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Principal's Blog

May 2024: Mobile Phones 

You may have noticed that there has been quite a gap between this blog entry and my last one – during this time I have been producing my weekly ‘vlog’ as part of the Parent Bulletin which we now publish every week in school. You can past editions of these here.  I try to give an update on what is happening in school every week (and to keep them short) so please take a few minutes to have a look if you can.

One of the ‘hot topics’ in education at the moment is the use of mobile phones and mobile technology in schools. This is not a new issue, but has been brought into sharper focus recently by the Department of Education publishing its ‘Mobile phones in school: guidance for schools on prohibiting the use of phones throughout the school day’.  Although this is non-statutory guidance, it did lead to national headlines along the lines of ‘All schools to ban all phones’ and other similarly sensationalised articles. 

Having read the report carefully, it raises some valid and reasonable points about the use of phones and how removing them may lead to a calmer environment, reduce distractions and disruption, protect children from the risks associated with social media and actively encourage socialisation and face to face interaction with peers, friends and adults. These all seem to be desirable actions in any school context!

There were some however, more interesting and considered responses to the guidance. Groups of parents in a number of areas across the country got together to agree to delay buying their child an internet-ready smart phone until at least 14 years of age. The idea of the ‘smart phone free childhood’ has gained a significant traction on-line, and seems to be growing in popularity. This may be too late for our teenagers who already own smart phones, but potentially there may be some merit in exploring other options, such as our discussing this issue with our primary schools and families who are transitioning to secondary school this year. Should owning a smart phone be seen as a ‘rite of passage’ when transitioning to Secondary school?  

I know that this is a complicated issue. As a parent of a 13-year-old daughter, I appreciate knowing that she has arrived safely at school every day (text from daughter: ‘I have arrived’) and is back home at the end of the day (text from daughter: ‘I am home’).  My son, however, is about to leave Year 6 and go to secondary school.  What do we do with him? How can I make sure he is safe, whilst doing all I can as a parent to keep him ‘safe’ when he is in school?

Here at Marlborough, the approach to mobile phones is clearly set out in our Behaviour Policy. Do pupils use phones in our school? – yes, of course they do.  Do phones disrupt lessons and learning? – very rarely.  But this question of ‘safety’ – psychological safety – is a really interesting one that will certainly require further thought and reflection

January 2024: a broken contract? 

Recently, I have noticed the return into public discourse of the phrase ‘Broken Britain’. This was a phrase that was used around the 2010 General Election to suggest that society had worsened under the previous government and that things were in a pretty terrible state. Reading the media over recent months certainly brings to the forefront this idea that things are ‘broken’ - from the roads to the railways, crumbling schools, the NHS in crisis, housing, prisons, energy costs, mortgages, and the cost of living - it all feels pretty bleak.

This commentary and language has also been used to describe schools. The schools’ inspectorate, Ofsted, has been under enormous scrutiny since the tragic death of Ruth Perry, a Headteacher whose school was judged by Ofsted to be inadequate. In her final annual report, the outgoing head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, appeared to agree with this assessment of schools today. She wrote that “the social contract that long bound parents and schools together has been damaged. This unwritten agreement sees parents get their children to school every day and respect the school's policies and approaches. In return, schools give children a good education and help prepare them for their next steps in life. It took years to build and consolidate, from when schooling first became compulsory. Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that this contract has been fractured, both in absenteeism and in behaviour. Restoring this contract is vital to sustaining post pandemic progress, but it is likely to take years to fully rebuild.”

 It is certainly true that schools do face enormous challenges. The system we operate in today is more complex and significantly under resourced. Schools are feeling the long-term effects of sustained underfunding. That is simply the reality of the situation. Add to this a teacher recruitment and retention crisis, and things may seem in a pretty bad way. 

But that is not completely the case. Here at Marlborough it is difficult to come to the conclusion that our community is fractured and broken, when there are so many examples - both big and small - of people from all backgrounds and all ages joining together for the common good. Last year, our community raised over £15,000 for charity. We were able to make a significant difference to the lives of other people. Our Sixth Form Open Evening last week saw over 300 people come to our school, have a brilliant experience and want to be part of our caring and inclusive community. Our recent survey of Year 7s and Year 12s told us that even though the outside world may seem difficult and at times unsafe, here in school, young people feel safe and are safe. Parents, carers and families trust us to educate and look after their children. And that is what we do. Every day.

Of course, there are days when some young people do not always make the right choices. This has been the case for every single one of the 30 years that I have been a secondary school teacher. There have always been a small number of parents who are argumentative and choose to write things that are not true on social media, rather than engage in reasonable discussion with the school – this happens everywhere. But I also know that The Marlborough School remains at the heart of the lives of so many people who are connected in a deep and lasting way, so that even though the world will change and fracture, those bonds of trust will endure.

November 2023: Reconnect: for meaning, purpose and belonging: Part 2

I wrote earlier this year (May 2023) about our plans to deliberately build a sense of connectedness and belonging for all members of our school community. Since we returned in September (and in fact since the end of last term in July) we have made some decisions that we hope will have an impact on this over the coming weeks and months. We have also tried to listen carefully to the views of parents and pupils and made some changes in response to the feedback we have received.

There have been a range of actions we have taken, from the financially and logistically significant change of replacing our entire catering provision and lunch-time arrangements, to smaller, more human-level changes such as returning to in-person results’ days during the summer.

One thing that pupils and parents felt strongly about was the return of the pre-covid arrangements for break and lunch-times. We have been keen to do this, but needed to plan carefully so that we had quality catering provision available, and had made enough improvements to the social areas to ensure all pupils had adequate seating and cover (from sun and rain) to make these spaces protected and welcoming. We were also keen to ensure we had improved our lunchtime offer of supervised activities and improved accessibility to other spaces, such as the Library.

It has been brilliant to see how well the pupils have responded to these changes and have shown genuine maturity and responsibility in successfully regulating their behaviour. Breaks and lunchtimes are calm and ordered, with the queues being managed extremely well, with waiting times as low as we can make them (four to five minutes at break; eight to nine minutes at lunch – that equates to around 100 pupils being served per minute, or more than one per second). It is refreshing to see so many young people sitting and chatting with their friends, moving around the school site sensibly (the removal of the gates outside the Sports Hall/Ormerod allowed us to end the ‘one-way’ system) and treating each other respectfully. One visitor commented to me recently that school at these times felt ‘safe and happy’. It is interesting to reflect on how cyclical things are in school – we are doing what we used to do, but in a better, more intentional and more organised way. It perhaps took the necessary years of food cubes and social ‘bubbles’ to help to appreciate the value in mixing and socialising together, but doing this in a safe and purposeful way that gives pupils the opportunity to learn and practice both social skills and self-regulation.

There have been other deliberate attempts to connect: the revamped website and termly newsletter; individual teacher contacts on the website; KS3 Academic Awards Evening (KS4 and 5 to come later this year); more planned trips and residentials; the expansion of the DofE provision; return of World Challenge; and re-launch of the PTA. There is more we will do, but we have also made a commitment to be even more mindful in our daily, micro-interactions with pupils. The smile that says ‘hello’; the thumbs up that says ‘are you ok?’; the friendly ‘morning’ that says ‘I see you; I value you’. In lessons, teachers are deliberately making decisions to pay more attention to those pupils who need it most. All these things collectively add up to a sense of belonging – of genuinely being part of something. This was seen by Ofsted Inspectors who wrote: ‘’The school is a caring community. Pupils are proud to take on responsibility and they are keen to make a positive impact both in school and within the community. Pupils are consistently engaged in their learning and are exceptionally considerate towards each other’’.

October 2023: Reflection on the Ofsted Inspection  

I hope by now that most of you will have read our latest Ofsted Report that was published earlier this month. The full report is available Here 

Due to the nature of the inspection, the overall grade of ‘good’ could not be changed, but the findings of the Inspection Team led to the following outcome:  

The Marlborough Church of England School continues to be a good school. There is enough evidence of improved performance to suggest that the school could be judged outstanding if we were to carry out a graded (section 5) inspection now. 

This is the best outcome we could have hoped for and confirms our own evaluation of our school as an outstanding place for young people to learn and flourish. It is worth noting that just five percent of schools who have had an ungraded inspection achieve this outcome. This means that Ofsted will return for a full, graded (section 5) inspection within the next two years. Although Ofsted outcomes do not drive our agenda here at school, we will make sure that we are carefully planning our next steps to continue our journey of making our great school into the best possible learning environment it can be for all our pupils and staff.

The published report captures much of the verbal feedback we received from the team, but not all. We were overwhelmed to hear the inspectors’ comments about what they had experienced in their two days with us at Marlborough, and are rightly proud of the description of our community as being an exceptional place.

As ever, our pupils did us proud. They showed enormous levels of enthusiasm, respect, perseverance and positivity. They embodied the absolute best of our school and lived out our vision statement which says that our school cannot be judged by outcomes alone, but by the people it helps to shape.

Although there are huge positives to be taken, both from the report and the inspection process itself, we are still ambitious to continue to improve. We know that we can make our school even better, whilst recognising that maintaining excellence is as much of a challenge as implementing positive change. With your continued support and encouragement, we know that, by working together, there is nothing we cannot achieve. 

I am incredibly proud of our children and of the school and community that we are all part of. We are delighted to have been recognised in this way, but this only makes us more determined to make our school the very best place for the children to thrive. We will continue to do all we can to make this happen. 

August 2023: Strength In Adversity

The start of the summer holidays is always an important time to reflect on the academic year that has just passed. The end of term was particularly busy this year, not least because the penultimate week of term saw the school being inspected by Ofsted. I will say more on this when the report is published in September. At the end of July, all major teaching unions voted to accept the government’s latest pay offer to teachers and bring an end to the series of strikes that had impacted on schools and education since February this year. This has been a bruising and challenging time for everyone involved in schools, and there is a feeling that this was a crisis that has been many years in the making. Even though further disruption has been avoided for now, deep underlying challenges still remain across the educational system. 

This national picture around education can be seen as being particularly bleak. The reality is that, across the country as a whole, the teaching profession is in the grip of a number of crises. One of the most fundamental is one which concerns the retention and recruitment of teachers. The DfE’s own figures show that the targets for recruiting teachers in our schools was missed by a staggering 48%. Virtually every subject is now a shortage subject, with the situation particularly acute in subjects such as Maths, Science, D&T and Computer Science. As the year ends, well over two thousand vacancies remain unfilled in schools, a rise from thirteen hundred in 2021/2022.

The retention figures paint a similar picture. The number of teachers leaving the profession one year after qualifying has risen by 13%, with this figure is increasing year on year. During the last academic year, forty-four thousand teachers left the state-funded sector, up seven thousand, eight hundred on the previous year. This figure represents one in every ten of all qualified teachers. The number of Headteachers leaving state school also rose, to two thousand three hundred and forty-one. Of course, some of these colleagues retired, or moved to different roles outside Headship, but this still represents the highest number since 2010 and accounted for one in ten Heads. The situation is complex and there are many factors that are brought to bear on the situation. The reality is that teachers’ pay has fallen in real terms by 23% since 2010, whilst in the same period, school funding fell by 9%. Add to this the huge cuts to funding for SEN provision, mental health care and wider social services, things look extremely serious. Add to this the cost-of-living crisis, cost of heating crisis and the lack of investment in schools and infrastructure, and you get a sense of the challenges faced by the system today. 

It is important to understand this context, as it helps to demonstrate how resilient and strong The Marlborough School is. We are fully staffed with specialist teachers in all subject areas for September, and our strong reputation and values-led workplace culture means that we continue to recruit teachers of the highest possible quality – in the last two years appointing in English, Maths, Science, D&T and Computer Science. We are one of the few schools who delivered a balanced budget at the end of the year, yet still we plan to invest in re-designing our school site and improving our catering provision. We are a school that is full of passionate and capable leaders, and we remain one of the most oversubscribed schools in the county. 

Our new development project has been approved and the consultation process completed. We are confident that our results in a few weeks’ time will continue to build on the year-on-year improvements we have experienced for the past decade – with our Sixth Form being one of the best in the county and our GCSE outcomes showing we can compete academically with any school. The challenges are complex, but despite everything our school is not just managing to survive; but to thrive.    

May 2023: Reconnect: for meaning, purpose and belonging

I wrote in my blog in February that we were spending some time as a school thinking about how we might use kindness and empathy more deliberately to shape our actions as adults and to inform how we treat each other on a daily basis in school. The idea behind this was to make the implicit, explicit - that we would look to ensure that all pupils and adults felt connected to our school in a dozen or so microscopic ways every day. This was brought into sharper focus for us recently by a number of other contextual factors. As part of my role as Headteacher I try to read as much about education as I can and also find out what is happening in other schools – locally, nationally and around the world. The book that I have been reading recently is by the American educator Doug Lemov, entitled ‘’Reconnect: for meaning, purpose and belonging’’. The author’s hypothesis is that young people today face unprecedented challenges, which he groups into three areas: (1) a crisis of mental health around rising screen time; (2) an erosion of trust in institutions; and (3) the challenge of balancing the benefits of individualism with the benefits of collective endeavour in institutions that rely on social contracts (i.e. schools). 

The writer also claims that these issues are exacerbated and amplified in what they call the ‘echo chamber of social media’ where ‘’small groups of peers whip themselves up into a state of high dudgeon and anxiety and feel less obliged to accept what is in the group’s interest if they don’t agree’’. It is certainly the case that there is growing evidence of the impact of social media use on the teenage brain. The research is not definitive as to whether it is entirely ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but rather that there are implications for young peoples’ sense of connectedness to their family and community; how they experience stimulation, reward and affirmation; and how they manage what becomes a habitual, compulsive use of their time and attention. Add to this mix the recent long period of lockdown, where many young people spent significant amounts of time in their own homes at a critical period of social, and indeed neural, development. Teenagers across the globe are reporting an increased sense of isolation and greater levels of social anxiety. 

