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Wetherby Preparatory School

Wetherby Preparatory School

Headmaster’s Blog

summer term 2014

End of Year Summer Letter

Thank you for your kind comments regarding Tuesday night’s Prize Giving. I think we, unanimously, considered that St. Mary’s Church was actually a better venue (if a little warmer, admittedly). Thank you for embracing the event in such number and enthusiasm. You’re a great audience and I love addressing the whole School community at the event, though it is, admittedly, the one time I do get a bit nervous before a speech. I think the fact that it is only once a year, rather than weekly, puts a bit more pressure on but, as with all these things, it’s only ever in the anticipation. Once I stand up at the front, it’s fine! Not an easy thing to do, and I’ve had eight years’ experience, which makes Nathan’s excellent speech all the more impressive. It’s absolutely appropriate for Wetherby Prep that one of the boys formally closes the year. There is also the fact that the Head Boy’s speech is always impossible to follow!

You will find in your envelopes today a letter from me regarding the new ‘Wetherby Bursary Fund’ that Mark Snell and I are launching this year across both of the Wetherby schools. The letter is self-explanatory but this is something that Mark and I have been talking about for some time, as it is an issue that we have both had to deal with during our headships. There is no obligation, of course, but if you can help in any way, it would be much appreciated as this is one area that we both feel is ‘missing’ from our schools, particularly when they have such a reputation as friendly, family focused environments.

New class lists for Year 5 and 6 are also in the envelopes. As a reminder, we stay as four sets for Maths and English in Year 6 next year but it is good to change the class dynamic every once in a while. Also, it gives parents the chance to meet other parents in the Year group! We have taken into consideration almost all of the parents’ requests, though obviously it is not always possible to action all of them. A lot of thought and consideration has gone into these new classes and we believe that the success of the changes we made going into this year will be replicated in the same way. Thank you, in advance, for your support and understanding with us in this matter.

The Bakers are not doing much this summer but, as you can see on the faces of Patrick and Joseph, they are clearly looking forward to breaking up as well! Patrick goes into Year 4 in September and Joseph Year 2. They have had really good years and their reports were good to read. They are not top of the class academically, nor the best sportsman (though Patrick is coming on as a goalkeeper); they don’t show a huge aptitude for music (yet); Patrick’s handwriting is beautiful, Joseph’s far from it; Patrick loves reading but Joseph doesn’t, now he’s discovered Minecraft; they are both beautifully behaved and "have lovely manners at the lunch table"; Patrick is still quite shy but grows in confidence every day and Joseph is hilarious and has an incredibly mischievous sense of humour. They have lots of areas for development but I think they’re perfect and they are, like boys who come to Wetherby, extremely happy in their School which, at the end of the day, is all that any parent really wants.

As I said on Tuesday, lots to look forward to next year. Wetherby Prep will just get better and better! Thank you for all your support, friendship and good humour this year. You are a brilliant parent body and it is no surprise that you have the most wonderful children. I look forward to seeing you all in September.

 Have a great summer,

Nick Baker

 

7 July

Dear Parents,

Thank you for the many kind emails I received over the weekend regarding the Wetherby Lego mini-figure.  Never has a gift to so many been so well received!  I have to admit though that credit needs to be apportioned appropriately, such is the extent of the overwhelming praise that resulted from a tiny grey plastic figure.  The idea was Miss Bailey’s. The initial phone call to Lego was made by Vadim Mandel (8P) and the PTA kindly paid for them. I just facilitated the process but, I am sure you will agree, that it was a great ‘Team Wetherby’ product all round!

Another great Team Wetherby event was held on Tuesday at Wetherby Sports Ground.  Sports Day was a superb occasion.  Brilliantly organised by Mr Redmond and the Games staff, the boys participated extremely well and I think that must have been a record attendance for a Wetherby Sports Day by our parent body.  Not only was there great sport on offer but the hospitality provided by you, the parents, fantastically orchestrated by Lisa Giles, was a sight to behold.  The ‘Garden Party’ atmosphere was fantastic and the site just worked so well with how I think we all envisaged the day might pan out.  I must also say that The Park Club staff were superb, as they have been throughout this term.   Our association with them is one that is still in its infancy but I think I speak for everyone connected with our School when I say that what we have experienced this term in regard to sports provision is extremely exciting for the future development of our School.

And, though I will write to you all next week with my usual end of term letter, this is the last Wetherbuzz of the year and the last Wetherbuzz that involves Mr Tom Metherell. This year alone has seen over 350 pages of content and, if you look back to the start of 2008  when the Wetherbuzz started, our weekly newsletter has developed from a two page ‘information only’ publication to the sometimes 10+ page entertaining, content and image rich document that you receive every Friday.  So much effort goes into ‘The Buzz’ but it is absolutely a Wetherby Prep institution and current parents, current boys and ex-parents and ex-boys who still receive it, I know, always look forward to it arriving into their inbox every Friday.  The transition is a smooth one with Mrs Christina Rossi, who knows exactly what the ‘Buzz’ stands for and how it should look, taking over from the end of this term into next but we must thank Tom for his incredible dedication, hard work and passion towards the Wetherbuzz over the years.  It won’t surprise you to learn that he’s asked to put himself on the email distribution list for 2014/2015 and beyond!

Have a good weekend,

30 June

Dear Parents,

Our ‘Politeness Challenge’ has been a topic of great interest amongst all members of our community this year and, though taken completely out of context, even gained the attention of the national press.   No one ever said that our boys were rude or impolite, far from it. What we have always said, and will to continue to say, is that there can and should always be a desire to be even more well-mannered and polite.  It is simply a matter of how high the bar is placed in order to ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ individual elements of the Politeness Challenge.  For us, it is unapologetically high.  Our boys are more confident than most, more animated than most, more personable than most and there is a ‘hands up’ culture here that receives such favourable commentary.  I am confident that our boys are more polite than most too, a view reinforced by the observations of many visitors, parents and staff of the School.   Meaningful reward needs to be genuinely earned and the boys have definitely earned their Wetherby Prep, Lego mini-figures today.  To the best of my knowledge, apart from the Harry Potter Hogwarts Lego collection, this is the only other school uniform in circulation. Look after them boys as they may just become a collector’s item in the future, if they’re not already!

England may have been eliminated but Wetherby Prep is still ‘in’ the World Cup with our parent and boy representatives from Mexico, Netherlands, Greece, France, Switzerland, Germany, USA and Belgium all still standing. Looking at this list, I think we might have a good shot at winning the tournament here.  Today is a ‘day off’ in Brazil, due to the pause in the group stages and knockout format, and also the appreciation that the weekend’s glamour tie, Wetherby Staff vs. Wetherby Parents – ‘The Rematch’ – takes place live and exclusive at Wetherby Sports Club.  Last time, the Staff comprehensively beat the Parent Team but, with a few new signings on both sides, tonight promises to be an intriguing fixture.  Check the Twitter feed later on if you want to know whether the Trophy is retained or handed over…

 

 20 June

Dear Parents,

Barring a miracle, England’s World Cup Campaign seems to have fizzled out before it’s even started.  Various media outlets are blaming the manager, certain players, the dominance of the Premier League, the lack of Watford players in the team etc. but I am sure that the real reason is the fact that I carefully arranged all of our summer term functions around England’s group games and potential involvement in the competition.  When doing this, back in March, I remember thinking that I may have inadvertently cursed the team and it seems that this has proven to be the case. Sorry everyone...

Our whole community of boys, parents, staff and siblings enjoyed the Fete last Friday.  This was another fantastic PTA event with involvement from all classes and was certainly bigger, bolder and better than previous years.  My thanks to Andrea Childs (Ethan 6C) and Kirsty Anthony (Richard 8S) in particular for orchestrating and managing the event. It was a complete success and I loved the variety of activities and stalls on offer. The boys really were in their element.

Three weeks to go but no suggestion that the School is meandering towards the holidays.  Plenty of class-work, cricket fixtures and evening events to come and the boys are being kept busier than ever.  We hosted a Prep School Deputy Heads’ Conference here yesterday afternoon and all the delegates were impressed by the manner of the children, the energy of the staff and the purposeful and welcoming atmosphere in the building.  Nothing gives me more pleasure than showing off Wetherby Prep School to all and sundry. It’s a special place!

13 June

Dear Parents,

Thank you to all parents who came to the ‘Staff Leaving Party’ last night.  It was fantastic to see so many current and past parents and pupils there. My, have some of those boys grown up!

It was particularly pleasing to hear how well they are all doing at senior school.  Places to Oxbridge, Medical School and Russell Group Universities, as well as American universities and Scholarships to Law School.  Well done, boys for flying the Wetherby Flag!  Their success breeds  success and I have no doubt that the excellent impression that our ‘Wetherby  Ambassadors’ make on their Senior School, rubs off and increases, yet further, our reputation as a feeder prep school.  This year’s Common Entrance results are a case in point.  If someone had given me the list below five years ago, I would have said that it was heavily on the optimistic side. It is testament to the hard work of the boys and the talent and ability of Wetherby Prep staff to squeeze every ounce of potential out of them that has produced, arguably, our finest exit group thus far. 

Particular highlights are Toby Points and Tom Dale, who achieved ‘starred passes’ to Eton.  This means they were in the top 30 of all applicants to the School at CE this year – a fantastic achievement considering the selection process in the first place.  We have only had two in the previous six years (take a bow Paris Georgulas Kollakis and Nicholas Mousavizadeh), so two in one year is marvellous. Denis Antonov achieved the Maths Prize to Cheltenham this year (highest Maths CE score of all applicants) and Jackson Stein, a ‘Distinction Pass’ (top 16 of all applicants across the board) at Bradfield.  Well done to those boys in particular but we are proud of every one of our Year 8 boys this year and I know they will all thrive and prosper at their senior schools.  Good luck and well done!

Off to the Fete now – it’s bigger and better than ever before this year and the sun is shining upon us so bring on those wet sponges!

Have a good weekend,

Day Schools Boarding Schools Scholarships and notables
City Bedales Harrow - Outstanding Talent
Dulwich  Bradfield  2 'starred passes' to Eton
Dulwich  Bradfield  Maths CE Prize at Cheltenham
Harrodian Bradfield Distinction pass at Bradfield 
Harrodian  Bradfield   
Kew House Charterhouse  
King's Wimbledon Charterhouse  
Latymer Upper Charterhouse  
Mill Hill Cheltenham  
Portland Place Eton  
St. Paul's Eton  
St. Paul's Eton  
St. Paul's Eton  
St. Paul's Eton  
St. Paul's Eton  
Westminster Gordonstoun  
Westminster Haileybury  
Westminster Harrow  
  Marlborough   
  Marlborough  
  Marlborough   
  Wellington  
  Wellington  
  Wellington  
  Winchester  
                                              Winchester                        

 6 June

Dear Parents,

I trust everyone had an enjoyable half term break although, from speaking with many of you this week, it seems that most of the Senior School stayed at home to revise.  At our most enjoyable Senior Dads’ Night Out this Wednesday, there was the usual great company, laughter and conversation but also a palpable ‘end of exams’ feeling for all the dads. I always think that Common Entrance exam week is almost more stressful for parents than it is for the boys!  Year 8 (together with Years 6 and 7 for that matter) have been brilliant this week.  They have taken their exams seriously, without getting too worked up, and have approached them calmly, conscientiously and with due respect for all the other boys in the exam room.  There is a great sense of camaraderie in the air at this time in all schools, with a discernible ‘all in this together’ attitude evident. This is great to see and the peer-support network amongst Wetherby Prep boys is the strongest I have ever known.  We have given the Year 8 boys a well-deserved day off today but look forward to them returning on Monday and receiving their results, later in the week.

This is the point of the year where, despite the most careful planning, everything comes at once. One might think that teachers are winding down towards the long summer holiday but it is completely the opposite as there is so much to be accomplished before the end of term.  I set myself a mental timetable to get everything done in time and it has served me well over the past seven years, helping me to prioritise and focus on particular things at appropriate points.  For example, only now staffing is fixed for next year can I get started on the timetable; then I always write my Prize Giving Speech on the Sunday before the ceremony; I can only write my reports when they have been completed by teachers and proofed by the penultimate Friday of term; Sports Day is on the 1st so I know that I need to lose a bit of timber in time for that event, etcetera etcetera…

I wouldn’t have it any other way! Despite this being the busiest part of the School year, it is always my favourite term as it highlights in my mind the sustained energy, excitement and enthusiasm, throughout the year and on the part of all, for every aspect of Wetherby Prep life that we will shortly celebrate: the conclusion of another successful academic year.

Have a good weekend,

23 May

Dear Parents,

I think all Junior School dads would agree that Wednesday night was a great success!  We look forward to Senior School Dads’ Night Out after Half Term and we will certainly be repeating this initiative next year.   Most of the conversations on Wednesday did not surround the business of the School but something that I was asked on a number of occasions was my approach to recruitment, particularly in regard to our notably stronger sense of continuity, compared to other London schools.  I think I have said this before in my missives but my old Head said to me on appointment seven years ago, “Just be good at recruitment, Nick.”  There’s more to it than that of course, but he was absolutely right.  A high standard of teaching ability is a minimum in terms of our expectations and we carry out numerous checks with current and past employers and colleagues to make sure that we are considering the right people.  Staff also have to ‘want to work at Wetherby Prep’.  This isn’t any old job that you turn up to, do your lessons, pick up your salary and enjoy the holidays. We want people who know our School, what it stands for and feel that they can aspire to and surpass the high standards of professionalism and commitment that we (and you as parents) demand of our staff.  We also like to sense ambition.  You don’t have to want to be a Head, although two of our past Management Team have gone on to Headship, but we have to build in an element of succession planning as we cannot expect all staff to be here for the entirety of their careers in the same post and turnover in key positions can lead to short term instability.  There aren’t that many brilliant staff out there in the wider prep or state school scene and we need to retain the strength of staff that our School enjoys.  And yes, I admit, we do know quite a lot of the people we employ already and have either worked with them before or have someone on the Staff who has. It is a sure-fire way to know that we are recruiting first-class people. 

This brings me on to further staff news that illustrates my point exactly:

After 8 years at the School, Miss Lucy Borg will be leaving Wetherby Prep at the end of this term.  Lucy has been an excellent colleague over the years and we will miss that mix of Gallic and Italian flair that she brings to our school, her approach with the boys and her dress sense!  Lucy is moving to Bahrain with her partner and we wish her all the best in her new life in the Middle East.  I am delighted to announce that we have appointed another Lucy, Lucy Templeton, to the post of French teacher from September.  Lucy currently teaches French at Colet Court and is known as an outstanding teacher and school mistress whom we look forward to welcoming to our staff in the autumn.

After 6 years at our School, Miss Rebecca Trefgarne will be leaving to take on a Deputy Headship at a London Prep School.  We warmly congratulate Rebecca on her promotion and I am sure she will be a success in her new role which I know she will approach with the same high levels of commitment and work ethic that she shown throughout her time here.  Despite a number of high quality applicants from the prep school scene, I am delighted to appoint Miss Emily Smith to the post of Head of English.  As you will know, Emily has very high standards for all of the children here and is raring to go with a number of new initiatives that will build on the good work in the English Department to date.   She will retain her ‘Head of Performing Arts’ role and continue to direct the Nativity and Spring Term Production.

