7 October 2016
Those here last year might recall in this column my success at finding the ‘Cholesbury Dinosaurs’. The point of the article (I think!) was that, even after 10 years, there are always things in our immediate localities that surprise us. I took this a stage further last weekend, when Joseph and I took what I thought would be a canny short cut to his friend’s house; it wasn’t and we ended up going at least a mile out of our way – and stumbled across a whole field of alpacas! Who would have thought that you would find a whole herd of these very elegant South American beasts in homely Buckinghamshire!
As the term progresses at both Schools, ‘Conference Week’ last week turns into ‘Open Day Week’ this, with the Prep School last night and Senior School tomorrow. Last night was extremely busy and you could tell from the faces of parents and boys how impressed they were with the school and in particular, the boys as their tour guides. They really are our best ambassadors and ‘sell’ the School in their own unique fashion. Much will be the same of course with the Senior School staff and boys.
We also start to enter ‘Parents’ Evening Season’. You are, of course, welcome to interact with us whenever and we put all email addresses in the front of the Calendar Card for exactly this reason but Parents’ Evenings are always an excellent opportunity to put a name to a face and have a fulsome conversation about a boy’s progress. I always like to think of myself as being well behaved and hard working at school and, in the main, I was but there was one Parents’ Evening which, unfortunately, fell just two days after I had got caught ‘breakdancing’ in the Hall with my friends, when I should have been at prep. Not the biggest crime in the world but I remember being extremely worried waiting for my parents to come home that night after seeing my teachers and my mum duly came straight up and uttered the immortal words, “Well I thought you were a good boy, Nicky. How wrong I was.” The shame of it and something that has always stuck with me. I never did any breakdancing ever again.
Have a good weekend,
30 September 2016
A news story that made me smile this week was TFL’s new ‘Tube Chat’ initiative, an attempt to promote conversation on the London Underground. Passengers are encouraged to take a free ‘Tube Chat?’ badge to show that they are ready to engage in conversation with others on the tube. The project has been a resounding failure with only a tiny minority taking and wearing a badge, so does this make Londoners a miserable, antisocial bunch with no skills in the art of conversation? I don’t think so.
Having lived, studied and worked in London for most of my life, I think that this is a really sociable place. It does though, have its idiosyncrasies. One of these, fiercely protected by all, is the unwritten law that one must not converse on public transport. It’s always been that way; everyone’s used to it; everyone accepts it. Nothing wrong with that at all. Outside the Tube though, in coffee shops, pubs, bars and restaurants and it’s vibrant with the hubbub of people talking. The art of conversation in London is alive and well and certainly something we encourage at Wetherby, as anyone who has ridden on any of our buses, sat in the Dining Hall or walked the corridors in between lessons, will know. Our boys are truly talented at it!
TFL’s initiative has its roots in a sense of respect for others though. In that too, our boys are able ambassadors. A truly memorable occasion took place on Tuesday night, with the Memorial Service for our very own Marcos Burnett, a boy who had absolutely perfected the art of generous conversation and the ability to socialise and interact with people of all ages. This was always going to be an emotional evening but, as I said that night, we did Marcos proud, the whole Wetherby staff, parent and boy community coming together with Simon, Anne Louise and our one honorary ‘Wetherby girl’, Adriana Burnett, to celebrate his life and joyous impact on us all. We will never forget you, Marcos; you will always be one of us...
23 September 2016
As I wrote last week, with elder son Patrick at a rugby tournament in Bloxham (what a lovely school that is by the way…) on Sunday morning, I went to ‘radio silence’ on my ‘phone and in the car on the journey home as Patrick and I wanted to watch the Watford v Man Utd game ‘as live’ when we got home. We got back about 2pm, just after the match had finished and, with hands over our ears, turned straight to the Sky Planner to watch the match from the start.
And then, younger son Joseph appeared, smiling…wearing his Watford shirt…and started to dance gleefully around the television as if he had discretely preserved the best-kept secret in the world. I had to work quite hard to maintain my sang-froid after he announced, “I’m not going to tell you the final score but I know you’ll be happy at half-time...” How many ramifications could be read into that?! Anyway, we banished Joseph upstairs and settled down to, somewhat now inevitably, enjoy Etienne Capoue’s goal as Watford finished the first half 1-0 up. By this time, it was all too much for Patrick, who had to go upstairs and find out the final score; all of a sudden, he’d changed out of his rugby kit, straight into his Watford shirt. All sense of anticipation was over!
It didn’t really matter though, as we celebrated what was such a memorable win, made even sweeter when I eventually turned my phone back on to countless messages from friends and many members of the Wetherby community. What a great day for all of us Wetherby Watford fans.
A great week too, for both schools, as we welcomed all of our new parents on Tuesday. It was so good to see you and hear how well your boys have settled into Wetherby Prep and Senior respectively. The warmth of feeling, transparency and communication between parents and teachers is something that has always been evident at our schools and clearly this is set to continue if Tuesday night is anything to go by. You are all very welcome to our Wetherby Family.
Have a good weekend,
16 September 2016
Lots of talk in the media this week about grammar schools and, as a former grammar school boy myself as well as a parent whose son sat the Buckinghamshire 11+ exams yesterday in the hope of following his father to the same school, I am bound to have a view on this subject which I cannot resist sharing!
Grammar schools up and down the country are fantastic institutions. They are rather like non fee-paying private schools with a similar ethos and sense of tradition but with somewhat fewer clubs and sports and a shorter student day. There, you will find facilities of private school standards, excellent teachers, thoroughly versed in their subjects, dynamic school leaders and pupils with a solid commitment to scholarly progress. As with any academically selective school, the ability to distinguish one's self as a pupil is that more challenging, as everyone is clever and I have previously confessed the story of my coming bottom of the class with my first Maths homework at grammar school, scoring ‘just’ 17/20 on an algebra test (with the 29 other boys in the class getting 20/20). Having said that, I loved my school days and it was my experience at Dr Challoner’s in Amersham, along with my father’s lecturing background, that lead me into the teaching profession.
So the Government proposing more grammar schools is a great idea surely? My principal reservation is that of staffing. Grammar schools create a two tier system in a given county, based on pupil ability, three if the private system is included. There is a valid argument that the class contributions of brighter children, together with academic peer support bring on the marginally less able but those towards the mid and lower end of the academic range require a different approach to meet their needs. Some of the best teachers I have met and worked with are those who work with less able children. They offer a demonstrably structured, teacher-lead environment, breaking up lessons into shorter-term goals which can be reviewed throughout, before continuing to the next phase; it is a different type of teaching, allowing the less-able to keep abreast of the demands of the National Curriculum and assessment criteria of external examining bodies.
By contrast, pupils in academically selective schools are expected, from the outset, to display qualities of academic confidence and competence. Independent thought, high levels of self-motivation and a greater expectation of high-quality pupil input and discussion are frequent characteristics of the academic classroom, together with a default position of impeccable behaviour. Accordingly, the pace is fast. Again, it is a different type of teaching to address the needs and enhance the successes of different pupils.
The proposal to extend the number of grammar schools pre-supposes that there are enough teachers, accomplished in the appropriate set of skills, to go around. I doubt whether that is the case. Five hundred grammar schools could be opened but there would not be a sufficient number of that profile of teacher to go around. Just calling somewhere a ‘grammar school’, will not guarantee success; it’s not about branding. If just 50 were opened, that would, arguably, be even worse as the existing, strongest academic teachers from the area would flock to those institutions, leaving the comprehensives with slim pickings when it comes to recruitment.
So what’s the answer? Getting a higher number of really good graduates, with a genuine passion for their subjects, to come into teaching has to be it, whether through financial incentives, exciting opportunities for career progression, the provision of local, affordable housing or, and I believe this to be a key factor, raising the profile of the teaching profession in a country that has traditionally always looked down on the teacher. Something has to change if change is to be brought about. Teaching itself urgently requires a status update.
We are lucky at Wetherby as our schools have a reputation that attracts the very best staff but I always feel a little guilty to my belief in and background of State education when I deprive that sector of the calibre of teacher that we recruit at Wetherby. The ambition behind the Government’s policy towards more grammar schools is the right one but the problem of who is going to teach the children of tomorrow and how to attract the best to this new educational landscape must also be addressed.
Well done to all those who have made it this far down, so something lighter to finish. All Baker and Wetherby boys were delighted with Watford’s first win of the season versus West Ham at the weekend. Four points from the first four games is a great return and we go into Sunday’s match against Manchester United full of confidence (although we can’t go as Patrick has a rugby tournament at Bloxham…swords!)
Have a good weekend…
9 September 2016
A warm welcome to all new and current boys and parents. I trust everyone is raring to go and looking forward to 2016/2017 at Wetherby.
I saw a silly story in one of the papers at the start of this week where they had published a variety of photos and images that people had posted on their social media accounts about children going back to school. I love the holidays as much as anyone else but I’m always happy to go back to school and I think my boys were too this week. They enjoy school, enjoy interacting with their peers and their teachers and the variety of the school day is, arguably, more interesting and wide-ranging than Brigid and I can provide during the long summer break.
Patrick and Joseph are actually quite good at being able to amuse themselves, making up games and playing, without the need for too many external stimuli but there does seem, particularly during the holidays and in this day and age too, to appear a need for constant activities. In Menorca, we eat out most nights and for the past few years have always taken the card game ‘Uno’ with us, as the concept of four members of the same family casually chatting and enjoying each other’s company seems somehow beyond us, or at least certainly beyond Patrick and Joseph.