The authors of the book also note a global increase in what they called ‘anti-social behaviours’, and this has been echoed recently in a survey of school leaders in the UK that revealed an increase in phone use, vaping, vandalism and basic non-compliance around schools across Britain. I am in the privileged position of being able to visit lots of other schools to learn about how they are organised and how they create their own particular culture and ethos, and have seen an increase in this type of behaviour in the schools I visit. Indeed, all schools across our Trust, including Marlborough, have seen evidence of these kinds of behaviours.

 All of this has led us as a school to consider seriously this central question as we head into Term 6: ‘’How do we, deliberately and intentionally, build a sense of belonging and connection to our school community?’’ There are lots of things we do already that mean a huge number of people feel part of our ‘Marlborough Family’. But what of those who don’t? 

We have already started asking all adults within school to consider this question, and have surveyed all pupils recently in the annual RLT survey. We will follow up our communication survey we completed last year with parents with a further survey this term. We know that this will be a key driver for us for the next few years: how do we make sure all pupils can access our ambitious curriculum; and how do we make sure everyone – staff, pupils, parents, governors – feel part of our school? We want to listen and we want to get this right – now, more so than ever. We all want to feel part of something bigger than ourselves; part of something positive and worthwhile. The responsibility lies with all of us to engender a sense of belonging not by default, but by deliberate design.  

March 2023: Charity

Last week was an amazing week that saw the much-anticipated return of Charity Week to The Marlborough School. I had been keen to stress to everyone that it wasn’t ‘Charities Week’ but Charity Week. The difference is that whilst the organisations of our chosen charities are set up to help and support others and are vitally important in themselves, we really wanted to highlight the idea of ‘charity’ as a deliberate act – the conscious and voluntary decision to do something to support and help others. Here at Marlborough, we do not see charity as a one-off thing that happens only during this week, but something we are committed to doing all through the year as one of the ways in which we live out our values. We have already seen this in our Christmas box collection, our work with the Food Bank and Baby Bank, and our delivery of food parcels to vulnerable families. We will continue with our fundraising later in the year with the raffle/silent auction, and are already planning the return of the Senior Citizens’ Christmas lunches.  

The highlight of the week has to be the whole school ‘Fun Run’ on Wednesday afternoon. I was in a Headteachers’ meeting on Wednesday morning when a colleague commented that I was wearing my sports kit. When I explained to the assembled group of Headteachers what it was that we were doing that afternoon – taking over 1000 children through the streets of both the local town and a World heritage Site, Blenheim Palace - they were astounded. For us to even attempt something like this was incredibly ambitious.

As it was, the event went brilliantly, thanks to the meticulous planning and co-operation of all of our amazing staff and pupils. The pupils absolutely loved it and it was great to see some many local residents and members of the community coming out to support us. As I entered the gates of Blenheim to see a massive line of Marlborough blue right across the park, it was a wonderful sight.

The week has also shown how well our student leaders can make a fantastic contribution to the school. At every event the pupils have really led, and I have also been struck by the way that all our pupils can be trusted to self-regulate their behaviour. It was the pupils themselves who chose the charities we are supporting this year – Homeless Oxfordshire (local), Alzheimer’s Society (national) and Care International (international). Through our collective actions this week and beyond, we hope to make a difference for these important and essential organisations. There have not been many more recent examples of us living our vision as a school, and shining so brightly for others to see.


February 2023: small acts of kindness.  

I recently enjoyed a chocolate bar that was delivered to my office by a group of pupils. Attached to it was a note that read, “Dear Mr Hanlon, we were inspired by the ‘random acts of kindness’ assembly and reflection focus, so we decided to do something to show our appreciation to you for all your hard work. We appreciate your effort and want to say THANK YOU! Please enjoy a treat on us.” It was a lovely way to end my day on a cold February afternoon. 

We have been discussing kindness with staff and pupils in recent weeks. As well as the assembly delivered by Dr. Jones earlier this term, last week's Whole School Assembly delivered by Mr. Minton marked the start of Lent and a reminder that doing positive things for others is always a much more achievable goal to have than trying (and usually failing) to give things up. 

This idea of kindness seems particularly important at the moment. I am reminded of the concluding scene of Sean O’Casey’s famous play ‘Juno and the Paycock’, where the main character Jack Boyle declares that “the whole world’s in a state o chassis”. This is something my mum used to say, meaning that the world was in a state of ‘chaos’ and things seem more fretful, more difficult, than usual. This certainly seems to be the case at the moment. War in Ukraine; global warming; the cost of living crisis; four Prime Ministers in the past 3 years - all lead to a broad sense of uncertainty and lack of stability. 

We are certainly seeing the impact of this in schools across the country. Teachers and leaders nationally in all schools are reporting an increase in parents expressing frustration and anxiety, both in person and across social media. We have all experienced occasions when parents and pupils can sometimes be quick to rush to judgement, often with a sense of outrage and real anger. I know that, at times, this can cause some challenges for us in school where staff are on the receiving end of some of this tension.          

This is why it seems to me to be more important than ever that here at school we demonstrate the behaviours we want to see in others. We always try to be calm, thoughtful and empathic when dealing with our colleagues, parents and pupils. Role modelling how we deal with this and making sure we are always living our value of respect - no matter how hard that is sometimes- embodies our ethos here at Marlborough. That is when small acts of kindness become so important: smiling when you see somebody; saying thank you to someone; giving someone a thumbs up; asking them about their weekend and listening to their answer; speaking respectfully to each other. These small, sometimes inconsequential acts, demonstrate that nothing is more important than how we treat each other and that we should try to always show care, compassion and humanity when dealing with others. 

When we experience small acts of kindness, care or compassion, they make us feel connected to the people around us. They remind us that we care about them and they care about us. They make us feel a part of something, like we belong. They remind us that we have much to be grateful for. They draw us back to the positives in our lives and help to manage any negative thoughts we might have. When negative things happen we often focus on them, repeating them in our minds and allowing them to cloud our perception. Conversely, positive emotions are contagious, so when we feel a sense of connection, gratitude and joy we spread these feelings to others.

We believe that the strength of a community can be measured by the sum of all the small acts of kindness, care and compassion that take place each day. This is the case at school, and so we can be really proud of our community; the Marlborough Family.

December 2022: Education Funding and Christmas

The final weeks in the run up to the end of term can often be challenging. Pupils are tired; and cold. Staff are tired, cold and trying to enthuse the pupils, lots of whom have been working hard for Year 13 and Year 11 Pre-public Exams, and are ready to finish for the holidays. There are things that make the day-to-day life of school even more challenging, however. The much-respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published its annual report on education spending this week. Its summary was stark – ‘’Between 2010 and 2020, there was a real term cut of 8% in total education spending … following on from cuts to most areas of education spending during the 2010s, the government has provided additional funding at successive spending reviews between 2019 and 2021.

However, rising levels of inflation and cost pressures have dampened the effects of extra funding, putting severe strain on providers’ budgets right across the public sector. High ambitions for the education sector will also be harder to achieve in an era of further constraints on public spending’’. 

This reflects the reality of life across state schools. You will also be aware that we are living through a ‘cost of living crisis’, particularly evident here in school in the extraordinary rise in the cost of our energy bills. We estimate that these have risen by 300% - with the additional costs that this brings to the school. We also received the news recently that teacher pay awards had been finalised and back dated to September. This was swiftly followed by pay awards for non-teachers. These nationally-agreed pay awards are much needed and well-deserved, and yet still represent a real-term pay cut. The real challenge is that these pay awards are ‘unfunded’ and come after most schools, including ours, had set their budgets for the year. This has led to significant shortfalls in funding across the education sector, in some cases this means that individual school’s budgets are hundreds of thousands of pounds in deficit.

Here at Marlborough, we are in a stronger position than most. We have been full now for a significant number of years, both in Years 7-11 and in Sixth Form. We could, in reality, take more pupils – but we simply don’t have the space. We have also followed a really careful and sensible spending programme over the past seven years, turning a half-million-pound annual deficit in 2015 into a healthy situation where we are able to meet all our needs and spend every penny we have on improving the daily school experience for our pupils. It consumes a huge amount of our time, and we are lucky to have experienced and dedicated governors supporting us in this work.

So, what are the solutions? We will try once again to do more; with less. We have reserves to call on, but are looking at every aspect of our provision to see where we can save money. It is not easy to keep cutting when there is nothing left to trim, but we will do all we can to minimise the impact of this in our pupils’ education. This is the task we set ourselves every year. 

In difficult circumstances, you take solace in the things that make our school what it is. Last week, I had the privilege of attending our Christmas Concert in a packed and suitably festive MEC. This year we had nearly seventy young people take part – soloists, duets, ensemble performers, the choir, the orchestra. There were so many highlights that it would be wrong to pick any one out. The consistent level and quality of the performances, the dedication and commitment on show was so impressive. It represented all that is great about our school, and in a fairly gloomy week, the event resonated with our vision – our pupils absolutely shone. They lifted and inspired me and reminded me that we will persevere, whatever the challenges. More than this, that with the passion and enthusiasm of our staff and young people, and working together with our parents, we won’t simply carry on, but continue to see our pupils grow, flourish and shine.

October 2022: One Community

This week saw the return, in person, of our Whole School Assembly. This is something that we have been building up to gradually, as although we were determined to bring Whole School Assembly back, we were also really mindful that such a big, weekly event of logistical complexity requires careful planning and organisation. Whole School Assembly is a fantastic way of sharing messages and key information with everyone in school, but is also so much more than that. We always begin our Assemblies with a musical performance by one or more of our pupils, and this part of pupil participation is crucial for setting the tone of the event and providing an opportunity for pupils to perform in front of over a thousand people – imagine the courage that takes; and the confidence it gives. As I say to each performer – if you can do this at Whole School Assembly, you can do anything!

We also have the visual spectacle of everyone being physically together in one place. There is something special in seeing the Year 7 pupils at the front of the Hall, and then the pupils getting progressively older (and taller) as we head towards the back, with the Sixth Formers allowed the privilege of sitting on chairs at the far end of the Hall. I remember when, seven years ago, those Sixth Formers sat at the front and were at the start of their metaphorical journey through our school, mirrored in their literal journey to the back of Whole School Assembly Hall. A very Marlborough-specific rite of passage.

The most affecting and important part of Whole School Assembly comes at the end; when every speaker delivering the key message invites all members of our community to bow their heads for a moment of silence and reflection. Being present when 1200 people are silent, if only for a few brief moments, is incredibly powerful. In this world of noise and distraction, of constant movement and sound, reflecting in silence together allows us to connect to something spiritual if we choose to do so, or to simply think about the messages we have heard and the implication for us as individuals – and as a collective body of people.

Whole School Assembly reminds us that, even though we are unique individuals who have value in themselves, we are also part of something bigger; something powerful and important – a community that links us inextricably to the lives and needs of others, that gives us a sense of identity, belonging and pride. After years of being away, I am delighted we are back.

September 2022: Momentous Events  

Momentous events have happened over the past few days in our country. It is not often that we can genuinely claim to live in historic times and be witness to moments of real historic significance, but the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch ever in British history, marks a truly historic and important moment in the history of our nation.

Queen Elizabeth II was born in 1926, and was crowned queen at the age of 25 in 1953 at Westminster Abbey. Since then, Elizabeth’s reign has extended beyond all of our lifetimes here at school. She has been the queen for longer than most people can remember, and so her death feels like something of a shock, even though we knew it would happen one day.

The facts about Elizabeth’s reign are absolutely remarkable. She surpassed her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, as the longest serving monarch; she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II, working as a mechanic and helping to drive and maintain army vehicles. She was served by fifteen different Prime Ministers, from Winston Churchill to Boris Johnson, and even in the very last week of her life met with the new Prime Minister of the UK. Her reign saw four Popes, and fourteen Presidents of the United States, from Kennedy and Obama to Trump and Biden, the Queen met them all. In every historic and culturally significant moment of the last seventy years, the Queen was there.

Elizabeth was the most travelled British Monarch in history, making over one hundred and fifty official visits across the globe – she was the first British Monarch to visit China, to go to the new Republic of Ireland, and the first to address the US House of Congress.

She was the patron of over five hundred charities, owned around thirty corgis during her lifetime, and sat for around two hundred official portraits. A truly remarkable life.

I have been listening to a lot of tributes that have been paid to the Queen over the past few days. What has been interesting to hear is that a lot of what people admired most in the Queen was the way in which she lived her values. In his first address to the nation, the new King Charles III, spoke of how the Queen had always been a ‘’symbol of strength, forbearance and resilience’’. He spoke of how the Queen embodied the values of ‘’loyalty, respect, and love’’. He vowed to reign in a similar way to his mother, saying ‘’that throughout her lifetime, the country’s values have remained, and must remain, constant.’’

The most powerful testimonies for me have not come from world leaders or politicians, but from the people who knew the Queen beyond her public image, people who saw her as a human being, and those who saw her as a mum, a grandma and a great-grandma.

At times such as these, I often turn to poetry to express things that are hard to put into words. Simon Armitage, the Poet Laureate, who is the official national poet appointed by the Queen (there have been seven during her reign) has written a new poem called ‘Floral Tribute’ in which is uses the metaphor of the flower ‘Lily of the Valley’ to explore the lasting legacy of the Queen’s reign. The final stanza reads:

Evening has come. Rain on the black lochs and dark Munros.