After just over two years, Mrs Emilia de Wolf will be leaving the School to teach in Doha.  We thank her for all that she has contributed to the School – History, Geography, Games, Running Club - in her relatively short time here and wish her all the best for her new life with her husband (also a teacher) in Qatar.

In September, we will have a new post within the Senior Management Team of the School.  Miss Naomi Heydon has been appointed as Director of Studies and will have a broad, strategic role, embracing all areas of assessment and curriculum development.  Naomi is an exceptionally talented teacher but also a highly capable individual with a background in management in her past employment in the City.  The staff and I are really looking forward to all that she will bring to the School in this role from September.

As you can see, some new staff to strengthen, yet further, the team we have and some internal restructuring to ensure continuity and development of the School as a whole.  It is a model that has served us so well in the first ten years of Wetherby Prep School.

This truly is a ‘Golden Age’ of staffing for us. I have never in my career been surrounded by so many brilliant and capable people and there is so much more to look forward to in September.

Have a great Half Term,

19 May

Dear Parents,

As you may know, we no longer use Clarion Call as our messaging provider and the new ‘inTouch’ service does not have a voice message feature.  Some of you said to me this week, regarding boys away on trips, “..love the photos, miss the voice message!”  I am delighted to hear that some (I’ll admit, not that many!) of you appreciated hearing me every evening when your son was on a school trip but I hope that we have more than adequately replaced this service with the pictures and messages tweeted and emailed over the last few days.  Year 5 parents have had their own website with a blog, dozens of pictures and even videos. It is great and so reassuring to see the boys having such a wonderful time, smiling and interacting so positively with each other.  I say this all the time but I like to know as much as possible about how my two boys are getting on at School or on a trip and we treat parents at Wetherby Prep with just that in mind.  We look forward to welcoming everyone back tomorrow, particularly the staff who have put so much effort, organisation, professionalism and typical good humour into looking after your children over the last few days.

Now the boys have had a good time away, it’s time to start ‘party season’ for parents at Wetherby Prep!  Junior School Dads will have received their invite this week to our first ‘Dads’ Night Out’ at the Union Bar in Paddington on Wednesday night and the staff look forward to hosting you for an evening of chat and conviviality. The event starts at 7:30pm and has no formal end-time so please join us at any point throughout the evening.  This won’t be a formal ‘Parents’ Evening’ as I feel that, as the School has developed over the years, we know each other so well and have experienced enough at the various School events to simply enjoy each other’s company.  You will also shortly receive an invitation to a party to celebrate the contributions to our community by those staff leaving at the end of the term. This will be held at the School on Thursday, 12th June from 6pm to 8pm.  A number of staff departing have been here many years and I know that parents are keen to have the opportunity to say farewell. There might also be some interesting historical photographs projected onto the big screen…!

The School is ten years old this year and its established position in the Prep School community was firmly brought home to me this week at the annual Harrow Prep School Heads’ Dinner on Tuesday night.  The start of the evening is always a reception in Bill Yard where all past pupils, now at Harrow, come and say hello.  For the first few years that I attended this event, I had to hover jealously behind fellow heads as they caught up with a number of past pupils.  Fast forward then to the modern day and I had a whole team on Tuesday night and yet more, who were unable to attend, asking to be remembered.  It was great to see them, as always, particularly two of our ‘Pioneer’ boys, Piers Richards and Edward Panek, who took time out of their A-Level revision schedule to exchange anecdotes.  I am so proud of all them as they have matured into such outstanding young men. How many can you spot?

Have a great weekend,

 

Dear Parents,

Forgive me a second week of gratuitous pictures of my children but I was delighted last Sunday that Patrick was recognised as the ‘Most Improved Player’ at his rugby club’s End of Season Awards Ceremony.  By contrast, I won nothing in terms of prizes as a child.  I have no regrets about that at all (although I was robbed for the Geography Prize in my last year at Dr. Challoner’s…) and feel that everything must be earned.  I wasn’t that strong in any particular area and I was fine with that.  Patrick though has improved immeasurably this past season.  It’s a combination of school and club and, although far from the best, he is definitely a worthy recipient of the ‘Most Improved’ player.

Back to my Wetherby family, it was fantastic to award Rupert Cullinane his ‘Player of the Season’ medal from his own rugby club in this morning’s Assembly, as well as noting this week that ‘Pioneer’ Tom Whiteley, whose name is on the Scholarship Board in the foyer, has just signed a professional contract with Saracens Rugby Club.  I remember Tom well and he was a superb sportsman (and all round great chap in terms of character).  I am thrilled that his promise and potential has been realised in this way and full credit to Millfield School for developing and nurturing his talent, post Wetherby Prep. Something to live up to then for both my boys as we make the annual pilgrimage this weekend to Great Yarmouth for the Chesham Stags Rugby Tour.   

Although we have had a few wet days at the end of this week, there is a real feeling of summer around the School this week.  Cricket whites and no blazers to Hyde Park have been the order of the day and there is a tangible feeling of optimism and excitement about the summer and all that it brings.  Nothing like a bit of sunshine to put a smile on everyone’s faces!  The start of summer, for me, is symbolised by the bluebells in my local wood, locally referred to, rather unimaginatively, as ‘Bluebell Wood’.  Lots of these flowers around at this time of year, I know, but there must have been something in the climate, these past two years, that has created the most impressive carpet of colour that I have ever witnessed in the Chilterns.

Have a great Bank Holiday weekend,

SPRING TERM 2014

21 April

Dear Parents,

I hope everyone enjoyed their Easter break.  Talking to the boys over the last two days, it seems that many of you have been to all parts of the globe over the last four weeks.   The Bakers did very little and I’m embarrassed to say that endless YouTube videos of Minecraft ‘worlds’ (?!) have been the soundtrack to the Easter holiday for me as Patrick and Joseph venture increasingly from tangible to electronic toys.   I’m pleased to say though that they still prefer above anything else to be active.  Patrick’s favourite thing to do is “go to the Common to practise penalties” whilst Joseph loves riding his bike and does nothing to stop his father from buying different variations of BMX from eBay.  Even though I am 41 years old, there is something about a BMX bike for me and whilst I can’t ride one with any dignity anymore, that doesn’t stop me admiring my children on them!

The boys are also increasingly football mad and with Watford not going to Wembley anytime soon, I was delighted to take them to the FA Cup semi-final where we saw a festival of football as Hull beat a spirited Sheffield United 5-3.  Patrick and Joseph are used to a carton of chips and a bottle of water in a currently three sided Vicarage Road, so Wembley was a completely different experience for them – Patrick asked, “Is this an airport?” as we walked around the concourse and I could see exactly what he meant!

A new era for all of us this term as we use ‘Wetherby Sports Ground’ for the first time.  Mr. Bayes sent me a picture yesterday of all 150 senior boys taking part in cricket coaching in sunshine at the ground. It was a great sight and the facility is something all the boys will benefit from for many years to come.  The development of our areas will take place over the next few terms but, even now, it is a cut above any municipal sports facility we have used in the past.  Please be patient with us as we get used to the new logistics.  Timings of buses returning and parents coming in and out of the car park are particular points that we need to work out how to manage effectively, in the light of our experiences over the next few weeks.  I think everyone agrees though that this is a fantastic new development for our School.   

March 31

Dear Parents,

I have no doubt that the boys will have told you that, unfortunately, they did not meet fully the criteria of the ‘Politeness Challenges’ this term.  Are our boys impolite?  Of course not and, as a staff, we feel that the initiative this year has really improved the general standards of manners and courtesy around the building.  Many visitors to the school and our own ancillary staff comment on the personable, confident and appropriate nature of our boys but ‘better never stops’ as far as I’m concerned.  I think that there have been a few episodes lately where some boys have lost focus of the various ‘weekly challenges’ and the instantaneous improvement that we witnessed earlier in the school year has dissipated somewhat.  Therefore, we are rolling over to next term.  I hate ending the term on a low point but I am sure you will agree that this is an important area that we cannot simply cave into or one in which we should be too liberal with our praise.

Wetherby is always a busy place but none more so this term with all the various announcements regarding the Senior School and the Wetherby Sports Ground.  This continues to be an extremely exciting School to work in and, as an applicant to the School (see below) said to me only this week, there is an energy about the building that you don’t find anywhere else.  Maybe she was just saying it to get the job (!) but she was so articulate, bright and honourable that I took it at face value and knew exactly what she meant.  Since she so clearly ‘got’ the School and her teaching was absolutely first-rate.

Have a great Easter break!  Aside from a weekend wedding in Oxford, the Bakers are staying put for the next three weeks before the always enjoyable Summer Term.  Have a great holiday and I look forward to seeing everyone refreshed and ready to go in April – no big announcements next term I’m afraid but, as always, lots to look forward to.

Have a great Easter.

24 March

Dear Parents,

Thank you for your many messages regarding my announcement last week about Wetherby Sports Ground.  Exciting times for us all and work is already afoot re-laying many tonnes of topsoil to prepare the ground for the cricket season when we return at the end of April.   Next week’s Inter House events will give us the opportunity to say farewell to Linford Christie Stadium and Wormwood Scrubs for the last time. I am sure as a whole school community we can all shed a tear and commiserate together that we will no longer return to one of London’s premier sporting venues…

The School has been very quiet these last two days, with Year 6 in France and the 1st and 2nd XV in Gloucestershire on rugby tour.   The news and pictures from both have been very welcome, not just that the boys are having such a good time but it is always reassuring to hear that everyone is safe and well.   We have a parent policy in this school that we give parents daily updates on the children.  We also have a staff policy that states that the Tour Leader contacts me every day to ‘check in’!  I, of course, trust our professional and dedicated staff completely but, like you, I am always wanting to hear that everyone is safe and well and back in the hotel after a good day’s activities!

A fun end of term awaits everyone next week.  Inter House Rugby, the Senior School Play, last few fixtures and then the final Assembly on Thursday.  This has been quite a short term but so much has happened over the past few months that I can’t quite believe we’ve managed to fit everything in!

See you on the touchline, in the theatre and/or in the Church next week…

Have a good weekend,

17 March

Dear Parents,

Thank you for all your birthday wishes this week.  Busy week for birthdays at Wetherby with mine on the 12th, Mrs. Rossi’s today, Hal’s tomorrow and Miss Heydon’s on Monday – all good fun and the boys love a birthday, even ones which are not their own!  Probably my most vivid memory of birthdays past was (I think) my 10th.  When I got back from school that day, I discovered that my mum had travelled a fair distance to Oxford (we lived in Amersham at the time)  to buy me some Nike basketball boots that you could only get from a particular sports shop there and a Big Mac and fries from  McDonald’s, which she heated up in the microwave.  I was so pleased with the Nike boots and McDonald’s restaurants were such a rarity then that I can remember it to this day.  Times have changed now though and we have the instant gratification of being able to buy pretty much anything in urban areas and online – it is so difficult to get something truly special that is not only a gift but takes huge effort to achieve. 

Not for me though, as I got some fantastic presents for my birthday this year.  First of all, on the morning of my birthday, Rob Taylor at Harrow rang me to tell me that Ben Bradshaw had been awarded the ‘Outstanding Talent Scholarship’  on account of his swimming: a fantastic achievement for Ben and richly deserved. I look forward to seeing his name on our Scholarship Board next term.  My other present came from Alpha Plus Head Office today, with the news that the licensing agreement with the Park Club has been finalised and that, from next term, we will be using ‘Wetherby Sports Ground’ for all of our games lessons, fixtures and outside events.  This is up there with Nike basketball boots and a Big Mac as far as memorable birthday presents go as it is such a landmark development for our School.  Not only is it somewhere to call our own but, more than that, it is a fantastic facility that will benefit every boy in the school for many years to come.

I cannot finish without reference to Quiz Night.  That was definitely one of the best we have ever done and the atmosphere in the room was fantastic.  Thank you to all parents and staff for getting into the spirit of the event and thank you to your wonderful children for contributing so enthusiastically and creatively to the questions this week – the Quiz would never be the same without them! 

Have a good weekend,

10 March

Dear Parents,

I am writing this having just returned from Outdoor Sports Club, attempting to film some of the children in the name of the PTA Quiz next Thursday.  Without giving too much away, please bear with me (and bring a sense of humour!) with some of the questions next week and do not quiz your children about what they have been asked to do.  They are, as ever, great sports and always so willing to get involved in anything – even when the requests from their Headmaster border on the bizarre!  At any rate, next Thursday should be a lot of fun…

This is always a lovely job but the last seven days have exhibited the very best of this School in many ways.  Last weekend, the Year 6 Rugby Tour to Dublin was a great success and the camaraderie between the boys, staff and parents was great to be a part of.  The boys played brilliantly and represented their School extremely well.  I am so proud that we are the only British team to take part in this event and our Irish colleagues are always so hospitable.  Then, onto this week, with the whole school Snowdrop Planting Days. Every child and member of staff was involved and so many of you came down to help your sons. It really was the perfect example of a Wetherby Prep event.  Thank you to everyone who came to help and to the boys who proved to be their usual enthusiastic, proactive and, in the face of some extreme weather on Monday, stoic selves.

This is a different Wetherbuzz entry to what I was going to write as I had hoped to have some major news regarding the development of the School to announce this afternoon.  That will have to wait now until Monday but be assured, it’s very good news and will be welcomed by every boy, parent and member of staff connected with this School…

Have a good weekend and I’ll hopefully write to you formally early next week,

3 March

Dear Parents,

I hope you all had restful and enjoyable Half-Terms.  I had a great time taking Patrick to the Man. City vs. Barcelona fixture on the Tuesday night.   I had bought him a Barcelona shirt and Mrs. Noval had taught me some basic Spanish phrases beforehand in order that we would blend in seamlessly with our Spanish cousins in the away end. I needn’t have worried. English was a second language to those around us and they could not have been more friendly and hospitable towards us.  Their language was also impeccable and I didn’t hear one swear-word…or not one that I could interpret anyway!

This is a short missive as I am off to Ireland shortly to join the dads and boys for the annual ‘Year 6 Rugby Tour’.  This was a great event last year and, despite getting a lesson in rugby from Ireland’s finest, we were and are proud to be the sole representatives from England and have built up great links with our colleagues at Blackrock College over the past few years.  We will be flying the Wetherby flag tomorrow and will compete in our normal way but friendship, being away and enjoying each other’s company will definitely be the main focus, culminating in the ‘Hawaiian Shirt Dinner’ tomorrow night!

Téigh Wetherby! Beidh deireadh seachtaine go maith agaibh.

17 February

Dear Parents,

In a week where half the country is under water, it seems churlish to complain about fixtures cancellations.  We do though continue to be frustrated by postponements and I think it paid dividends to load the fixture calendar so heavily at the start of the term.  It is very rare for us to cancel any of our ‘home’ sporting fixtures or Games or Outdoor Sports for that matter.  Thank you for your support to my missive in the Wetherbuzz last week regarding boys missing Games.  Apart from a few doctor’s notes, we had a 100% attendance at Games this week which was great to see.  I would, however, urge all boys to wear the waterproof top and bottom uniform items for Games as the cotton rugby top acts as a sponge and the boys will get cold very quickly.  Hats and gloves are also permitted for Games though I don’t think it has got that cold this winter – it’s just been unbelievably wet!