One night, after ordering drinks, Patrick declared that it was time for ‘Uno’ and for me to ‘deal them up’. I searched both pockets to no avail; Uno had been left at the villa. What were we to do to entertain ourselves for the next hour or so over dinner? And then I thought we’d try something…
“What about a game of virtual Uno?”
“What’s virtual Uno?” came the family’s reply.
And then I pretended to deal seven imaginary cards to each player and we played, without cards, a somewhat ridiculous game for a good fifteen minutes. Everyone got into the swing of it and whilst Joseph initially put down two ‘Wilds’ and then two ‘Pick up 4s’ on the trot, he then completely got it and we played on and on. The waiter thought we were completely nuts but the boys loved it so, for the remainder of the holiday, all they wanted to play was virtual Uno, proof then that we don’t really need PlayStations, iPhones, card games and the like but can genuinely make our own fun if we put our minds to it or are put on the spot, as I was. Here are Joseph and Patrick holding up their virtual ‘hands’.
New parents, having just read that, may be slightly questioning why they have indeed sent their boys to Wetherby (!) but, just to reassure you, I had a fantastic conversation with one of our new staff at the Senior School this week. At the end of a busy first day, I asked this particular teacher how things had gone and she replied, “Very well; loved it and it was so funny because a few boys even shook my hand!” Mr Lawrence and I shrugged and looked at each other rather bemusedly and then the teacher followed up with, “And I don’t think I’ve opened a door all day; these boys do it all for you. I’ve never had that in any school I’ve been to or worked in before!” Normal procedure for us, of course, and maybe we just get used to it but the boys are amazing at these schools and we forget how much more gentlemanly they are than in so many other institutions. Great to hear.
I cannot close this week without a word about the tragic circumstances of two weeks ago. On behalf of both families, may I thank you wholeheartedly for your support and the many kind words that have flooded into the School. In the spirit of Wetherby and absolutely at the request of both the Burnett and Henniker-Gotley families, whilst we continue to grieve, we carry on as normal and will have a fantastic school year in their memory. They will always be considered as key members of our Wetherby family.
Have a good weekend,
30 June 2016
A week of celebration this week, with the Year 8 Leavers’ Dinner at the Serpentine Gallery on Monday and this afternoon’s Prize Giving at the Senior School; two remarkable years at two remarkable schools and absolutely appropriate to celebrate. As I said on Monday night, it was such a sociable occasion and felt like a party with friends rather than what I’m sure in many schools is a rather stuffy event, with guests nursing a flat glass of fizz all night and having the same old conversations about nothing in particular.
And then, this afternoon at the Senior School, where without doubt the highlight for me was such heartfelt speeches by Talal and Maxime. They said everything one needed to know about the first year of Wetherby Senior. What fine young men these two are and how well they represent their respective peer groups - proud of you boys and you hit the perfect note with those speeches. Thank you also to so many parents for coming. Your support is much appreciated and it was lovely for us all to be together as ‘Pioneers’ for one last time…
As ever, of course, we have the opportunity to look to the future, having held our New Boys’ Evening at the Prep School earlier this week and New Boys’ Induction at the Senior School today - more boys who will write their own chapters in the history of Wetherby; it’s what makes schools such vibrant, interesting and dynamic places to be a part of.
Have a good weekend…
23 June 2016
As we had the Alpha Plus Celebration Evening at the Prep School last night and the trains back from Marylebone were re-routed as a result of flooding, causing chaos, I had to take a taxi all the way back to Buckinghamshire and had the opportunity to see the first few results coming in regarding the Referendum. At the start of the taxi journey, it looked overwhelmingly that ‘Remain’ would sweep to victory but, by the time the taxi dropped me off half an hour later, ‘Leave’ were ahead by over 30,000. Even so, as I turned on the television this morning to see that ‘Leave’ had won, I must admit I didn’t quite believe it at first. An uncertain future ahead for the UK, one would think, but I am sure things will settle down in the coming weeks as the UK and the rest of world come to terms with the consequences. It will very much be business as usual though at both Schools, with secure ownership and the popularity of our schools as high as ever. Probably inappropriate in this period of instability but I did smile, when told by Miss Hodgson this morning, that a parent on the Waiting List had called the Prep School asking whether, due to Brexit, any parents had dropped off the list so that we might now accommodate her son!
The end of an era for the UK and Europe then and the end of an era at the Prep School too. After seven years of outstanding service, becoming very much the face of our School from the outset, I am sorry to announce that Helen Hodgson will be leaving us at the end of this term. Helen has been instrumental in the growth and success of Wetherby Prep since we moved to Bryanston Square in 2009. Her warmth, cheerfulness and personable nature have endeared her to all members of our community and she set the high standards of parental relations that permeate the School. Her qualities are recognised and appreciated by all who come into contact with her. After her fantastic contribution to the Prep School, Helen is taking her considerable talents to that of a PA position in the entertainment industry. Whilst we will all miss her, we are so proud of Helen; we congratulate her warmly and wish her all the very best in her new position. I am sure there will always be a part of Wetherby Prep with Helen and she knows that she is welcome to come and visit at any time, as she will remain one of the School’s dearest friends. Helen, we salute you…
Have a good weekend.
17 June 2016
Those associated with the Senior School enjoyed an excellent evening on Tuesday as we celebrated our first year and looked forward to the next with current and future parents at the Will to Win Club, Hyde Park. There was a wonderful atmosphere and Mrs Deedat and 9 Fleet did a superb job selling raffle tickets, thereby raising money for our school charities. The first year of the Senior School has really flown by; it has been an incredibly successful one and, with lots more interesting and capable boys, together with talented, enthusiastic and typically #teamwetherby teaching staff, swelling our ranks next year, the future for the School is a tremendously exciting one. Certainly, compared to this time last year, when the previous occupants were yet to move out and building work not then begun, I can look forward to a far more restful summer, safe in the knowledge that our school is secure, with a buoyant and dynamic future ahead.
As with our Pioneer Prep School parents in 2004, Pioneer Senior School parents have been behind us right from the outset and it is clear that, over the course of this initial academic year, and so much in evidence on Tuesday, a strong sense of being ‘in this together’ has united us to forge close, strong bonds. Thank you all; you’re a wonderful bunch!
If it were needed, further evidence of the success of our first year can be seen below, as Wetherby Senior becomes a significant destination school from the Prep School, with roughly the same number of boys remaining with us as joining Eton and Harrow, and contributing to the success of, what we believe at the Prep, is our strongest exit group to date. There won’t be many schools up and down the country that can boast these sorts of statistics, particularly when we remember that Wetherby Prep has, and always will be, proud of the fact that we recruit boys of ‘mixed ability’. It would be so easy to take only the brightest boys from our hugely popular assessment days and get them into the ‘top schools’ but we always take siblings; always take children from our own, mixed ability pre-prep and always look for boys who, though possibly not performing quite so well at 7+ and 8+, have that something uniquely ‘Wetherby’ about them.
A fantastic achievement then for all boys, parents and our immensely capable and compassionate staff, who took as much pride and excitement in the results this week as the boys. Without wanting to embarrass them too much, I would also like to note that, whilst I have overseen every exit group, these boys, our strongest exit group ever, started their Wetherby Prep careers at the same time as the current management team of Miss Bailey, Miss Hart and Miss Olney – something that cannot simply be a coincidence. We’ve had the ‘2009 Pioneers’ but I’m christening the 2016 Year 8 leavers as the ‘Bailey, Hart and Olney Generation’. They’ll be the benchmark for many years to come, I am sure.
Anyway, I could go on but I’m writing this from Terminal 5 and have to get on the plane now. Hopefully, by the time I land in New York, England will have beaten Wales…
10 June 2016
Even by Wetherby standards, this has been a crackers week!
The residentials at the Senior School to Somerset and Geneva have been so successful and not a moment went by without me getting a message and photo regarding the boys’ progress. I’m, by my own admission, a laid back Head but Mr Dawson telling me that the boys would be ‘coasteering’ - something I had only ever done previously (quite scared too) on a stag do - did test my level of anxiety. Sure enough though, the boys had a great time, perfectly safely, having enjoyed a wholly worthwhile and thrilling experience. Maybe I’m just a wimp!
Common Entrance Week for the Prep School Year 8 boys and, my, have they done Miss Hart proud with their application. Miss Olney cc’d me in on an email to her ‘old’ 4O parents (now in Year 8) yesterday. That was her first class as a teacher here and she has seen them grow and mature over the past 5 years at Wetherby Prep - an emotional time for sure and every single one of those boys has been on an educational and social journey, with Miss Olney looking over them every step of the way. All of those Year 8 boys have given their best this week. We look forward to the results next week and announcing the exit list in the coming weeks (whisper it, but it could be our best ever…)
When I became the Head of this School in January 2008, a significant part of the role was that of promoting public relations with the residents of Bryanston Square. At that time, the Prep School was at 19 Pembridge Villas and we had been turned down for planning permission to secure our current premises at Bryanston Square. The opposition was intense. Even though the building had been derelict for many years and would otherwise be converted into a hotel, the local residents were almost unanimously opposed to changing the building to ‘D1 - Educational Use’.