Lily of the Valley, a namesake almost, a favourite flower

Interlaced with your famous bouquets, the restrained

Zeal and forceful grace of its lanterns, each inflorescence

A silent bell disguising a singular voice. A blurred new day

Breaks uncrowned on remote peaks and public parks, and

Everything turns on these luminous petals and deep roots,

This lily that thrives between spire and tree, whose brightness

Holds and glows beyond the life and border of its bloom.

The Queen was said to be happiest when in the company of her family: her children; her grandchildren; and great-grandchildren. She had a great sense of humour which she famously showed during the celebrations to mark the recent Platinum Jubilee.

Finally, we remember that the Queen played another incredibly significant role for us here in school. One of the Queen’s many titles was ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’. In 1992, our school received a special award, on the occasion of her fortieth year on the throne, in recognition of the school’s work in the community. The framed, signed certificate is currently on display in Reception.

Along with all other C of E Schools across the country this week, I read a prayer during the Whole School Assembly to remember the life of Queen Elizabeth. Everyone in our community was invited to spend a few moments in silence, and reflect on the life of a remarkable person in our nation’s history.

Gracious God, we give thanks

For the life of your servant Queen Elizabeth,

For her faith and her dedication to duty.

Bless our nation as we mourn her death

and may her example continue to inspire us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.


August 2022: Summer School   

The summer holidays are always a really important and valuable time for us involved in school leadership. Of course, we take the time to have a holiday with our families and ensure that we are taking a break from the stresses and strains of day-to-day school life.

However, it is also an opportunity to do some crucial planning and self-evaluation, as well as a time of feverish activity on improving the site whilst the pupils are away.

The summer for me, as Head, is split into three sections. The first of these is the chance to evaluate and plan. This involves scrutinising all the evidence of school performance, taking on board feedback from different stakeholders and evaluating progress on our previous School Improvement Plan. It is the time when I am able to focus on our development priorities for the year, plan our teachers' INSET days, review key policies and ensure that we are focusing on how to improve our school over the coming academic year.

The final part of the summer is spent preparing the school operationally for the start of term. There is so much to sort out logistically, as well as determining important messages and presentations for staff and pupils. We have to prepare safeguarding training, plan our meetings for the whole term and our site team has to liaise with contractors, builders and other external agencies on the improvements of the site that are taking place. This year, these have included a sixty thousand pound investment in the refurbishment of our toilet facilities.

The middle section of the summer holidays is all about the pupils – our Year 11s and Year 13 get their examination results in a two-week period that sees our school once more transferred into a hive of activity. It is a period of time I really look forward to, when all the hard work and commitment of our young people really pays off. We have a tremendous experienced, dedicated and expert group of staff who come into school to help and support our young people achieve the next steps in their life. It is a genuine privilege to work alongside this team.

We go through every single pupil who receives their results and ensure that every individual has the support they need to achieve their destination, be it Sixth Form, College or an apprenticeship at post-16; University, or apprenticeship post-18. The part of the summer I really enjoy is the post-exam period when, having secured their place at university, it suddenly dawns on the young person and their family that they will be actually leaving home in a few weeks’ time!

The list of destinations achieved by our A Level pupils this year is amazing. I shared the many and varied destinations with staff on their return to work in September. Each of these destinations marks the start of a new adventure, new possibilities and effectively the start of their adult life in a new place, away from home. This year these were: Oxford; Oxford Brookes; Nottingham; Exeter; Bristol; Cardiff; Bournemouth; Sussex; Gloucester; Leicester; UCFB (Wembley); York; Cambridge; LAMDA; Chester; Bath; Loughborough; Leeds; Sheffield; Swansea: Lancaster; Brunel: Winchester; Warwick; Southampton; UWE; Queens’ Belfast; Chichester; Birmingham; UEA; and Oxford School of Drama.

The subjects they are going on to study are equally impressive: Natural Sciences; English; Drama; Philosophy and Psychology; Ancient History; History; Engineering; Automotive Engineering; History of Art; Geography; Economics; Psychology; Law; Drama; Sports Business and Broadcasting; Astrophysics; Maths; Sociology; Mechanical Engineering; Architecture: Architectural Technology; Zoology; Biological Science; Archaeological Science; Sports Science; PE and Coaching; Social Policy: Aerospace Engineering; Physiotherapy; Biomedicine; Sport and Exercise Science; Politics; Religion, Philosophy and Ethics; Journalism; English Literature: Motorsport Engineering; Education; Computer Science; and Marketing and Communications.    

Marlborough pupils going out into the world, to be the leaders and shapers of the future. As I wrote in my response to the exam results this year:

Behind all of our pupils’ grades is an individual young person, and their family, with an individual story to tell. For all our young people, these results and destinations are real and unequivocal achievements that have been earned over the past seven years of hard work, dedication, perseverance and an absolute commitment to be the best they can be. After such a period of turbulence and uncertainty, they have proved that you can do more than survive, you can thrive in the face of challenge and adversity.

All this sets us up for a successful return to school in September, ready to take another group of pupils through their Marlborough journey.

May 2022: Post-covid? Part 2

Today I reviewed an email from Mrs Simpson, our Attendance Officer, that I haven’t received for some time. It was a simple, one-line message that read: ‘’No new cases of covid amongst the staff or pupils today’’. This was great news to receive on the morning Year 11 started their GCSEs! It was one of hundreds of messages and pieces of information I receive on a daily basis, but its brevity and simplicity gave me pause for thought at the journey the school has been on over the past two to three years.

I am aware that Marlborough's experience of coronavirus was different to that of other schools – we were relatively unscathed by cases for the whole of the first period of lock down, with only one family case in the whole school from March 2020 until July 2021 – a remarkable statistic. The final two weeks of the pandemic period did see a spike in school cases. Just these few weeks were incredibly challenging for pupils and families. When school re-opened in September 2021, we were able to keep school open every day and had no significant staff absence we were unable to manage.
Pupil attendance was consistently above national average and remains so. These last few weeks have seen pupil and staff numbers of cases averaging single figures since last term – so it is no surprise really that we have no recorded new cases.

All of this, of course, does not mean that the period of coronavirus is over, nor that it has not left its legacy on us as individuals or as a school. Those pupils taking GCSEs and A Levels particularly, are entering uncharted waters. We have seen a rise in general levels of anxiety with pupils, and some parents, finding it hard to deal with uncertainty and their ability to adapt to new situations being less secure and confident.

Our priority as a school then is to re-establish all the routines, systems and processes that make all our pupils feel safe. We are re-thinking some elements of the ‘rituals’ of school that are so important – leavers’ assemblies, end of year events, summer concerts and so on. Feeling connected to the community of school is so important. We know that these connections were tested during the lock down period. However, relationships between staff, pupils and families emerged stronger than ever. We know that the school’s vision and values remained a crucial constant during this period,
informing all the decisions we took – and continue to take as a school. However, there have been some changes to how we operate and we have retained some of the systems and processes we put in place during the pandemic into this new period. We know that communication with parents lies at the heart of a successful school, and are looking over the coming weeks to improve and revamp our communication strategy and update our website.

 We also know that every crisis is an opportunity. The coronavirus period has provided us with a great chance to re-examine our overall school vision in the light of unprecedented changes to how we organise the daily experience of pupils in our school. What can we learn from the past two years? How do we maintain our well-being and continue to thrive? How can we build on our successful foundations and create a school that is truly exceptional? How do we both challenge and cherish the
young people in our care? These are the questions we are considering at teacher, leader and governor level over the coming days and weeks. It is an exciting time, where we have the opportunity to build a strong community that will thrive and flourish for the next ten, fifteen, twenty years. That is the task we have set ourselves, and we will dedicate all we have to achieving this goal - and be the best school we possibly can be.

March 2022: Post-covid?

The last ‘official’ blog I wrote was published on the school website two years ago this month – March 2020. We had just heard the news that all schools would be closing due to the pandemic and that exams would be cancelled. Looking back at that time now, I don’t think any of us had any real idea about what was to come over the next two years – the struggles, the challenges, the disruption. It has been an extraordinary time.

Of course, as parents will know, I didn’t stop writing and reflecting during these years. In fact, I wrote to parents over seventy times, which basically equates to more than once every school week throughout the entire pandemic! One of the things that was most challenging during this time was the sheer volume of information, guidance and legislation that flowed into schools on an almost daily basis. Having to read, understand, digest, work out what it meant for us as a school, translate
that into actions and then communicate this clearly to all stakeholders was really difficult. Finding clarity from complexity is a skill that I will never take for granted, and certainty one that I will continue to develop.

Reflecting on that time, it was also difficult to stand back and be objective, to try – amidst the daily trials and challenges – to adopt a long-term view of where we were going and what we are trying to achieve as a school. Assemblies, Reflection Focus, as well as communication with pupils, colleagues
and parents really helped with this, reminding me of one of the basic truths of life: this too shall pass.

And so we find ourselves in what some people are calling the ‘post-covid’ period. Society, and school, seem to have returned to ‘normal’. Except, of course, it hasn’t, or more readily, we have re-defined what ‘normal’ is. I genuinely believe that we have yet to see the medium to long-term impact of covid on ourselves, our community, our school and our society. What we do know is that every individual had a different experience of lockdown, and that everyone had different ways of coping with and processing what was happening. We have been keen to explore these issues safely
with pupils in school, creating opportunities for them to reflect and begin to articulate their feelings and responses to the pandemic. Our priority remains the physical, mental and emotional health of our pupils, making sure that every child has a trusted adult they can talk to if they need to.

Our return to something that we all recognise as ‘normal school life’ has been genuinely joyful.Sports fixtures, music clubs, the Electives Programme, the Winter Cabaret – are just a few examples of our pupils enjoying and participating in the full range of opportunities available to them. Of course, the greatest joy is the daily interactions between staff and pupils, the laughter, the learning and the sense of community that lies at the heart of Marlborough. This is what we missed the most,and it is fantastic to have it back once again. 



The painting above is by the English painter G.F. Watts and was painted in 1886. It depicts a young woman, head bowed, sitting on top of a globe. Her eyes are blinded and she is playing a lyre (a type of small, U-shaped harp) which only has one string. The symbolism of the painting would appear be clear – the woman is at her lowest ebb; circumstances have meant she is unable to play; her disappointment and despair are clear for all to see.

And yet the title of the painting might surprise you: it is called Hope. The painting has had an interesting story in inspiring some remarkable reflections on the nature of hope throughout history. Martin Luther King Jr was inspired by this in a sermon he gave in 1959, whilst Barack Obama based his entire presidential campaign and second book on this theme, entitled The Audacity of Hope. In this, he defines hope as being “a relentless optimism in the face of hardship” and reminds us that, like the young woman in the painting, when all seems lost and desperate, there is still a way to bring music into the world, for the dawn to break and for our sight to be restored. Hope will always find a way.

Many of you will have been aware of the celebrations surrounding Liverpool winning the Premier league title for the first time in 30 years. I know some people who have waited virtually their whole lives for this to happen. It has been a long time to wait, with some near misses, tragedies and challenges along the way. The famous Liverpool anthem speaks emotively of hope in a brighter future: “When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm there’s a golden sky and the sweet, silver song of the lark. Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown, walk on walk on, with hope in your heart…” I think you might know the rest.  

Clearly, this idea of hope is a really important one, particularly in difficult circumstances. Every single one of you will have had a different experience of lockdown during the past few months. For some of you and your families this will have been a really challenging time. There has been a lot of talk of things ‘missed’ – in school, these have included examinations, Sports Day, fixtures, concerts, performances, end of year proms. The impact of this period will be felt for a long time to come.

In school, however, we have been spending considerable time planning for your return in September. This is a really complicated process and school will have to be organised differently when we all come back. There will be some controls about the areas we can access and we will have to all work together to make sure it is safe and secure for the whole school community to be here. We continue to plan all of this really carefully and in doing so there is a palpable sense of excitement building. We have been amazed at the determination, resilience, creativity and resourcefulness you have shown over this period. The work you have done is incredible – and means you are in a really strong position to build on this when we return. I know that some of you have thrived over the time spent at home, developing life-long skills of self-motivation, autonomy and self-regulation. These will be crucial in your further success. We will make sure that everyone, no matter what your experience has been, gets the help and support they need when we are back in school.   

Preparations for September have continued with our virtual transition day for new Year 7s. As part of the induction process, pupils currently in Year 6 have been invited to write a letter to me about their feelings about starting secondary school here at Marlborough. The thing that shines out most of all from their fantastic letters is their sense of enthusiasm, optimism and infectious hope. Hope for the future, a hope shared by all of the teachers and staff here at Marlborough, where we are full of determination to be even more brilliant than we are, and hold a firm and unshakeable belief that better days lie ahead.

Please bow your heads for a moment of silence and reflection.

  • What can we see in the world around us that makes us feel hopeful for the future?
  • What are our hopes and dreams for our own future? What can we do to protect and nurture these?

The Importance Of Reading

There’s a sign on the door of the school library that says, “Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.”  I have reflected a lot on this statement during the past few weeks! For 5000 years, reading has transformed the way we live our lives and has offered us the means to live better. Reading frees the mind, lifts the heart and gives us access, not just to new and imagined worlds, but also helps us to be more successful in the real, actual world of examinations, job interviews, University applications and apprenticeship places.

The power of books to influence and change lives has been seen throughout history in the attempts by tyrants and despots to censure and ban reading - from Caligula to Hitler, leaders have sought to control the thoughts and actions of others by controlling what they read. In the current climate, I read a deeply moving story about a black slave in Oklahoma, Doc Daniel Dowdy, who was punished by his owner in a way we would now find incredibly shocking. He said, “the first time you was caught trying to read or write you was whipped with a cow hide; the next time with a cat o’ tails; the third time they caught you they cut off the first joints of your forefinger”. To oppress something so brutally must mean that it is incredibly powerful.

