Headmaster’s Blog

What a thing a snow day is! Pushing the button to declare a snow day and thereby close the School is one of those (admittedly fairly low-level) leadership conundrums (conundra?) whereby one delights a large chunk of the community whilst simultaneously causing frustration to a good handful of others. Having written to the ECS community during the course of the week to advise that we would remain open on the Thursday until further notice, and that those who could travel in safely (and get home again) should come in, it was business as usual on Thursday morning as the first light snowflakes fell.

Just under 60% of pupils were able to make it in to Hall House and the Chantry, and the staff who braved the elements to make it in (well done to them – and to the working-from-home staff, all of whom let Mr Bartlett know by 7.30 that morning) put together a range of activities to ensure that the morning in School was time well spent. A heroic effort from Mr Farrow, Miss Michael and Mrs Featherstone saw all of the Pre-Prep being treated to hot buttered toast and hot chocolate (I am still going with the washing up in our kitchen – 70+ rounds of toast creates quite a few crumbs), and the joint efforts of the Prep team ensured that the Chantry was a-buzz with game-making, story-board-creating, play-rehearsing, music lessons et al.  They do indeed gang aft agley, the best-laid schemes, and the Red Weather Warning issued by the Met Office at 9am – telling us that safety would be compromised from 1pm – meant that, after some meetings with my senior team and some phone calls with my fellow Heads at Exeter School and the Maynard, we took the decision to close the School at noon. Exeter School and the Maynard both made the same call, and so it was that the city and its environs became eerily bereft of pupils and teachers at about lunch-time.  It was, I think, very positive for the good name of independent education that the three largest independent schools in the city were able to remain open during the morning to offer a service to pupils and parents.

So what to do on a snow day? Ought we to be setting extra prep, additional homework, or arming children with worksheets to complete, equations to work out, or even vocabulary to learn? Actually I suspect not.  Whilst there’s no doubt that we take the academic side of things seriously – just look at the surge in our Common Entrance (public exams for Prep Schools) results in the last  couple of years; or at the academic accolades awarded to our pupils as they move onto Senior School (of the 3 13+ Academic scholarship prizes awarded by Exeter School, two of them have been won this year by ECS pupils; the top Academic Scholarship to Blundells, the AJ Hill Award, has just been won by Ben in Year 8; scholarships have been won by our pupils this year and last to the Maynard, Wellington, Truro, Downside, Exeter, Bramdean, Plymouth College, Wells Cathedral School, Charterhouse, Taunton, King’s Taunton – and we are waiting to hear still from a number of schools, including Sherborne, Marlborough College, Millfield) – in a really good school there ought to be time and space for much more than that.

I’m very clear that that’s what we are, and I hope that a look at our Senior Enrichment Programme, our extracurricular provision, our extensive provision in Sport, our forward-thinking Wellbeing Agenda (Emotional Wellbeing, Digital Wellbeing, Health and Wellbeing), and the time-out we take together to gather, to think and to appreciate, shows how seriously we take the all-round development of pupils – whether outside the classroom or inside it.  Abingdon School, alma mater of our Gapper Mr Farrow (where he played 1st XI cricket, was Head of House, a senior chorister, and, judging by his guaranteed place at Magdelen College, Oxford to read music and be a Choral Scholar in September, a bit of a whizz in the classroom, too – never let it be said that ECS attracts anything other than the very best staff!) go so far as to refer to their extracurricular programme as ‘the Other Half’.  I rather like that, as it lays cards on table to declare that 50%+ of what matters at school happens outside of lesson time.  Similarly, Peter Green, Head Master of the world-famous Rugby School, brought with him on his move from Ardingly College the now-well-known (if ambiguously-punctuated) tag line ‘The Whole Person The Whole Point’.  Dr Chris Pyle, Headmaster of the leading state boarding school Lancaster Royal Grammar, adds a verb to his school’s ‘The whole child is the whole point’: a sentiment that chimes entirely with what we are about here at ECS – that learning should, and does, happen all the time and in all sorts of places.

So don’t do worksheets today; don’t learn irregular present-tense verbs; don’t concern yourself with litmus paper, 2nd-declension nouns, or the volume of a pyramid.  Play.  Make snow angels.  Walk with the family.  Watch a movie together.  Read.  Make a snowman.  Bash it down again.  Talk.  Listen.  Have fun.  There’s learning in all of that and it’s really, really important.

James Featherstone

2 March 2018
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