With the not insignificant help of the Governing Body, Jenny Aviss and I went on the campaign trail and held meeting after meeting, attended drinks party after party, consultation after consultation, to spread the good word of Wetherby. And, against all the odds, at an incredible evening at Westminster Council Offices in October 2008, we were awarded planning consent for Bryanston Square on a split decision.
That seems a long time ago now but our place, role and sense of social responsibility at both schools in the wider Marylebone community are central to everything we do here. It was therefore an absolute pleasure to facilitate an evening on Wednesday for local residents of Bryanston Square to celebrate the Queen’s 90th Birthday. Lisa Giles (“That lady is amazing!” in the words of one high-profile local resident) and her brilliant team of Wetherby mums produced the most outstanding event, praised by everyone who attended. As a representation of ‘us’, it just could not have been better. I was inundated with praise, both for the event and our boys, who sang and served canapés to guests. As another resident commented, “I know the boys go to a prep school, but yours just seem to have extra polish.” I might put that on the new website…
And then, as Miss Bailey, Miss Hart, Miss Olney (and Wetherby dad Mauricio Noe) and I left that event, leaving our intrepid PTA team to clear up, for which many thanks, we travelled west to the ‘Dads’ Night Out’ at Paddington Basin. What a turnout! Too many of us for the pub so we happily spilled out onto the courtyard and what an excellent evening of conviviality, comradeship, excellent humour and just simply getting to know each other better. Yesterday, all I heard from the dads was, “Can we do it next term, not just once a year?” and all I heard from the mums was , “Why just dads; can’t we have a mums’ night out, but at a wine bar not a pub?” We’ll see what we can do…
I always say that a good school is constantly ‘in development’ and, at Wetherby, we embrace this completely, trying always to do things bigger and better every year. I bring you then the Wetherby Prep Fete, 2016. I defy any school to put on something similar. It was absolutely incredible. It’s not the stalls; it’s not the activities; it’s not the food; it’s all about what we know our people will appreciate - we, as a community, embrace everything and create such a wave of positivity, enthusiasm and commitment to having a good time that is just not found elsewhere. I’ve been to (and had a hand in many) hundreds of school and village fetes. I’ve never seen anyone above the age of 7 trying to ‘hook a duck’ but, at Wetherby, the ‘pond’ was surrounded by Years 3-8 - amazing to see. Our boys are brilliant. Chair of PTA, Jo Brown, ‘Fete Guru’ Lisa Giles, Elena Tsoka and all of our incredible helpers - thank you so much.
The Fete also saw the launch of the Cook Book. We don’t mess about at Wetherby and it’s no surprise that our Cook Book is of such a standard that it would easily rival those of more established chefs. Flicking through today, there are so many gems in there and it encapsulates the skill, expertise, professionalism but, above all else, humour of our parent and staff body. Heather Rudd, you have done an outstanding job with that book - an incredible achievement. I can’t wait to give one to my mum and sister... and everyone else whom I can show off to. And, of course, to our very own Miss Bailey, a self-confessed ‘foodie’ who co-ordinated, liaised and managed the whole process from the school’s perspective, with such insight and enthusiasm, a huge thank you.
So, next week… Whole school photographs on Monday, then Tuesday night bowls and drinks party with Senior School parents in Hyde Park. This is always my favourite term with so much going on!
On Thursday, I fly to New York to attend the launch event of 'Wetherby Pembridge New York’. It’s a brief visit but I am very much looking forward to seeing the new premises and old Wetherby Prep friend Christina Rossi at the event. I’m obviously not expecting the same sort of numbers as Wednesday’s ‘Dads’ Night Out’ but if any of our Wetherby community are in the neighbourhood on Thursday, please do attend. Similarly, if you know of anyone in New York who may be interested in the project, please encourage them to come along. The official invite is below and attached. Please feel free to send on to whomever you feel is appropriate and encourage them to get in touch if they need any further information regarding the school.
See you next week (with an affected American accent…)
Have a good weekend…
27 May 2016
With Year 9 going on a Field Day to Brighton this week, I rather cheekily said to Mrs Deedat, “So basically they are just going down to spend all day in the arcades.” Certainly not, however, as a full day of measuring longshore drift and the coastal management system in place meant that not one boy’s hand came anywhere near a joystick or fruit machine. Wasn’t the case in my day though, when a Field Day to Brighton was exactly as I suggested. I can’t remember where the teachers were but they certainly weren’t supervising us or teaching us anything at the time. I also remember going on a residential at prep school and, on leaving the bus as it pulled into Whitby, we (can’t have been any older that 10 or 11 years old) were told to, “Meet back here at 3pm,” as we drifted off in small groups, completely unsupervised. Times have changed now, of course, and certainly for the better; old-school excursions have become very carefully planned and supervised educational visits.
Some staffing news for Prep School parents that will bring cheer for two reasons as I am delighted to announce that Rachel Couffignals and her husband Eric are expecting a baby this autumn. Well done to them and very exciting news. With Rachel away on maternity leave, we have asked ‘Wetherby Prep Legend’ Tom Metherell to come ‘home’ in September. Tom will teach Science to Years 4 and 5, a syllabus he is familiar with, having taught it when he worked here previously. As much as he has enjoyed the experience of working and living in Singapore these past two years, he is very much looking forward to coming back to the Wetherby family. It almost feels as he hasn’t been away as he still receives the Wetherbuzz and keeps in touch regularly on social media.
Have a great Half Term. Revision please for Year 8 and, Parents, you have my full permission for the line, “Mr Baker says…” if the boys are not studying for their upcoming CE exams.
Have a good half term,
20 May 2016
With news of a successful Ofsted inspection confirmed this week, Senior School staff might take comfort that this particular form of inspection will not take place for another six years. Even though external assessments and judgements are a fact of educators' lives, a clear sense of professional pride, shared by all, means that refinements and new initiatives across all areas of our schools never stop. The Prep School was inspected four years ago and even though the judgements from that week were incredibly effusive (the only complaint being not enough wash basins for the boys…) I know that the school is even better now than it was back then. It will be interesting to see how both schools can improve, yet further, on such positive feedback when they are inspected again in the future.
A sense of anticipation in both schools at the moment, with the residentials all home for this half of term and exams coming up after Half Term. Whilst the boys might not be feeling terribly upbeat about the exams (although I do know that many of our boys actually look forward to internal exams) there is plenty to look forward to in what is always a fun half of term for boys and parents. Sports Days, parent socials, residentials and, of course, prize giving ceremonies at both schools. Parents will know that we always try to make a Wetherby Prize Giving as entertaining, different and creative as we possibly can and this year will be no different. No guest speakers, as usual, just the staff, boys and you, the parents, coming together to celebrate the 'Wetherby Way'.
Another highlight of the term occurs in an hour or so. Just as I finish writing this, I’m off to referee the Staff vs Parents football match at Wetherby Sports Ground. When I told my family that I was taking part this evening, they responded with, “Jolly good; you could do with running around a bit." Charming…
A special night last night at the annual Prep School Heads’ Dinner at Harrow. Uniquely, Harrow School invites past pupils to chat to their old Headmasters before dinner and it is always great to catch up with the boys and see what fine young men they have become. Talking to adolescents can sometimes not be easy but it’s a reflection on Harrow and on Wetherby, that the boys that I chat with are always interesting, interested, engaging, polite and very amusing. Without exception, they talk fondly of their time at Wetherby and are always keen to hear about their favourite teachers and talk anecdotally and affectionately about their time at the School. Maybe it was flattery but, at dinner, a Housemaster said to me, “I saw one of your boys last week. He was brilliant – but then Wetherby boys always are.” Great to hear…
Have a great weekend,
13 May 2016
Lovely to have the summer here this week – puts such a smile on everyone’s face and creates perfect conditions for our Prep School trips to PGL, Bushcraft and the UKSA on the Isle of Wight. Incorporating these trips into our broader curriculum is invaluable, as they are such worthwhile experiences in their own right; the boys will treasure them for the rest of their lives. Opportunities to create new friendships, strengthen existing ones, and the chance for teachers to engage with the boys in a different light, outside school, generates a refreshed dynamic in the classroom, so that our residential visits, in no small measure, support our traditional, academic curriculum.
Tally that then with the sense of nervousness in our household as Patrick (Year 5) has his first residential this term to a PGL centre. If he was at Wetherby, he’d have already been on two. “So what’s the problem?” you might ask. Indeed, but what I think I’m trying to express is that I really understand, as a parent, how apprehensive one becomes when your child is away from home. Yet, I would like to offer reassurance that, whilst I have 325 boys whose welfare is so important to me, I am secure in the knowledge that our staff members take such brilliant and professional care of the boys, that they are in the very safest of hands. Even so, part of the reason that we keep you informed, as much as we possibly can, is to offer ongoing comfort in knowing that the boys are safe, happy and having a brilliant time. It is not always possible with some of the more remote destinations but with Year 3, in particular, over the past few days, parents have been almost ‘bombarded’ with updates from PGL. One of you will know that, in our meeting yesterday, my phone was ‘dinging’ (not sure that’s actually a word…) every few minutes and you rightly said, “You must take that – sounds urgent.”
“It’s actually the complete opposite,” I replied. “It’s just constant images and messages to reassure me that there is nothing to be worried about!”
Open Day at the Senior School tomorrow. Interest in the School is higher than ever and we look forward to welcoming many families and show them the School and our staff. One member of staff who we won’t be able to ‘show off’ though is our own Head of Geography Dena Vanstone, who left us yesterday for the last time…only to return on Tuesday as Mrs Dena Deedat after her wedding to Adil tomorrow. I am sure that you will join me in wishing them a fantastic day and life together. We all look forward to seeing the pictures in next week’s newsletter.