This story reminds us of the privileged position we enjoy in our free and literate society. Our school library, and the access to knowledge and learning that this allows all of us, is essential to the life of our school. I wonder how many of you have spent more time during this lockdown reading books? It is also really important that we are preparing you to read for both pleasure and purpose.  This type of reading is not just confined to books - think about how much reading you do on screen and in a digital space - emails, blogs, websites, news agencies, twitter. It seems to me that being able to read, understand, and digest information matters more today than ever before.

Reading allows us to satisfy our curiosity. To learn new things. It helps us to acquire new knowledge and fire the imagination. It sits so well with us here at Marlborough as it teaches all of us about caring for people and helps us to understand others – Malorie Blackman, the former Children's Laureate and author of the ‘Noughts and Crosses’ series of novels wrote that “reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’ shoes for a while.”

But reading also allows us to learn about structure and vocabulary, syntax and grammar. Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between reading, and being successful in school and, later, at work. This is why creating a culture of reading at Marlborough is so important to us. As teachers, we are actively developing a ‘reading rich’ curriculum, that includes a deliberate and intentional approach to reading, language development and vocabulary acquisition. Now, more than ever, we need to give you, as young people, a voice that can be heard clearly in the world.

We all have our favourite childhood books and stories. I hope that lots of us have re-discovered these over the past weeks and have read some amazing new stories that will live with us for a long time. Having the discipline of setting time aside each day for reading is an incredibly worthwhile thing we can do and will ultimately become habit-forming. This will be harder for some of us than for others, but we should reflect on the words of former slave, statesman and writer Frederick Douglas when he said, “once you learn to read, you will be forever free”

Please bow your heads for a moment of silence and reflection

  • How are we incorporating reading into our daily routines? If this is difficult, how can we start doing this?
  • Remember that reading allows us to have empathy, concern and understanding for other people – let us make sure we are living these values in our daily lives.

 I can't breathe

I can’t breathe. Never has a simple phrase had such an impact on a global scale. Demonstrations in cities across the world and in all continents have shown the power of this phrase to change the course of history. Perhaps the power the phrase I can’t breathe comes from the idea that all humans need to breathe to live and that we need to breathe in order to speak out and have our voice heard. These words were also so much more powerful in that they were not the dying words of a great world leader, or a seemingly important man, but of a very ordinary person. The final words of George Floyd have echoed around the world and given voice to all of those who have experienced racism, oppression and discrimination in all its forms. it has brought into sharp focus the commonality of racism, as well as the broad of struggle against prejudice and human rights for all people.

Demonstrations and protests across the world have shown that it is not an issue that exists only in America, or in countries other than our own, but is something that lies at the heart of our own society. We must not, and we will not be complacent about addressing the deep and often unconscious racism people encounter on a daily basis. The Marlborough School’s vision statement says that “we recognise the uniqueness of every individual” and that “we believe in the capacity and potential of everyone”. Our value of ‘equality’ means that we give all people an equal chance and that all of our efforts should be to make sure that everyone has access to all the opportunities and advantages our school can offer.

These are laudable aims. But the words of George Floyd are reverberating even in this small corner of West Oxfordshire. It seems only right that we take this opportunity to spend some time thinking about how things are actually done here in school. This is not the time for any quick fixes, or temporary, knee jerk reactions, but the time seems to be upon us when ‘not being racist’ doesn’t seem quite enough; we need to be actively anti-racist, which requires a different level of activity and engagement. As a school, we need to spend some time thinking carefully about what messages we send to all our young people, their families and the wider community. We must be open and prepared to ask serious questions of ourselves, whilst reaching out to others to listen and to find out about their experiences of our school - and how these might shape our future.

As young people, you are the leaders of the future. It is the voices of young people that are being heard across the world. You want the world to be different. We must rise to meet this challenge and listen to those voices calling for reflection and change. We can start by looking again at the curriculum in school, and how we explore issues of culture, history and literature. We will review our Personal Development curriculum and think carefully how about how we are preparing our young people to go out into the world feeling valued, empowered, and equal. And we will listen to the urgent and passionate voices of you, our students.

We know that the power of education means that we can change people’s lives and influence how they see the world and find their place in it. We must address any discrimination or racism, explicit or implicit, and make sure it has no place in our community. Ben Okri, the Nigerian novelist and poet wrote this week, “Maybe ‘I can’t breathe’ will begin the real change that our world so desperately needs. Let’s all breathe. Freedom.”

Please bow your heads for a moment of silence and reflection

  • We remember all the victims of racism and discrimination across the world. May their calls for equality and justice be listened to and acted on.
  • We think of the human cost of racism and prejudice – and hope for a recognition of our common humanity.      

 Marlborough is 80!

Good morning and welcome back to the start of the summer term!

This week marks an important landmark in the History of The Marlborough School. Later this week sees the 80th anniversary of the opening of our school on a sunny June morning in 1940. We had organised a number of celebrations to mark this anniversary, but the coronavirus has put paid to the plans we had in place. I spoke in our Whole School Assembly earlier this year about the history of our school and the local area, and you can find references to this in my blog entry of January 2020.   

Reflecting on our preparations for this 80th Anniversary, which included a school reunion and a whole school photograph, I was reminded of the people and personalities that have gone before us at Marlborough. In the course of 80 years, the school has had ten headteachers – so with an average of 8 years’ service each! The first Headteacher was a Mr. Percy Thompson, a fiery Yorkshireman with a love of boxing! The longest-serving Head was Mr. Gerry O’Hagan, who led the school for an astonishing 22 years, from 1962 to 1986. Some of your parents and grandparents may remember him! The two previous Heads, Mr Ed McConnell and Mrs Julie Fenn, served the school for a combined 17 years. Their legacy, and those that have come before them, is a lot for us to live up to.

It is true that organisations and communities ultimately become bigger than the individuals that make them up. The school has changed and developed beyond all recognition in these last 80 years, but the fundamental driving force behind our school remains as strong as ever. When thinking about how best to frame our thoughts on our anniversary, the passage from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus tells the story of the wise builder came to mind. Here He tells us:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and its fall was great.”

“Yet it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock”.

In these challenging times, we look for those things that are stable and strong to provide us with support and reassurance. Our school has been the meeting place for so many friendships, so many enduring experiences and memories, so many lives changed in a positive and lasting way. It is the responsibility of all of us – governors, staff, pupils and parents - who are here now, to uphold those values and characteristics of our school that make it a unique and special place to be: our one community, united by a common vision; our Electives programme and broad curriculum, ensuring all students get a fully-rounded, extensive, personalised education; our inclusive Ormerod Resource Base, that teaches all of us on a daily basis what equality of opportunity actually means; and, of course, how we treat each other - with respect, courtesy and kindness, making sure that we are ready to go out into the world, ready to make a difference in the world.

If we want to plan our course for the future, we must know the journey we have been on in the past. But, of course, the present is ever with us. As William Wordsworth reminds us:

“Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future”.

The challenges ahead are many and great: the rain will fall; the floods will rise; and the winds will blow and beat against us, but as a school, we will face them together, safe in the knowledge that we are building on solid, unshakeable foundations.

Please bow your heads for a moment of silence and reflection

  • What forms the bedrock and foundation of our lives? Who do we depend upon when times are tough?
  • Let us commit ourselves to making sure that we are there for other people when they need us most – to being a good son or daughter, a good brother or sister, and a good friend.   

 Every crisis is an opportunity

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” This quotation is attributed to Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago and White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama. There has been lots of speculation since last weekend about what life will be like post-lockdown. Journalists and historians are looking to history and literature to see how societies of the past have coped in similar times of crisis. The pessimistic view is that things will return to ‘normal’ very quickly and, in fact, disasters and pandemics tend to bring out the worst in people – selfishness, scapegoating and xenophobia can all be seen as a growing phenomenon in our society and across the world. When the Black Death came to Europe in the 14th century, cities and towns across the continent shut themselves to outsiders – and assaulted, banished and killed ‘undesirable’ community members.

As an English teacher I have taught the novel ‘Lord of the Flies’ many times. The story is of a group of English school boys stranded on a desert island without any adult supervision. After a gradual descent into chaos and violence, the book ends with 3 of the boys dead and the island ablaze. The famous line that concludes the book refers to Ralph’s tears as he is recused. Golding writes that Ralph weeps for the "end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart”. I have always struggled with this reading of man’s essential nature and it is a debate that is as relevant today as it was in 1945 when the book was written. The introduction to the novel’s Faber and Faber classic edition puts this into context. Golding was writing in a world that had seen “within 20 years the systemic destruction of the Jewish race, a world war revealing unnumbered atrocities of what man has done to man, and in 1945, the mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb which came to dominate all political and moral thinking”.

The great question of our current time is, what will be our response to the current global crisis? Will it be a return to ‘business as usual’, or will we see the emergence of a ‘new normal’?

We cannot be sure. However, what we can be sure about is that, as a school and as the Marlborough community, this period of closure does give us an opportunity to reflect on what is important to us, and will allow us to actively shape our response to what has happened. We cannot control the situation, but we absolutely can control how we choose to respond.

The Marlborough School that I would like to see re-emerge from this current situation is one that builds on the amazing spirt, perseverance and sense of community that has been so palpable over the past weeks. The cancellation of GCSE and A levels has left lots of schools adrift as they search for meaning and purpose – our vision for education was always broader than this, in that “our school cannot be judged by outcomes alone, but by the people it helps to shape.” This remains our vision, and remembering this will be so important for us in the coming months and years.

So what does a school look like that has ‘people’ at its heart? It means that we will focus even more on the health and well-being of all our staff and young people. We will bring in additional counselling services, as well as making sure all of pupils have mindfulness training as part of Oxford University’s Myriad programme. We have, this week, secured funding to develop further our Chaplaincy provision and will look to create specific areas of school dedicated to both prayer and secular reflection.

We will promote reading in every aspect of what we do, not only for its intellectual and academic benefits, but also for its calming influence, the perspective it brings and its ability to stir the emotions and fire the imagination. We have already seen a massive out-pouring of creativity in our pupil’s response to the lockdown and the pandemic in general. We must harness this, and never lose sight of the crucial importance of drama, art, music, sport, cooking, design, craft, building and engineering that is so important to so many of our young people. We have preserved these in our curriculum – and we must continue to promote excellence in all these pursuits.   

We will re-dedicate ourselves to creating the most environmentally friendly, eco-aware community that we possibly can. We have done much already, but this drive must continue and there is so much we can do if we set our minds to it. Giving our young people a voice and letting them lead with these actions is something we are also committed to. Exciting plans are already in place for our return.

And we must also look at our engagement, not just with the global world, but with our local community. The school’s central place in lots of people’s lives has been highlighted in so many ways over the past weeks. Caring for our elderly, the homeless, and the vulnerable members of our community must become the driving force behind what we do as a school. A school that is geographically and culturally at the heart of our local community, a place known for kindness, compassion and generosity. 

Please bow your heads for a moment of silence and reflection

  • Think about what changes you want to make as we emerge from lockdown. What would a kinder, more compassionate society look like? What part could you play in creating this?
  • Let us try to see the current pandemic not just in negative terms, but as an opportunity to choose a new, and better, way of living our lives together. 

The Big Marlborough Food Challenge

 Never give up, never despair

As most of you will be aware, last week saw the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. In the run up to last Friday, the BBC showed a programme that told the life stories of some of the veterans who fought in the Second World War, called ‘Britain’s Greatest Generation’. This was a collection of first-hand accounts of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. I watched the programme with my young daughter and found it incredibly moving. You can watch clips and episodes here:

What made it so remarkable was not just the amazing stories of bravery and fortitude, but what stayed with me were the photographs and pictures of the people telling their stories as they had looked when they were young – full of life, youth, optimism and hope. It is important to remember: everyone who is now old, was once young! They had the same dreams, the same ambitions, the same frustrations and joys as young people experience today. But what sets that generation apart is that they also had to face circumstances that were incredibly challenging and unimaginably difficult. Many, if not all, of their stories were often marred by loss and tragedy.

Over the past years I have been privileged to become friends with members of the local Woodstock British Legion. I have heard, first hand, their own stories of conflict and sacrifice, and know how those memories and experiences do not fade with time, but in many ways become more urgent, more visceral, as time goes by. The generation that I first met and spoke with six years ago are nearly all gone - as are the generation of people who spoke so movingly and with such humanity in the documentary.   

Listening to the authentic voices of ordinary people is an amazing way to connect to the past. Lots of you will have tuned in to hear the Queen give her address to the nation on the anniversary of VE Day, at exactly the same time that her father, King George VI, delivered a speech to the nation in 1945, from a bomb-damaged Buckingham Palace.

In his speech, he spoke of the legacy of the conflict that had raged for so many years, and also of the challenges that lay ahead. He said:

“There is great comfort in the thought that the years of darkness and danger in which the children of our country have grown up are over, and, please God, forever.

We shall have failed, and the blood of our dearest will have flowed in vain, if the victory which they died to win does not lead to a lasting peace, founded on justice and established in good will. To that, then, let us turn our thoughts on this day of just triumph and proud sorrow; and then take up our work again, resolved as a people to do nothing unworthy of those who died for us and to make the world such a world as they would have desired, for their children, and for ours. This is the task to which now honour binds us.”

To make the world…as they would have desired, for their children, and for ours.

We all have a role to play in creating and contributing to this work of building a society where peace, goodwill, justice and honour are not out-dated concepts we might study in history books, but living values that we aspire to live out in our daily lives. Inspired by our past, we can be even more determined to shape a brighter, more caring, more selfless future.   

Please bow your heads for a moment of silence and reflection.

  • Let us take a moment to remember all those who gave their lives in conflicts across the world. Men, women and children from all backgrounds, all cultures and all nationalities.
  • May we keep in mind the lesson taught to us by struggle of our previous generations: ‘never give up; never despair’.

