this week on the BBC website about A. P. McCoy’s favourite 10 horses, ridden in his career ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/horse-racing/31737340 ).  The Grand National is my favourite sporting event and I always follow the Cheltenham Festival. I am, however, not massively knowledgeable about racing , yet am intrigued and in awe of the jockeys who risk their lives every day in pursuit of the sport they love.    I also greatly admire the way that A.P. speaks so eloquently and passionately about these particular horses, identifying different personality traits and talking about them as if they were human beings and close personal friends.  If I was being self-deprecating, I would feel that to be that knowledgeable about such a topic is quite something but then we all have passions and know more than others about different things – it’s what makes us all so interesting to one another!  

A fantastic atmosphere, as usual, at our annual Quiz Night yesterday.  This surely was our most well attended and lively event yet and I reiterate what I said about the boys’ contributions: they love being involved in what is such a typical Wetherby Prep event!  The winning team came from Year 7. Well done to all team members but I am sure that the other Quiz Team talent in the room will be looking to steal that trophy from you next year!  For those who didn’t attend, see how you get on with Round 2! Can you identify each of the hotels or restaurants that Zain and Jake are at? Answers at the end of the ‘Buzz…

Have a good weekend,

27 February 2015

Dear Parents,

We spoke about comebacks in Assembly this morning.  Before Half Term, Year 5 were taken on an enjoyable and interesting trip to the Imperial War Museum.  Whilst they were by no means anywhere even close to 'running riot', it would be fair to say that some boys enjoyed the trip a little too much and their behaviour fell short of what we would normally expect.

Fast forward to yesterday then and a trip to the Mosque for the same boys, an equally enjoyable and informative trip but, this time, the boys’ behaviour was exemplary. I received positive feedback from both the accompanying staff and the general public.  One man asked the name of our school and said that we could be very proud, as he has never seen such a polite group of children. He also made a point of saying that he didn’t work at the Mosque; he was just there to pray but was really struck by how calm the boys were.  Another man said that he had lived in Morocco, Paris and London and that these boys were the calmest and most well-mannered that he had seen.  Another asked Mr Brawn the name of our school so that he could look into it for his son!

As I said to the boys this morning, the challenge after adversity and things not going well is to come back stronger than before and this is something they have exemplified completely this week.  They were rewarded with a hearty round of applause in assembly by their peers, teachers and accompanying parents.  Well done, boys!

We have sold over 80 tickets for Quiz Night on Thursday but the flyer is attached to the Wetherbuzz just in case there are any last minute attendees.  We would particularly like a larger Year 8 table, a year group currently under-represented. Please do come and support this event, as it will be your last opportunity and the Wetherby Quiz is like no other – miss it or miss out!

...and finally, a formal school announcement.  As those parents who pick up on a regular basis will know, the 'Going Home Team' keep a record of how quickly we can dismiss, both safely and efficiently, all boys at 4pm.  We stop the clock at the call of 'all buses' by Hal which means that the last of our 16 buses can be called up to the stand.  With either myself or Miss Bailey on parent lookout, Hal on buses, Helen on 'cross check with alternative arrangements' and Miss Hart and Miss Heydon on bus rooms we, together, strive to be the most efficient and effective school at pupil dismissal.  The current record for Monday to Thursday stands at 4:14pm by Miss K M Bailey (Eng), Miss E J Hart (NI), Miss N D Heydon (Eng), Miss H Hodgson (Eng) and Mr H Ogden (Wal) on Tuesday 20th January 2015.  Today though, we not only smashed the Friday record but beat the all time record and can therefore announce a 

***NEW WORLD RECORD***

of 4:10pm (registered by all the above plus Mr N R Baker (Eng)). Thank you to the brilliant 'Going Home Team', our attentive boys and our always cooperative and understanding parents - what a performance!

Have a good weekend,

13 February 2015

Dear Parents,

This is always one of my favourite days in the school calendar.  Not many schools have a ‘Staff Appreciation Day’ and I would fancy that no-one does it better than us.  Your generosity knows no bounds and this has been another very special day for all of us on the staff of the school, particularly new staff, who have had a gleeful, if slightly bemused, smile on their faces all day.  Thank you to all parents and all your boys, who have contributed to Staff Appreciation 2015 - a truly memorable occasion.  How will we beat this next year?  Now this is a question I know will be answered by our ever creative, imaginative and willing parent body!

Parents on form again yesterday, with a superb spread for Inter-House Cross Country and enthusiastic cheering around our most challenging and interesting course yet.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ‘photo finish’ for a schoolboy, or even professional, long distance event but so well matched are Romeo Beckham and Bruce Hill that the outcome was almost inevitable.  Well done to both boys on a thrilling race and to Mr Billingham (on site at 6am for an early course inspection no less!) and his Games Department colleagues for putting on an excellent event.

Have an enjoyable and restful half term and look after yourselves if you are hitting the slopes.  Nothing terribly exciting for the Bakers next week, with ‘Monday - Sky Engineer to replace box’, the only thing in our diary.  But time to take stock, catch up, have a rest and dry clean my suits is always welcome. Lots to look forward to after half term, with Quiz Night on Thursday 5th March always a highlight. Tickets are on sale now from Miss Hodgson. As usual, we will involve your children but only those of parents attending, so early booking is advised, not just because it always sells out but also to give me enough time to compose and formulate the questions!

Have a good half term!