Have a good weekend…
6 May 2016
This is turning out to be some year. Just as the celebrations about Faris’s Townsend-Warner 1st place quieten down a little, up comes Simon this week with his King’s Scholarship achievement to Eton. As I said in assembly this morning, when I was at school, my peers and I would always look up to Gemma Pitcher (at prep school) and Nic Brisbourne (at senior school) as the heroes of our year groups and our boys, without doubt, look up to Simon at Wetherby Prep in exactly the same way. Not that Simon needs or invites any hero worship; he is far too humble and pragmatic for that but we can, collectively, share in his achievement as he is ‘one of us’. We are hugely proud to have him amongst our number and enjoy his special contribution to our community as a whole. From everyone connected to the School, “Well done, Simon!” Another fantastic week for #teamwetherby.
With the good weather, comes the cricket and we seem to have started extremely well in both schools this term. I was just chatting to Mr Sullivan about Matthew Monaghan’s prowess in the nets this week and, together with Dom Fraser, they are busy perfecting Matthew’s technique. He sounds like an excellent prospect and, yet again, I state my intention to come and watch some cricket this term. All Wetherby boys, staff and parents have heard this many times before and I can hear them saying now as they read this, something along the lines of, “He always says that and never comes to watch…” but I will try my hardest this term, I promise.
Dads’ Night Out at the Senior School on Tuesday. This is the inaugural event for our Senior School and a tradition at the Prep School; it promises to be a fun, convivial and enjoyable evening. We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible. The Prep School equivalent takes place on Wednesday 8th June, just to mark cards for dads, so they can seek early clearance, in accordance with ‘legal and compliance’…
And, finally, thank you to the many parents (and some staff) who sent me their bluebell pictures over the weekend – one even all the way from Bhutan! I don’t know if I was more pleased to see the pictures or just know that my random ramblings are actually read every Friday!
Have a good weekend,
29 April 2016
I do hope you are doing something more interesting this Bank Holiday than the Bakers, who have Autoglass coming round to fix the windscreen on the Rav 4 as the one diary entry this Monday. Living the dream out in South Bucks…
Long-standing Wetherby parents will know that the Wetherbuzz before a May Bank Holiday Monday is always accompanied by a photograph of the bluebells in the wood behind my house. Unfortunately, although there are bluebells, the cold weather this week has hit them hard and it is probably the least impressive showing for many years. Bluebell fans will have to wait until next year for what will, hopefully, be a better crop. A taste of summer though, though not outdoors, can be found at the top of the Prep School’s Wetherbuzz this term, with some beautifully cheery and exquisitely illustrated drawings by our very own Miss Katie Clifford. We are immensely fortunate to have a number of ‘Katie Clifford originals’ to adorn future editions of the Wetherbuzz, so do look out for and admire the artwork of one of our own.
We really are blessed, in both Prep and Senior Schools, with staff who have hidden and not so hidden talents like Katie; staff who do so much for their local communities, raise huge amounts for Charity, sit on Governing Bodies of independent and State schools, skilled musicians, artists, amateur dramatists, chefs, helicopter pilots, ice hockey players, multiple linguists, martial arts experts, A Level examiners… and that’s all just off the top of my head. Together, they generate a collective character and warmth of spirit, something particularly evident at last night’s Senior School Admissions Team Dinner at the Prep School. Nights like this are so powerful, for many reasons, but I always journey home with a heightened sense of pride in our staff, having enjoyed seeing how well-received and at ease they are in many and varied contexts. Parents and visitors engage with our schools more than most, it seems to me, because of the welcoming, personable, down to earth nature of teachers and support staff alike, something that, ultimately, filters down to the boys and helps them grow into similarly fine, well rounded and socially gifted adults.
Have a good weekend…
22 April 2016
I hope everyone had a restful Easter. We didn’t travel far outside our immediate locality this holiday and though it was most flattering of parents and colleagues to note my tanned appearance; I can assure you it’s no more than a ruddy complexion!
One of my biggest regrets has been that I went straight from school to university, to teacher training, to full time work. I never gave myself the opportunity to ‘see the world’ as so many of my contemporaries did and now seems so commonplace for young people. Saying that, despite having lived in South Bucks for most of my life there are still things I discover on a regular basis. The story recently of a Roman Villa found on a farm in Wiltshire is on a rather different level but, over the Easter break, I discovered, for the first time, the ‘Cholesbury Dinosaurs’.
Having lived in Cholesbury for ten years now and grown up in that immediate locality, I am pretty familiar with its various footpaths, roads, bike trails and so on but when people have stopped and asked, “Where are the Cholesbury Dinosaurs?” I have always replied that it must be some sort of urban myth as I wasn’t aware of any and always believed there was no such thing. Amazing then that, on an afternoon’s geocaching with Patrick and Joseph last week, we stumbled across, completely by chance, the ‘Cholesbury Dinosaurs’! Two life size (?) specimens, made out of plastic, which someone has placed there at some point over the years, are no more than ten minutes’ walk from our house. At least now I can speak with confidence when asked about them and have that sense of anticipation that there are always new and exciting things to discover in your local area.
I love anything that embraces the spirit of the ‘Wetherby Community’, as you well know, and it is with immense pride that we welcome Edmund Slimmon and Nic Sutherland back to our School this term as Gap Students. A bit taller, more confident and self-assured and great to see what fine young men they have turned into. We all look forward to working with them this term and, for Nic, the Autumn Term as well.
Ofsted this week at the Senior School. Thank you, Senior School parents, for your support this week and for producing such fine ambassadors for the School with your sons; they have done us proud these past three days!
Have a good weekend and, on behalf of all Wetherby boys this Sunday, ‘Come on you Horns!’
18 March 2016
What a birthday weekend that was! England won the 6 Nations but, much more importantly in our household, Watford beat Arsenal in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup. I’ve said this before but supporting Watford identifies me as a person in many people’s eyes and whenever there is a high profile result, like last Sunday’s, I receive scores of emails, texts and messages from parents, past and present, staff past and present, friends from all walks of life and my Watford-supporting family. They are all much appreciated, great to receive and, of course, reciprocated when their team does well. Despite most of the possession, Arsenal never looked like scoring a goal and Watford always looked dangerous on the break but, when Welbeck scored a goal with a few minutes to spare, there were a few (lot of) nerves between me and Patrick, particularly as we were sitting, clutching each other’s hands in some Arsenal corporate seats, looking down on the Watford fans below.
I’ve been to some pretty scary football grounds in my life but, these days, football is completely safe and I was more than happy to let Patrick go to the loo halfway through the first half on his own. What was surprising though was when he suddenly up and went to the loo halfway through the 4 minutes of additional time! We hadn’t taken that much advantage of the hospitality at half time and why on earth would he leave at such a crucial time of the match? I didn’t really have time to consider this properly though, particularly when Danny Welbeck scooped over in front of an open goal when it looked easier to score.
“Why did you go to the loo at the most exciting part, Patrick?” I asked him on the train home.
“I couldn’t watch, Dad; I was too nervous,” came his reply. He’s only 10 but bless him and sorry to Patrick, as he’ll have that feeling on Saturday afternoons for the rest of his life. Sometimes, I think my life would be so much less stressful if I didn’t support a football team!
Veterans of Wetherby will know that this is ‘Birthday Season’ amongst the staff and, on Tuesday, one of, if not our most, valued colleague, Hal Ogden, celebrated his 60th birthday. We love to celebrate birthdays and make a fuss of people here but thought that, as much as Hal would love to be at school, he would certainly rather be at Cheltenham. Therefore, as a staff, we clubbed together to buy him and his partner, Amanda, club level tickets for Cheltenham, train tickets and a bit of money to place a bet with, Chef Peter supplying a hamper for lunch and some fizz for the train journey. Hal had a great day, picking a few winners and was even interviewed on the train on the way down by BBC Points West, featuring in their evening news. As Mr Blundell pointed out, “Good job he wasn’t pulling a sicky!”
Have a good weekend…
11 March 2016
On Sunday, I travelled to Epsom College to see my older son, Patrick, take part in his school’s U10 rugby team, having qualified for the National Finals. They won their group games and topped their group but, unfortunately, got knocked out narrowly by Eversfield in the quarter finals. Patrick is by no means the best rugby player in his school and has been mainly a ‘B’ team player this year but the sports staff at Chesham Prep wanted to reward his behaviour and commitment, perhaps also with an eye towards next year when the team increases in size. Patrick was really chuffed and, when he put on his ‘National Finals Hoody’, you could see that this meant more to him than any other achievement this year, in or out of the classroom. There is something special about sport. That sense of being a part of something is so powerful and you don’t necessarily have to win or even play well to get something out of it. It was a great day – he even scored a crucial try which he/I felt justified his selection – and he hasn’t stopped smiling since.