 Reflections in isolation

We have seen and read a lot recently about the importance of keeping ourselves active and healthy during these current times. I came home from school last week to find my entire family, including our pet dog, taking part in an on-line yoga session. This was in addition to the daily Joe Wicks, the ‘fitter futures’ programme and other various workout sessions which have even included Mr. Motivator (pupils will have to google this one).

There have been lots of inspiring stories in the media recently, as we mentioned a few weeks ago when looking at the story of Captain (now Colonel) Tom.  I am delighted to share with you the story of one of own community heroes, Miss Bishop. Miss Bishop was all set to run the London Marathon for the seventh successive year, until it was cancelled. However, determined to do something to raise money for her charities and to challenge herself, she decided to cover the race distance at home, in her back garden!

The reality of this meant that Miss Bishop had to run 1,688 laps of the 25-metre course she set up in her garden – all in a circle. For nearly 5 hours. Running for 26.2 miles. Miss Bishop said that she felt sea-sick and dizzy half way through – her solution? To turn around and run in circles the other way! By completing the challenge, Miss Bishop raised money for Blood Cancer UK and NHS charities, in what is an incredible achievement.

More than what she achieved in completing the task, the most remarkable thing was that Miss Bishop didn’t want any recognition for completing her challenge. It was about doing something positive, making a choice to be active and to be do something for others in a selfless way. More than anything, this encapsulates the Marlborough spirit and our school values – of ambition, of perseverance, of acting for others. 

As Miss Bishop reported, the biggest challenge was not necessarily physical, but psychological – to continue for that amount of time and that many laps of one small space. As teachers, and as parents, we are as concerned with our mental and emotional health as we are our physical health. Keeping our minds active and being creative is absolutely crucial. The recently launched ‘Big Marlborough Challenge’ (BMC) had really tapped into this need for us all to have some creative outlet. It has been amazing to see that since lockdown began, although proportionally the amount of time young people spend on screens has gone up, we have also seen an absolute out-pouring of creativity. You are turning off your screens and starting to write, paint, draw, bake and compose.

The first BMC involved writing a poem on the theme of Spring and/or Isolation. The entries were fantastic – so much so, that instead of choosing a winner, we have decided to publish all the poems as part of an Anthology. This can be found in the The Big Marlborough Challenge area of the Home Learning section of the school website. It is well worth a read.

There are two poems I would like to share with you this morning. One, by Jacob, because it made myself and Miss Knowles laugh out loud and encapsulates what lots of you are feeling at the moment; the other, by Ella, we both thought was a remarkable and thought-provoking piece of writing– beautifully constructed. 

ISOLATION by Jacob B, Year 7

I’m stuck at home,
So I’m bored.
Oh, I wish I could play football
Anyway, in the meantime I am baking
Too much.
I do my work
Now I’ve finished it.

Reflecting In Isolation by Ella T, Year 9

We are fighting in a battle we cannot win
I refuse to believe that
This lockdown is making a positive impact
Precious lives are stolen every day but
We have shut ourselves away from the problem
It cannot be said that
We are lucky to be alive
In the mists of this dystopian disaster
‘This will all be over soon’
Is false news, and
‘This tiresome isolation is helping no one’
So, I will tell myself that
The Government don’t care if I live or die.
It would be wrong to assume that
My friends and I will be reunited
I must remember that
Nothing is guaranteed during this time of ambiguity
When I worry about how
The world may be coming to an unimaginable end
I mustn’t fool myself into thinking 
I will find hope
Stranded alone in my bedroom

Now read this poem in reverse - from the bottom up.

Please bow your heads for a moment of silence and reflection.

  • When we are reflecting on our time at home with our families, let us think about how we can support each other to be heathy and active – both in mind and body.
  • What challenges can we meet today? We can try to be patient; to be kind; and to put the needs of others before our own.

 Ubuntu: I am because we are

I received an email this week that helped to put the on-going crisis into a different perspective. It was from our friends at the international charity, BEFSA. This is an organisation that we have helped to raise money for during our Charity Week in 2018. Since then, we have kept in touch and were in the exciting process of starting a formal link with a partner school in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. We had been in contact with our partner school, Ntabenyonkana High School (NHS!) in Middledrift, when global school closures were announced due to the coronavirus. 

Some of you will already be aware that in South Africa the lockdown is far stricter than it is here. There are huge restrictions on who can travel even small distances, and local communities and areas that are already poor are really suffering. This is happening now in the township where our partner school is based. Because the schools are closed there, the majority of children do not have access to food or safety, never mind any form of home learning. The charity has already opened soup kitchens in the township to provide families with a food parcel and children with a hot lunch each day, but they were writing to ask us, as their partner and friend, for help.

Of course, I have responded, and we will be supporting our ‘other’ NHS with an immediate financial donation. I have been in contact with our own Mr. Smith, the lead teacher who is working with our partner school in South Africa, to discuss how we might raise money in other ways by involving more of the whole school community.

It reminded me of a story that I had heard about life in a small village in South Africa. A western visitor had brought sweets and gifts for the children of the village, and proposed playing a little game. He placed the basket of sweets near a tree, and then asked the children to stand a few hundred feet away. Whoever reached the basket first would get all the sweets. When he shouted for them to start, rather than rushing and shoving, the children held each other’s hands and ran towards the tree together, divided the sweets and enjoyed them equally. When they were asked why they did this, they replied “Ubuntu”. Which to them, meant ’how can one be happy when all the others are sad?

This Xhosa saying 'umntu ngumntu ngabantu' really resonates with what is happening in the world at the moment. It translates as 'a person is a person because of other people' and speaks to this broader concept of 'Ubuntu'. Ubuntu is generally understood as the belief in the one-ness of humanity and the importance of showing humanity toward others. ‘Ubuntu’ is rooted in the idea that community is one of the building blocks of society.

Here is an explanation of Ubuntu from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

"Ubuntu is the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being willing to go the extra mile for the sake of another. We believe that a person is a person because of other people, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity."

A person is a person because of other people. In a time when we are physically separated, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves of our common humanity; of how we are all linked and connected through our shared experience of the world; and how empathy and care for others can help sustain our own selves in these difficult times.

I will finish with the traditional ending of a conversation in isiXhosa: 'hamba kakuhle' and 'sala kakuhle', which directly translate as 'go well' and 'stay well'.

Please bow your heads for a moment of silence and reflection.

  • We take a moment to think of those people across the world who will be suffering at this time: refugees; the homeless; the poor; prisoners; and those who feel lost without any help or support.
  • Let us continue to think of the needs of others, remembering the universal truth of humanity: I am because we are.

 Everything will be OK.

It is difficult at times to comprehend the scale of the global pandemic we are currently experiencing. You will have seen the media and various commentators comparing this situation to other times of unprecedented upheaval, such as the Second World War, when Britain was under daily attack from the air, thousands of lives were lost and everyday life was changed and disrupted. Lots of you will remember for our assembly earlier this year, that it was during this time that The Marlborough school first opened and welcomed a large number of evacuees form London who were sent to live with families in Woodstock for the duration of the war. Going to school every day provided a sense of normality and structure for those young people whose lives had been turned upside-down.

I often wonder what it must have been like to be one of those young people, living with the daily uncertainty of what was happening to their homes, their friends, their parents and their families.

Living with uncertainty is something we are all having to get used to. This is particularly challenging for those of us who are used to being in control of things – that when a problem presents itself we come up with a strategy, devise a plan and manage the situation effectively. In these times, when we are not clear what will happen on a week to week basis, when all of our comforting structures and routines are out of synch and disrupted, we are afforded no such luxuries.

It is tempting to feel powerless in these kinds of situations. The scale of the problem seems so huge, that it can feel impossible that we, as individuals, could make a difference. How amazing to see then, so many people deciding to do something that will make a positive difference.

I am sure lots of you have read and seen the news story about 99 year-old Tom Moore. ‘Captain Tom’ actually lived through the horrors of the Second World War, serving in India and Burma. Having been treated recently for a broken hip and skin cancer, Captain Tom decided to raise £1000 for the NHS by doing 100 laps around his house in his Bedfordshire garden. What happened next is a truly remarkable story. The video below lasts for 6 and a half minutes, but is well worth watching as it tells Tom’s story:

The total money raised by Tom to date now tops £27 million pounds. Something about Tom has captured peoples’ hearts and minds  at this challenging time. His dedication, maturity and the wisdom that only age can bring, speaks of a broader perspective on life, a sense that, despite how bad we think things are, that what one hundred years of living has taught him is this universal truth: that although it may take some time, we shall all be OK again.

Please bow your heads for a moment of silence and reflection.

  • Take some time today to appreciate the things you have: the people and friends who love and support you; the home and comforts that keep you safe.
  • Think of positive ways you can make even a small difference: speak kindly to each other; offer to do small jobs in the house; enjoy a cup of tea together.
  • Remember the message of hope from Captain Tom: “To all those people who are finding it difficult at the moment – the sun will shine on you again, and the clouds will go away.”

 After winter, comes spring

On a number of occasions last week, I found myself in the slightly unusual position of being the last person left in school. This is not too unusual in term time, but normally I would be in my office, late at night, and there would always be a member of the site team (usually Mr Cooper) around to lock the doors, close the gates and turn on the alarms. For the past week I have undertaken the duty of closing up the school myself, which involves walking from the English Block through the school towards the Drama Studio corridor to lock up at 4.30pm.

This particular afternoon, I stopped right in the middle of school where the wooden canopy area is. Usually, this area is alive with noise – children shouting and chatting, the buzz of the Dining Hall, the sounds from the field drifting over the Languages Block and the blare of instruments and drum beats emanating from the Music Department. This afternoon, I was struck by both the silence and by the noises that were present. Looking up, I noticed the substantial, mature silver birch trees that dominate this area, along with some smaller tress we have planted in the last couple of years. There were birds flying between the trees, visiting their nests as the branches swayed. I noticed the early signs of leaves coming into bud and the early blossoms shaking in the strong winds. In that moment of calm and isolation, in the beautiful spring sunshine, a couple of things came to mind.

I was mindful of how the Disciples, spending their own period of self-isolation in the upper room following the death of Jesus, interpreted the strong winds they heard surrounding them as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, bringing them reassurance and comfort when they were at their most anxious and troubled. I was also reminded of Philip Larkin’s poem ‘The Trees’ that hears the message of new life in the sound of the trees as clearly as “something almost being said”. The poet writes:

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Larkin is often seen as a pessimistic poet, but this poem abounds with optimism – despite our individual fears and concerns, the world will go on turning and life will return again. The sibilant message whispered by the tress makes it clear that this period of all our lives is only transitory, and that there is always a chance for a new start, a new opportunity to “begin afresh, afresh, afresh.”  After winter, comes spring. And with spring; hope.

Please bow your heads for a moment of silence and reflection.

  • Let us remember that all things and all situations will change, and that all around us we see signs of new life and new hope.
  • Let us take a moment to think of the needs of others, and to consider how we can connect and bring hope to their lives, especially in these difficult times.


March 2020: The Sense of an Ending

One of the comforting things about life at school is its familiarity. The academic year is organised in a particular way, so that, over the years, patterns and structures emerge that provide milestones by which we can measure where we are up to on our annual journey. After twenty-six years working every day in schools, and the last six years as a headteacher, these customs and traditions are now second nature to me.

A lot of these structures have to do with transitions. Not just the transition of primary school pupils to secondary school, although this is a well-trodden path. It starts with our Open Evening and Open Mornings in September, through the applications process and publication of our numbers in February; the commitment to visit every child in their primary school during the spring and then the transition days themselves in the summer term once SATs have been completed and our exams have finished here. The process ends in July with the Information Evening for New Parents, where parents meet their child’s tutor, ready to start in September, when our Open Evening comes around again.

But there are also important internal transitions to navigate. The curriculum choices taken recently by Year 9 will mark the end of Key Stage 3 and the beginning of GCSEs. The start of A Level courses for our Year 11s after their long summer holidays. But perhaps the most poignant transition is that of our Year 11 and Year 13 pupils who approach the end of their time with us at The Marlborough School. We have long standing traditions here at school of final assemblies, Leavers’ Services, group photographs, the last day, the Sumer Ball.  All of these things represent an important rite of passage, acting as signifiers that the order of things is in place, that things are as they should be, and that we will make sure that all our young people are ready and well-equipped for the next stage of their journey.

This year, it appears that, in all likelihood, most of these things will not happen. This is not through anyone’s deliberate actions, but as a consequence of the circumstances we all find ourselves in. It is easy to say that this is an unprecedented situation, but it still means that we struggle to understand it and to come to terms with it.

In the end, once we had received confirmation from the Government that our school was to close and that the exams almost certainly weren’t happening, there was a growing realisation that this could be it, this might be the end of school for some of our pupils. In these circumstances, we did what we always do at Marlborough - we came together. The Year 11s signed each other’s shirts, and we abandoned our afternoon lessons to sing songs, take photographs and to let the news sink in. With Year 13, we gathered in the Sixth Form garden in an unbreakable circle and listened to the words of Mr. Buckmaster as he quoted his favourite philosopher, Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” It transpires that all of us rely on structures, and a gradual transition, that we need to prepare ourselves to say goodbye. There were a lot of tears that day, but for the staff they were overwhelmingly happy tears; proud tears.

Interestingly, it wasn’t the grades or the results that were at the foremost in the pupils’ thoughts, but rather it was a desire to mark their time here, to be with friends and to speak to teachers and staff who have shared their Marlborough journey. It made it clear that, at the end of it all, these are the constants which remain of our school days -our shared identity and history; friendships; relationships; trust; love; laughs.