Thank you for turning up in such number to our Staff Appreciation Assembly this morning.  Apologies that many of you may have been late for morning appointments but I thought it was fantastic to hear the boys speak so warmly and positively about their teachers.  Every school I have worked in and every school I visit has a particular ethos and culture to it.  I always think that what typifies us is the warm and friendly feeling that exists between our teachers, children and parents.  There is no detachment, there is no ‘them and us’. We are all in this together and this is the atmosphere that typifies being a part of the Wetherby Prep School community.   Thank you, the parents, for all the hard work and creativity you have put into today (special thanks to Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Delp for coordinating the ‘staff party’ that we all look forward to attending after school) but most of all for your unwavering support, loyalty and friendship to me and the rest of the staff - the school is as strong and successful as it is because of that relationship.

Have a great half term.  As a boy said to me a few years ago, “Where are you going skiing this half term sir?”

“Nowhere,” I replied. 

“No, seriously, where are you going skiing?  Everyone goes skiing at half term,” he answered. 

Well, it’s true, the Bakers are not skiing this half term. We will just be at home.  On Tuesday (again, thanks to a generous parent!) I will be taking Patrick and Joseph on a ‘boys’ road trip’ to Manchester to sit with the Barcelona fans and watch the Man City vs. Barcelona Champions League game.  The boys have been to plenty of Watford games with me of course but Patrick announced when I told him we were going to the Etihad, “Oh wow, a proper football match!”  Though slightly insulted, I can probably see what he means…

On behalf of all of the staff at the school – thank you.

Have a great half term,

 

10 February

Dear Parents,

What a great way to start the day that was!  Thank you for turning up in such number this morning to join us for the ‘Snowdrop Walk’.  I love these Wetherby community-centred events and to have all the boys, all the staff, dozens of parents and a couple of ex-pupils all walking with us was a sight to behold.  Thank you for entering into this initiative with such enthusiasm and financial generosity.

As a Prep School, we find ourselves in the media more than most but Monday’s speech by Michael Gove threw us and the Pre-Prep into the spotlight once again, making an unfavourable comparison with a local state school.  I have no knowledge of the school they referred to but I am delighted that it is doing so well and is thriving.   The Education Secretary often makes many newsworthy comments and, at the very least, it gets people discussing education.  Whether or not they make it into policy remains to be seen but for me two crucial obstacles stand in the way of improvements in State school education in the UK.  The first is a National Curriculum that defaults to a ‘National average child’ and therefore requires schools to differentiate up to challenge the brightest children.  This is the wrong way round – the National Curriculum should be challenging everyone and adapted down to the meet the needs of those less able. The latter mind-set is how the independent sector has always worked traditionally.  The second is the rate of pay for a young teacher.  Once a teacher has been working for 10 or 12 years, they earn what I would say is a fair salary – it’s not overly generous but neither is it too miserly.  The problem is though that the starting salary and the meagre increments for the first 6 years make many talented people leave the profession as they know they can earn a lot more, and quicker, elsewhere.   Another is the poor perception of teachers’ professional status in this country which always frustrates me. I could go on…

We are fortunate to have such a diverse group of talented parents from all walks of life but I don’t think I am being overly jingoistic by saying that we definitely have the most talented bakers of any other school in the UK.  Not only do we have a number of professional bakers but the work of the ‘amateur’ cook is something to behold, if last week’s ‘Bake Sale’ is anything to go by. If that wasn’t impressive enough, this one (and I will embarrass Dr Lisa Webber Teoh!) really tickled me, seeing as my boys have an obsession with Minecraft.  I made the mistake of showing them this picture and now this is what they want for their next birthday.  Fortunately I have until September, before Joseph’s birthday, to hone my baking skills!   

Have a good weekend,

3 February

Dear Parents,

The ‘Politeness Challenge’ for the boys next week is something that I have asked them to do, not just over the next few weeks, but for the remainder of their lives.  I witnessed some pretty poor behaviour from a couple of normally incredibly polite and considerate boys this week.  It was not directed at a teacher or another boy in the school, but directed towards their driver and nanny, respectively.  I really was taken aback by the way that these boys spoke and their lack of respect towards an adult.  You have my full support with disciplining your children in how they speak to you or anyone that works for the family.  I am more than happy to speak to your children as well if that helps.  I often say to my two that  I will speak to ‘Mr Davies’ – as a Governor of their School I do speak to the Headmaster quite a lot about numerous issues, all unrelated to my boys’ behaviour but they are not to know that!

The ‘most busy sports day ever’ that I alluded to in the last Wetherbuzz was unable to occur on Wednesday as school after school cancelled on us.  We will try and reschedule all the matches but nothing made me prouder than the fact that the only two games that survived the weather were our two ‘home’ fixtures - takes a lot for us to cancel our sport…

Have a good weekend,

27 January

Dear Parents, 

Thank you for all of your kind messages over the last few days – Helen and I said it was a bit like the aftermath from the Tatler Award last year!  I knew that the news of the Senior School would be well received but not quite that well received – clearly we have done the right thing!  It’s a really exciting project and having been involved in the development of the Prep School and the move to this building, I can see so much potential in 100 Marylebone Lane and I know what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t work when building a school.  We don’t have endless planning meetings to go through and therefore there is no uncertainty to derail confidence in the project.  I also trust that you are happy in the knowledge that I know what I am doing with things like this!  It won’t change anything about my work and commitment at Wetherby Prep, I just need to manage my time effectively between the two schools.  As I said on Wednesday night, even with both schools full, that is only 600 pupils – not a difficult proposition, particularly when you have brilliant staff like I have around to support me.  We will continue, as always, to get the boys into the Senior School of their choice.  If this is Wetherby Senior – that’s brilliant – but there is no obligation.  Judging by the emails and phone calls over the past 48 hours it seems to be the choice of dozens of external parents already!

What a fantastic day Tuesday was when we travelled to Chesham Prep.  It only took an hour to get there and it was such a worthwhile experience for everyone.  Mr Morrison’s match report is below but it was an emotional time for me as Patrick scored two tries and was Chesham’s Man of the Match in their 4-2 defeat in our particular fixture.  A really brilliant afternoon and lovely to link up the two schools. It was also very assuring for our visiting parents to remark at what a great coach the Chesham Prep ‘A’ team ref was – as I wrote before Christmas, this was Stephen Blundell who will be joining us in September!  As you will read below, we have moved the Colts fixture against Chesham to next Wednesday to facilitate other fixtures this term.  Hopefully we can win the Colts Trophy and keep that one for ourselves.

Have a good weekend,

20 January

Dear Parents,

A lot of to and fro in the building this week as we had our 7+ and 8+ assessments on Monday and then a number of boys off visiting senior schools. School assessment and senior school transition is our main focus and it is absolutely fine to miss a day at Wetherby Prep to visit or assess at these schools.  For Year 4 and 5 parents, this is all to come of course and I invite all parents in Year 5 and as many as are interested in Year 4 to come to the Guide to Senior Schools Evening next Wednesday night at 7pm.  I will give a presentation on the entry process and there will be a Q&A session at the end which will continue for as long as anyone has questions. The picture is ever-changing and there are a number of important new things to consider regarding assessment procedures and schools for parents of children in Years 3 to 7. Accordingly, I would ask that a representative from each class in Years 3 to 7 attends on Wednesday night.  Ideally this would be the PTA Rep but, if they cannot make it, please nominate someone to come in their place so that information is distributed to all.

The first of two BIG matches next week as Year 4 travel to Chesham Prep to play Patrick and his friends.  As I said to the boys in Assembly this morning, a housepoint for anyone that tackles Patrick…and two housepoints for anyone that lets him score a try!  I’m joking of course but I am very much looking forward to this and the Year 6 match that follows in the coming weeks.  As this is a longer journey than most of our fixtures (though not by much, seeing as how long it takes to get to Vincent Square sometimes!) we are making an afternoon of it and having a joint training session before the competitive fixtures and then ‘tea’.   Boys need to wear games kit but also bring their school uniform as they will be changing into this for the ‘tea’ that follows.  We aim to be back for 5:15pm but it is unrealistic that we will be back for 5pm buses I am afraid. 

Senior School Exams next week. Good luck to all boys and please, parents, try not to put too much pressure on them to do well. These exams serve as part of our mock CE programme, which culminates in June of Year 8. If a boy does not perform so well at this stage, that is a potentially valuable part of the broader, formal examination experience and the reason why we do exams. We will readily identify which areas require particular focus to gain a better mark next time around. I do, of course, recognise the potentially stressful nature of next week but the best we can do for the boys by way of support is to bolster their confidence, ensure early bedtimes and give them something to look forward to at the end of the week.

Have a good weekend,

13 January

Dear Parents,

Happy New Year!  I trust that everyone had an enjoyable and restful holiday.

The Bakers stayed in South Bucks apart from the New Year when we travelled North to see family in Whitby.  After a long term, we found ourselves having quite a few ‘pyjama days’ which is as it sounds – the boys (though not parents!) spent the whole day in their pyjamas.   There was an interesting article in the Telegraph this week about boredom being good for children as it promotes curiosity and independent thinking.   I think ‘boredom’ is the wrong word here but my two were perfectly happy, chatting, spending time with each other and their parents, and playing with their toys.   I did try a few cycle rides with them but had to ‘abort’ on each occasion due to the treacherous weather conditions – a quick cog around our village lanes had turned into an extreme sport!

Probably the biggest hits present-wise in the Baker household were some magic wands.  I thought that I was getting excellent value for money at my boys’ prep school as Patrick (7) and Joseph (6) waltzed around the house proclaiming such seemingly Latin phrases as “Expelliarmus!” and “Impedimenta!” until Brigid pointed out that these were merely spells from Harry Potter - there was me thinking I had a couple of Classics scholars on my hands…

As for New Year’s Resolutions, I did ask my two if they could think of anything they could aim to do over the next twelve months:  “Start using my fountain pen more…” was Patrick’s - excellent!  “Use my new Kindle…” this was sounding excellent as well from Joseph, but then he continued, “…to play more Minecraft.”  Hmmm…not so excellent after all – I don’t think Joseph and I are on the same page resolution wise…

One of my favourite events this term will be the inaugural Wetherby Prep vs. Chesham Prep rugby fixtures, later this month.  Our entire Year 4 and Year 6 will travel on separate days to play my sons’ school.  I appreciate it is a longer than usual fixture journey (about an hour) but if you did want to see how my emotions are kept in check as Patrick attempts to score against Wetherby or prevents a Wetherby try then I would really appreciate your support.  I think I will just end up cheering both teams on and hope rugby and sport (and yes, I admit, Wetherby Prep) are the winners!

The less said about the Ashes the better but I would say that I continue to be impressed with the Australian Captain, Michael Clarke.  He is one of the most articulate and magnanimous of speakers and I thought he was an example to all sportsmen in his comments after defeat in England last summer and post-victory over the last two months in Australia.   Michael Clarke is a hard competitor but, at the end of the day, it is just a game.  On this note, I really do encourage all parents to read the letter from the Games Department attached to this Wetherbuzz.

A day off for all boys on Monday as we accommodate over 250 candidates with our 7+ and 8+ Assessment Day.  Record numbers applying this year and it is an interesting statistic that for every boy in Year 4 this September, there will have been 5 others applying to take his place.  Thanks, as ever, for your support of the school in this respect as almost every prospective parent I see gives one of you as the reason for their interest in the school. You are all we need to have on the marketing front!

As teased at the end of last term, lots to look forward to in 2014. Trust me, Wetherby Prep will increasingly prove to be a hot topic of conversation…

Have a great term,

AUTUMN TERM 2013

16 December

Dear Parents

I hope your boys enjoyed the last day of term today.  For those that could not make the Assembly, we have given every boy a Father Christmas hat to wear down to the Church and during the Assembly.   You can see from the pictures below that it was an extremely festive atmosphere in the Church of the Annunciation this morning!

And what an end of term it’s been. The Inter-House Tournaments this week were such fun events.  Keenly contested, as ever, but always sporting and some fantastic football on display.  The Park Club was a brilliant venue for us and thank you to the PTA for orchestrating and putting on such a fantastic spread.  Thank you also to all parents for supporting in record numbers this year – always great to see so many of you at these events. Fathers can send all shoe repair bills to Mr. Redmond!

Last Friday was a great night.  At times it felt like my wedding and 40th wrapped into one and the fellowship, friendship and good humour we share together as one community is what makes this School so strong and successful.  Thank you to the staff and parents for coming and all looking so stylish. I always say this but it’s absolutely true: we are the best looking and most glamorous staff and parent body of any prep school in London.  Thank you in particular to Mr. Tony Matharu and his staff at the Grange St Paul’s for putting on such a wonderful evening. We all owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

I wish you all a Happy Christmas and hope you have a great time with your immensely capable, athletic, musical, artistic, humorous, enthusiastic, courteous and wonderful children.  Wetherby Prep is like a gift that keeps on giving as far as I’m concerned and next term we will hopefully have some major announcements that will undoubtedly put smiles on the faces of everyone connected with the school – lots to look forward to…

Happy Christmas!

 

9 December

Dear Parents,

As we approach the end of term, we have recently had a number of results from senior school applications in all year groups.  The boys, as a group, are doing extremely well and despite the competition getting more fierce every year, our School appears to be bucking the trend and our results this term have been the best yet.  While we obviously congratulate the successful boys, we are always conscious of those who do not get in.  It is a tough process, particularly as for boys, it is spread out over three years.  As I say to all parents, I have 300 to worry about and when I look worried, feel free to be anxious but until that time (which has never come about in my six years as Head of this School) be reassured that everyone finds a school and no-one leaves Wetherby Prep without a destination that both boys and parents are happy with.   As always, I am here to help, advise and guide you through what can be a daunting and uncertain process.  There is no such thing as a silly question and although obviously I am always busy, I am busy dealing with your children and their futures – it is all part of the job as Headmaster.

It has been such a great week with so many events taking place in the run-up to Christmas.  The Chamber Choir were magnificent at ‘Maggie’s Carol Concert’ in Hanover Square on Monday evening, which turned out to be a far more high profile and glamorous event than I think any of us expected.  I was so proud of our boys and, in particular, Freddie Crow, who did such an impressive job with his solo performance.  Everyone wants to join and be associated with the Wetherby family these days and even Janet Ellis, compere for the event, said in her closing remarks that she wanted to “adopt every one of the boys at Wetherby Prep School” – lovely to hear!

The staff and I are very much looking forward to seeing everyone at our Christmas Party this evening.  In some schools it is very difficult to get staff to come to events like these but not, it seems, Wetherby Prep where we have an almost full turnout from staff tonight.  I have no doubt that it will be most enjoyable, fun and another extremely memorable Wetherby evening…

Have a good weekend,

 

2 December

Dear Parents,

I have written a ‘formal’ match report below but I cannot begin my weekly missive without reference to last week’s football match between the staff and parents.  Following on from last term’s successful cricket fixture at Lord’s, we have been planning a football match for a while and I cannot thank Mr. Redmond on behalf of the staff and Mr. Radcliffe on behalf of the parents enough for getting it off the ground.  Attending this school as a parent is just as important as attending as a boy and it is events like this that make the school what it is today.  The spirit of comradeship and competition was there for all to see and it was a thoroughly enjoyable Wetherby Prep event.