6 February 2015

Dear Parents,

Five years ago, when Mr. Hewitt first started working at Wetherby Prep, he would often suggest to parents of ‘reluctant readers’ and boys in general the benefit of listening to audiobooks as a way to improve literacy skills and heighten language awareness.  I remember thinking at the time that, whilst I would of course trust my learned friend Mr Hewitt’s judgement, this seemed to me to be a rather ‘easy option’ and surely not as valuable as reading a book for oneself. Fast forward then to the present day and my seven year old son Joseph, who came home this week with a Headteacher’s Award for creativity in his English written work. Joseph is not normally known to receive things like this (he’s a great boy but not overly studious it has to be said) so I was fascinated to see what it had been awarded for. As it turned out, Joseph had written that a character in his story had ‘driven at breakneck speed’ and was referred to as ‘demonic’.  His teacher thought these were very good words to use in context, representing language that was quite advanced for someone in Year 2.  When asking Joseph why he used these words, he simply said, “...heard them on the Harry Potter CD.” Whilst this slightly quashed my new found dreams of an Eton Academic Scholarship, I was delighted that his listening to Stephen Fry’s brilliant reading of the Harry Potter series has improved his understanding of words and broadened his vocabulary. Listening to audiobooks is also cropping up in Educational Psychologists’ Reports recommendations these days.  Mr Hewitt, you were right all along! 

This week has seen a huge surge in boys saying that they are ‘off games’ for whatever reason.  We cannot supervise children who don’t go to Games and the school policy is that, if a boy is well enough to come to school, he is well enough to go to Games.  Obviously if a boy has a physical injury that prevents active sport, he is excused the activity but, as Marco Castelli proved so admirably this week, a broken wrist does not prevent a boy from attending a fixture and cheering on his teammates – great attitude Marco!

Have a good weekend,

30 January 2015

Dear Parents,

What a great night that was! 

I must say, I did approach our inaugural ‘Come Dine With Us!’ event with some trepidation.  Would the concept work? Would the food be ok? Would whole tables stand up and walk out in protest after waiting endlessly to be served, or one of the staff spill red wine on an expensive outfit?  None of the above happened, thankfully, and what transpired was a truly memorable occasion for every parent and member of staff who attended.  The food was really excellent, with many of you asking for and receiving ‘seconds’. There was a superb atmosphere in the room and a great sense of teamwork and camaraderie amongst the staff.  It was just fantastic, from a Head’s point of view, to see the school staff team coming together as one to achieve a common aim.  As one parent said to me on leaving last night, “That was Wetherby Prep School, right there; that’s what it’s all about!”   I couldn’t agree more.  No-one seemed that keen to leave last night and some parents even talked of going out afterwards – along with the staff!  ‘Come Dine With Us’ didn’t turn into ‘Come Dance With Us’, on this occasion, but there’s always next year…You clearly felt the food, service and experience was so good that you have most generously donated over £8000 towards our nominated charities this year, Rwanda Aid and Trekstock. Thank you so much for this and for supporting the event so enthusiastically.

Busy week for the school (‘When isn’t it?’ I ask myself!) which has seen trips out, tournaments and numerous fixtures played as well as the normal school programme – so busy in fact that, for the first time, I forgot Jenny Aviss’s birthday!  My apologies again to Jenny, who remains this school’s strongest friend and who I know reads this column and the entire Wetherbuzz every week.  No better time though, in a busy week, for a new school promotional video to be filmed (more on this below from Miss Bailey) and Rob McCourt and his team have seen pretty much everything there is to see and know about Wetherby Prep over the past few days.  Rob and his wife Sara filmed and produced the current version but that was six years ago now and the School, together with the boys filmed in it, have moved on in so many ways that we felt we needed a new video to showcase this.   We look forward to launching Version 2.0 on the website after half term.

And lastly, thank you for the many emails received between 5 and 6pm last Saturday.  There is something about supporting a football team that identifies you as a person and I was humbled that so many of you thought of me and my sons after Watford’s remarkable 7-2 victory over Blackpool last weekend.  At half time, when 2-0 down to the lowest placed team in the league, Patrick and Joseph asked to go home, so tormented were they by the impending embarrassment at full time.  Thankfully, we stayed in our seats and, as the goals rattled in after half time, it proved to be a most valuable and memorable lesson in perseverance for father and sons.

Have a good weekend,

23 January 2015

Dear Parents,

Maybe it’s the rise of the internet, maybe it’s because I have too many school events to attend (!) but I don’t seem to watch much television anymore. My fellow Geographer, Mrs Sarah Humphrey, has however, introduced me to the brilliant travel documentary ‘Walking the Nile’ which I have downloaded and watched avidly this past week to and from work.  Obviously it is interesting from a geographical point of view and the scenery of and around the river is stunning, but it is the constant contrast in human relations that makes the series so compelling. Levison Wood encounters the very best and worst of mankind in his journey. True friendships are made and incredible kindness, generosity and enthusiasm for the simple things in life take place every day.  He does, however, walk headfirst into a warzone where fighting and killing are commonplace and thousands are driven from their homes. It is brilliant documentaries and filmmaking such as this that makes one put our first world problems into perspective. It’s probably not suitable for young children but it would be extremely educational and interesting for anyone of teenage years and beyond.

On a lighter note, it was great to see the victorious 1st and 2nd XV rugby teams stride purposely into the building an hour or so ago. Rugby in this weather is not for the faint-hearted and I am full of admiration for them even playing, let alone celebrating the wins over Arnold House – great effort boys, I’m proud of you all.