Lots of sport in both schools of course and we continue to push the boundaries with national recognition for our boys in football, rugby, tennis, golf and now climbing. Claudius Wheeler is National Champion at the Blokfest Bouldering Climbing Competition – a fantastic achievement in its own right but even more so when you consider that this is the third year in a row that he was won the competition! U11 Prep School boys won all but one of their matches at the Blackrock Rugby Festival at the weekend (I remember the first time we went to this tournament and were chuffed to score one try!) and this week our Ski Team have been taking part in the IAPS Ski Championships in Tonale. Last year, they won the Plate Competition but this year they not only qualified for the Cup but won silver medals and second place in a competition that ranks them as the second best prep school in the country. A great week of sport for Wetherby then, with more to come no doubt as every Wetherby boy becomes glued to their televisions to watch Watford beat Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter finals on Sunday…
On to Quiz Night this Wednesday and a studious, yet rather raucous, atmosphere amongst our competing teams. The room had been beautifully decorated by the PTA and Chef Peter, with his team, laid on a superb Chinese themed spread. As always, we try to incorporate the boys as much as possible, with the singing of Queen songs, excerpts from famous speeches and even a video link, live and direct to Miss Martin, Miss Hart and the Wetherby Ski Team in Tonale. Nobody said putting on a Wetherby Prep Quiz was meant to be easy or straightforward…
We also had two picture rounds: one of images of boys at different shops in London and, the second, an impression of a famous artist’s work. For the benefit of all those who did not attend the Quiz, both rounds are below and answers revealed at the bottom of the respective newsletters – point for the artist and point for the boy here. WSS parents are excused from the second point on offer here, apart from last question of the Art Round. You don’t need to be an expert in Wetherby Prep pupils to identify the boy who is not in this picture – the clues are there…
Have a good weekend,
4 March 2016
With news this week that teacher recruitment is at crisis point, Wetherby parents will, I hope, not be fretting that we might have been struggling to recruit staff for next year at both Prep and Senior Schools. On the contrary, we are incredibly excited about the staff we have appointed at the Senior School and, whilst it is true that there are very few brilliant people out there, be assured that the few that exist will be working with your sons in September. At the Prep School, there has not been the need for so much recruitment but, again, we have made some superb appointments and we look forward to introducing you to them in September. Full biographies of new staff (and of course news of staff who are departing) will be included in the final newsletter of this term.
Two ‘new’ members of our team, though not appointed and certainly not on the payroll, have been with us this week and have had a major impact on the running of the Prep School. They have a highly influential role to play in its future development. Franklin and Morrison are our neighbourhood, and neighbourly, traffic wardens and I have asked them to help us in managing the traffic around the Square at 4pm pick up. With their help this week, we have had clear roads, quick pick-ups, efficient drop offs, happy residents and no parking tickets. The ‘Exit Team’ has managed to dismiss all the boys in record time this week and long may that continue. The future development of the Prep School is tremendously exciting and Franklin, Morrison and most of all, you, with your cooperation, are key factors in making hoped-for plans come to fruition. I can say no more than that, at this stage, but please park and pick up sensibly, with due empathy for our residents; be charming when engaging with them and help us to maintain and promote, yet further, the good name of the school. This has never been so important.
Have a good weekend...
26 February 2016
I hope everyone had a restful Half Term. Both my boys had quite a lot of homework so, not wanting to be left out, I bought the Lego Ferris Wheel as my Half Term homework. One piece of Patrick’s History homework was to construct a cannon from the Mary Rose, using a paper template. As it turned out, it was really quite difficult and massively fiddly and, after he gave up, I had several goes at trying to get something worthy of sitting aboard Henry VIII’s flagship battle cruiser. I got there in the end and made something I was really proud of but it did take a lot of effort and a considerable amount of time. So much time, in fact, that Patrick decided that, as I was doing his homework, he would set about mine and duly completed the Ferris Wheel whilst I was still struggling on Cannon V3.0. Oh well, at least we both got our respective homeworks done, however whilst the Ferris Wheel still sits resplendent in his bedroom, I found my now crumpled cannon at the bottom of his bag last night. Kids eh…
Watford through to the FA Cup quarter finals then, with a scrappy but deserved win against Leeds last weekend, and something that I haven’t seen before on a football pitch that made me smile. New signing, Nordin Amrabat, having seen his number go up to be substituted, started walking off the pitch but in the opposite direction of the players’ bench. Perhaps he’s a little confused with his new surroundings, we thought, but no, he was simply walking towards the referee to shake his hand before leaving the field of play; good manners, very Wetherby, very Watford FC!
A short but busy half of term coming up and lots of academia, sport, art, music, drama and, as always, good humour at the heart of everything we do at both Schools. Lots to look forward to…
Have a good weekend,
12 February 2016
Well, what a hoot that was last night! Great to see so many parents and staff looking their glamorous selves and creating such a sense of fun in the room. Some excellent dancing on display and let’s just say, to be fair, some pretty average dancing too but any slight deficit in style or finesse was more than made up for in energy and enthusiasm! As I write this, the fundraising stands at over £5000. If you haven’t already done so, yet would like to donate, please follow the link below. My thanks, of course, to all of our brilliant staff and parents for coming and for their generosity with the fundraising but also to Tony Matharu, Managing Director of Grange Hotels, who, although no longer a Wetherby parent, remains one of the school’s closest friends.
And onto today at the Prep School, with the Fourth Annual Staff Appreciation Day. I have to admit, it is not the one and only of its kind in London as I did ‘borrow’ the original idea from another prep school. At that school, parents came in to place a daffodil on every teacher’s desk and left a set of post-it notes in the shape of a heart. They also laid on some pastries and a bowl of fruit at break time. These are lovely thoughts but our parents have taken the idea and ‘Wetherbyfied’ it, developing it as only Wetherby parents know how. Every year, we think that the occasion simply cannot be bettered; every year you amaze us with your generosity, creativity and sense of genuine appreciation. Ours might not be the one and only staff appreciation event in town but it is utterly unique and, as with so many aspects of life at Wetherby, no school does things like this, or parties like last night, quite like us. On behalf of all of the staff, thank you for being our parent body. You are a very special bunch!
Have a great half term…
5 February 2016
With results now in for the Prep School Senior exams and feedback given to parents through this week’s Year 8 Parents’ Evenings, we can all collectively breathe a sigh of relief that such a potentially stressful week for the boys has passed and plot a course for their continued, academic development. If formal examinations were not important, we would not do them but early familiarisation with the whole experience of exams and ‘the system’ are important to our longer-term aspirations for Wetherby boys and will help them sit their GCSEs, Baccalaureates or A-levels with greater confidence in the future. I refer any boy or parent worried about a poor mark or marks to my father's oft-used adage ‘NTP’ or ‘Not to Panic’. It is so often, in life as well as examinations, those times of temporary setback that prove to be the making of us!
And on this topic, I was interested to read in the news this week, a letter from the Head Teacher at Harmony Hill Primary School in Northern Ireland, regarding his pupils’ scores in their entrance exams. Written to pupils who might not have achieved the scores they had hoped for, he explained in compassionate terms how he believes that, "…attitude and who you are as a person are much more important than any mark on a test." I really admire this level of consideration and agree with the sentiment but, here at Wetherby, as doubtless in his own school, we will keep on working tirelessly to educate our boys to the very peak of their abilities in readiness for entry to some of the most competitive and exclusive schools in the world.
I have seen a lot of things at Wetherby in my twelve years at the School but the transformation of the Pioneer Hall to a Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, on Tuesday evening, was striking, as staff from St Mary’s came to demonstrate the need for an extension to their children’s ward. It was a poignant night for us all and, hopefully, we can raise a substantial sum this year for them and all of our school charities, starting with the Wetherby Celebration this Thursday. Our charity fundraising, with its variety, creativity and inclusion of the boys, is something that everyone connected with the School can be proud of. Your incredible generosity as our parent body is something that defines us as a community and has helped so many others. Thank you, on their behalf.
Have a good weekend…
29 January 2016
The question I have been asked the most this week is not, "What schools should my son apply for?" or "How do I stop my son playing on his iPad/Kindle/Playstation?" but "Mr Baker, when you say ‘dress-glamorously’ for 11th February, what does that mean exactly?" Well, it doesn’t mean black tie for men and it doesn’t mean full Cinderella ball gowns for ladies but party dress all the same: just dress to impress! (fyi, to dads and male staff, I’ll be wearing a dark suit, white shirt and tie, as always…)
The Celebration Party will soon be upon us and then the next Wetherby social event, at the Prep School at least, will be the PTA Quiz on Wednesday 9 March. A Wetherby Quiz evening is like no other and the questions and answers will remain a closely guarded secret, both before and after the event (as I'll probably use the same ones for the Senior School evening in the Summer Term!) but who doesn’t love a good quiz? I love them and was part of the winning team at my village pub’s monthly quiz last week. Our team of 6, selected from around a dozen people able to attend on the night, always call themselves ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’, even if I’m not there. This has its origins in a time when I, along with my two sons, who contributed no answers whatsoever, discovered their Bank Holiday Quiz many, many years ago, whilst I was trying to get my youngest son to sleep in his pram. ‘We’, or I, single-handedly won that day (the prize is always a tub of Quality Street) and have maintained our lucky streak ever since. Before you think that I should put in a turn on ‘EggHeads’ , I can assure you, and with all due respect to my fellow villagers, that it’s a relatively easy and light-hearted quiz and our team comprises a very broad range of ages, interests and abilities so, between us, we can stay alert for the duration of the quiz more than most…
This brings me on to my favourite moment of the week. Fantastic talks by our invited guests on Monday; the Official Opening of Wetherby Senior on Wednesday; some exciting staff recruitment for both Schools this week yet even these successes were surpassed when I joined Mr Hasthorpe’s Quiz Club at the Senior School on Tuesday afternoon. This isn’t just a quiz club with teams and questions; this is a quiz club with teams, questions AND ACTUAL BUZZERS! How exciting to join Frejvid and Sherif and participate in earnest competition. I’d like to think I made a positive contribution but, unfortunately, we lost on this occasion, coming a valiant second. Hopefully, I’ll be invited back next week to have another go at founding a new dynasty of Baker quizzing success.