Those last two days were, in some ways, the best leaving days we have had in recent years. We will mark the departure of our pupils in a special way in the future once we are beyond this current crisis. But if I ever needed reminding, those days taught me that we are proud of all our young people, not for what they can achieve, but for who they are.     

January 2020: History lessons

This year marks a special milestone in the history of The Marlborough School as we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the opening of our school that took place on 8th June, 1940.  The plans for a school in this area were first published two years earlier in 1938, when the 10th Duke of Marlborough bequeathed land on the outskirts of the town of Woodstock to be used solely for the purpose of creating a new, secondary, educational provision that would serve the boys and girls of what was, at that time, a collection very small, fairly isolated, rural, village communities.

In 1939, the school leaving age was 14 years old.  Most young people in this area would leave school to work either on the Blenheim Estate or in the textiles industry that had flourished all across North and West Oxfordshire. Indeed, from the 15th century onwards, Woodstock was the capital of the world’s glove-making industry.  At one point, there were up to ten factories in Woodstock making gloves out of the hides of the sheep that provided the wool for the textile industry.

It was in this context that our school took shape. The financial committee of Oxfordshire County Council had an initial budget of £9,750 with which to build the new school.  In what is quite a familiar story, it soon realised that this was not going to be nearly enough funding to complete the project! Therefore an urgent appeal was sent to all the residents of the surrounding areas to urge them to donate as much as they could afford to help with the cost of building the new school.  The records show that donations came in from every part of the community, with families literally donating pennies and what little they had to raise a further £3,250 – a massive figure in those days.  To put this in context, building a new school today would cost between thirty and forty million pounds. 

It was truly an amazing achievement that the money for our school came from the ordinary working people of our surrounding villages. Before it even existed as a physical place, our school was central to these communities and was built on their contributions and their sacrifices.

The first 67 pupils on roll at Marlborough arrived in June 1940. Only ten days later, evacuees from the London boroughs of Enfield and Shoreditch joined them. Later that year, the whole of the curriculum was suspended, as every member of school - teachers and pupils - took part in the local potato harvest, which closed the school for a whole two weeks in October 1940.  With the whole school field and surrounding area being given over to the potato crop, Marlborough School staff and pupils really did dig for victory.

When reflecting on our history at the start of this new decade, we can learn a lot about our identity as a community school. It seems to me, that if we want to plan our best course for the future, we must know and appreciate the journey we have been on in the past. Those ordinary working people, the grandparents and great grandparents of our current pupils, had a vision of what Marlborough could be when they gave all they had to establish this school all those years ago. The best way we can honour their memory now is to continue to build on those foundations laid 80 years ago and provide a high-quality education that allows all our pupils to achieve their absolute best.

December 2019: And so this is Christmas…

The build up to Christmas certainly starts early when you are part of a school community. This year, the Christmas preparations have been exceptional – we start with our Christmas Lunch for the senior citizens of the local community, which is always a highlight of the year for me. Spread over two days, it is amazing to have such a range of people come into school to enjoy a great meal, happy times with friends and meet our young people, who are always such positive ambassadors for the younger generation. Talking with some of the original pupils who attended Marlborough when it first opened 80 years ago, you get a real sense of the important part this school has played in generations of families’ lives.

Following this, we had the Christmas Carol Service at St Mary Magdalene Church. It was such a privilege to join in with our fantastic and ever-growing choir and musicians in what is undoubtedly a beautiful setting. It was a reflective and moving occasion. We then also celebrated a more eclectic range of musical performances in our Christmas concert in school, which was hugely enjoyed by all who attended. Along with Christmas dinner for all the staff, two ‘Christmas dinner days’ for the students and our special Christmas Whole School Assembly, it certainly does get you in the mood for the up-coming celebrations!

The festive mood was further enhanced by the sight of staff and Sixth Form pupils all dressed in their finery for ‘Christmas Jumper Day’. Although a colourful sight, the cause behind this day is the work being done by Save the Children UK. It is a terrible fact that more than 2 million families with children under-5 live in poverty in our country – one of the richest in the world. Child poverty is rising at unprecedented levels, with 400,000 more children living in poverty-stricken homes since 2010. The work that Save the Children UK does in these communities is amazing and it is good to remember those less fortunate than ourselves at this time of year. This builds on the work that takes place every year in school as we raise money for our chosen charities. The impact of our actions was made clear to me recently when I received a message from the CEO of the World Bicycle Trust that said that because of the money we raised here, in Woodstock, England, 70 young women in Malawi and the Philippines can access full-time education. What we do changes peoples’ lives forever. It really matters. 

This is what the Marlborough family is all about – recognising that Christmas is not just about the celebrations, the presents, the lovely meals – but about helping those less fortunate than ourselves, responding to others in crisis with genuine empathy and taking practical action that makes a difference.

October 2019: Healthy in mind and body 

Last week, a large number of staff and Sixth Formers wore something yellow to school as part of the Young Minds ‘Hello Yellow’ campaign on World Mental Health Day. The aim of the day was to raise awareness of the need to address mental health amongst our young people and to reassure anyone struggling with this issue that they are not alone in experiencing difficulties. I was delighted to see so many people taking part, as promoting emotional resilience and good mental health has become increasingly important for us as a school over the past couple of years.  We have really invested in a number of important initiatives and made sure we are providing sufficient and effective provision which meets the needs of our pupils.

Our actions have been prompted by the growing demands of the modern world: social media; exam stress; body image; and all the various ways in which young people feel under pressure today is a real and urgent concern for all of us who work in schools. We spend significant amounts of time and energy making sure that all our young people are cared for and nurtured, through the strength of our pastoral system with tutors and Heads of Years, but also through our amazing additional support staff. Our Higher Level Teaching Assistants, Student Services provision, our new Pastoral Centre and our extensive team of specialist staff, including our Pastoral Support Worker, Attendance Officer, School Nurse (who works full-time in our school) and our fantastic and invaluable school counsellor. We try to be on alert at all times for signs of those struggling with mental health issues and have robust systems and processes in place to help support those who need it.

However, we are working hard not to just be reactive when problems occur, but to teach habits and behaviours that promote good mental health, and build up our young peoples’ emotional resilience.  The school has played an important role in Oxford University’s Myriad Project (My Resilience in Adolescence), a global project in conjunction with the University of Exeter, the University of Cambridge and UCL. We now make sure all our young people are trained in Mindfulness practices and have coping strategies when they find themselves in particularly challenging situations.  We have seen the impact of this work already happening in school - for example when pupils are able to centre themselves before examinations, self-calm before a speech or presentation, or rationalise and relax about deadlines and work load before it becomes too much.  Critically, we always provide someone they can talk to, someone who will offer unconditional and non-judgmental support to help them cope with whatever life (and school) throws at them.

Of course, it is not just our pupils who need to ensure they are looking after their mental health.  As a school we promote the well-being of our staff as a crucial part of how we have built and maintained a successful community – one where we are able to discuss issues that arise in open and supportive ways – and where we live our values of respect, equality and community. We have a culture of staff well-being here at school we call ‘The Marlborough Way’ and this encapsulates all we do in both small and significant ways, from weekly staff tea, to free yoga sessions and ‘nurture weeks’, from Secret Santa to staff social events (nearly 100 of us took part in our annual summer boat trip on the Thames!) to how we organise our meetings’ schedule and allow our employees to work flexibly and maintain a healthy balance between work and home.

These issues are ones we are deeply committed to. The importance of being connected, of being part of something – a genuine ‘Marlborough family’ – is crucial to our sense of self-worth and happiness.  We have to make sure we look after ourselves; and each other.

July 2019: Planning for the future

I have spent some time over the last week reviewing our School Improvement Plan (SIP) for this year and also in a series of meetings with both Middle and Senior Leaders.  It has been reassuring to speak to colleagues as it enables me to have honest, professional conversations about what things we think have gone well, what things we still need to work on, and what things we will stop doing next year.  As ever, I am keen for there to be a strong sense of continuity between what were our priorities for this year, and what our priorities should be next year.

In fact, when I was reviewing my old folders of School Improvement Plans from 2014 onwards, it is interesting to see how our priorities have shifted and developed over the last five years.  I deliberately haven’t said ‘changed’, as our key priorities have remained reasonably consistent over time.  The biggest and most immediately noticeable change in the plans completed in previous years and the one we are drafting for 2019-20, is the number of priorities has been significantly reduced.  Whereas old School Improvement Plans were massive, narrative-driven, data-rich, action-heavy multi-page doorstops, the latest iterations are much more focused, more- stream-lined and more concerned with making sure we are all doing things that will actually make a difference.

It is tempting, when doing any plan, just to write down everything that you might want to do – but this seems meaningless as the key actions are lost in the over-whelming detail and sheer volume of things to do – most of which will happen anyway.  The key to successful planning is to always bear in mind the old adage to ‘keep the main thing the main thing’.  For us, this means a clear and unrelenting focus of the classroom experience of all our pupils – from their behaviour for learning; their planned and taught curriculum; and how they are challenged and supported in lessons.

We are always acutely aware that in lots of circumstances and in other schools, there is a tendency to abandon priorities after a year, in order to introduce some new ideas or the latest initiative.  We are really careful not to do this at Marlborough.  Any action we take will be based on the evidence from our own school that we have – which is why we will continue with our ‘commitment to excellence’ in terms of in-class behaviour, and behaviour at break and lunch-time.  To create an outstanding culture takes time, effort and energy – to this end, we will also be continuing to focus on our Sixth Form provision next year.  We have had a brilliant year since September with both Year 12 and 13, but the work is not complete and the culture not entirely embedded.  We will be relentless in ensuring this happens.

As with every year, I will present the draft priorities to all our teachers towards the end of the academic year in July.  Using their feedback, I will finalise the plans over the summer ready to present to all staff at our first INSET Day back in September!   Looking forward to it already…

June 2019: Vision re-examined

Earlier this week, I spent some time at Church House in Kidlington, on a course that was advertised as helping school leaders to become more familiar with the revised SIAMs framework that the school is subject to (this stands for Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools).  We are currently rated as ‘good with outstanding features’ from our last Inspection in January 2017 (a copy of the report is on our website and well worth a read if you haven’t done so – or haven’t done so for a while!)  As it turned out, the day was less an instructional lecture about how to complete a lengthy self-evaluation document, but rather took a much broader approach by asking us to address the key question, ‘’why do you do what you do?’’

A lot of thought and discussion then followed about what we want the vision for our school to be, and it obligated a fresh and objective look at what our school vision statement actually is.  For those of you who weren’t part of our community in 2014, the current iteration of our school vison came about as a consultation with all stakeholders in school – pupils, parents, all staff, governors and the local community, including the church.  The vision that emerged over quite a lengthy period of time was one that was distinctly Christian, and one that absolutely states the inclusive and unique culture we want to follow and celebrate here at Marlborough.  We are proudly a Church School, which is fundamentally different to a Faith School – as our presenter put it at our training session, ‘’Faith Schools are for the faithful; Church Schools are for everyone.’’

As I begin the process of completing our last cycle of self-evaluation and finalising key priorities for 2019 and beyond, the idea of a reassertion of our central vision seems to me to be both desirable and necessary.  I spent some time with our new staff this week, and it was refreshing and affirming to discuss the vision of our school with colleagues who will be joining the school in September.  As we did, I will leave you to reflect on what we want our school to be, and in what we all believe in:

At The Marlborough Church of England School, we are committed to the enrichment of the whole person and believe that every individual has the right to the best possible education.  In line with the aims of the Oxford Diocesan Board, we:

  • Recognise the uniqueness of every individual;
  • Provide a safe, happy and healthy environment;
  • Seek to develop our social, moral, spiritual and cultural understanding of the world;
  • Enable all our students to achieve the best possible outcomes.

We are a genuine learning community that is committed to achieving excellence in all we do.  We believe in the capacity and potential of every child.  We strive to find the balance between being ambitious, rigorous, uncompromising and academically outstanding, with making sure our young people are nurtured, cherished and cared for.  Our school cannot simply be measured by outcomes alone, but by the people it helps to shape.                

May 2019: Beginnings and Endings

As I mentioned in my Whole School Assembly last week, this time in school is always a bitter-sweet period.  As a community, we are all pleased when the waiting is finally over and the exams can actually start in earnest – the tension dissipates, the pupils become more focussed and we can start to settle in to a really strong routine.  So far, the GCSEs have gone remarkably well – the new flooring in the exam hall is fantastic, and the pupils have every advantage they need to do their absolute best.  Their attitude and behaviour has been exemplary so far – long may this continue.

Amid the excitement of exams and the summer term, is the knowledge that, for some of our Year 11s, this will be their last few weeks with us, and for Year 13, this really is the end of their time here at Marlborough.  Earlier this week we had our annual Year 13 Leavers’ Service on Wednesday evening held at St Mary Magdalene Church in Woodstock and it was a wonderful occasion – one that was both happy and sad, deliberately nostalgic but exciting and optimistic at the same time.

As it was our Church Service, one of the most beautiful and moving moments was the Leavers’ Prayer, written for the occasion by Emily Hoyland.  It seemed to capture perfectly what we all wanted to say.  We are, rightly, proud of them all.

Almighty God,

We thank you for the celebration of this afternoon and for the opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the last two years.  For the challenges that make us stronger; for the experiences that shape us; the people that we have encountered; and the friendships that have been made.

For us, the teachers of these students, we pray for them and entrust them into your care: that there is happiness and joy ahead of them; for your wisdom and guidance to be beside them; and for your love and protection to be with them, wherever they go.  Surround them with your peace during the exam period, and give them confidence in their hard work.

We lift you to the next chapter of their lives that you would give an overflowing of your blessings upon them: the blessings of friendships; the blessing of knowledge; and the blessing of memories.