Have a good weekend,

16 January 2015

Dear Parents,

I read a great article online this week, regarding a recent study highlighting the different characteristics of residents of London and the suburbs.  It claimed that residents of Kensington and Chelsea were ‘mean’ on the whole and the ‘least agreeable’.  They clearly didn’t survey any Wetherby parents as we, as staff at the School, find you all to be a most generous and amenable bunch.  It also reported that the most sociable people live in south London…hmmm, not so judging by the excellent response to our ‘Come Dine With Us’ event - everyone seems to like a party and a get together here.  Apparently, the best place to live, according to the research of Cambridge University psychologists, is Bromley or Croydon.  No offence to anyone who lives in Bromley or Croydon but having been to both, I think I’d rather live in Kensington and Chelsea myself.  As for the people who are the most ‘boring’, well that accolade goes to the suburban home counties of North West London, pretty much where I live - bit of truth in the study after all then…

Cold, wet and windy this week yet we still had too many boys without their waterproof tracksuits.  Not only will the tracksuits keep the boys warm and dry, they will also help to keep the new buses clean.  Please, please, please send your sons in with the School tracksuit. As a father of boys of similar ages to yours, it pains me to see boys of this age suffering in the cold.  I admire their hardiness and have loved to note the Headmaster’s Good Shows this week for performance and attitude in Games but we need to help them to help themselves - thank you for your cooperation.

The aforementioned ‘Come Dine With Us’ goes ahead as planned and great to see so many parents in attendance.  With the numbers of replies, we have changed things around a bit and been creative with the space. We can just about get everyone in, so consider your application successful!  Look forward to seeing everyone on the 29th and, to the staff – “Let’s bake!”

Have a good weekend,

9 January 2015

Dear Parents

Happy New Year and welcome back to another term at Wetherby Prep.  I hope everyone had a restful holiday and enjoyed the festive season.   The Bakers didn’t do a great deal and, in the main, rested with a few outings into London and our surrounding area.  We did go to watch a theatrical version of ‘The Railway Children’ at King’s Cross Station, which includes a real steam train!   The story’s ending, of course, is a tearjerker for even the hardest Headmaster but seeing the thrilled reaction of my two boys (who weren’t familiar with the story), when ‘Daddy, my Daddy’ appeared through the smoke was something else entirely!

Three years ago, after a flurry of snowfall pre-Christmas, I bought two sledges for my boys as presents and still have not had the chance to use them.  They wink at me every time I go into my shed and I am desperate to use them so, hopefully, we will get some snow at some point this winter – though we would not want to cancel school of course!  

Although relatively mild today, we are still very keen that the boys are appropriately dressed this term and in the proper school uniform.  This is August Blain in 3G and he is perfectly fitted out in a Wetherby coat and Wetherby hat.  No other coat or hat is permitted in School and, whilst we would never be so petty as to call parents and ask them to bring the correct coat or hat into school, please support us in keeping the uniform ‘uniform’.  Some boys this week are also coming to school without a coat or blazer.  They must bring one or the other and we will not send them home without one, even if they have to borrow from lost property.  Yesterday was a wet day and, even though the Year 8 boys were only out for a short time for PE, they got very wet.  This isn’t a problem until they come back to School, where they would then have to sit in wet clothes all day.  This is clearly unacceptable and can be avoided easily by bringing and wearing the school waterproof tracksuit top and bottoms.  We have a few spare items but we cannot clothe entire year groups.  Thank you for your support.

Excitement is building for our ‘Come Dine With Us’ occasion on the 29th January.    28 members of staff will be cooking, preparing and waiting tables on what promises to be a fantastic and fun occasion.  Who could turn down the opportunity to try Mrs Noval’s tortilla, Mr Rolt’s poached pears, Miss Northey’s fruit fool, Miss Bailey’s chocolate and ginger cheesecake or Miss Heydon’s special fudge to name just a few of the ‘signature dishes’ awaiting your delectation?   We are expecting, hopefully, that this will be a popular and even oversubscribed event.  If this is the case, we will ballot those parents wishing to come.  Please let Miss Hodgson know by the close of school Wednesday, if you wish to attend.  Tickets are free and you only pay for the food, service and entertainment whatever amount you think is appropriate; no pressure staff…

As a reminder, we are assessing over 300 boys for 7 and 8+ this Monday and, as a result, there is no school for boys.  We look forward to seeing everyone as usual on Tuesday.

Have a good weekend,

11 December 2014

Dear Parents,

Thank you to all parents who attended this morning’s Christmas Assembly.   Today, indeed every Friday Assembly, exemplifies everything about our school and I have often thought of inviting prospective parents, as these are occasions that say so much, so succinctly: the excellent achievements of dozens of boys, over a whole range of academic, sporting, artistic and musical disciplines; an occasion that has a sense of fun at the heart of it and yet another time when parents support our school generously.  Thank you for coming in such number. Boys are welcome to keep their ‘House Santa Hats’ and 4M can hold on to their ‘Elf’ costumes as a reward for having the best decorated classroom this Christmas.

It has been a very successful term, in every sense. Staff, boys and parents have pulled together, as they do each and every term, to strengthen the Wetherby Community, the foundations of which are built on each boy’s achievements and enjoyment at School.   At this morning’s Assembly, the boys recognised the contribution of their teachers and administration staff. Their comments were full of genuine praise, accurate and often hilarious: Mr Meyer’s target for next term being ‘to get smaller’, for example!

Your generosity knows no bounds and thank you for the wonderful expressions of appreciation that we have all enjoyed this week.  Thanks also to our PTA, who put on the most incredible ‘tea’ at the inter-house events.  I have never seen anything like it at any other School; their commitment, creative flair and accomplishment are without equal.

Have a restful Christmas break and enjoy your wonderful boys, keeping them rested, yet inspired, until you give them back to us in January for another memorable term at Wetherby Prep. As always, much to look forward to in 2015.

On behalf of all of the staff, for letting us teach your boys, and on behalf of the boys, for letting them attend this school, thank you!

Have a great Christmas!