Another excellent Wetherby event took place on Tuesday with our annual Candlelit Dinner.  As I said on the evening, the main reason we do these events is to give the children the opportunity to perform.  As those that came on Tuesday will bear witness, the boys loved singing and performing for you and the smiles on their faces and enthusiasm in their voices was clear to everyone.  Mr Brawn has done a great job with those boys and the standard of singing gets better and better with each year.   Thank you for attending in such numbers and apologies to all of those that we could not accommodate.  Next year, we will move this event to St. Mary’s Church where we will be able to have ample staging for the children and room to accommodate every parent that would like to come and watch their son.

The Christmas season continues apace at Wetherby Prep and the tree is up in the foyer and the red and white lights are on the shrubs outside the Pioneer Hall!  On Thursday we have the Nativity and this time next week, the building will be filled with the aroma of hairspray, perfume and aftershave as we all get ready for the Wetherby Christmas Party where we will all look our usual glamorous selves – lots to look forward to!  I hope the boys will enjoy their Wetherby Prep Advent Calendars that were given to them today.  This is a reward for their improved politeness and common courtesy this term – they have all earned and deserved them!  If any boy was missing from today’s school, please ask Helen and she will be only too happy to give you one.  The same goes for any sibling who feels left out at home – we have plenty spare!

Have a good weekend,

 

25 November

 

Dear Parents,

The ‘Politeness Challenge’ currently stands at 5-5 and the boys know that they have to win next week to be able to come home with a Wetherby Prep ‘gift’ next week.  For the final week, I am asking the boys to do things at the first time of asking.  As I said to them this morning, I have this issue with my two children so it is a generic problem but I think that with a concerted effort to listen to adults, be it teachers or parents, they can show such an improvement that will enable the ‘prize’ next Friday.  The staff are all in agreement that the emphasis on manners and common courtesy has been a huge success this term and many of our contactors have said that the boys as a whole are noticeably more communicative and well-mannered than previously.   The key is to keep this going of course and if the boys need the focus of a ‘score’ or particular task, then so be it.  Visitors to the school always find our children delightful and as I walk into the rooms on a daily basis as I do, they are always keen to tell visitors what they are doing - there is a definite ‘hands up’ attitude in this school.  There is no magic wand that we do to create this atmosphere.  I think it is simply that, together, we have created an atmosphere where all children feel comfortable in their learning environment and can ‘be themselves’.  We don’t try and make introverts of extroverts or vice versa.  The boys’ characters are respected and encouraged and it is this that makes the school such a special place to work and learn.

 

Christmas Party

 

This is the final call for any parents who have yet to reply regarding their attendance to the Christmas Party on the 6th December at Grange St. Paul’s Hotel.  Please email Helen by Monday if you have not done so already as we need to confirm numbers.

Have a good weekend,

 

18 November

 

Dear Parents,

When I was deciding on University courses in the late 1980s, I decided to read Geography as I loved the field trips, collecting and analysing data, and I also had a good memory for a fact or figure, country and capital.   UCL was, and still is, a great University and I had a fantastic three years there but I was a bit disappointed with the course content.  There was large Social Geography element which had too much theory in it for my liking but one course I really enjoyed was Population Geography, taught by the eccentric but brilliant Professor John Salt.    This also had a theoretical basis but it was backed up by hard facts and I found it stimulating and interesting in equal measure.  I was reminded of this last week by a programme on BBC ‘Don’t Panic – the Truth About Population’. If you have the chance, watch it this weekend on iPlayer.  It’s a brilliant presentation by Professor Hans Rosling and much of what he was talking about was predicted in my lectures with John Salt 20 years ago.

We can, of course, read a lot into statistics but sometimes we can read too much.  Those boys in Years 3, 4 and 5 have completed a series of assessments this week and we were very pleased with their attitude and approach to them.  We will be sending home the results to parents later next week but please do not worry if your son has not done terribly well in a particular exam.  We do exams to find out what the boys do know as much as what they do not but the main purpose is to give them practice and experience in formal testing.  As I will say in the letter, if you have any concerns, we are always here to help and advise but please consider these as only a few tests amongst a huge body of work completed over the year!

Have a good weekend,

 

 

 

11 November

Dear Parents,

Thank you to the many of you that attended this morning’s Remembrance Assembly.  Mr. Metherell orchestrated a very memorable and moving event and it was fantastic to look out on the entire school community wearing their poppies.   Nothing I can write here can be as powerful or as poignant as Mr. Dawson’s speech to the boys, so I copy it below, unedited.  I think every boy, teacher and parent that attended this morning will remember these words.   

Have a good weekend,

 

Remembrance Day – An Ex-Soldier’s Perspective

Mr. Dawson writes…

Remembrance Day – what does it mean to me?

Although I do think about the incredible sacrifice whole nations and families made during the world wars I involuntarily find that my day of remembrance is focused on my personal experiences in Afghanistan.

I did three tours of Afghanistan but the one that I remember the most was the tour of 2009/2010 which were the two bloodiest years of the conflict.  During the seven months I was there, there wasn’t a day that went by without reports coming in over the radio of either a solider being killed or injured, several of these reports I had to send myself for members of my own team. It wasn’t just the British soldiers that were affected either; local Afghan civilians were getting caught up in the conflict too, including children as young as you.

So on Remembrance Day I personally look back on all that my team achieved with great pride but I mainly think about the young men that I know that have died in service to their country or who are now living with the horrible after effects of losing limbs – something they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives.  However, it is not just the soldiers who suffer, my thoughts also go out to the families who have lost loved ones, some of them only five years older than some of the Year 8s.  Private Ben Bainbridge from my team was only 18 when he stood on an enemy explosive device – he is still undergoing surgery to this day (three years later) to allow him to walk properly.

For the soldiers I know, Remembrance Day is a time to reflect and be thankful.  You will find that war has such a significant impact on people’s lives that these people will be remembering every day and not just on Remembrance Day.  Whether or not you agree with war, I hope that on Remembrance Day you will send a prayer or thought for those soldiers and families of those who have paid dearly for their service to their country.

I just thought I would leave with this quote that sums up my thoughts on Remembrance Day: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" and on this day I am grateful to those good men and women.” 

4 November

Dear Parents,

Great to see many of you at Parents’ Evening this week.  There should, of course, be no real news at nights like this, as anything important would have been communicated with you already but it is always good to see you here and to catch up on all sorts of things relating to your son and his schooling at Wetherby Prep.

Monday’s Year 3 and 4 Parents’ Evening was, admittedly, rather chaotic and, having reflected on the night, there are a number of things that we will put in place for next term.  For a start, we will ‘split’ the evening into two next term and have Year 3 and one Year 4 class on one evening and the other two classes on another.  It simply isn’t logistically possible to see everyone in the timeframe given, particularly when some teachers teach the entire year group.  Those parents who attended Wednesday’s Year 5 Parents’ Evening will appreciate how calm, constructive and pleasant the evening was with waiting time kept to a minimum.  This was mainly down to the fact that we only had two classes split across the three hours.

We will also, from next week’s Parents’ Evenings, provide water for all parents on the English and Maths floors.  I don’t agree with serving alcohol on occasions such as these but light refreshments at the end of a working day are the least we should provide.  For practical reasons, I must also insist that parents limit the time they spend with each teacher to no more than five minutes, maintaining due awareness of those waiting.  I will happily talk about my own children and listen to comments about them all day long but, out of respect for every parent and teacher in our community, if any conversation lasts beyond 5 or 6 minutes, please expect teachers to conclude the meeting and ask to contact you for a further appointment later in the week.

Many of you apologised to me on the way out that you hadn’t seen every teacher. This is absolutely fine and there is no need for an apology.  It may well be the case that you don’t need to speak to every teacher and there is certainly no obligation to do so.  Hopefully, we have managed to get in touch with any of you who didn’t manage to speak to a particular teacher this week; if not, please let me know and I can arrange that for you as soon as possible.

And, for a bit of information for new parents: please feel free to bring your children (and siblings if necessary) to Parents’ Evenings.  They can wait in the library and do their homework or read a book if childcare is an issue.

On a more social note, I do hope you all received your invitation to our Christmas Party.  Many of you have replied to Helen already but please do so as soon as possible as we need to have an accurate idea as to how many people we are catering for.  This will be another, exciting night yet, whilst it is a night for parents and staff, there will be an element that involves your charming children. It will undoubtedly be another memorable Wetherby occasion!

Have a good weekend,

  

19 October

Dear Parents,

There was a very interesting piece in the teaching section of The Guardian this week, discussing the impact of ‘play’ on children’s learning.  The suggestion was that rote learning and teaching towards tests was stifling creativity and independence of thought.  I think there is definitely something in this and, whilst it is crucial to the role of this school that we actively prepare children for pre-testing and Common Entrance, I think that ‘playtime’, ‘Games’ and the compulsory Friday afternoon ‘Clubs’ programme is as important to their future social and academic development.  I also have seen, first-hand, the quality of work that has come from the boys when there is a practical, enquiry-based learning activity.  Some of the print-making work the Year 6 boys have done in Art over the last few weeks has been astonishing.  Boys have worked out and developed new skills and produced some outstanding work.  The rocket experiments earlier in the term produced such energy amongst the children and it was so satisfying to see the boys trying out, together, new ways of adapting the rocket to achieve an improved distance.  There are many more examples, of course, including the delightful Year 4 ‘Chocolate Crackles’ English lesson described below, but the key is to strike a balance between core academic rigour, for the purpose of giving boys the best chance of success at senior school, and diversity of learning experiences to develop enquiring, confident and independent minds.

I have always thought that schools have a responsibility not just to educate academically but also behaviourally and socially.   Many of you who attend Friday’s Assemblies have said how pleased you are that we are promoting manners and politeness in such an overt way this term.  The results have been astonishing and there is a marked improvement in ‘pleases’, ‘thank yous’ and simple greetings this term.  We will continue with this after half term but the boys are currently 4-2 up in the ‘Politeness Challenge’.  If they are still up by Friday’s Assembly on the 29th November, they will all get rewarded…

MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT!

 It wouldn’t be Christmas at Wetherby Prep without a big Christmas Party for the parents and staff!  I am delighted to announce that I will shortly be sending out invitations to the Wetherby Christmas Party at Grange St. Paul’s Hotel on 6th December 7pm-11:30pm.  These events are always great fun and embody perfectly the spirit and community of our school.  Dress code will be simply ‘festive glamour’.  Please put the date in your diaries.

I can’t quite believe we have come to Half Term already.  Time goes so fast these days but that has to be down to how much we enjoy our jobs and the company of you and your children.

 

Have a great half term.

14 October

Dear Parents,

Interesting to read that the recently appointed, 27 year old Headmistress of Pimlico Primary has resigned her post after only six weeks.  I have no problem at all with young Headteachers;  I took over the headship of this school when I was 33 and, as a fellow head said to me at a function last year, “When I first met you, Nick, you were the youngest head in the room. Six years on and you’re still the youngest!”  Without direct experience of an educational environment, however, it was always going to be a risky appointment.   Whilst working in a school shares many similarities with other industries – it’s all about human relationships at the end of the day – schools present their own unique challenges and the idiosyncrasies of the National Curriculum, financial challenges of schools as businesses and the oft-competing demands of three different stakeholders of children, teachers and parents make for a diverse, challenging yet ultimately rewarding workplace.  I am quite sure that Annaliese Briggs is an impressive individual and potentially a brilliant Head but, being appointed to such a job at her age and with her lack of experience, required her to be amazing from the off and she probably realised that the honeymoon period for a new Head is notoriously short!

Last night, we welcomed over 400 parents and 150 children to our Open Evening.  A busy night for all but I know that everyone left with a positive impression of our school.  This was, in no small part, due to the pyrotechnics and plasticine experience of boys in the Science and Art Departments but mainly a reflection of our brilliant Year 8 boys, who toured hundreds of parents around the school with enthusiasm, wit and charm.  As one boy put it, when asked if he was happy taking parents round, “Sir, it was AMAZING – I really enjoyed it!”  Not the response I was expecting but probably unsurprising as the boys love nothing more than expressing how proud they are to be members of our community. 

Have a good weekend,

7 October

Dear Parents,

What a lovely day! Thank you again, Mr. Baker, for allowing me to be you for a day, one that afforded many valuable insights into how Wetherby Prep runs as a school. A Friday starts in earnest with a staff meeting in the Dining Room, where I was so fortunate to meet the teachers and other staff and go through the logistics of the next week.  It is at this meeting that the Citizen of the Week and Sportsman of the Week are chosen, through an open vote. Then, it is straight to the Church of the Annunciation. I was a bit nervous about leading the Assembly, especially reading out so many unfamiliar and multinational names for the Headmaster’s Good Shows but I think I just about managed. It was wonderful to see the church full of so many promising boys this morning and a real pleasure handing out awards, achievements and appreciations, especially to the Sportsmen of the Week, the whole Under 10 Football team, who won the Westminster Trophy last Sunday. Congratulations to them all!

Being an all-boys school was apparent in the boys’ choices of subject matter for their Public Speaking Presentations, which I attended, later in the day. Year 8 boys’ favourite topics? Cars and Motorbikes! But, my favourite was when I was so fortunate to learn more English with Mr. Hewitt, as he so poetically and cleverly engaged his Year 5 students on the novel, ‘War Horse’. The way boys were encouraged to read aloud, even if they were shy, tired or felt unprepared was exceptional.  I wish I’d had a teacher like him at primary school. After a full day of activities, being Headmistress for just one day, I have to say that Mr. Baker must be exhausted on Friday evenings, after his busy week as Headmaster. I wonder what he does to relax? Tea and TV? Dancing and day-dreaming? Pyjama party with his boys? I would love to know…

But today is about Smiling. It is the Smiling Day at Wetherby, as we encouraged the boys to smile to as many students, parents, teachers, bus drivers and staff at the school. They even got housepoints from the new Headmistress (for a day) if they smiled to at least three people who they did not know very well. I have to say that the Day was a great success and there were a lot of happy faces around the school. Smiling is so healthy. It is scientifically proven that a smile has a deep, healing effect on the body, all the way to our tiny little cells. AND it makes us happy, even if we are having a bad day! So let’s smile! Hopefully, you will all enjoy a smiley weekend. I certainly left Wetherby Prep with a big happy smile today.

Thank you, Mr. Baker, all Staff and boys for an unforgettable day.

Kristin Bjorgolfsson (acting Headmistress for the day)


30 September

Dear Parents,

A week or so ago, Mr Bayes and Mr Metherell were getting a little excited about New Zealand winning the America’s Cup.  Clearly, that was not to be and any sports fan must acknowledge the determination, ability and will to win of the Oracle Team in clawing back such a margin.  When in Sixth Form at school, we would have a termly Pool Tournament in the Common Room.  I always fancied myself as quite a good pool player and made it through to the quarter finals on one occasion.  In the quarter final, with my opponent still with 5 yellows on the table, I had potted all of my red balls and just had the black to go, which was conveniently placed just over the bottom corner pocket.  An easy shot to finish with, you might think, but I panicked, hit the ball far too hard and ended up following the black ball into the pocket.   Cue much jeering from my assembled ‘friends’ and a ‘head in hands moment’ for yours truly.