Have a good weekend…
22 January 2016
In the modern world, so many of us have become slaves to our phones and I, as much as anyone, rely on my phone for news, emails, tweets…and the occasional phone call. But I like news, always have done; I like being up to date and knowing what’s going on. I often think that the most exciting place in the country must be a newsroom when a major story is breaking and, of course, I always like to know everything that's going on at Wetherby Prep and the Senior School! I would like to think that the staff at both schools and I are very responsive to emails but, amongst my communications, there are occasions when I get messages that are so intriguing that they need immediate action or explanation.
An example of this occurred as I was on the train home on Wednesday night. The message, from an old prep school friend and now close neighbour, said simply, “Come quick - I’ve created the Land of Mordor!” Now I’m not a big Tolkien or fantasy genre fan but knowing Jim Matthews, the sender of the text, and what he does for a living, I replied immediately, “Be there in twenty mins.”
Jim, along with his brother, Trafford, run the family brick making business, set up by their grandfather, a brisk ten minute walk across fields behind our house. They have the only wood-burning brick kiln in the northern hemisphere and the kiln, lit that afternoon and powered by 28 fire holes, was evidently burning majestically. It was an awesome sight in its own right but the real treat was to scale the ladder to look over the top of the kiln. He was absolutely right. Jim had indeed created his very own ‘Land of Mordor’, with a glowing, flame-licking surface, stretching far into the distance on the top of the kiln. It is difficult for a picture to convey the drama of this extraordinary process, or my experience on Wednesday, but it was a most impressive sight and a perfect example of one British manufacturing industry that is alive and well in South Bucks, neither tainted, interfered with or ‘improved’ by modern technology.
Have a good weekend…
15 January 2016
I must admit that I don’t watch much television but before you think that in our household we religiously sit down to discuss the issues of the day or read books, the truth is that it’s a ‘sit on sofa and open laptop’ kind of house. That said, I do have a television guilty pleasure in ‘Only Connect’; it’s probably the only programme I will watch in its entirety and always pause if someone phones or I get up for any reason. I could watch it on iPlayer on the train but I never do this, I think because if I was ever to get a question right, I need it to be verified by the family as witnesses to the event and for me to get the public adulation I would deserve were I to say the answer before the television contestants. How delighted was I then that, this Tuesday, I got my first ever ‘Only Connect’ question correct. Admittedly, I got it after three of the four clues but I got it all the same. Parents, see if you can get it: the question is what comes last in the sequence. The boys incidentally have no chance as the question pre-dates them and they would have no knowledge of the subject matter. The answer is at the bottom of the Wetherbuzz. “Well done, Mr Baker!” I hear you say. Thank you. I appreciate your warm congratulations…
1:0 was 1 0:1 was 1.5 0:0 was 2 ?
No such bamboozling questions at the Prep School’s 7+ and 8+ this past Monday though. With over 300 boys, sitting for 20 places in Year 3 and 40 in Year 4, we do have to make the papers accessible yet challenging to allow for a meritocratic and transparent process. We remain a ‘family’ school and will always promote siblings and our own Pre-Prep children at our main entry point of 8+, as we do and will continue to do at the Wetherby Prep to Wetherby Senior School transition stage. Lots of you say to us, “When are you and Mr Snell going to stop this sibling and Pre-Prep priority thing? No-one else does this anymore.” Now, you only say that once you are in the Prep or Senior School of course (!) but we both think that it would be a sad day if we ever had to say that, whilst your son had been educated at a Wetherby school for however many years, he could not go onto the next one. We also think that it is one of the things that make all three Wetherby schools so special. The continuity, the family feel, the sense of security as to what values and expectations will be constant throughout a family’s time at the School, together with the loyalty, friendship and support of our parent body are vital factors that define our schools as “Wetherby”.
Of course, there is bound to be disappointment to manage amongst those who wish to join the Wetherby Family but, as long as we remain humble, approachable, appreciative and consider every child during an assessment process, we can be satisfied that we have given everyone a fair chance.
Have a good weekend…
8 January 2016
Happy New Year!
I hope everyone has had a restful and enjoyable time over the festive period. As my father used to say, "I don’t mind who I see at Christmas, as long as they come to me!" We concurred and didn’t stray far from home. Lots of excellent football of course, with Watford competitive in all four of our tough Christmas fixtures, including a memorable 3-0 against Liverpool and a thrilling 2-2 (with missed penalty "he-he") against Chelsea. I had a great night at the Roundhouse in Camden, watching one of the favourite bands of my youth, Shed Seven. It is an excellent music venue that has been significantly done up since I last visited in the early ’90s, when it then formed part of Camden Market and seemed ripe for demolition rather than development. Now, it’s a good example of what can be done with a bit of love, care, enterprise, imagination and, no doubt, plenty of financial investment. I sat in the stands with an old college friend, as we looked down on a sea of bald, conservatively dressed, 40-something men, dancing and singing away to the hits of their youth. Oh how we laughed at them…choosing not to look at each other as balding, conservatively dressed, 40 something men ourselves…
The highlight of our holiday though was, undoubtedly, attending the Star Wars premiere - an amazing occasion in its own right, with so much excitement around Leicester Square and on the red carpet but, more so, the atmosphere in the cinema where there were hearty cheers, applause and standing ovations for recognisable characters, the soundtrack and even the opening credits of what is a truly brilliant film. Being so close to and a part of an occasion such as this, with familiar faces and personalities from one’s own childhood, was thrilling. Great to attend as a guest of course, although the trip has cost me a small fortune in new Lego Star Wars toys for the boys (and yes, me)…
Amazing though that Star Wars, a film so revolutionary and ground-breaking when I was growing up, and a 3-0 victory over Liverpool, a team so dominant in my school days, did not seem to have the same impact or effect on Patrick and Joseph. They are growing up with other influences and other experiences, wondering quizzically why their father gets so animated over certain things that they just take in their stride.
Another term then and lots to look forward to. Don’t forget to email Miss Hodgson if you would like to attend the ‘Wetherby Celebration’ Party on 11th February. The invite and ticket are free of charge; we just ask for a donation of any kind, on the night, for our School charities. As ever, it will be a fun and memorable occasion and we’ll have a red carpet of a different, Wetherby kind but just as special!
Have a great weekend!
11 December 2015
Thank you for your support and friendship this term. It has, I admit, been a particularly busy one with the opening of Wetherby Senior School but, once the term got going and every boy and staff member got into their rhythm, it has been a joy to manage both schools. You may have seen me on my bike which, after half term, revolutionised my time management as I go up and down George Street several times a day. What it has saved me in time though has cost me in teasing from Dean Bayes, Helen Hodgson and Tilly Rugge-Price, who still seem to find it amusing to see me walking out in a suit, hi-ves vest, ill-fitting helmet and bike…
As I said at the WSS Carol Service on Wednesday, opening a new school is a bit like moving into a new house: the phone doesn’t connect; there might be issues with the boiler; you need to get the Sky man round and get a decent broadband connection but, once similar, more school-based, problems were ironed out, the school fully got into its stride. I’m biased, of course, but I know the boys and parents would concur that the teaching team are amazing and they are a school’s most important resource – incredibly inspirational, creative, bright, sparky people who enthuse the boys on a daily basis and are fully committed to growing the school in number and in profile. My thanks to them, the boys and our wonderful Pioneer Parents who have given us such generosity and warmth throughout the term and, in particular, these last few days. We’re clearly ‘in it together’ and wouldn’t have it any other way. The Senior School is already full in Year 9 for 2016 and 2017 and we will see over a hundred boys at 11+ in January for only a one form entry of 16. These are exciting times…
At the Prep School, another thrilling term in a building that creates an energy and excitement like no other. Walking down to the Church of the Annunciation this morning as Olaf the Snowman is not an image that I think many schools in the country would experience but humour is embraced here and long may that continue. Thank you, Prep School parents, for your continued sense of fun, incredible generosity and for working together to make this a Prep School like no other. As with the Senior School, we are blessed at Bryanston Square with what I think is the strongest teaching team that one can assemble in a Prep School, certainly in my experience anyway. Their sense of pride in the School and the badge and wanting to constantly improve on our practice is so fulfilling to experience.
I wish everyone in our Wetherby Community a Happy Christmas and look forward to seeing you all in 2016. The Bakers are staying put this Christmas and, apart from a number of outings and social events, will have a relatively quiet holiday. Patrick and Joseph are asking for MacBook Pros which is never going to happen in a million years at their age, so they might have to be content with some Lego and various bits and pieces from Watford FC’s ‘Hornets Shop’. As I now have a new craze for bikes and am tiring of the teasing from the aforementioned Dean, Helen and Tilly, all I would like is a new bike helmet that fits me properly. I might also treat myself to a new pair of smart shoes for school but I will have to buy these things for myself, as it is a rule in my house, fully supported I might add by Patrick and Joseph, that ‘clothing items do not count as presents’. Ties are the only items exempt from this rule but I think all the boys, dads and male staff would agree with me on this one?