8 December 2014

Dear Parents,

An interesting article, on the BBC website this week, reported that only a third of school nativities these days follow a traditional theme and that, for the majority, Mary and Joseph have been replaced by pop stars, celebrities and cartoon characters.   I think that some schools are in a ‘no win’ situation here, as they try to make things contemporary, varying their offerings, year after year, whilst still retaining a tangible link to the Christmas Story.  I favour a traditional Nativity, like our own with Years 3 and 4 this past Wednesday, and consider that whatever is produced is best kept relatively short.  A parent said to me on Wednesday, as he left, “That was great Mr Baker; a good Nativity is a short Nativity!” and he’s absolutely right.  If you are tempted to think that we are a school of heathens or derelict in our aim of maintaining a broadly-based Christian ethos though, you would be wrong.  I have sat through scores of nativities and it is an important part of so many primary schools’ calendars, across the land, to acknowledge the essential humanity of The Christmas Story and give their children opportunities to perform in front of a broader audience.  What is not valuable, however, is investing swathes of curriculum time to rehearse for an overly lavish and lengthy performance.  Maintaining the normal, rigorous schedule of timetabled lessons, at the same time as producing a short, slick, well organised production clearly works for us.  For that though, we need an Emily Smith; not all schools have one.  Organised, efficient and understanding fully the balance needed between our academic curriculum and the play, Emily, and all the boys, are to be congratulated on a splendid performance!

At this end of the Autumn Term, I always feel that an extra couple of weeks would just allow me to get everything accomplished.  Christmas cards have been posted (I am sure you agree that Fiona has done a brilliant job, yet again, with the illustration) and we are steadily working through the reports.  All will be done though and there is plenty of Christmas cheer in the building, amongst staff and boys alike.  As has become custom, Wetherby staff operate a ‘Secret Santa’ in the weeks running up to Christmas and the boys are regularly used as ‘postmen’, sworn to secrecy of course as to the identity of the giver.  They love this responsibility and it all adds to the fun of the activity.   Next Thursday, our final, ‘Christmas Special Assembly’, which is always great fun and well attended by parents, will be held.  Last year, it was “Please stand for Father Christmas”, instead of “Mr Baker”. I wonder who the guest speaker will be this year…

Have a good weekend,

1 December 2014

Dear Parents,

Please help me.

I am fighting a losing battle with your children to keep them warm and dry in this increasingly wet and cold weather.  At 4 and 5 o’clock, I cannot bring myself to let them leave the building without a blazer or coat on.  A number need simply to come back in and get their blazer but too many others simply tell me that they, "…didn’t bring one to School this morning."  In these cases, we have given them one from lost property or ‘borrowed’ one from the changing rooms.  This is to be avoided obviously (and we follow up on these particular items so that nothing gets mislaid) but I have no option, if I am to fulfil our School’s ‘duty of care’ to your children.  All boys must wear a blazer, or the School’s wax jacket, every single day; there are no exceptions to this rule.

This week’s excellent and thoroughly enjoyable Candlelit Dinner signals the start of Christmas for Wetherby Prep and the tree looks resplendent in the foyer, having been delivered today and decorated by Elf Hal and Elf Helen this afternoon.  Conveniently, Christmas has adopted Wetherby colours and in recognition of this, Miss Bailey has commissioned some rather splendid baubles for our tree this year.   Even after decorating our tree and giving some to our colleagues at the Pre-Prep, we have quite a few left over, so if you would like a bit of ‘Wetherby’ for your tree this Christmas, please speak nicely to Elf Helen and I am sure she will be more than happy to give you one in return for a nominal donation for our school charities.

Christmas, for the Bakers, reached a seminal moment yesterday when Joseph played Joseph for what will be the last time in a school Nativity.  Long-time readers of this column will know that this is not the first occasion that Joseph has played Joseph and, if anyone out there is thinking of names for a new-born boy, then I can almost guarantee that naming one’s child ‘Joseph’ secures at least one lead role in a school production.  Joseph was word perfect, all his actions appropriate and in the right place.  A surprise for me was that he, out of nowhere, sang a duet with Mary, This unexpected element, together with his (or to be honest , mostly Mary’s) dulcet tones made me quite emotional and moved me to dream daringly of Music Scholarships to Eton, Harrow and potential Young Musician of the Year accolades to come.  Happy Christmas, Mr Baker…

24 November 2014

Dear Parents,

A week of senior school visits for me this week.  On Monday, I travelled down to Dorset to visit Milton Abbey School, a relatively small but impressive boarding school.  Twenty years ago, my then girlfriend’s parents lived a few miles away in Marnhull and one day, on a drive around, she took me to the incredibly picturesque village of Milton Abbas.  It was a scene from a bygone age, with thatched cottages, a post office, village pub and precious little that would associate it in character with modern day living.  It looks exactly the same now as it did then and the community clearly work hard to preserve the charm of their village. This picture, taken in the pouring rain from inside my car do not do it justice but if you and your children are ever in Dorset, do stop by this quintessentially English village and school. It is delightful.

On Tuesday, I travelled to the impressive and rather more contemporary Wellington College for their annual prep school heads’ conference.  Dr Anthony Seldon never disappoints with the ‘line up’ and, as usual, an array of forward thinking, stimulating speakers inspired us throughout the afternoon, before a dinner hosted by the entertaining Hugh Dennis and Laurence Dallaglio.   Anthony retires at the end of this year and I, for one, salute a man who has raised the profile of his school as well as becoming the unofficial, national cheerleader for independent school education in general.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and always a pleasure to visit such a welcoming and progressive institution.