At the start of every school year, it is ‘conference and dinner season’ for prep school heads.  Over the last few weeks I have been to all sorts of functions and had the pleasure of listening to Terry Waite as the after dinner speaker at the IAPS Annual Dinner on Monday.  As we all know, Terry Waite is famous for an incredibly difficult and turbulent time of his life but still finds it within himself to find humour, hope and compassion in even the most desperate of situations.   His message was one of the temptation of taking things for granted and I, for one, often have to check myself and put situations in our beautifully appointed private school in Central London into context.  We, staff and boys, are all fortunate to work and learn in our school environment and owe it to ourselves and our parents to make the most of every day.

Have a good weekend,

23 September

Dear Parents,

As long as I have worked in schools, at the start of every year or term, there is concern amongst a significant number of parents regarding fixture team selection.  It is a common concern and not one that we take lightly but, for the first time ever this week, I saw the problem from the other side of the fence.  Patrick has been playing club rugby since the age of 6 and is 'reasonably good', very enthusiastic and eager but, to be fair, he's no superstar.  This week, the first fixture letters were distributed at his school and his name wasn't on them. It was a cross-banded U9 fixture and it is no surprise he wasn't picked but he was visibly crushed on Wednesday night and I felt extremely sorry for him.

It is difficult to balance 'inclusion' with the desire to win as many games as possible but we do make sure that there are a number of 'All Year-Group' matches throughout the term.  It's a difficult juggling act, with pitch bookings and other schools' commitments dictating the fixtures calendar but ideally these fixtures would be as early as possible in the first term.  This would then enable the pupil to benefit from representing the school, to feel included and a part of the sporting side of the school.

Sport has such a cachet amongst young boys and, even though I knew the importance of getting as many boys involved as early as possible, my own experience this week means that I will ask the Games Department to redouble their efforts to get as many appropriate fixtures as possible.

 As I write this, the Bulletin from Patrick's school has just landed in my inbox.  He's been picked for the 'C' team vs. Beacon next Tuesday and as far as he's concerned, everything's all right in the world now!

Have a good weekend,


16 September

Dear Parents,

Tatler School Awards and Westminster Prep School Heads’ Dinner this week which are always good fun.  Great to see fellow Heads after the summer break and to catch up on all the gossip!  Travelling home late, on occasions such as these, means that I often find myself listening to late-night radio and to some programmes and presenters that I wouldn’t normally tune into. 

On Wednesday I came across a most fascinating interview with Philip Pullman (‘His Dark Materials’ amongst many others) who is always worth listening to.  He was making comment on how important it is to teach children how to write creatively and with imagination and how schools often get bogged down with teaching spelling and punctuation, which can easily be corrected within seconds on a computer.  I can see his point completely but then again, one of the things I always look for in a job application is a hand-written letter with perfect grammar and spelling, as I always think this is a sure sign of true intellect.

I like Philip Pullman’s books.  He used to be a teacher, of course, and he clearly knows what will interest children, writing in a style that they can access and be stimulated by.   Many of you often come to me asking how we might best get our sons to read.  It’s not easy but I find that ‘reluctant readers’ find short books or books with short chapters the best place to start.  I tried Patrick on Harry Potter over the summer but the size of the book and the small text meant that he didn’t get very far, even though he could read it fluently.  ‘Horrid Henry’ on the other hand is perfect!  Short, interesting, funny stories are ideal for him at this stage of his reading.  There is also much to be gained by selecting an audiobook or, better still, reading books to children yourselves. Each provides a role-model of good reading, helping to unlock the excitement of the written word.

Just for the parents this one but I read a really compelling, yet somewhat distressing, novel over the summer called ‘Alex’ by Pierre Lemaitre.  It is very graphic and certainly not for children but I desperately want to find someone else who has read it so I can discuss it with them.  I have some unanswered questions about the plot and the outcome and Brigid refuses to touch another book until the next holiday, as she tells me she has to “concentrate on her planning and marking”…  If anyone has read it – please get in touch!

Have a good weekend,


9 September

Dear Parents,

With the fantastic summer of British sport, I attempted to encapsulate a degree of this passion for success by getting my two boys a bit more active this summer.  Lots of swimming in the pool and sea in Menorca was a given but, back in the UK in West Wittering, I went for a stamina push by taking the boys out on their bikes every day.  Those of you familiar with the area might know of the Saltern Way, a 12 mile cycle route from West Wittering beach to the centre of Chichester.  With the promise of an ice cream at Itchenor (about 2 miles) we set off full of enthusiasm.   Unfortunately, this was brought to an abrupt halt when the ice cream van failed to materialise at its usual spot.  Not to be defeated, I dragged the family along the route towards Chichester Marina but as they started to lose trust in my “just down here” claim, four miles later in Birdham, we had to turn back for home.  All in though, that was a 12 mile round trip which I didn’t think was bad for a 7 and a 5 year old (and 36 year old wife).   

I have also got the boys involved in ‘Geocaching’.  This is a fantastic global treasure hunt that is available pretty much anywhere. There are six ‘caches’ in Holland Park, for example, and a number in our local area here in Bryanston Square.   The act of finding the ‘caches’ and discovering other parts of the countryside and urban environment is great fun and the satisfaction gained from searching for and finding something is inherent in every human’s character.  As a staff, to acquaint and reacquaint with one another after the summer break, we organised a ‘House Treasure Hunt’ around the local area. Westbourne won (again) this year – they always win staff events – and it is always a success and great fun.  In the Summer Term, I will run a ‘Geocache Club’ and take a group of boys to a new location every week to find the ‘caches’.  In the meantime, download the App and get ‘Geocaching’!

I have had lots of conversations with the boys over the last two days about their memorable moments from the last eight weeks.  Mine happened right at the start of the holiday on the day after we broke up.  Eighteen years ago, I started my teaching career at an all-boys comprehensive school in North London.  Whilst I did not realise it at the time, the experience taught me all I needed to know about educating boys and classroom management yet, for a young newly qualified teacher, this was a very difficult first teaching post.  The boys were typically rather badly behaved, disinterested, at times violent and frequently absent.  One boy, Peter, in particular was very disruptive and the only way to engage him was to ask him about his passion for snakes and reptiles.  He was fascinated by these creatures and even brought in live examples to show me that he kept in his rucksack!  I often wonder about what happened to boys like Peter. Did they manage to keep on the right side of the law?

On the day after we broke up, I took my younger son Joseph to a friend’s birthday party in Amersham.  As we parked up, we pulled in behind a large white van with the entertainer for the day, ‘Safari Pete’ emblazoned on the outside.  We recognised each other instantly and I was so thrilled and interested to see Peter, eighteen years on, that I stayed for the performance which basically involved Peter showing the children a collection of snakes and reptiles.  Peter put on a great show and told me afterwards that he also runs a charity, aimed at the conservation of snakes and reptiles in the developing world.  I can’t tell you how proud of and how impressed I was with Peter for following his passion and making something of himself rather than taking a different route that he could so easily have fallen into.  I took Peter’s details and he will hopefully be coming into school next term to show us his animals – one of which, his Nile Crocodile, is shown here being held with my older son Patrick and Peter himself!

Have a good weekend,

SUMMER TERM 2013

8 July

Dear Parents,

Even by our standards that was a pretty busy last week of school.  The 'trip to the seaside' was a huge success and the boys clearly loved playing on the beach and exploring the shoreline.  We will certainly be repeating this at the end of the next academic year so boys, those House Points all count!

Sports Day was competitive, inclusive (every child took part in at least 5 events) and very well attended by the parents.   Thank you for turning out and supporting your son and the school.  As I mentioned at Prize Giving, the staff went straight off to Lord's to play in the inaugural Staff vs. Parents cricket match (picture below) and it was a great climax to an excellent day of sport at Wetherby Prep.  The revised format for the swimming gala seemed to work extremely well and we will definitely be repeating it in this way next year.  There was some fantastic swimming on display and Ben Bradshaw in particular is just a sensation in the water.   Thank you for all the willing parents (and staff) who were great sports in taking part in the Staff/Parents relay.  I'm pretty game for anything but that tested even my Wetherby commitment - I salute your spirit and enthusiasm and I know the children loved seeing the adults getting involved.

Prize Giving was a fitting end to a great year and thank you for attending in such number and sitting patiently through a long ceremony.  I thought Edoardo Ricci performed brilliantly with his Head Boy's speech.  In front of an audience of over 1200, that is not easy for a 13 year old but he spoke eloquently and with clear passion for our school.    The Choir and Chamber Choir sang beautifully and we were able to publicly celebrate the achievements of over 100 boys.  Obviously it is impossible to praise everyone on such occasions, but to get so many on stage and for so many different reasons, is something that is very special about our school. 

And last but not least we finish a memorable year with the news that Mr and Mrs Dean Bayes had a baby daughter this weekend - Juniper Bayes 8lb 3oz - I am sure you will join me in wishing them our hearty congratulations.  I know Dean will make a fantastic father and those of us that know Jo from the pre-prep will have no doubt that she will be a natural as a mother. 

May I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy holiday and a restful time with your sons over the next eight weeks.  The Bakers are off to Menorca as usual and then have a couple of weddings in early August.  I have recently bought the boys two brilliant BMX bikes from eBay and they constantly nag me to take them out on them.  The open stretches of West Wittering beach when the tide has gone out is perfect for this so we will probably shoot off down there at some point to engage their enthusiasm as I'm not quite confident enough in their ability or road sense to cycle around the country lanes of Cholesbury.  

As I write this, Andy Murray has just won Wimbledon, Chris Froome is in the Yellow Jersey and the British Lions have taken the test series against the Australians.  I have Day 1 and Day 5 tickets for the Oval Ashes Test match in August so hopefully that will top off a great summer for British sport!

Thank you for all your support and see you in September.

1 July

Dear Parents,

We are looking forward to seeing everyone at Prize Giving on Wednesday evening at 7pm at Kensington Town Hall.  Choir and Orchestra need to arrive at 6pm and all parents and boys before 7pm.  Ms Jane Campbell has put together a slideshow of over 800 images which we will project between 6 and 7pm as you wait for the ceremony to begin.   Unlike most schools, the names of the winners are only revealed at the event.  This adds a more exciting element to the more sedate and polished experience you may have at other schools but I like it that way!    You will receive a Programme as you enter and a list of winners as you depart.

The Prize Winners’ nomination sheet has been up in the staff room for the last two weeks.  All staff have contributed their thoughts and opinions and we will have our annual meeting this evening to decide who gets what.  I have also canvassed the opinions of our current Year 8s and our PLT as to who would make an appropriate Head Boy, Prefect or House Captain.   A lot of thought and care goes into these decisions and a wide body of opinion is sought.  I completely understand that there will be disappointment from a number of boys on Wednesday night.  Unfortunately this is always the case but for the system to have currency, there has to be this ultimate selection.  What I have always admired in our children is their determination to succeed in the face of disappointment and also their genuine congratulation of those who have been fortunate to win prizes.  It is a very wholesome, worthwhile, enjoyable and competitive experience - essentially, very ‘Wetherby Prep’. 

I look forward to seeing you all next week.

Have a good weekend,

24 June

Dear Parents,

Thank you for coming to the Headmaster’s Ball last Friday.  It really was a fantastic event, with such a strong and convivial atmosphere in the room.  Great to have 'Soul II Soul' as the entertainment for the evening too. Jazzy B, like myself, used to work as a teacher at Holloway School in North London.  Obviously our careers have taken us in different directions (!) but it was very poignant that he should be performing, particularly as so much of his music was the soundtrack for many of us growing up.  My thanks again to the Ball Committee and everyone involved in last Friday’s event. You did a brilliant job and can, rightly, take the credit for everyone asking about the next one!

Whilst Mark Snell and I are proud that Wetherby, from 4-13, is a school of mixed ability, we are ultimately judged by our exit groups.  Mark and his team at the Pre-Prep have had another outstanding year at 7 and 8+ and we too can celebrate fantastic results for our boys.  The full list (with specific boy’s names removed) is below and I am sure you will agree that, in an ever more competitive climate for the top day and boarding schools, it makes impressive reading.  Unlike other pre-preps and prep schools in London, the Wetherby schools support exit at any age.  The two main aims of a prep school are senior school transition and to play loads of sport.  As such, if a boy has the opportunity to go a school that will ultimately take him on to 18, we will always support and prepare him for that.

This is our best year ever for senior school transition and the percentage of A and B Common Entrance grades are up significantly in all subjects.  This is even more remarkable, considering the tough marking criteria of the schools listed below.  Well done to every one of our talented leavers this year, truly a vintage one for our school.

 

Wetherby Prep 10+/11+/13+ 2013

Day Schools

Boarding Schools

Scholarships

Dulwich

Abingdon

Westminster Under – Music

Dulwich

Bradfield

Harrow – Music

Emanuel

Bryanston

 

Emanuel

Eton

 

Highgate

Eton

 

Kew House

Eton

 

King’s Wimbledon

Harrow

 

King’s Wimbledon

Harrow

 

King’s Wimbledon

Harrow

 

King’s Wimbledon Junior School

Harrow

 

Latymer

Marlborough

 

Latymer

Salem Castle – Germany

 

Latymer

St. Edward’s

 

St. James Senior School

Stowe

 

St. Paul’s

Wellington

 

St. Paul’s

Wellington College – Dubai

 

St. Paul’s

Winchester

 

UCS

 

 

UCS

 

 

Westminster

 

 

Westminster

 

 

Westminster

 

 

Westminster

 

 

Westminster Under

 

 

 

Have a good weekend,

17 June

Dear Parents,

As I write this I think I am the only one here, apart from the cleaners, and I get the general feeling of the calm before the storm later on this evening!    It will be such a fun night and we (a staff contingent of 40) look forward to spending a great night with all of you at the Grosvenor later on. It promises to be yet another, memorable Wetherby occasion!  The Ball is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate our school, its strong sense of community and common purpose, between staff and parents.  It is also the result of many hours of hard work on behalf of the Ball Committee and quite staggering generosity on behalf of our amazing parent body.  When I showed Brigid the ‘iBid’ site last night and talked her through the evening, she reiterated again that, “there is no school like your school – things like that don’t happen on that sort of scale anywhere else!”

Lots of talk amongst the parent body (and boys) this week about mixing up the classes.  To clarify, we will be mixing the classes in Years 6, 7 and 8 next year but NOT in Year 5 (current Year 4).  This has to happen in Year 8 anyway, as we have a disproportionately small number in one class, but it also gives us an opportunity to tune the class dynamics of the other classes.  Everything will be done sensitively and with the boys’ best interests at heart.  I also invite your views on anybody that you would particularly like your son to be grouped with.  Please email me with any requests and we will take these into consideration when placing the boys.  We have asked the children, of course, but, as with my older son who wrote down four names with whom he wanted to be with in his new Year 3 class in September, Brigid and I had a different opinion and put down some other names!

See you on the dance floor!