In your heavenly name we pray,


February 2019: A time for action

Recently, I had a difficult decision to make.  A small number of students, and their parents, had written to me to ask permission for their son or daughter to miss school on a school day.  Now the rules for attending school are really clear – and not just our rules, the law is really clear – and I very rarely sanction any absence that would mean pupils miss their lessons. Indeed, as a school we work extremely hard to get all of our pupils to attend as often as they can. The link between attendance and attainment is unequivocal, so we know that being in school is so important for future success. 

However, these students wanted to attend an event that was part of an organised national protest against climate change.

It was a difficult position for me to be in, as I am both the Headteacher of our school, but also a passionate believer in creating a better world for the children of this school, and for my own children, and their children, and the generations that will follow.  I was also, when I was at school, an active participant in political events and earlier this academic year, on Friday 28th September, I joined one thousand other Head teachers to hand in a petition to Downing Street regarding our concerns about the lack of adequate school funding.  I felt it was important I was there and important that my voice was heard.  And so I am hugely sympathetic when young people express their passion and concern about major issues.  I know, from all my years of being a teacher, that young people aren’t apathetic; they do care; and that, collectively, they do want to make a difference.       

And then, on the same day as the protest, I received a number of letters from a group of Year 11 students. Some of the content of the letters was pretty hard-hitting.  One student asked me: ‘’What is the point in having recycling bins indoors when we don’t have them outside, because if a student buys something from the canteen and they want to throw the wrapper away, they go to a bin, but as there are no recycling bins outside, they just put it in the general waste bin.’’  Of course, once something is pointed out to you, it seems so obvious.  Another letter contained a direct challenge: ‘’Mr Hanlon, if you really care about protecting our planet for future generations, and for your own children, act now.’’

These pupils echoed the words of Sir David Attenborough when addressing world leaders at the World Economic Forum this January.  He urged us, as the Year 11s had done, to “get on with the practical tasks at hand.’’ 

It is these practical tasks that we, as a school, will now focus on.  There is much that can be done, and much that we are doing, already – from working with ‘Sustainable Woodstock’ on organised litter picks; changing all our packaging and canteen cups to recyclable ones; installing solar panels and LED lighting; putting the vast majority of our lighting on timers; and sourcing our food from as many local sources as we can.

However, I know there is more we can do and I am determined we will do. We know that when we decide to do something as a school, we can achieve anything. At whole School Assembly on Wednesday, I challenged all of the school community, students and adults, to make small changes to our behaviour that will make a big difference. In doing this, we can truly live our values, of wanting the best possible future for all our young people.

December 2018: Curriculum matters

The term before Christmas is always really busy due to the rounds of concerts, celebrations and award ceremonies we try to pack in to the pre-Christmas period.  Life in school can feel hectic at times, so having a real sense of clarity about what happens in our classrooms on a daily basis is absolutely crucial to a successful school.  I have mentioned before about our clear and uncompromising expectations of behaviour, which are encapsulated and articulated in our ‘Ready to Learn’ agreement that is, I feel, lived out as a daily reality of how we treat each other in our lessons.  The excellent behaviour of our students provides teachers with the opportunity to really think about their teaching and to be able to develop and constantly improve their practice.

One of the main priorities for us as a school since the Ofsted Inspection earlier this year has been to look really closely and carefully at our curriculum.  There is a lot of discussion at both local and national level about what is meant by an appropriate curriculum.  It is important to understand that the idea of what we mean in school by the term ‘curriculum’ has changed.  The new Framework for Inspection (2019) defines it in this way:  ‘’The curriculum is a framework for setting the aims of a programme for education, including the knowledge and understanding to be gained at each stage (intent); for translating that framework over time into a structure and narrative (implementation) and for evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations (impact).’’  In everyday terms, this means being really clear and specific about why we teach what we do, what content we teach, when we teach it and how we assess our young people’s knowledge and understanding of this,  It sounds simple; it is a complex and challenging task.      

As a school, we are dedicating significant time to this crucial process and, having spent time on this in our October INSET, our teachers will be returning to this in January, building on our work and ensuring that we are specifying what we are teaching in every class, to every student, in every year group. The focus on careful, deliberate and rigorous curriculum planning helps us to address not only the needs of more able pupils by building in levels of significant challenge and high value activities, but also to address issues such as the ‘vocabulary deficit’ experienced by some of our more vulnerable pupils who need specific support to make the progress we expect of them.

This is why this work is so important, and why I feel that we are putting these firm and lasting foundations in place that will be of huge benefit to the pupils of the school in the medium to long term.  It is rewarding and inspiring to see our teachers working so hard on these areas, and focusing on improving the classroom experience of our children.  There is no greater priority for our school than this.

October 2018: A strong start

The first term of the new academic year is always hectic and this year has been no exception – Open Evenings and Mornings, Information Evenings, Governors Meetings, school improvement visits and INSET Days – not to mention the day to day teaching of lessons, which is the central focus of all our work here at school. We have also had the excitement of the King Prize Award for creative writing, The Blenheim Literary Festival prize for non-friction writing and the Brian Paice Award for services to the community. It has been wonderful to see such commitment and talent on show, and to recognise and celebrate the achievements of our young people.

It was this time a year ago that we began to crystallise our work as teachers around the idea that forms a central part of our vision statement, that of a ‘commitment to excellence’.  This was affirmed when we joined the River Learning Trust in April – to the extent that they adopted this as one of their key vision statements as well!  There is a genuine feeling in school that we are in a really strong place at the moment, and that the changes and improvements we have made over the years are currently being felt by the students, teachers, parents, governors and all staff who are part of our Marlborough family. 

We have worked tirelessly to make this commitment to excellence a daily reality in school and I am pleased to say that the shift from 6 x 50 minute lessons to 5 x 1 hour lessons has happened smoothly. We are already seeing an impact in lots of areas with fewer transitions meaning that our calm site is even calmer.  The longer lesson time has meant that teachers are able to focus on our agreed principles of how to enhance the classroom experience of all students: by getting them started on work straight away; by providing time for students to respond to feedback; by asking probing and stimulating questions; by providing a level of challenge appropriate for all pupils, including our more able; and setting work that, once completed, the pupils can be proud of.

There is more to do, but the purpose and focus of this first term, coming on the back of some of our best results ever, bodes really well for what is to come next.  We will continue do our very best to maintain the high standards and expectations we have set for ourselves as a school for the rest of the year.     

July 2018: ‘Commitment to excellence’ – in everything we do

There are many events towards the end of the school year that signal the end of term and preparing for summer holidays. In the last few weeks we have had the summer cabaret, the school ball, Year 6 transition days, celebration assemblies, residential trips and more recently, staff summer parties and retirement celebrations. One such event that I always look forward to in the penultimate week of the school year is Sports Day. This year, coming during one of the most prolonged periods of hot weather in recent times, was a particular challenge to organise. We are always focused on the safety and well-being of all our students, and so had to prepare for the forecast of both thunderstorms and torrential rain, as well as blazing sun on a wide-open field.

As events played out, the sun shone and the trees provided enough shade for the majority of students – as did the erection of half the gazebos in Woodstock – and with a plentiful supply of fluids from our water stations, we were able to have a fantastic day. Looking across our field, I was amazed at how inclusive the day was and how everyone had got involved – students of all year groups, including the Sixth Form; staff; teachers; the Ormerod students – it was absolutely brilliant. I loved the role-modelling of effort and team-work shown by the staff relay and tug-of-war teams, and have already demanded a re-match with the Sixth Form team who fielded a highly unorthodox 17 - strong team! It was good fun.

The stars of the show were, of course, our students – supporting each other, straining every sinew to do their best, pushing themselves to the limit – I love seeing the full commitment they give to everything they do. This year there were a record number of school records broken – 9 in total - some of which had stood for nearly 30 years. There was one word that summed the day up for me – joyful.

All of these ‘signposts’ of the end of the school year are part of the cycle of school life. School officially closes for the summer for students, but there will be a massive amount of work done ‘behind the scenes’ – I spend these weeks planning the school priorities and writing the development plan for next year as well as project managing the building and decorating work going on in school. We are refurbishing the entire Sports Hall, including lighting, flooring and re-decoration of all areas; installing - at last - new toilets in the main block; having new LED lighting in the main block and Science Classrooms; re-designing our new Pastoral Centre from the Heads of Year Offices; decorating and refurbishing the Sixth Form Common Room and surrounding area to create a ‘Learning Hub’ for our new Sixth Form students, putting down new carpets in ICT; and having our drains cleaned!

All this commitment of time and money will go towards improving the facilities and experiences for our young people next year. In the meantime, thank you once again for all your support and positive feedback.

I hope you all have a restful and relaxing summer break.

June 2018: endings and beginnings

This week saw the final GCSE and A Level exams take place and all of our Year 11 and 13 students complete their, sometimes gruelling, examination period. Huge praise should go to all of them for the monumental effort they put in to all their studies. They can do no more, but deserve great credit for their maturity, determination and sheer stamina to make it through. It was lovely to see many of them back in school this week giving cards and presents to their teachers, as well as attending the summer cabaret concert. They have clearly benefitted from the many supportive and nurturing relationships during their time at Marlborough – and I must say they looked much more relaxed than they had done in months! 

I was talking to a parent of a Year 13 student who was describing her ‘bitter sweet’ feelings of seeing her young son now grown up and ready to leave home/school, and feeling the conflicting emotions of wanting him to be independent and start his own life, with going through almost a stage of grief for her son who has grown up so much over the past 7 years and who has been so happy at our school. This was really contrasted strongly for me when I spent the morning last week at the second of our transition days, welcoming 180 Year 6 pupils who will, one day, be the Year 13 class of 2025! The whole group made a fantastic impression and it was invigorating and exciting to see so much enthusiasm, positivity and resilience in young people. One student commented on his way home, ‘’that was the BEST DAY of school EVER!’’ They were a delight and a credit to their primary schools.

It struck me that, as people who work in schools, we are immensely privileged to play a role in the development and growth of young people. Two of the parents who dropped off their children were students I used to teach years ago. We reminisced about their experiences in my lessons (which were all positive I have to say!) and once again reflected on how quickly time passes and how children turn into adults, and ultimately parents themselves. This is the great thing about schools – that they are always renewing themselves, whilst always staying the same. The thing that keeps us energised and optimistic is, without doubt, the infectious optimism of youth and the joy of working with young people. When one generation leaves, there are always others to come and take their place. The cycle continues, and we all play our part. If the foundations on which we have built Marlborough are our shared values, then it is both sobering and comforting to know that school will continue in the way it always has, long after we have gone.

May 2018: ‘We are Marlborough’

At the end of last term I took part in the Marlborough School annual ‘Battle of the Bands’ event. My role in the proceedings, as it has been for the past few years, has been to be a member of the judging panel that decides who wins the overall competition.  It was, as always, a fantastic event, brilliantly organised by Mr Flanagan’s Young Enterprise Elective group. On the night, it was a high quality competition and the overall result a close-run thing with the band ‘The Feedback’ emerging as the worthy winners.

As the evening unfolded, I began to realise what a big responsibility I had as a judge.  I could see that, not only were the acts listening to my comments and seeing what marks I had awarded them, but so were the audience – which included the friends, parents and grandparents of those involved.  Putting yourself forward to be judged in this way takes a huge amount of courage, and being judged for doing something you care about is a really difficult thing. 

Having to judge the acts at the Battle of the Bands reminded me of a couple of student-led Whole School Assemblies that we have had recently at school. I was thinking particularly of the assembly that our Year 9 students prepared on the theme of diversity and stereotyping.  What struck me most about that assembly was that the students themselves had produced a video presentation, stating publically and clearly, that here at school we try never to judge anyone else, and that, despite all of our unique personalities, diverse backgrounds and many differences, what unites us is our common identity – this idea that, together, ‘’We are Marlborough’’.

I was also reflecting on the brilliant assembly delivered by our Sixth Formers that reminded us all that there is always someone there to help and support you in your time of need. As the Sixth Formers themselves demonstrated, we should try to have the strength and courage to speak out with honesty and integrity, safe in the knowledge that someone will listen and someone will take action.  The assembly ended with another really memorable image, the dramatic sight of the whole of the Sixth Form standing as one to re-enforce the message - ‘’we stand together’’. Two inspiring assemblies. 

Having recently led the school through a rigorous process of inspection myself, feeling vulnerable as you go through a process of being judged is one that I know well. But throughout the last term I found myself again and again being inspired by the things that the students at this school have taught me – be brave; be honest; have confidence in yourself and who you are; have faith in others to come through for you; trust in your colleagues and trust in the hard work you have put in.  In the words of our students: “We are Marlborough.  We stand together’’.

April 2018: The Marlborough School Joins River Learning Trust 

Here at Marlborough, we remain an ambitious and forward-looking school and, as of the 1st April, we entered a new phase in the 78-year history of the Marlborough C of E School.  We have now become part of a multi-academy trust, the River Learning Trust.  Discussions regarding joining a multi-academy trust began back in June 2017, influenced by the changes to the educational landscape and our desire to ensure the best future for our pupils, staff, families and local community.  Following careful research and investigation, consultation of all stakeholders, including all staff, parents, governors and the local community, our committed body of Governors decided, unanimously, that the River Learning Trust was the most appropriate multi academy trust for our school. 

The school’s Governing Body has been outstanding during the transfer process and I was pleased that the support of governors was recognised in the recent Ofsted Report that commented on the extremely strong governing body who bring ‘’considerable expertise and a wide range of skills’’ to support the school. The Governors hold the school to account well and have demonstrated their ‘’ambition to take the school forward (by) joining the River Learning Trust. Governors intend that this partnership will help leaders learn from the best practice of other successful schools.’’