And then, just yesterday, I visited Dr Challoner’s Grammar School in Amersham.  Not a name that many will have heard of and not one that boys from Wetherby would normally apply to but famous in its own right as not only one of the foremost boys’ state grammar schools in the UK but also the place where I went to school!  Dr Mark Fenton gave me a most memorable and nostalgic tour, taking in a number of teachers who are still there from my time – one even remembered my name straight away – that’s some skill!  As I said to Dr Fenton at the end, having seen facilities to rival any of the independent senior schools I have visited, I am always proud that I went to Challoner’s but even more so after this tour.  State grammar schools have a controversial reputation in this country as they are, in effect, free independent schools but what Dr Fenton has done to develop Challoner’s in terms of its facilities, ethos and culture, within the financial constraints of state education, is nothing short of remarkable.  Visiting other schools and seeing how Heads, in all sectors, develop their respective learning environments is extremely valuable and always prompts me to reflect on my own practice, even if I do come back to loads of unanswered emails stored up in my inbox!

Have a good weekend,

17 November 2014

Dear Parents,

Thank you for all the positive feedback we have received, regarding our recent parents’ evenings.  We are almost halfway through the process now and it is good to see so many familiar faces at these events.  It is also the start of all the new relationships that we are forming with our Year 3 and 4 parents, whom we are now getting to know. This came into sharp focus today, with the amazing array of baking that has filled the foyer.  We have had a real insight into the ‘secret life of a Wetherby Prep parent’ today! So many of you are incredibly skilled, not only in the art of baking but in your creativity.  Some examples are below. They really are a tremendous sight!

After a successful football tour last weekend, we wish good luck to our 1st VI team who go into the finals of the ‘IAPS Soccer Sixes’ event in Chigwell this Sunday.  It’s a tough, national, competition but our ‘best six’ footballers are a match for anyone in the prep school world and we could easily have won the regionals earlier this term.   Check the Twitter feed to see how we progress but play well boys and give as good an account of yourselves as you can.

It’s not always about the winning though and you will see, from the various ‘Redmond’s Results’ that we have been listing this term, how we meet wins and losses with equal measure, across the year groups and ability range.  To represent one’s school, whilst developing and enjoying a healthy sense of competition, are the most important elements of Games and I have often reflected how ‘defeat’ sometimes presents a greater opportunity for development than victory won too easily.  These are the times when we reflect, grow and plan for successes to come.  It’s also about matching the right boy with the right ability group.  My elder son, Patrick, wrote in his homework diary this term that his own choice of ‘academic’ (?) target was to “play for the ‘A’ Team”; nothing was mentioned about spelling or times tables tests.  He has, much to his delight, managed to play for them on one occasion but his appropriate place, based on ability, is in the ‘B’ Team, a  decision completely vindicated by their success in a school tournament this week.  Achievements are always relative and it was a lesson learnt, as his smile was far broader with his winner’s medal, playing for the ‘B’ Team, than it was from his solitary ‘A’ Team selection a few weeks’ back!

Have a good weekend,

10 November 2014

Dear Parents,

Thank you for attending our Remembrance Service this morning in such number; record attendance for a Wetherby Prep Assembly.  I am sure you will agree that it was a most moving, memorable and fitting occasion, superbly orchestrated by Alice Olney.  As Commodore Wallace so eloquently put it, war is tragically inevitable in such a violent and unstable world and we need the bravery of so many to keep us safe and preserve our freedom.  If you have not done so already, please try to take your sons to the Tower of London this weekend.  I think the poppy display represents a focal point in British History and will be talked about for many years to come.

I appreciated greatly a precious glimpse of British History of a very different kind on Tuesday night, at a private dinner hosted by Lord Waldegrave, Provost of Eton College.  I felt especially privileged, as the only prep school head in attendance, mixing with guests from such wide-ranging walks of life, all connected to the Eton community.  I have been to Eton many times before but to dine there in such splendour, in the most beautiful of settings, evoked a sense of history and reflection upon those who, over many, many years, have dined there before me, in those very rooms. It was a unique experience and I felt so proud to represent our school.

Tomorrow, Saturday, we welcome over 250 boys to the school to sit our  assessment for Wetherby Senior School.  To have so many external applicants to a school that does not, as yet, exist says much about the reputation of the ‘Wetherby experience’ and all that it stands for.  The Senior School will be a continuation of everything that we do, from the Nursery in Pembridge Villas to Year 8 here at the Prep School.  Rigorous academics, a calm and controlled learning environment, loads of sport and a personal, friendly, constructive relationship between staff and parents is an uncomplicated model that works so well for the 600 children that the Wetherby Schools currently educate and I have no doubt that it will work just as well at Marylebone Lane next year.  As a Wetherbuzz ‘exclusive’, this is the uniform that the boys will wear at the Senior School from September. It is, I trust you will agree, a refined, mature style, that aptly signifies a Wetherby boy.

Have a good weekend,

3 November 2014

Dear Parents,

I hope many of you managed to get away over Half Term.  The Bakers stayed put, although we did take the boys on a number of outings.  Just before Half Term, Patrick was ‘Star of the Week’ for his Form (so proud…) for which the reward is to take ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ home, write a diary and take a picture based on his ‘travels’ with the ‘Star of the Week’ that weekend.  As this was Half Term, we had lots to choose from but Patrick, well in truth, I, decided that the most appropriate picture would be at the Watford vs Nottingham Forest clash last Tuesday night.   As we all know, a closely fought game finished 2-2 and, luckily, we didn’t lose Sonic in all the excitement!

 

Lots of events to look forward to over the next few weeks and may I encourage as many of you as possible to attend our Remembrance Service next week, as this is one of those special occasions when our sense of school community is at its very best. Miss Olney has given details, further on in this edition of Wetherbuzz. On a completely different note, our usual ‘Bake Sale’ follows the week after and, this term, we have a twist with prizes to be awarded in the newly branded “Great Wetherby Baker Off”!  Then we have the Football Tour, Candlelit Dinner, the run up to Christmas, French breakfast, more fixtures and all manner of things to look forward to from both parents’ and boys’ perspectives.

Lastly, I feel compelled to release the following official school statement, as it has been the topic of conversation over the past two days, a story that is in danger of getting out of control, if it isn’t already!