Maybe; maybe not but a final address to the boys for this year: whatever you receive this Christmas, boys, be grateful and enjoy the giving as much as the receiving and, as we always say, the best gift you can give your parents is to be nice to your siblings. Enjoy each other’s company and come back in 2016, refreshed and raring to go for another busy Wetherby term.
Have a good Christmas!
4 December 2015
With the launch of the Festive Season last week, we are right into it, with tangible excitement in both schools: a fantastic and charming Nativity this week with Years 3 and 4 at the Prep School and we are all looking forward to the Carol Concerts at both Prep and Senior Schools next week. Attendance at both events is compulsory for all boys in Years 5-8 at the Prep and actively encouraged for parents, so please do attend if you possibly can. You will also receive your Christmas card this weekend and, inside, an invitation to a ‘Wetherby Celebration’ in February. This is open to all parents of boys at the Prep and Senior Schools, together with the staff of each, and is a free event that celebrates all that we do, an entirely complimentary evening of fellowship, food, drinks and dancing. All we ask is that, if you want to, you consider making a voluntary donation to our School charities. Wetherby parent events are always memorable and fun occasions and I have no doubt that this one will be as well; it will be the ‘social event of the year’ – well February anyway! Please email your RSVP to Helen as soon as possible, so we can get an idea of numbers.
As schools that actively encourage boys to be the best that they can, with a healthy, competitive spirit evident in every assembly, exam, sporting occasion or PTA event, we are particularly proud of our ‘inclusivity’. At the end of last term, I mentioned every boy and member of staff at our Prize-Giving Ceremony. Every boy in Years 6, 7 and 8 had the opportunity to enter and have work displayed at the brilliant photography exhibition on Tuesday; every boy in Year 4 had at least a line in yesterday’s Nativity and every boy will be able to take pride in representing his House at the Inter-House (Prep) and Inter-Trib Tournaments (Senior School) next week. With well on the way to five hundred boys on roll across our two schools, it might prove difficult to always include everyone but trying our best to do so is at the heart of everything we practise and very ‘Wetherby’.
Have a great weekend!
27 November 2015
As Noddy Holder would say, "It’s Chrrrrriiiiisssssssttttmmmaaaassssssss!" We now enter the last two weeks of term and Wetherby changes gear into full-on ‘Christmas Mode’. Trees, of course, for both schools and lights adorn the shrubbery and plants outside the buildings to light up the London skyline…The actual day is one thing but I have always loved the build-up to the Festive Season. The atmosphere, particularly in London, is something very special and the element of nostalgia, remembering Christmases past throughout both my childhood and adulthood, is something to cherish.
The annual Wetherby Prep Classroom Christmas Decoration Competition was officially launched in Assembly this morning. Who can forget Mr Rudolph Baker and his ‘Elf Parade’ from last year? The School Council have spoken and the costumes for both Headmaster and winning form have already been selected. Prep School boys learnt this morning that, having passed the latest ‘Politeness Challenge’ of walking sensibly up and down the correct staircases at Bryanston Square, they are to be rewarded for their excellent manners throughout the term with their very own Wetherby Prep Advent Calendar, which will be brought home this evening. We have a few spare, so do let me know if any siblings (or even Senior School boys still in touch with their youth!) would like to be included, as the chocolates inside are perishable and won’t last another year.
For Christmas 2015, at both schools though, something different. As Christmas is a time of giving, just as much, if not more, than receiving, we will be giving every boy at the Prep and Senior School a Wetherby Advent Candle on Monday evening. They have earned this from being good Wetherby Citizens and working hard across all areas of the school curriculum. This is a gift from them to you, a token of thanks for all the hard work and support you have given them this term and over the past year. On your son’s behalf, thank you, parents, and bring on a Wetherby Christmas!
Have a lovely weekend!
20 November 2015
All of a sudden it's started to get cold. We have a rule in our house that central heating is not switched on until half term but it has taken until this week before firing up the boiler once again. A plea then for boys to travel to and from school with an outer garment; there have been some Prep and Senior boys inadequately dressed for the conditions this week and it is only in their best interests that we nag them on your behalf.
A week of sporting success for both Schools: Romeo Beckham 7th (out of 400) in the Knole Run at Sevenoaks School, good victories against Westminster Under, Farleigh and WCCS (we passed the 150 fixtures mark for the term this week too) and landmark, inaugural wins against UCS and Holland Park for the Senior School. They've been improving all season and the two victories were just what the Senior boys deserved after all their efforts since September. I really haven't been very good, in recent years, in my match attendance but vow to change this and have promised Mr Sullivan that I will come down to watch the senior boys before the term is out. I will also get to Bradfield this weekend to support the Prep 1st team in the National IAPS Soccer Sixes at Bradfield. Go #teamwetherby!
Sporting success of a more poignant nature for me and my son Patrick on Tuesday, as I took him and his friends to the England v France game at Wembley. After Friday's tragic events there was no question that we would not attend the fixture, an opinion shared by his fellow classmates and their dads. Great attitude, comradeship and determination from all those in the stadium that night. It was a privilege to be there.
Have a good weekend,
6 November 2015
For many years, we have debated the advantages and disadvantages of a two-week half term break. Long-standing Wetherby parents will know that we have, traditionally, had a week and a half, so this was something of a departure for us. Staff were relatively ambivalent: some for, some against but most didn’t mind and there was no strong feeling on the part of parents, that I was aware of. It has been, though, an unequivocal success. Staff feel fully restored, the children appear calm and ready to learn (important in what is the longest term of the year) and everyone seems to have taken full advantage of their two week break. We will do the same next year and for all future autumn terms. For reference ‘Term Dates 2016-2017’ are on the school website under the ‘Parents’ Area’ tab.
You might have seen a rather disturbing news item, over half term, suggesting that there are prep schools out there ready to disallow a pupil’s return should they sit and fail entrance exams to another school, when that pupil’s departure would mean they’re not completing ‘full time’ at their current choice. I haven’t heard of this and find it hard to imagine it to be true but I do know that colleagues in some schools take a dim and somewhat unsupportive view of parents who pursue this option. I don’t understand this stance at all.
For me, success breeds success and, last year, we supported, encouraged and celebrated our boys who entered King’s Wimbledon at 9+ and City at 10+ or 12+, every bit as much as we celebrated the successes of those who left at 13+ to join their senior schools. It could be argued that that is easy for me to say as we have such a long list of parents wanting to send their boys to us at all age groups, a point I would concede. But then again, maybe the reason for that waiting list is that we have such an open and transparent relationship with our parents. A school’s first priority is, of course, its children but, irrespective of whether it is a State or independent school, it may be wise to remember that we are, in essence, a service industry and that all parents will, quite rightly, seek the very best for their children. Choice and supporting choice, so it seems to me, are fundamental and to the benefit of all.
And finally, a picture, not of my children, but one of my village on a perfect, autumnal day, an image (and I can’t take credit for its photographic artistry – it was taken by my neighbour) that is quintessentially the English countryside and everything that is beautiful about it.
Have a good weekend…
16 October 2016
Where did that half of term go?! I can’t believe we are now a sixth of the year through, a feeling echoed at what has been a week of Parents’ Evenings for me. On Monday and Wednesday, the Year 9 Parents’ Evenings at the Senior School, Tuesday and Thursday, Year 6 Parents’ Evening at the Prep and, additionally for me, Parents’ Evening for my two boys, Patrick and Joseph, on Tuesday. Those parents interested in the progress of P and J will be delighted to hear that they are both doing very well. Patrick has increased in confidence this term, particularly in Maths, and I was delighted to hear that, based on the ongoing unit tests, he is 3rd in the year in Geography, though he does need to pay more attention to his colouring in of coastlines and maps in general. Joseph is more of a late developer (at least that’s what I tell myself) and has yet to truly show the extent of his intellect or academic potential. He does have a very wide vocabulary (don’t I know it) but doesn’t necessarily commit it to paper that often. They are both, though, extremely well behaved (the main thing) and “obedient learners” – a phrase I hadn’t heard before, yet was very pleased to and will subsequently use when describing boys at Wetherby! Parents’ Evenings – an education for all!
A very busy half of term then. Great to meet all the new boys and parents and to receive such positive feedback on all things Wetherby. You’re well and truly one of us now and, hopefully, feeling part of the family. Lots of exciting things to look forward to after Half Term, with the run up to Christmas, but please ensure the boys have a good rest over the next two weeks. This is a busy school and, as we always say to new staff and parents, the school will ‘hit you like a train’ in the nicest way possible. I will indeed be resting in between sorting a few things at both schools and attending what is now an annual pilgrimage to Strictly Come Dancing with my mum. I won’t be dancing but will be trying to clap in time and cheer at all the right moments. If I was judging the last half of term I would give a solid 8 – not being mean or negative there, just an old teacher trick to set something for everyone to aspire to as we culminate to a perfect ‘10’ at the end of July.
Have a great Half Term break!
9 October 2016
Wow! What a privilege, and what fun to spend the day as Headmaster of Wetherby Prep.
The day started with breakfast and the morning staff meeting. I was immediately struck by the sense of joy and enthusiasm and the real thought and debate that are given to the nominations and selection of both the Citizen and Sportsman of the Week.
Then to assembly, at the Church of Annunciation, which was quite special. It was very uplifting to see the boys so excited and proud of their individual achievements but the biggest cheers were saved for the house point update. Congratulations to Dawson who are in first place!