10 June

Dear Parents,

That was a fun afternoon!  The boys clearly loved the Fete and taking part in the various stalls and activities.  What is so apparent in this school, more than most, is the way that boys from different year groups interact with one another.  There is a genuine sense of comradeship amongst the Wetherby boys as a whole.  The same, of course, goes to the parents.  There is a special familiarity about our parent body and the support you all give to the school is always appreciated and never taken for granted.  My thanks to all those involved in today’s Fete, particularly Andrea Paradine and Kirsty Anthony, for orchestrating and organising such a brilliant event.  And now onto the Ball next Friday…

Every boy in the school has now finished exams for the year and we look forward to Year 8’s Common Entrance results next week.  Please remember that all children in Year 6 and 7 sit Common Entrance style papers and therefore there may well be parts of the curriculum that they have yet to be taught.  The experience and practice of doing these exams is what is important here and marks and percentages need to be taken in context.  45% in English in Year 7 might sound like a disaster but, in fact, that boy would only be 10% away from passing a core Common Entrance subject a full academic year early.  Would that boy be expected to gain another 10% over the course of the next year?  Absolutely, and probably much more.  In Year 6, all boys sat the Level 1, 13+ Maths Paper.  Early indications are that their average is going to be in the low 80s.  This goes against our mantra of aiming for a 50% average but we can’t ask much more of the boys than getting an average of an A on a 13+ paper, two years before they take it.

Always remember that, whatever the result, the only people who will see marks and grades are the staff here and the parents.  Sometimes we don’t even share them with the boys if we think that it will damage their self-esteem.  I only ever write ‘good news’, supportive information in references to senior schools and they are more interested in standardised scores (CATS, INCAS etc.) in any case.  

Please congratulate your son on completing his exams this week and take an interest, but not a concern, in how he has performed.  As always in our school, I am available for consultation on any aspect of your son’s progress, along with every member of the teaching staff.  I expect to know everything about how my boys are getting on at school and we treat parental communication at Wetherby Prep with exactly that principle in mind.

Have a good weekend,

3 June

Dear Parents,

I wish everyone a restful Half-Term break.  I will, of course, be spending Monday at Wembley with a whole array of friends and colleagues who have suddenly decided in the past two weeks that they are Watford fans – the more the merrier, I say!

The Juniors have now finished exams for another year but the Seniors will be sitting their exams, both internal and, for Year 8, the actual Common Entrance, after Half Term.  I appreciate that this can be a stressful time for many of them but all we ask is that they do their best.  Gary Wilson, who came to speak to us last week about teaching boys, gave a statistic that 66% of all wrong answers in examinations are down to misreading of the question.  It is lower (52%) with girls but this is still an astonishing statistic, yet one I can quite believe. Please encourage your sons, as we do here, to read the question and think clearly and logically about what it is asking.  Exams never try to catch a candidate out and Common Entrance is a fair and accessible exam.  Do plenty of effective and thorough revision next week, boys, and come back to school with a clear head and structured approach to the exams.  You will all do brilliantly – I am absolutely sure of it.

Have a great half-term week and COME ON YOU HORNETS!

20 May

Dear Parents,

After the disappointment of the last day of the season, the euphoria of Watford’s dramatic victory on Sunday.   That was probably the most excited I’ve ever been at a football match and what made the event so special was the subsequent avalanche of messages from friends, distant and relatively new; colleagues, past and present; not to mention so many past and current parents!  Everyone in the Baker household is looking forward to the final, a week on Monday.

Yesterday, we hosted a prep school conference for the International Boys School Coalition.  These are always good occasions to network and promote fellowship amongst heads of similar schools and yesterday was no exception.  In the morning session, Gary Wilson gave an excellent presentation on promoting literacy for boys and how to dispel the negative image that boys often have, certainly by comparison to their female peers.   Much of what he said, I was reassured to know, we already practise here: a lot of and, more importantly, specific and public praise; structured lessons with a clear start, middle and end; promoting boys and their general habits rather than focusing on the negative stereotypes etc.  There was much to reflect on though, both as an educator and as a parent of boys.  I will get Gary in again, later this year, as I think he will be interesting for not only our staff but also our parents.

I hope Junior School parents have enjoyed the communication coming from the Isle of Wight, Bushcraft and Woodrow.  I am convinced that no school does trip communication better than Wetherby Prep but we will leave the boys to fill in the gaps between ‘tweets’, ‘emails’, ‘blogs’ and ‘voice messages’ over the weekend!

Have a good weekend,

13 May

Dear Parents,

I am sure all the boys were on the edge of their seats watching their second favourite football team getting within a goal of the Premier League last Saturday.  Close but no cigar on this occasion, however, it’s not over and the play off semi-final is finely poised going into Sunday’s second leg.  As I mentioned last week, I managed to watch the majority of the game on my iPad but, just as things were getting interesting, midway through the second half, first the broadband allowance and secondly the battery on my iPad failed.  Frantic dashing into the clubhouse to get a bit of charge and then trying to log on to buy some extra minutes  ensued, before I gave up completely and rang a friend who relayed the closing moments over the phone.   The match was stressful enough without all of these other logistical issues!

A busy week for the school next week as the entire Junior School goes on their annual residentials.  When we ask the boys for their favourite moments of the year or their time here, they almost without exception say the school residential.  So many anecdotes and stories come from these trips and their benefit to the boys and their contribution to their whole-school experience should never be underestimated.  The sense of achievement in doing something they may not have experienced before and, most of all, the sense of comradeship amongst the boys themselves is so beneficial to their social development.  I remember all of my school trips well and often think of them in relation to what we do now.  Thirty years ago, as a 10 year old, I went on the ‘Yorkshire Trip’ with my prep school and we visited Whitby where we disembarked from the coach to be told by our teachers: “See you all back here at 3pm!”  Off we went, unsupervised, amongst busy streets around Whitby and, whilst all was well, we wouldn’t dream of such a situation these days. 

On another trip to Malham Tarn Field Studies Centre, this time admittedly when at senior school, there were not enough teachers available for us to be unaccompanied so, as the trip was essential for our GCSE coursework, we were sent on our own without even being waved off from the train platform.   I still can’t believe that happened, or that my parents deemed it acceptable, but this was another time and health and safety was not given as much focus as it is now.

On trips nowadays, the children are constantly supervised by our own staff and the staff of whatever centre we are staying at and the primary focus of all trips is the safety of the boys.  I wish everyone a safe and enjoyable trip next week.

Have a good weekend,

7 May

Dear Parents,

Very interesting (and brave!) of Ben Thomas to wade into the tutoring debate so publicly this week.   As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing better than effective one-to-one tuition if a child has specific weaknesses or lacks understanding in a particular area.  The key word here, though, is ‘effective’.  If the tutor has experience of working in education, has knowledge of the curriculum and knows the language and subtleties of emotion and enthusiasm that work with children, then that child is likely to benefit.  If, however, they are a recent university graduate, with no training in education, albeit, often, an impressive CV, it is very unlikely that they will know how to get the best out of a child.   Senior schools are increasingly conscious of tutoring and most now have a computerised testing component, for which no amount of tutoring will help.  At our 8+ this year, one boy wrote out his story plan in great detail in the margin but then wrote one line in the answer box, gaining just one mark.  I can appreciate what his tutor was trying to do but ultimately it stifled any creativity or writing skill the boy had at a time when he most needed it.

We live in Buckinghamshire, a grammar school county.  Whilst my ultimate aim is to board them both, Patrick and Joseph would sit three exams at 11+ and if they scored over 123 on 2 out of 3 papers they will get into the local grammar school.  The papers are mainly verbal and non-verbal reasoning and tutoring in both these areas is rife in Bucks.  I am minded to leave them to it and see what happens but, if I’m perfectly honest, I might just run through a few things with them in the weekends before the tests!

As I said to the boys in Assembly this morning, tomorrow is a massive day for every Wetherby Prep boy’s second favourite football team, Watford.  There are various permutations but basically if Watford better Hull’s result tomorrow, we will be promoted.  These are exciting and very nervous times.  I will, of course, be placing my main interest in Patrick’s Rugby Tournament tomorrow, fiendishly timed at 1pm, 15 minutes after kick off at Vicarage Road, but I have fashioned a wireless dongle/iPad/Sky Go contraption that should mean I can stay in touch with the action! 

Have a good weekend,

 

29 April

Dear Parents,

 As I often say to prospective parents, being a parent at Wetherby Prep is just as important as being a boy here.  This is a particularly easy sell this term as the Headmaster’s Ball and Summer Fete seems to have become the talk of the town, with two parents this week asking if they can come, even though their boys won’t even be assessing until next January!  Whole school events are so important and promote that sense of community within the school.  We expect to have two tables of staff attending the Ball and talk of outfits and hairstyles (even amongst the male staff…) is the current theme of the staffroom! 

Next week, the Bakers will be going on Patrick’s Rugby Tour to a holiday park in Great Yarmouth for the Bank Holiday weekend.  I expect I will probably have stayed in more luxurious accommodation but, with a touring party of 380, I am sure the children (and parents) will have great fun and experience a real sense of team spirit.   The Saturday night is ‘Heroes and Villains’ fancy dress.  If any boy has a good idea for an outfit I can wear, let me know…

Thank you to all parents for providing the correct kit for cricket this term.  I know that many boys have their shirts still ‘on order’, which is absolutely fine, but I do think that everyone looks better if they are wearing the same kit.  The same rule applies for Friday Clubs – boys must only be wearing Wetherby-branded sportswear for all activities (apart from horse riding).  From next week, we will be asking parents to bring in the correct kit if children turn up in different sports kit.  With the hot weather this week, a number of boys have, understandably, rolled up their sleeves.  This is also fine but please be aware that the boys are welcome to wear short sleeved white shirts in the summer term.  I know a number of you have views on this but, as far as I’m concerned, I think the boys look smarter with short sleeves, rather than rolled up sleeves.

Smartness is a big thing in my family as well and Joseph loved wearing a blazer for the first time when he went back to school this week.  I know that both boys’ blazers look too big for their bodies but, as you will all appreciate, they’ll grown into them…!

 

22 April

Dear Parents,

And so we come to the end of another term.  It was great to hear all the stories from the rugby tour this morning. The boys, as usual, have had a fantastic time.  With a few of the Games staff away this week, I was drafted in to assist at the Games session on Monday and the Year 4 fixture versus Arnold House yesterday.  It reminded me of how much I missed teaching Games and going on fixtures to other schools.  You see a completely different side to the children to the one you see around school and it was wonderful to see such an energetic and powerful performance from Lorenzo Capaldi, the no nonsense tackling from Giovanni Bonfigilio and the skilful running of Arthur Grigg. Wonderful! I have set myself a target of getting to as many cricket fixtures as possible next term.

Today, we say farewell, for now, to Mrs Amelia Hickman, who leaves us to have her first child over the next few weeks.  Amelia is a fabulous teacher and a first-class member of staff who has added so much to our school over the last five and a half years.  I am sure you will join me in wishing her well for her imminent birth.  We all know that she will be as good a mother as she is as a teacher.  I can, of course, guarantee a gratuitous baby photograph in a future Wetherbuzz!  To replace her, we welcome Miss Arabella Northey.  Arabella will take over Amelia’s timetable in its entirety and is an experienced RS, History and English teacher.  She currently works at the Beacon School and is known to us through Mrs Amelia Bradbury who is currently on maternity leave, having taught Latin here for many years. It is always good to use the informal network on these matters!

This has been a relatively short term but we seem to have been busy every week - as always, the sign of a good prep school.  We are relatively unchanged in terms of pupil numbers for next year, yet with maternity cover and the desire to further develop and enhance the school and our teaching and learning, there are some staffing announcements to make. 

Rachel Jones joins us to teach Science, alongside Paul Curran.  Rachel currently works in South Wales but is moving to London to live with her husband after getting married this summer.  Rachel is an outstanding teacher and staff member in every sense and I know that the parent body and boys will welcome her to our school.

Tom Dawson will join us a Newly Qualified Teacher, having completed his teacher training earlier this year.  Tom is a highly capable teacher and, with a pedigree from a university education and his recent experience as a British Army Captain in Afghanistan, is a formidable character and larger than life personality.  Tom (30) is a very exciting appointment for the school and I have no doubt that his firm, yet easy manner with the boys will mean that they will take to him instantly.

Ashley Rich will be joining us as a full time Art Technician and Games Teacher.  In the morning, Ashley will assist Mr Meyer in further developing the Art Department and in the afternoon form part of the Games staff.  Ashley has worked at a number of schools and has exhibited his own artwork in various galleries around London.  He is a super chap and, whilst you will all agree that Mr Meyer continues to work wonders within the Art Department, Ashley will help him take us to the next level!

A school that stands still and rests on its laurels or is complacent with success is not an institution that any of us wants to be part of.  ‘Better never stops’ and with every year and every term, we improve and move forward. 

Have a great Easter holiday!

 

25 March

Dear Parents,

 As our 1st and 2nd XV embarked on their Rugby Tour to Paris this morning, it was timely to hear some very encouraging news from the Prime Minister regarding increasing the profile of sport in this country’s schools.   More money is to be put into the teaching of sport to children and this can only be a good thing as we look to build on the success of the Olympics.  Mr Cameron is right when he says that it is more important to invest in good coaches rather than improved facilities.   It’s all well and good building a state of the art running track but if you have no-one to teach sprinting or distance running, there is little point.  People often remark that the selling off of school playing fields has been detrimental to school sport over the last quarter of a century but, whilst we would all like to work and be schooled amongst acres of playing fields, the fact is that a lot of space was being wasted in urban schools, that could be put to good use.   We do not have one blade of grass here yet our Year 4 football team won the tournament at Falcons last Friday.  At my prep school, we had one pitch on a huge slope and only 18 boys in the year group.  Even so, the 1st XI were national prep school champions two years in a row – nothing to do with me, I didn’t make the team (!) – but it was down to the coaching brilliance, determination and will to win of the Games Master, Mr Gordon Davies.  I wonder where he is now?

What has been missed, however, is the importance of club sport.  Though boarding schools have plenty of time in the week to develop and coach teams and individuals, day prep and state schools can only do so much with the time allowed.  My two boys play rugby on Sunday morning at our local club and benefit from the dedicated coaching and relentless fixtures against other club sides.   The coaches are all volunteers and, although one is a school games teacher, the rest are just enthusiasts who would have been lost to the education of young people were the club not to exist.  This club, however, struggles to keep going financially and relies on numerous fundraising activities all year round.  If the government could help out clubs like these, I am sure it would prove more beneficial for national sport.  Two years ago, when the 1st and 2nd XV toured the towns around Biarritz, I was struck by how strong sport in the community was in the area.  The rugby club was the focal point of the town and everyone came out to watch, play or simply socialise.   The town’s club had mini, junior, senior, women and veteran sections and everyone was involved in some capacity.  Whilst I will always champion school sport, it is only with investment in sporting centres such as these that sporting excellence and sport as the basis for a stronger community, will ever truly be realised.

 

Have a good weekend,

18 March

Dear Parents,

 Thank you for your birthday wishes this week.  Yes, the rumours are correct: I was 40 on Tuesday, although the ‘Good Schools’ Guide’ still lists me as ‘late thirties’ so I’m going with that until the inevitable edit occurs in the future. This week is a busy one for birthdays at Wetherby Prep – mine on the 12th, Mrs Rossi’s on the 14th, Hal’s today and Miss Heydon’s on Sunday – lots to celebrate!