Have a good weekend,

 

31st October 2014

Dear Parents,

I hope many of you managed to get away over Half Term.  The Bakers stayed put, although we did take the boys on a number of outings.  Just before Half Term, Patrick was ‘Star of the Week’ for his Form (so proud…) for which the reward is to take ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ home, write a diary and take a picture based on his ‘travels’ with the ‘Star of the Week’ that weekend.  As this was Half Term, we had lots to choose from but Patrick, well in truth, I, decided that the most appropriate picture would be at the Watford vs Nottingham Forest clash last Tuesday night.   As we all know, a closely fought game finished 2-2 and, luckily, we didn’t lose Sonic in all the excitement!

Lots of events to look forward to over the next few weeks and may I encourage as many of you as possible to attend our Remembrance Service next week, as this is one of those special occasions when our sense of school community is at its very best. Miss Olney has given details, further on in this edition of Wetherbuzz. On a completely different note, our usual ‘Bake Sale’ follows the week after and, this term, we have a twist with prizes to be awarded in the newly branded “Great Wetherby Baker Off”!  Then we have the Football Tour, Candlelit Dinner, the run up to Christmas, French breakfast, more fixtures and all manner of things to look forward to from both parents’ and boys’ perspectives.

Lastly, I feel compelled to release the following official school statement, as it has been the topic of conversation over the past two days, a story that is in danger of getting out of control, if it isn’t already!

Have a good weekend,

Nick Baker

 

24th October 2014

Dear Parents,

I wish you and your children a most relaxing Half Term break. The past six weeks have gone by remarkably quickly and that is, undoubtedly, due to how satisfying and enjoyable it is to work in our School. I have been so impressed with how well all of our new boys, families and staff have settled in. It is not easy going to a new school. I remember my first days at the many schools that I have attended or worked in and, in all honesty, they were not all positive experiences. At primary school, the lunch was ravioli; I can still smell it now. I will eat pretty much anything but, at that age, one thing I could not eat was ravioli, so lunchtime was spent in tears as, in those days, the expectation was that, “You have to eat everything on your plate!” At secondary school, being in 2A and having the alphabetically ‘advantageous' surname of ‘Baker’, I was placed on lunch duty on my very first day. Even looking back now, this seemed harsh as I had no idea where the cafeteria was, let alone how many potatoes and carrots to give each child. The Chef took no pity on me though and shouted at me throughout the entire sitting but I overcame these things, as children are very flexible and resilient towards change and challenge, even if, for the first few days and weeks, the environment or situation is completely alien to them.

At Wetherby Prep, we don’t seem to have this problem and it appears that routines have been learnt, relationships made and, as always, there is constantly something to look forward to around the corner. A lot has been achieved and experienced this term but there is much to anticipate further, as we head towards Christmas. Just wait and see what Miss Bailey has got in store for the tree this year…

Have a good weekend,

Nick Baker

 

17th October 2014

Dear Parents,

I wish you and your children a most relaxing Half Term break. The past six weeks have gone by remarkably quickly and that is, undoubtedly, due to how satisfying and enjoyable it is to work in our School. I have been so impressed with how well all of our new boys, families and staff have settled in. It is not easy going to a new school. I remember my first days at the many schools that I have attended or worked in and, in all honesty, they were not all positive experiences. At primary school, the lunch was ravioli; I can still smell it now. I will eat pretty much anything but, at that age, one thing I could not eat was ravioli, so lunchtime was spent in tears as, in those days, the expectation was that, “You have to eat everything on your plate!” At secondary school, being in 2A and having the alphabetically ‘advantageous' surname of ‘Baker’, I was placed on lunch duty on my very first day. Even looking back now, this seemed harsh as I had no idea where the cafeteria was, let alone how many potatoes and carrots to give each child. The Chef took no pity on me though and shouted at me throughout the entire sitting but I overcame these things, as children are very flexible and resilient towards change and challenge, even if, for the first few days and weeks, the environment or situation is completely alien to them.

At Wetherby Prep, we don’t seem to have this problem and it appears that routines have been learnt, relationships made and, as always, there is constantly something to look forward to around the corner. A lot has been achieved and experienced this term but there is much to anticipate further, as we head towards Christmas. Just wait and see what Miss Bailey has got in store for the tree this year…

Have a good weekend,

Nick Baker

 

10th October 2014

Dear Parents,

Many years ago, before most of the children in this school were even born, I remember the very first Wetherby Prep Open Evening.  It was a perfectly successful event.  The building (19 Pembridge Villas) looked great. There were interesting displays on the wall and cheerful, debonair and personable teachers by the names of Mr. Bayes, Mr. Redmond and Mr. Baker, amongst others, who were on hand to charm parents and chat to the boys.  There were though only about 50 attendees that evening.

If we fast-forward to last night, when over 400 parents packed into the building over the course of two hours, it was a true measure of where the school is now.  Whilst we have continually changed and tweaked the format, year on year, to make sure the evening is professional, efficient and gives as true a reflection of the School as possible, what  has not changed has been our senior boys, whom we have always asked to tour parents and prospective pupils around the building.  It is always tempting to say that something is ‘the best ever’. It may not be, of course, but it will be the most recent, the most easily remembered and, thus, the positive energy is still flowing. But the boys who toured parents last night and took part in the various music and sport sessions were, in my mind and in terms of parental feedback, really the ‘best ever’.  They were so impressive and represented every boy, parent and member of staff impeccably.  The children are our finest ambassadors and, therefore, ‘marketing agency’ for our school. Their open, engaging personalities, ease of conversation, positivity and enthusiasm know no bounds and any prospective parent who came last night would have met those boys and said to themselves, “I want my son to turn out like that.”  There can be no doubt about that.