Then on to a PE session and really interesting to see the boys being challenged not just around the physicality of movement but a lot of group discussion on the technical aspects, and then the daily staff meeting where the logistics of looking after 320+ boys become more than fully apparent. From there to the hall with the year 8 boys debating whether they thought religion and science were in conflict or not. The boys from both sides put forward some persuasive and convincing arguments and a real pleasure to see all of them confidently putting forward their case.
But the key takeaway for me today was witnessing the school operating at first hand. All of us have our own individual reasons as to why we have chosen Wetherby Prep to look after and educate our precious cargo, but the overriding element we all wish for is that they are nurtured in a supportive and happy environment which allows them to grow and challenge themselves without fear of failure. The energy inside the school is reflective of both the staff and the boys’ enthusiasm and one I wish there was more of in my own industry.
Incidentally, speaking about the positivity of youth, I should mention the game that took place last Friday evening at the Wetherby Sports Ground between the teachers and the parents. The teachers reclaimed the cup with a well-deserved 3-0 victory. Special mention should go to Mr Meyer who had an outstanding game but the teachers’ ‘Man of the Match’ award goes to Mr Redmond for a well taken hat- trick. The parents put up a brave fight although age did take its toll, with the team suffering from a number of pulls and strains. There were some very kind emails afterwards on the goalie’s efforts to keep the score respectable but the parents’ ‘Man of the Match’ was clearly Stephen Robertson who defended doughtily as well as taking all of my goal kicks. He was superb, and we would undoubtedly have been looking at a cricket score without his efforts. We are all looking forward to a rematch in the spring.
Finally, for those who were not in assembly, today is “Quote of the Day”. I read out my favourites this morning and the boys have been coming at me thick and fast in search of house points.
The best ones so far are “Always be humble in victory and gracious in defeat,” and “Better to be an hour early than a minute late,” (Mrs A please take note!).
In closing, I thoroughly recommend the experience of being part of this school for the day. I trust that this tradition will continue and that next year’s lucky parent has as much fun and insight as I have had.
Have a great weekend!
Steven Ashley (Headmaster for the Day)
2 October 2015
I was distressed to read, in a national broadsheet last week, that there was a ‘crisis’ at Charterhouse – an excellent school, to which we have sent many boys over the years. There was, so it was reported, a revolt, emanating from an online petition, on the part of parents, governors and boys, which featured selectively explicit criticism of the Headmaster, Richard Pleming, in support of ‘the case against him’. I have met Richard a number of times and never found him to be anything but charming, personable, intelligent and genuinely passionate about education and the institution which he leads. Past Wetherby parents have been very happy with the School and demand for places is now so high that they are joining the increasing number of schools that subscribe to the ISEB common pre-test.
You can’t please all people all of the time, of course, and clearly there is, one can only assume, a minority of disgruntled stakeholders. What is disappointing though is that these individuals chose to use the medium of the internet, rather than the normal complaints or grievance procedures of the school. That, so it seems to me, is courteous, professional and the right way to attempt to sort out problems in private, without the need to engage a wider audience, an act which could potentially have an enormously damaging effect on boys at the school. I expressed my support to Richard and the school last week and encourage all of our parents to ignore such press coverage, keeping the school under consideration as an excellent destination for their son at 13.
We are delighted that so many parents are coming to the first Open Day at our Senior School this Saturday. Please remember that Wetherby Prep parents have an ‘exclusive’ time slot, between 10 and 11am. I really do encourage all of you to come during this time as the numbers for the event are closing in on one thousand attendees. I look forward to seeing you, showing you the building and introducing you to our extremely talented teaching team.
27 September 2015
This week has been about building new friendships. As I said at New Parents’ Evening, the occasion was not only about the boys but also about you, their parents. We always say that being a Wetherby parent is just as important as being a Wetherby boy and I know that all of our parents feel that same strong sense of attachment to our School, as that felt by the boys. This is a sociable school and we actively seek to help parents get to know one another, through a wide range of activities and events, as that strengthens our community, as well as the boys’ education, immeasurably.
This is also true for the staff. Every year, we welcome new colleagues and, in the case of the Senior School, almost everyone is new to one another, yet I have been so delighted with how seamlessly everyone has got along, not just in a professional sense - that could be relied upon from the outset - but also in a social sense; there is always great camaraderie in the Wetherby Staff Room and this year has proven to be no different. Everyone works comfortably with others, in full support of their colleagues, and an underlying sense of good humour is apparent. Teaching can be an intense job at times, requiring an incredible amount of human interactions with a diverse audience every single day. Staff need the solidarity of a good Staff Room and I have often thought how the prevailing mood of that room is an accurate barometer of the harmony of a school. The sunny atmosphere of our own reassures me every day.
The best education is supported by the trusting relationship developed between school, teachers, parent and child. When this works, a purposeful community is forged, something for which Wetherby is renowned and for which I am hugely grateful: #teamwetherby
Have a great weekend!
18 September 2015
“London is unequivocally the education capital of the world," said the city's Mayor, Boris Johnson, this week. With four Universities in the global ‘Top 40’, London is considered to be the top university city in the world. As an alumnus of University College London (7th in the rankings), this makes me very proud (and looks good on the CV) but, as much as I enjoyed my three years at UCL, I never felt that I was a student in a ‘University City’. We all lived miles away from each other - so far in fact that the Union Building was closed at weekends. There were no ‘student nights’ or ‘student discounts’ to take advantage of; we were infamously and shamefully 2nd last only to Sunderland Polytechnic in the league table of rag week fundraising yet, when I visited school friends at other Universities, London life seemed much more ‘grown up’ and mature in comparison with their experiences. When I subsequently went to Newcastle University, to do my PGCE, I realised what being a student in a ‘student city’ was all about. Newcastle upon Tyne had far more of a ‘university’ and ‘student’ identity to it and I loved my time there. Maybe it was the content of the course; maybe the city itself but I felt that the one year I spent in Newcastle was more fulfilling, rewarding and enjoyable than my three at UCL. There was though no suggestion or inclination that I would live, settle and take a position there - I was always coming back to London and have been in and around the capital ever since. There is a magnetic attraction to London that I couldn’t ignore and arguably the best thing about studying at a London University is that most people stay in and around the area, rather than in other cities where, upon graduating, people seem to disperse to all parts of the country and globe. Like it or not, London is a centre of excellence in the UK and it is no surprise that so many of the world’s most talented teachers, lecturers and people want to study here.
But surely the biggest news of the week has to be Watford’s first Premier League win of the season at the weekend - I’m sure all your sons celebrated, as Patrick, Joseph and I did last Saturday. Great win! West London Wetherby boys will note that we are above Chelsea in the league and only Man. City, Man. Utd. and Arsenal have conceded fewer goals. Just saying...
Have a good weekend.
11 September 2015
It was not only building work at Wetherby Senior that occupied my time and held my attention this summer. At our house, the culmination of three years’ work on our next door neighbour’s windmill was the talk of the village. The windmill, which literally sits at the bottom of our garden, has been a local landmark for over a hundred years and has been painstakingly restored by the current owners. With the sails built off site, they were brought to the windmill on several lorries before being attached with the aid of a crane. The whole process took about two days and was a major feat of engineering, craftsmanship and considerable patience! The windmill turns with the wind and the cap will rotate to face the prevailing wind, however it is anchored currently in the position it appears in this picture with my sons, Patrick and Joseph. Just like the Senior School, the project has taken much planning, organisation, skilled workers and considerable investment - and both have certainly been worth the wait!
Have a good weekend!
4 September 2015
Welcome back to the new school year and a particularly warm welcome to all our new parents and their boys starting this week. Whilst the Bakers did get away to Menorca and West Wittering, a lot of my time this holiday was spent overseeing the building work at our new senior school. Everything has gone to plan. It really is a marvelous site and I look forward to showing you around in due course.
Back at the Prep School, there are no major changes to be aware of, although we have changed the Games days for all boys. This has been done to try and ‘fit in’ with the other schools that we play fixtures against and you will see that there is only one occasion, a tournament, that clashes with academic lessons this term. We have also managed to include more fixtures for children of all abilities, not just the A and B teams. A website, dealing specifically with our sporting engagements, is planned which will probably be launched along with the new ‘Wetherby Website’ that goes live in the New Year.
Apart from that, it’s business as usual. We have a number of new staff who complement and develop our existing team here – pictures and profiles below- and they are all looking forward to meeting you and the boys.
An interesting piece of research, I’m sure you will have seen over the holidays, reported that 80% of the Nation’s parents believe that remembering to say please and thank you is the most important life lesson we can teach our children. When my younger son, Joseph, asked the other day if he could have an apple, I replied, “What’s the magic word?” to which he replied, “Abracadabra?” – cue shake of the head, “Expelliarmus?”, nope, “Expecto Patronum, Finite Incantatem, Wingardium Leviosa?” Whilst I admire the dedication of his reading of Harry Potter books,it took some time to get round to a simple, “Please”. Better never stops as far as manners are concerned and, due to popular demand amongst staff, feedback from parents and the PTA, we will re-launch the weekly politeness challenge this term, with a potential prize already planned for the final Assembly if the boys are successful.
As always, lots to look forward to, with another, memorable year coming up. The holidays are too long; let’s all get back to the exciting times at Wetherby Prep!
Have a great term…