 I have always marked my birthday and even more so this year when we had a great party in the school last Saturday.  I’m not particularly eager to be the centre of attention but I just think it’s a great excuse to get people together.  There were friends that I hadn’t seen for many years and a number that I went to prep school with thirty years ago.  I wonder how many of our boys will be inviting old Wetherby friends to their 40th celebrations in years to come – lots I hope.   The sign of a good friendship is simply picking up where you left off, regardless of the time, and enjoying the company of one another as you did before.  It would take far too long to go through everything that one’s experienced over recent years so plenty of reminiscing and then lots of jokes and laughter should be fine until the next time!

 Those of you who attended Quiz Night will recall that a good way to remember the land outline of Denmark is to recognise that it looks a bit like the profile of Tintin’s head as if he were looking to the east.  On a similar geographical note, I enjoyed this photograph that was sent to me this week by my mother whilst on holiday. She says that she can see ‘Snowy’ in the clouds – I can see exactly what she means! 

Have a good weekend,

 

11 March

Dear Parents,

Thank you to all those parents and staff for coming to Quiz Night yesterday evening.  I think we all agree it was a tremendously fun evening and everyone got into the spirit and unique character of a Wetherby Prep Quiz event.  That was the sixth Quiz we have hosted and there were parents there last night who are veterans of all six!  I’m quite sure I must be repeating some of the questions by now and it is so difficult to create perfect quiz questions.  I love a good quiz but I think it is very frustrating if it is too difficult or, conversely, too easy.  There is a ‘science’ to a successful quiz.  Variety and creativity is one thing, which is why we involve your children in so much of it, but the content of the questions is so important too.  The best questions are either the ones that you know, but can’t recall, or ones that everyone can make an educated guess at.  Last night we had, ‘How long to the nearest mile is the M25 motorway?’, for example. That, for me, is a great quiz question.  No-one, surely, knows the answer to that (apologies to anyone who does!) but male, female, young and old can all have a go… (117 miles, by the way).    Every team last night was within 20 marks of each other and the winning margin was 1.5 points: pretty good going!

I always think of this school as a very sociable place anyway and the camaraderie amongst our staff makes for a very personable and amiable atmosphere in and out of the building.  This, I know, is reflected in our parent body and I have always thought that Wetherby parents make our school what it is, as much as Wetherby boys and Wetherby teachers or supporting staff.   There is no better event to celebrate this than the Summer Ball.  The inaugural event was two years ago and we still talk about it with fondness.  250 attended last time and it would be fantastic if we had close to 400 this year, with as many as possible of our community in attendance.  Please put Friday, 14th June in your diaries and apply for tickets using the form attached to this edition of ‘Wetherbuzz’.

Have a good weekend,

 

4 March

Dear Parents,

I hope everyone had a restful half term.  The Bakers stayed in Bucks and, whilst I was a bit jealous of my sister’s daily, gloating emails from Mauritius, it was good to just be at one with the family and get a few jobs done!  At least, that’s what we kept telling ourselves…

During Wednesday’s Hyde Park session this week, many boys took off their blazers, as they were getting too hot, so I am officially declaring the end of winter and we can now look forward to the second half of term with no fixture cancellations and children not returning home with uniforms coated in mud.  Lots to look forward to, in what is a relatively short half of term, and the longer days put a smile on everybody’s face, regardless. 

It was particularly exciting on Tuesday, as we launched online sales for the Quiz Night.  I imagine it was like ‘One Direction’ tickets at the O2, as they sold extremely quickly and, at the time of writing, we only have 7 left.  Please log on to our website and snap up those final tickets, as this is always a great night and a lot of fun.  As ever, our boys will form the basis of questions, although knowing their identities will only form a part of the answers, in a ‘bonus point’ sense. I have taken on board parental feedback, in this respect, otherwise it would just be too hard, now that we are a school of 300!

Right, that’s enough from me.  I’m off to enjoy a pint of Guinness with the Year 6 dads in preparation for the Blackrock Tournament tomorrow, which should be a great day for our Year 6 Team and a fantastic event for the fathers. Look out, Dublin!

Have a good weekend,

 

25 February

Dear Parents,

What a fun week that was: Parents’ Evenings, a trip to Verulamium, various fixtures, Inter-House Cross Country, culminating in today’s inaugural ‘Staff Appreciation Day’.  I must admit that, when Mr Billingham approached me last term to propose a Cross Country event, I shuddered at the idea of the whole school in such a public place in the middle of winter, but it was an absolute triumph.  Thank you to Mr Billingham and the Games Staff for orchestrating the event and to our ever-reliable army of willing parents for marshalling and providing such an array of ‘post-race refreshment’.    Our Citizen and Sportsman of the Week boys are below but, if we did have an award for ‘Parent Sportsman of the Week’,  I would be awarding this to  Carlos de Abajo (Senior) who ran around our track about a dozen times yesterday and was still fresh faced at the end of the afternoon!

There were many creditable performances, particularly from Pedro de Abajo, Alex Williams, Romeo Beckham and Bruce Hill, who all won their respective age groups, but I would like to applaud the attitude of all.  Every boy finished the course – some even in their school uniform having forgotten their kit!  This came in a week where Ofsted have accused teachers, in over a quarter of the country’s schools, of taking the “physical” out of physical education by talking too much in lessons and not involving children in enough strenuous activity to build up their stamina or strength.  Though we have been forced off Games twice this term, thanks to overzealous local authorities, I am so proud of our boys who, day in and day out, participate in Games, whatever the weather.  On Monday, when it was particularly cold, a number of boys understandably retreated to the warmth of the bus, after a shorter than usual lesson, but a significant number of hardy souls continued to participate - good attitude!  We row on the Thames all year round and, as I write this, over 60 children of all age groups are participating in their third Games session of the week.   One of the most amusing and reassuring comments that I had from a prospective parent a few years ago was that we did, “too much sport”. I was tempted to put that as the strapline on our website!

Today’s inaugural Staff Appreciation Day has been such a fun and worthwhile event.  There has been a really positive and excitement-filled atmosphere in the building today and it just confirms the value of positive reinforcement.  Your children were fantastic this morning, with their comments on their form teachers.  Many of you have contacted me today to get a transcript but I did not help with any of the poems or prose.  We would love to have them though and distribute them for all to see, so if any parent of a boy who spoke this morning would email me a copy, I would appreciate it.  Your kindness with the breakfast, gifts, balloons, flowers, Wetherby themed cupcakes, cookies and the espresso machine in the staff kitchen is truly remarkable and  I have not even started on the ‘goodie bag’ yet!  You really are the most generous, supportive and loyal parents that a school staff could wish for and, as a school, we are all the better for it.  On behalf of our brilliant staff, thank you.

Have a good Half Term,

 

11 February

Dear Parents,

Having spoken to many of you this year, the urge of many of our boys to play interactive computer games at home is becoming a significant problem.  As a boy, I too enjoyed video games and in particular copying out page after page of code into my ZX Spectrum.  I soon got bored though and the only extended fun derived from ‘two player’ games when I could play against my brother or friends.   This would last about 15 minutes before we stopped playing and spent hours outside, designing our own ‘Kick Start’ courses for our BMX.

‘Clash of Clans’ and ‘Minecraft’ appear to be the favourites at the moment and I share your concern that the boys are spending far too long playing silently online and alone.  If we put the security angle to one side, so much screen-time cannot be beneficial to the children’s eyesight and general well-being.  I spoke in Assembly this morning about the ‘art of conversation’.  There is no more important life skill that being able to hold a conversation. It will get one further than any qualification can ever hope to do.    I feel that the boys are in danger of not developing this art if they spend so long clicking and typing at the clear expense of spending less time conversing with you and their brothers and sisters.  One of the biggest contradictions and examples of this for me is the acronym ‘lol’ or ‘laugh out loud’.  I don’t think I have ever laughed out loud at something I have read and, though as a nation we are conditioned not to speak to anyone on public transport, buses and trains are quite evidently not awash with laughter at people reading messages on their devices.   I could, though, have tears in my eyes when told a funny joke or story in the company of others.  There is something about direct human interaction that stirs emotions that the written word cannot.  Staring at a screen all night cannot be that fulfilling.

I think that computer games should be played at weekends only.  If you would like to reinforce this message at home, please feel free to use me as the reason and I will happily talk it through with your son at school. They might not like it but in years to come they will thank us for it.

Have a good weekend,

 

28 January

Dear Parents,

Interesting comments this week from the Rt. Hon. Nick Clegg, entertaining the option of sending his children to a private school.   Westminster educated Mr Clegg is well aware of the benefits of private education but it is always a tricky one for politicians, when they no doubt feel so compelled to support state education.  Having been educated in and worked in state schools, there is plenty of excellent practice and hundreds of excellent schools out there but the fact remains that if their educational provision was strong across the board, private schools would not exist.   

 Private education should be a ‘push’ and not a ‘pull’. My parents took me out of my state school in Year 3 as my dad spotted some maths work on the wall in my classroom, whilst attending a parents’ evening, that had been incorrectly marked.  This, compounded with some vague comments about my ‘progress’ that evening, meant that I was taken to a completely new environment within two weeks.   My mother says that, within a term, my handwriting had improved, my speech was less slovenly and I started to read (albeit Tintin) books.   I was taught how to play football, represented the school team even though I was pretty rubbish, joined the Choir and read out a poem in Assembly.    Academically, I passed my 12 plus to get into the local state grammar school. My parents never wavered from the view that private school was the best money they ever spent. 

 Resources in state schools are pretty good these days and the technology will rival the best senior schools.  Resources are irrelevant though without top-quality staff to work with them and it is here where state schools, particularly in expensive urban areas like London, just cannot compete, when excellent teachers are so thin on the ground.  I hope that no-one makes political capital if he and his wife decide to send their children private.  They are only trying to do what we all, as parents, try to do and that is make the very best provision we can for our children.   

Have a good weekend,

 

21 January

Dear Parents,

 No closures for us today.  I was disappointed that our fixtures did not go ahead but was very proud to welcome the boys back from ‘Outdoor Sports Club’, which ran as usual this afternoon in what was a normal school day at Wetherby Prep.

We have only been back for two weeks but it seems longer as the boys and staff get back into the rhythm of the school so easily.   I’m not one for New Year Resolutions but, as teachers, we always reflect on things that went well, or less well, over the previous year and look to improve our practice in the year to come.  The boys can look to the many comments and targets in their reports for ways to develop their academic performance for this term.  With this in mind, we are consciously less liberal with ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades in the early part of the year to give scope for improvement and something for the boys strive for.  My younger son, Joseph, told me the other day that he wants to be, “the goodest boy in Reception”.  According to him, he has three stars and the next best only has two, so he is well on his way to the magic ‘ten stars’ needed to go and see the Headmaster.  Good resolution, Joseph! I will, of course, let you know if he makes it…

Have a good weekend,

 

14 January

Dear Parents,

Happy New Year!

I do hope that everyone had a restful and enjoyable holiday.  The Bakers stayed at home and Patrick and Joseph were suitably beside themselves with excitement throughout the entire period.   Probably the biggest 'hits' present-wise were Star Wars ‘Lightsabers’ - amazing that I used to duel with these when I was their age, although the 'hi-tech' ones the boys play with now are far better than the makeshift ones my brother and I used to make out of wrapping paper tubes!

Lots to look forward to, as always, this term but of immediate concern for many boys in Years 6 and 8 will be the impending senior school assessments.  Good luck, boys – stay calm, do your best and make sure you read the question! I am sure that you will all do yourselves proud.

Have a good weekend,

 

13 December

Dear Parents,

On behalf of the entire staff, thank you for all your kind gifts and cards over the past week.  Undoubtedly, we have the most generous, benevolent and supportive parents. You make the school what it is today.

This has been an extremely enjoyable and exciting term.  I love this job anyway but I think I have laughed and smiled more this term than any other, as there have been so many different things that make working here so interesting and vibrant.  Although we have had some pretty impressive accolades this term, we will always ‘keep our feet firmly planted on the ground’ and never get ahead of ourselves.  We are what we are and what we always have been: a communicative, friendly, family school that tries everything possible to do the best for its boys.

My thanks, as ever, to our fantastically committed, creative and talented staff.   They all take immense pride in, what everyone connected with Wetherby Prep feels is very much ‘our’ school and work so hard to give our boys the best possible school experiences.  ‘Headmastering’ is a very easy job when you have so many great people working with you.

The boys have surpassed themselves this term.  Their good humour and enthusiasm for their school is there for all to see and is always commented upon, whenever we have visitors to the school.  Thank you for your industry this term, boys. Everyone has achieved something and you should all be proud of your efforts. 

Have a great holiday and I look forward to seeing you in 2013.

 

7 December

Dear Parents,

Thank you to those of you who attended Wednesday’s Nativity Play.  It was a lovely production and the boy's performances, both in their speaking and singing, was tremendous.  That is a big church to make a noise in and the boys rose to the occasion superbly.  Full marks for the costumes too! 

As I mentioned in my address, Joseph was a ‘Star’ again in his Nativity (long time readers of my missive will know he is always a ‘Star’) – please see gratuitous photo below. His outfit, though, was as nothing compared to our Year 3 ‘Stars’ on Wednesday.  Joseph performed his dance actions very well and seemed to know the words to all the songs but probably my proudest moment was this note in his school’s newsletter last week, under ‘Headmaster’s Commendations’: “Joseph Baker (Rec O) for outstanding behaviour throughout the week’s events.” What a great way to end the term for the Baker family!

Whilst we are in the spirit of showing off, I encourage you all to buy this month’s edition of Tatler magazine.  There is some excellent boasting to be had from the full page spread on page 146. My mother and Brigid have bought several copies!

Have a good weekend,

30 November

Dear Parents,

My younger son, Joseph, has had a wholly positive start to school this term but this week, out of nowhere, he said to me, “I don’t like school anymore.”  When I asked why, he replied, “because everyone keeps saying I have a snotty nose.”  Poor boy and slightly poor parenting in that we hadn’t sent him in with a handkerchief!  Everything was fine the next day but it just goes to show what a negative effect other children can cause with hurtful words.  I do not think for a moment that Joseph was the victim of bullying here and actually it was a statement of fact, but it just serves as a reminder of how something which, at the time, is said as no more than a flippant comment can be remembered for years to come. 

There are, unfortunately, times when children are deliberately hurtful to others but for the most part, children say things entirely innocently, not appreciating their impact. Schools, have a responsibility to educate children socially as well as academically.  As a result, our pupils grow into the fine young gentlemen who leave us in Year 8 but, as all of us do in adult life I suspect, cringe at some of the things said and ways acted at a younger age.

Thank you to everyone who attended last Friday’s party.  It was just as good as we expected it to be and the spirit, energy and positivity in the room was there for all to experience.  I loved the effort that everyone had made to get into the spirit of ‘silver and red’ and I still have my Wetherby bow tie. Thank you, Year 8 parents, for such a thoughtful gesture.   Many of you commented to me on the night and in subsequent communications, that there are few schools that would be happy to stage such an event and even fewer still that could pull it off so successfully. I am glad we are in that minority!  The venue, food, drink and entertainment were superb and the fact that teachers and parents can come together and genuinely enjoy each other’s company says all that you need to know about the spirit and ethos of our School and its parent community.