Can you believe we have almost reached Half Term?  Time flies when you’re at Wetherby Prep, it seems.  Just two comments, both positive, regarding the two-week half term next autumn, so I take it that our community is in general agreement with this move.  Two weeks is intended to give everyone a good rest in what is always such a busy term but, as I suppose is typical of our boys, one asked me yesterday, “Does two weeks mean we can do more school trips or sports tours next year?”  That wasn’t the intention but, knowing the staff here and the enthusiasm and spirit of adventure of the boys and parents, I am sure that all you need to do is watch this space!

Have a good weekend,

Nick Baker

 

3rd October 2014

Dear Parents,

As Mr Baker is away at conference today, I have invited our new staff to write to you this week. Enjoy!  Normal service will return, of course, next Friday.

Welcome to all of our new staff and best wishes to all our parents.

Have a good weekend,

Christina Rossi

Miss Balgobin writes…

After only five weeks into my time at this school, I have already been swept up in the buzz that is Wetherby Prep. The atmosphere pervading the school is so welcoming, spilling out from staff, boys and parents, a joy as a new member of staff. The pace of the school takes some getting used to. My day begins as if I was standing on a beach, looking seawards, enjoying a few moments of serenity and calm. Then, suddenly, an enormous wave sweeps me out to sea. The day has begun in earnest: invigorating, challenging, yet hugely rewarding, especially once back on shore! Now you can understand why I am a member of the Maths and not the English Departments as my prose leaves much to be desired. I am really thrilled to be here and have discovered a worrying fascination with Salazar the snake.

Mr Blundell writes…

What a month! Wetherby is such a fast-paced, exciting school that this first month has flown by in the blink of an eye. From History lessons to sports fixtures, visiting senior schools to swimming galas and author talks to fencing clubs, it has been an incredibly enjoyable first month at the school and I am very excited to continue my time here at Bryanston Square. I loved addressing the boys at the assembly today and reminding them of the phenomenal job ‘Team Europe’ did in securing the Ryder Cup -   the subject of my senior school assembly last week. Wetherby boys always look so smart in their uniform, especially when all together in the church, and, as ever, they looked splendid. The first job when starting a new school is to try to learn everyone’s name, from staff to the parents and, most importantly, the children. I am getting much better now but half term homework will still be trying to learn every boy’s name, from Years 3 to 8. (Teachers have homework too, boys!) 

Miss Griffiths writes…

When I received the phone call to tell me I had got the job at Wetherby, Mr Baker used the phrase, “PLU: People Like Us.” Firstly, I was flattered and, secondly, I was so excited to work with like-minded teachers. Since arriving on the 1st September, it has surpassed my expectations. Wetherby really does have an excellent community spirit and I already feel like one of the team. Teachers, parents and children share common goals which are reached together. I look forward to getting to know everyone better and see the boys develop as the year progresses. 

Miss Jones writes…

First impressions of Wetherby? ‘There is a snake in the basement. Look away Miss Jones, look away!’ ‘Am I walking up/down the correct staircase? I hope I don’t get caught.’ ‘Boys love Krispy Kreme doughnuts and will happily consume three in one sitting.’ ‘House Points are sacred and the announcement of which house is in the lead is the event of the week.’

Though it sounds a cliché, my first month at Wetherby has flown by and I have really enjoyed it. I have learnt all of the above, and more, whilst teaching French. I have been impressed by the boys’ willingness to participate in class, their determination to answer correctly and their good humour. The staff have been very welcoming and supportive, as have parents with whom I have come into contact. Merci beaucoup, everyone. I really appreciate it.

 

26th September 2014

We are three weeks into term now and everyone; boys, staff and parents, seems to be getting into, or back to, the rhythm of life at Wetherby Prep.  As promised after the hectic first few days, home time is a more relaxed affair now and we are pretty close to knowing all the new faces.  We are proud of how efficiently we run this part of our day and it needs Hal, Helen, myself, Miss Bailey, Miss Hart and Miss Heydon to work in complete communication and synergy with each other.  We have trialled something this term that has improved things a great deal and has made departure time a really slick operation.  I’m not massively into new technology but by using the ‘Whatsapp’ app on our ‘phones, we can exchange messages instantly.  From outside on the Square, Hal and I can immediately call buses and by ’spotting’ parents, nannies and drivers, message the team in the building and therefore ensure that the boys make a swift exit to their waiting parents.  We’ve got pretty good at this over the last week or so and many boys are already on the pavement and walking to their parents before they have even got out of the car!  Please be assured of two things though:  firstly, we would never let a boy walk freely out of the building, unless there is a known person waiting for them and, secondly, if you see me or any other member of the ‘exit staff’ on our phones at home time, we are not texting friends and family or reading our emails!  Our record for dismissing all buses and boys that leave at 4pm is 4:17pm - that’s 17 buses and about 180 children in 17 minutes, not bad going and we might improve upon this yet.

Massive sporting weekend coming up… not the Ryder Cup or Watford’s game at Blackburn but Westminster’s U10 football tournament on Sunday which Wetherby go into as reigning champions.  This was one of my highlights of 2013/2014 and we won’t give up that title easily.  Please follow the Twitter feed on Sunday for regular updates from Mr Redmond and me, ‘live’ from Vincent Square. It should be a great day of sport!

Have a good weekend,

Nick Baker

 

19th September 2014

Dear Parents,

So there we have it…  After weeks of debate, media coverage and electioneering, the Wetherby Prep community of boys, staff and parents has decided to remain a part of the Alpha Plus Group.   There was a temptation to go completely independent and be fully in control of our finances, divorced from the executive governance at Head Office.  A Governing Body of myself, Miss Bailey, Miss Hart, Miss Heydon, Mrs Noval, Miss Hodgson, Hal, Salazar and the two new guinea pigs, Caramel and Funky, was proposed and, as effective, decisive and professional as this select group would have been, I am glad that the electorate has voted that we stay within the Group. There is just so much to be said for the continuation of our membership of the Alpha Plus Group. Granted, we are a successful, profit-making business in our own right but brand new projects such as the Senior School and the Sports Ground, need the security and finance of the Group as a whole as we, alone, would not be able to afford them.  There is also much to be said for the collegiate nature of being part of such a group.  If Jenny Aviss, Mark Snell and I could not discuss the wide-ranging issues surrounding London Prep Schools, we would be the poorer as a result.  Then there is the legislation that binds us all: terms and conditions, employment contracts and general school policies, as well as professional legal, logistical, media and maintenance support which ensures that everything here runs so efficiently.  Yes, we could probably do all this on our own but it would take up many hours, involve a great deal of restructuring, cost more money so taxes (fees) would have to rise!

I could go on with this analogy and the point is not a flippant one.  Wetherby Prep, as with all the Alpha Plus Schools, is individual, has an identity that parents can associate with and is autonomously run… but with financial and professional support in the background that has made this and the other schools in the Group so successful.  Corporate governance is the way forward for so many schools these days and, in an increasingly competitive world, successful schools need to keep up with the best staff and the best facilities. The only way to afford that is with the security, expertise and economies of scale gained from a group such as ours. 

I think a ‘Yes’ vote for Scotland would have heralded a period of instability and the ripples would be felt in London and beyond over the coming few years, let alone weeks.  I might feel differently if I was a Scotsman but I think the majority of Scottish people voted with their heads yesterday, as much as their hearts might have felt differently.  I, for one, think the right decision was made, wish them well and hope our many Scottish parents agree with me!

Have a good weekend,

Nick Baker

 

12th September 2014

Dear Parents,

Long days this week as it is ‘Dinner Season’ in the Prep School world, with invitations to many senior schools and events.   I’ve been Head for seven years now and, whilst that is not that long in a national sense, for London, I have outlived heads at almost every school!  Nothing wrong with change though and even the most successful schools need different eyes on them from time to time.  At the annual Tatler Awards Ceremony last night, it was great to see so many friends, in the form of Heads and Registrars from other Schools, and it is the strength of these associations that are so valuable in the senior school transition process.  The main factors are, of course, the interview and assessment, but the image and relationship that a prep school has with a senior school is also important.  Yesterday, Miss Heydon and Mr Blundell accompanied 28 of our Year 7 boys for assessment at Harrow School.  The boys behaved impeccably and came across as well-mannered, studious and characterful – just the sort of children Harrow are looking for, hopefully!

As I mentioned last week, I attended two weddings over the summer holidays.  One was my cousin who, although she made a lovely bride, I am sure you are not that interested in.  The other was Mr Dean Bayes and his now wife, Mrs Jo Bayes (née James) who will be known to many of our Pre-Prep families.  It was a great day, revealing a strong Wetherby influence with a reading by Mark Snell at the service and a wedding party made up of Prep and Pre-Prep staff and parents!

Have a good weekend,

Nick Baker 

5th September 2014 

Dear Parents,

Welcome back to Wetherby!  Always great to return to Wetherby Prep and as much as I love the holidays, I never fail to look forward to another school year.  The summer for the Bakers was great fun with holidays to Menorca and West Wittering, two weddings, and three, 40th Birthdays.  I was asked to be a Godfather to a friend’s new baby, took in the V Festival, watched my sons’ cricket matches and revelled in Watford’s encouraging start to the new season.   I was in school as well (couldn’t help myself) overseeing the impressive external decorations, writing references and constructing the timetable.  The building has a completely different atmosphere in the holidays and, as purposeful and proactive as I was in my office, it was clear that this building needs the boys as its energy supply, so it was great to welcome them all this week.

A particularly warm welcome to our 91 new families this term.  You are now ‘one of us’ and as much part of this School as your sons.  We have many events planned for this year, as always, plus a few new initiatives to keep things interesting! We all look forward to your company, support and friendship during your time as part of our Wetherby community.

We also welcome a number of new staff to the School.  Although only here for this past week, it feels as if they have been here much longer, such is the ease with which they have integrated themselves amongst us.  Their pictures are below and I know that many of you have already come into contact, whether in person or via email, with them.  They are all very ‘Wetherby Prep’ and will prove to be excellent additions. I was also so pleased that our intrepid Rwanda team came back safe and sound and clearly did a fantastic job teaching the teachers and the children at Mwegera School. Miss Hart has more details later on in this Wetherbuzz. I am so proud of her and her team’s achievements this summer.

Never a school to stand still, we have initiated a new timetable this year.  This allows an extra hour at Games for all boys but does mean that we have to change things around a touch.   Although Miss Bailey and I managed to make this work with the timetable, this was too late for the fixtures that Mr Redmond had already planned many months in advance.  As a result, we need to change the timetable for six of the Tuesdays this term.  This will all be managed internally, with no disruption to academic teaching, but please do not think that some days the boys will be doing Games in the morning and then a fixture in the afternoon - as appealing as that may sound to many! 

And lastly, many many thanks to the dozens of you who have contributed to the Bursary Fund over the summer.  I will write to you all individually in the coming weeks but your generosity, commitment and suggestions for the future funding of the scheme have been most warmly received and we have actually managed to action two applications already which has supported two of our families.  I will discuss with Kate Groes and the PTA in forthcoming meetings about how we manage the fund going forward but thank you to those parents for getting us off to such a fantastic start.

So much to look forward to in 2014/2015 – it’s going to be another memorable year at Wetherby Prep!

Have a good weekend,

Nick Baker