Have a good weekend,

23 November

Dear Parents,

Some of you will have seen an article in yesterday’s ‘Metro’ about a school in Ipswich hiring people to proofread reports.  The angle was that the staff were so illiterate that their copy needed to be corrected by contracted professionals. I doubt that this was the intention of the Headteacher.  He or she will likely have recognised what a time-consuming business it is checking so many individual reports and, with hundreds of entries, mistakes, mostly ‘typos’, are almost inevitable.  I can understand why that school decided to choose this option, although it seems like a chronic waste of money to me.  Our management team is more than capable of proofing our reports and, further, values reading about our boys’ progress.

It raises the question though, as to the purpose and impact of reports.  At this time of year, for schools across the country, the normal work of a teacher - planning, teaching and marking - takes a back seat as staff prioritise writing, in many instances, hundreds of reports.  I often question whether these justify the sacrifices made elsewhere and, whilst we will always have a written report at the end of this and the final term, we have attempted to ‘streamline’ the process for December.  Our aim has been to find an appropriate balance between the normal teaching workload and more concise commentary, which parents and boys will find genuinely useful.   Every now and again, when I am searching for a past document, I stumble across my old school reports (on one side of A4) and they make for interesting and nostalgic reading!  I will be pleased to hear feedback on our ‘revised’ reports for the Autumn Term, which you will receive in due course.

Excitement is building for our party tonight.  With the best looking and most fun parents in London, it cannot fail to be anything other than a memorable occasion!

Have a good weekend and see you on the dance floor later on!

16 November

Dear Parents,

With the onset of the cold weather and the various bugs going around, I am very proud of the fact that though we have had the usual absence for courses and trips, we have had full attendance from the staff this term – believe me, for a school, this is practically unheard of.  Though this for me is another example of our staff’s superhuman qualities, the expectation should be that for staff and children, there will be times when they are too unwell to come to school.   If this is the case for your son, we will not send work home for him to complete or expect him to keep up to date with homework.  If he is too poorly to come to school, he is too poorly to work and the most important thing is that he recovers.  Please do not ask Miss Hodgson to arrange for work to be sent home or to be collected.  Tuck your son up in bed, make him a Lemsip and let him fully recover – coming to this school requires a lot of energy!

I hope everyone is looking forward to next week’s party.  Something red or silver about your person is compulsory as is the wearing of dancing shoes.  Please make a note of the details below regarding transport – we have over 25 staff and 250 parents attending – should be a fun and memorable night out!

9 November

Dear Parents,

For a busy school, that was a busy week - with mouth guard fittings, head lice checks, whole year group fixtures, trips out, chess competitions, rehearsals, a writer’s workshop and our Remembrance Assembly, as well as the normal timetable and the fleeting return of Mr Johnson, last year’s Gap Student. It tested even our slick logistics to the limit!   Miss Hodgson’s Reception resembled Piccadilly Circus at times but everything passed off smoothly and it was another successful Wetherby Prep week.

Thank you to all the parents who attended our Remembrance Assembly this morning.  It is great to see such a packed congregation every week and, as a parent, I am so glad that you can share in your son’s achievements. I know they love having you there when their name is read out.  Though my grandfathers were not directly involved in any action during the Second World War, my grandfather on my father’s side was one of the main draughtsmen of the Mosquito combat aircraft.  He died many years ago and, in hindsight, I wish I had paid more attention to the many stories he used to regale about wartime Britain and the work of de Havilland in the war effort.  He was a very clever man and clearly a brilliant aeronautical engineer.  He later went on to design the wings on Concorde but again, they were more stories that fell deaf on the ears of his eldest grandson who was more interested seeing how easy it was to cut a piece of celery on a Meccano motor or play on his ZX Spectrum.  As a message to all of our boys, we can learn a lot from our history as a nation in school but also from history within the family. See what you can find out from the past over the next few weeks by asking a few searching questions of your relations.

Have a good weekend,

2 November

Dear Parents,

I hope everyone had a restful Half Term.  Brig, the boys and I travelled to Whitby to see the in-laws and we seem to have brought the perishing conditions back with us.   It was snowing as we crossed the North Yorkshire Moors and the gentler autumnal conditions seem to be well and truly over as we now speed into winter.  Please ensure the boys wear coats and/or blazers to school, particularly as we will continue to go to Hyde Park every day unless the rain is torrential.

It’s always nice to be able to do a bit of showing off in front of one’s father in law so when I received an email from a parent on Saturday morning, saying that we were mentioned in that morning’s Times newspaper, I quickly ran out to get a copy.  I know many of you saw it but, if not, a copy is below.  It was a general piece about 7+ applications to prep school but I was immensely proud for ours to be the only school illustrated that does not feed one particular senior school directly.  There are a few inaccuracies, not least the picture of the pre-prep and our location reported as Mayfair. You’ll see they also have Colet Court as being in Westminster but we’ll certainly take the free publicity!

There seems to be a bit of a furore in the press this week regarding teachers’ alleged ‘over marking’ of GCSE English coursework to improve final grades.  The teaching community strongly denies this and I have no reason to doubt them but I do think that there may be a general problem of expectations being too low for high attainers.   I am a strong believer in a 50% average for our assessments and, whilst I was delighted to hear news of our past leavers achieving straight A and A* at GCSE this summer, I do ask myself whether the exams are difficult enough to provide scope for a meaningful signifier of excellence.  Common Entrance does not escape this either. Every year, our old friend Mr Keighley-Elstub used to read the History CE paper and shake his head saying it was ‘too easy’ for our boys.  High expectations are the way forward!

 

17 October

Dear Parents,

The more I do this job, the quicker the terms pass by – I can’t believe we are already halfway through the Autumn Term.  I am delighted that the new children and families to the school have settled in so well. 

A question I get a lot, particularly from new parents, is what is ‘par’ for Housepoints and Headmaster’s Good Shows.  As a general rule of thumb, we would expect all children to get a Bronze Certificate (100 Housepoints) over the course of the year and the vast majority to get Silver (200 Housepoints).  Around half the school will get their Gold Award (300 Housepoints) and because of this we had to quickly invent the Platinum Award for 400 Housepoints last year.    Headmaster’s Good Shows are given out less liberally than Housepoints, however, over 60 children were listed in last Friday’s Wetherbuzz so they are still pretty achievable.  I have been ‘meaner’ with ‘Silver’ and ‘Gold’ this term but the overall number has not changed.  One of the things I love about this school is that rewards such as Housepoints and HMGS have real currency.  The children like to earn them and receive them, particularly as you get the triple recognition from me in my office, in Friday’s Assembly and in the Wetherbuzz.   I know from speaking to many of you that you set your own targets for Housepoints and HMGS with your children and there are many, friendly ‘sibling contests’ – all great to hear!

Have a good Half Term.  We (staff, parents and boys) have worked very hard this term and everyone needs a holiday!

 

12 October

Dear Parents,

It was good to see the 3H, 4H and 4R parents on Wednesday evening.  As I always say, there should be no real ‘news’ at Parents’ Evenings, as anything important will have been communicated previously but it is always helpful to meet in person, particularly with new parents.  I was pleased to hear a number of you reporting so favourably on the quality of communication here at Wetherby Prep and how different it is to other schools they know of.  Some independent schools still need to develop a genuine sense of a ‘customer and service provider’ relationship by the sound of things. It surprises me that a somewhat old-fashioned distance between parent and school is considered effective when parental dialogue is so central to helping a child mature, be content and progress academically.

I was on the other side of the table last night at Patrick and Joseph’s Parents’ Evening.  I found myself hanging on every word the teacher said, hungry for even the smallest snippet of information relating to academic progress and, most importantly, whether they are happy in school.  Fortunately, both are doing really well and I was particularly pleased with Patrick’s positive Maths report as, ever the critical parent, I didn’t think he was very good with his numbers!

 

5 October

Dear Parents,

When I wrote my message last week regarding the Ryder Cup, I had no idea that it would end up with such excitement.  That was sporting drama at its most extreme and I just cannot imagine the kind of mental strength it takes for someone like Martin Kaymer to hole that last putt.  It was really quite remarkable and, although many commentators have subsequently said that it will never be that close or exciting again, you just know that it will be – it is that kind of tournament.

I often remark that, save for the website and prospectus, we do not actively market the school at all.  We do, however, have an annual Open Evening and last night we welcomed over 400 parents and 200 boys to the building.  The premises speak for themselves but the real stars of the evening were the Year 8 boys who toured parents and spoke so eloquently, effusively and enthusiastically about their school.  They did a fantastic job and it was a joy to hear so many positive comments regarding their composure and conduct.   We were also able to showcase our new photographs that are now displayed around the school - a number of which are below.  Sometimes it is difficult to convey to prospective parents the number and variety of sports we offer but these tremendous pictures do so perfectly. 

 

28 September

Dear Parents,

I have been to every school to which we send boys over the past five years and, whilst they will all provide your son with an excellent education, they are different in many ways.  This is undoubtedly the case with Rugby School that I visited this week.  Rugby is one of the oldest and most famous public schools in the UK and was the recipient of the ‘Tatler Senior School of the Year Award’ a few years ago (must be good then!)  Our parents never mention it as a prospective school but, as Rugby has provided us with the brilliant Miss Martin this term, I went on a ‘fact finding’ mission this week. 

I can confidently say that it is amongst the most impressive schools that I have ever visited.  The sense of history about the place invites enquiry from every corner but it is the welcome from the staff and the behaviour of the children that is so outstanding.  Their courtesy, good manners and clear pride in their school was evident in every hall, room and corridor.  Rugby School really should be on our exit list every year.  I urge any parent thinking of choosing a boarding-school for their son to visit.

After the excitement of the Olympics and Watford’s ‘average’ start to the football season, it is time for one of my favourite events on the sporting calendar.  A bit like famous historical occasions, I can remember where I was for every Ryder Cup of the last twenty years.  I cannot put my finger on why it is so special – maybe the team aspect in what is essentially an individual sport, maybe the lack of prize money, maybe the emotion yet friendship in such a hotly contested competition. All I know is that on the closing day of the 2002 tournament at the Belfry, my friends and I had to miss our flight back to the UK from a wedding in Spain, such was the un-missable aspect of the final day’s competition.  Go Europe!

24 September

Dear Parents,

As mentioned last week, I am delighted and excited to announce that a "Celebration Party" has been organised for Friday 23rd November.  This will be held at Stoke Place, Stoke Poges, only a short journey from central London. Transport to and from the venue will be provided for all those who would prefer not to travel independently. Wetherby Prep parents always know how to enjoy themselves and this is a great opportunity for us to celebrate our school's achievements in a beautiful setting, with good food, fine wine and, of course, plenty of dancing. Just to add a further theme to the evening, everyone is asked to wear something red and/or grey about their person to set off the glamour!

 On a more academic note, our Senior School Curriculum Forum evening is this Wednesday at 7pm and all Senior School parents are encouraged to attend. I will outline the Senior School curriculum, Common Entrance examination, the nuances of applying to senior schools throughout Years Six, Seven and Eight, scholarships, clubs, trips, sporting fixtures and expectations of boys in the Senior School in general.  The Senior Management Team will be on the 'top table', as it were, and all Heads of Department will be present to answer subject-specific questions.  As always, the value of these events is enhanced greatly by plenty of questions from parents, so please feel free to ask whatever it is that you need to know!  I look forward to seeing you there.

Have a good weekend.

17 September

Dear Parents,

What a fantastic week that was – move over ‘Super Saturday’, we now have our own ‘Terrific Tuesday!’

Thank you for all your kind words and messages this week.  I did start replying to you all but with so many coming in, Helen and I just couldn’t keep on top of them!  I have printed all the emails and posted them on the staffroom wall – it is quite a sight.  Messages came in not only from our current parent body but also from past parents, pupils, registrars, heads and many others connected to the School.   We all feel very proud and I was delighted to walk into Assembly with our Trophy this morning.  We have been working on the party venue and date over the past two days and hopefully will be in a position to announce this early next week.  ‘Better never stops’ and we certainly do not congratulate ourselves, sit back and become complacent – we try even harder to continue to improve and get even better.  There are many parts of the school that we can refine and I look forward to introducing a number of new initiatives over the coming months.

A few of you have asked what it was specifically that won us the award and there isn’t anything really that we have done.  Speaking to the Tatler editorial team on Tuesday they simply said that, “every parent and every pre-prep, prep and senior school is talking about Wetherby Prep – we just couldn’t ignore it.”  

Fair enough!

Have a good weekend and raise a glass to your brilliant school and all who make it so – I certainly will!

 

7 September 2012

Great to be back!

That was a truly memorable summer!  I thought the Olympics was a logistical triumph for London and the UK as a whole and gave such a brilliant impression of everything that is great about this country.  If I worked for LOCOG, I would suggest that The Queen or the Prime Minister interrupts Sebastian Coe’s closing speech on Sunday to award him a Gold Medal – he deserves one as that has really been some achievement for him personally.  The Bakers went to canoe slalom at Lee Valley, rowing at Eton Dorney and basketball in the Olympic Park.  All good fun and great to be part of it all.  I don’t know how much Patrick and Joseph will remember ‘London 2012’ but I have the photos so they can say to their children and grandchildren, “I was there!”

We have amended the timetable slightly this year.  Whereas before we took break at 11am (this was due to a Seymour Leisure Centre booking we rarely used) this will now take place at 1-2pm.  Even from just yesterday, it appears that this is better for the structure of the school day as it lengthens the more productive ‘morning’ and takes away the disruption of children leaving and returning to the building so early in the school day.  Apart from that, we are as before though we welcome a few new staff to the school.  Miss Deborah Kroiter, Miss Ellie Martin and Miss Emily Smith have all settled in well on the teaching staff, as have Ed Brown, Hector Butler, William Ingleby and Caspar Mould (whom some of you may remember as a pre-prep boy) as Gap Students.  I know you will make them all welcome in our school.

Probably the biggest news is that, as of yesterday, the ISI report is now available to parents.   We have arranged for this to be printed and stapled and will be sending it next week.  Please read and enjoy the report.  It makes excellent reading in every way.  Whilst not wanting to tell you the present before you’ve opened it, this comment sums up the entire report.

“Parents are highly supportive of the school. Their responses to the parental questionnaires indicate that they are extremely satisfied with the education their children receive and the approach of the headmaster and his staff. They are particularly pleased with extra-curricular clubs and the Friday activity programme, the management of the school and the quality of communication. These exceptionally positive views are fully supported by inspection findings.”  Wetherby Prep School ISI Report May 2012

Calendar Cards were sent home with the boys yesterday.  If yours was ‘left on the bus’ and didn’t make it home, please get in touch with Helen and she will send you another copy.  For new parents, this Wetherbuzz is the most up to date diary of the school and is emailed every Friday evening.  Many print and stick the front page to the fridge or kitchen noticeboard on a weekly basis.  Please look out for any bolded or highlighted items on that front page as these will be changes or additions to entries in the Calendar Card.   The Wetherbuzz is to be read and enjoyed by parents and boys of the school but many past parents and boys still read it.  As one parent wrote to me yesterday, whilst driving her son (Year 8 last year) to his first day at boarding school this week, he remarked, “Please will you forward the Wetherbuzz to me on Fridays?”  That says everything you need to know about our school!

Have a good weekend,