This is an important step for us as the Trust and its partners will provide both support and challenge, as well as a genuine opportunity for us to grow and develop as a school.  We are joining an organisation that has a proven track record of success, and, as equal partners in the Trust, we will have the chance to share what we do well with others, as well as learning from some of the best schools in the country. 

We are joining River Learning Trust to provide the capacity and expertise to help us improve; we have the key leaders and teachers in place to take us to the next level.  It is a challenging and exciting time for all of us at Marlborough.

March 2018: Reflections on the Ofsted Inspection

I hope by now that most of you will have read our recent Ofsted report that was published earlier this month. The full report is available on our website. The inspection certainly took up significant energy this term, but has affirmed the really good things we do here at Marlborough whilst at the same time providing us with a clear focus and priorities for further school improvement.  I was delighted by the overall judgement as ‘good’ in every major category. This means that the school is good in: the effectiveness of leadership and management; the quality of teaching, learning, and assessment; in personal development, behaviour and welfare; outcomes for pupils; and therefore is rated as ‘good’ in terms of ‘’overall effectiveness’’.

There were significant highlights in the report and it was clear that the Inspection Team were able to get a real sense of our school.  The opening sentences of the report capture the balance we are looking to achieve here at Marlborough, between being academically rigorous and ambitious, whilst providing a caring and nurturing environment in which our young people can flourish. It reads, ‘’Leaders have established an ethos of high aspirations. They ensure that pupils benefit from a well-rounded education at the school.’’

I would like to thank all our parents and carers who spoke so warmly of the school to the Inspection Team – we value your support and encouragement immensely. To lead such a special school is both humbling and a privilege. It is a great responsibility and a great source of pride. It was fantastic to read this sense of pride reflected in the report: ‘’Pupils are proud of their school…relationships are very positive and staff morale, high. All of the staff who responded to the Ofsted’s Staff Survey said that they were proud to work in the school.’’

There are of course, areas for us to work on. As the Inspection was a Section 5, two-day Inspection, the report outlines those areas we will need to focus on moving forward. We know where our areas for development are, and have the determination, the clear plans and the capacity to address these.

Many parents and carers have congratulated the school on the outcome and commented on what a challenging couple of days it must have been. This is certainly true, but the real work has taken place over the past four years to get the school where it is today: values-driven; safe; purposeful; a community based on learning; ambitious; caring; secure in itself and with the potential and desire to be even better. We know what we have to do, and as I have said to all my colleagues, the hard work starts now.

We will not be complacent in building on the strengths outlined in this report. I am confident that we can, and determined that we will.

March 2018: A Thriving Community

The end of term is often a time for reflection.  Looking back over the past few weeks, I am amazed by the achievements of our students and the opportunities available to them.  Our annual Charities Week fund-raiser was a particular highlight of the last term.  An amazing effort by everyone in the community saw us hand over super-sized cheques of nearly £2000 to four different charities.  These will make a massive difference to the lives of others and I am grateful to all students and parents who committed themselves to making this possible. 

Another great event was ‘Battle of the Bands’.  Increasingly, this was an example of an event organised, directed, run, presented and starring our young people.  It was not just an entertaining evening with a very knowledgeable judging panel, but another opportunity for our young people to show themselves as confident and ambitious whilst developing crucial skills in lots of different areas. 

There are also numerous examples of academic challenge beyond the classroom: in Maths; Science; Languages; Music; English; and History.  This high level of challenge is a crucial part of our improvement strategy as a school.  Place this alongside our foreign and domestic trips, comprehensive Elective Programme and the thriving Sports Department, you can see how our recent Ofsted Inspection Team were hugely impressed with the broad range of opportunities available to all our young people.

The good work will continue next term with the focus on examinations for Year 11 and Sixth Form students.  I am confident that our young people are well prepared for this challenging time and this is due to our commitment to ensure that students are nurtured, cherished and cared for by our passionate and dedicated staff, as well as being determined to achieve the best outcomes possible for all our young people.

January 2018: New Year’s Resolutions

I was having a conversation on New Year’s Day with my family about our New Year’s resolutions.  These usually involve something to do with your role in your family - doing more jobs around the house or perhaps something to with diet or exercise – I started the ‘couch to 5k’ running programme last week and am hoping to carry on with this in the coming weeks – or something to do with school: better routines with homework; to be more organised; to spend less time on social media; to be kinder to your friends; to be kinder to people who aren’t your friends; perhaps to worry less about things.

I was interested in the psychology of New Year resolutions – the word ‘resolute’ means to be purposeful, determined, unwavering.  And I am sure, like me, we all make our resolutions with the best of intentions – we want a new start, a chance to make a change, an opportunity to do something differently, do something better.  But often, this is much harder to achieve than we think.  We can always find reasons not to do something – too busy, too tired, too difficult.  It seems that being ‘resolute’ isn’t enough – we need to find other ways of changing and adapting our behaviour.  What is required, it seems to me, is a genuine commitment to wanting to change, to make a New Year’s decision, rather than a ‘resolution’.  I then began to reflect on what might be a New Year resolution, or rather, a New Year’s decision for our school.  What would we want to change, to do differently, to do better?

At this time in the year, it is worthwhile re-visiting what we all agree is the common aim of our school.  Our vision statement says that ‘’we aim to be the best we can be’’ and that we are ‘’committed to excellence in all that we do’’.  It is this commitment to excellence that drives me every day and one that the teachers here at school have spent some time considering what this means for us all in our classrooms, and in our lessons.  Our commitment to all our students is that we will be absolutely prioritising the progress and learning that takes place in our lessons throughout 2018. 

We will have work and activities ready as soon as the students arrive in the classroom so that they can start straight away, not wait for the last person to arrive. We have made a commitment to mark books and assessments regularly and to give the students feedback in the very best way to help them improve. We are committed to providing challenging work that makes our students think and stretches them at whatever level they are at in that subject; committed to asking interesting and thought provoking questions of everyone in the class to make sure they are all engaged, not just compliant; and we are committed to giving all of our young people opportunities to complete extended pieces of work that they can be really proud of.  These are decisions we have taken. They will help everyone to do well and although we may not always get this right, we are determined to try our best. 

If I could make a New Year’s resolution for all of us, it would be simply this – to find moments of joy in our lives, particularly when we come to school.  Often, the reality is that we can’t change what events are going to take place.  Our exams will happen.  They will come and they will go.  The one thing we can change is how we feel about this, and how we react to situations. Complaining and being negative - these are all choices that we make. Instead, let’s choose to be positive, to tell ourselves that we can, and we will.  Let’s stop worrying about things we can’t control, and embrace the possibilities that come with every new day.  Of course school can be a challenge, but one that we are well able to meet and to do so joyfully, with resolution, with courage and with a smile. 

November 2017 ‘Commitment to Excellence’

It has been another intense and purposeful few weeks here at Marlborough.  During this second term of the school year, we have been putting a considerable amount of time and effort into not only the everyday life of the school and providing the best lessons and experiences we can for our students, but also investing a significant amount of time into our own internal professional development as teachers and leaders.  As a staff body, we try our best at all times to be reflective and thoughtful, to ensure that we are keeping up-to-date with the latest evidence-based research that exists extensively now in education, and are flexible and confident enough to share outstanding practice and consider ways in which we can improve.

A number of staff have been involved in a school-based research programme that has been looking at increasing levels of students’ engagement and motivation in their learning.  This has been a fascinating process, and as a result, the focus of our recent INSET Day was exploring how we, as teachers, might move our students from an attitude of compliance to engagement.  This is crucial in creating the successful, motivated, autonomous learners we would like them to be in school, as well as preparing them to go into the world of work and/or further study well prepared and with the attributes of intrinsic motivation and perseverance they will need to be successful.  It was a really valuable day and we have all agreed to try various strategies in our classrooms to challenge and support our young people to develop these skills. 

Another aspect of school life we have all been working on is what we are calling our ‘commitment to excellence’.  This phrase comes from our school vision statement: ‘’we are a genuine learning community that is committed to achieving excellence in all we do.  We believe in the capacity and potential of every child.  We strive to find the balance between being ambitious, rigorous, uncompromising and academically outstanding, with making sure our young people are nurtured, cherished and cared for’’. 

The question I asked of our staff was, if this vision is to become a genuine reality, then what are the consequences of this commitment on our everyday priorities?  Again, this stimulated some excellent thought and discussion, but, crucially also provided some practical steps that we can take over the coming weeks and months to push this agenda of excellence in everything we do to the top of our priority list.  It means doing the simple things really well, achieving consistency across our systems and processes, and everyone in school having the highest expectations of themselves and others.   We have a clear plan for how we can achieve this and an unshakeable commitment from all our staff to make this work.  It is an exciting and stimulating time to be the Head here at Marlborough, and I am grateful for the on-going support and trust of the school community.  The days spent working with professional and expert colleagues serves to sharpen our focus and review, together, our ‘commitment to excellence’.

5th October 2017 - A New School Year

The start of term has been exciting and a busy time for all of us here in school.  Our Year 7s have made a fantastic start to the school year and are already impressing all of their teachers with their work-rate, commitment and desire to do really well in their lessons.  All the other students have made similarly impressive starts, with lessons being purposeful, engaging and excellent behaviour throughout the school.

The year begins with lots of information evenings for those students and parents starting new courses (GCSEs, Year 11s and our new Sixth Form pupils) culminating in our school Open Evening that took place on 28th September.

It was a fantastic night that really show-cased the strengths of our school.  The traffic problems around Woodstock meant that, at ten to six, we were faced with an MEC that was only a third full and without one of our Year 7 speakers!  However, we held our nerve and Alex finally arrived, at the same time as hundreds of parents and their families.  The student speakers set the tone, speaking confidently and eloquently to a packed MEC about their experiences here at Marlborough.  It was genuinely inspiring.  Their words spoke more eloquently about the school than mine ever could.  I am aware that I am fortunate enough to hear their speeches whilst many of our staff and families are not, so this year we have posted the students’ speeches from Open Evening on our website.  If you get the chance, please read them.

Over the course of the evening I managed to visit nearly all of the school and was absolutely blown away by what I saw.  The commitment of the children, the organisation, the activities, the sheer quality of the work on show was genuinely outstanding.  The site looked amazing as always – no litter, no vandalism, and really well-presented, from the Science Block, to the Dining Hall to the Library.  I was very, very proud.

Of course, the whole idea behind Open Evening is to show our school in the best light possible to ensure that we continue to be extremely popular and over-subscribed.  I felt that we did this and in doing so it really felt like a huge team effort – so well done and thank you to all the ‘Marlborough family’!

21st July 2017 - The end of another school year

…and so we come to the end of another school year. This one seems to have gone particularly quickly as the days, weeks and months are so packed and busy that, before we know where we are, we are looking forward to the summer holidays, reviewing our progress this year and making extensive plans for September. This year at Marlborough has really encapsulated the idea that we are creating a special kind of education here, one that strikes the balance between being academically rigorous and ambitious, and creating well-rounded, empathic and mature young men and women.  We achieve this by providing huge opportunities for personal and social development, as well as focusing relentlessly on how to improve our teaching and learning and make the most of every lesson in school. As a result, student progress has improved across the school this year, and we are confident of some excellent results in the summer.  We have seen some evidence of improvement in other key areas, with our attendance now well above the county and national average, our behaviour recognised as outstanding and the progress of our vulnerable students keeping pace with our non-vulnerable learners. The work towards the NACE Award has meant an increased level of challenge in lessons – and we plan to continue developing our provision for the more able next year. 

Life outside the classroom has also been exciting and purposeful. There are too many events and trips for me to go into detail about, but the highlights of the year have included our music concerts; ‘’Wendy and Peter Pan’’; the Shakespeare Festival and our ‘Summer Cabaret’; our Sports Award Evening; thriving inter-form and superb Sports Day; our extensive trips to Germany, Kilvrough, Yenworthy, Glasbury, Berlin, Cologne, the Somme, the Ski trip and the French trip; our Immersion Days; political debates; Science competitions; World Book Day; Carnegie shadowing; creative and non-fiction writing competitions; the Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film and Music; our Apprenticeship School Award and recruitment fair – the list goes on and on.        

One highlight was our most successful ever Charities Week. We raised a huge amount of money for some amazing charities, including SeeSaw (helping bereaved children cope with their loss); Clic Sargant (supporting the families of children with cancer); The Friends of the Ormerod and ‘Just Like Us’ a national LGBT+ charity that is doing ground-breaking work in schools across the country. These last two are particularly poignant, as we are now an ambassador school for ‘Just Like Us’ and have continued to raise money for the Ormerod through one of our pupils, Leo Burbidge, completing his ‘mega-mile’ last month at Blenheim. 

One other event of note this year was the SIAMs Inspection. I will leave the last word on our school to the Inspection Team:

‘’The school is outstanding at meeting the needs of all learners. Relationships within the school are very good, the staff and pupils are mutually respectful, the modelling of behaviour by adults is very effective. Behaviour in school is exemplary, pupils show the same courtesy to each other as to adults and demonstrate excellent learning behaviours. Pupils appreciate each other as persons of value’’.

Have a lovely break and a restful summer,

Mr A Hanlon 

7th July 2017 - A Remarkable Week

With the fast-paced nature of life in school, it seems that a huge amount has happened in the last couple of weeks. Amongst the highlights of the school year is always the summer production, and this year was no exception. In fact, the performances we witnessed at last week’s ‘’Cabaret’’ was probably the best thing I have seen at school – at any of the schools I have been at. The huge variety of performances and the talent on show was absolutely incredible. The wide range of ages was also remarkable, and, at times, the performances were genuinely moving. The best part of the whole production was knowing that it was, in the main, conceived, choreographed, directed and produced by a group of Year 12 students. The hours, days and weeks of hard work, dedication and effort that they put in – and inspired others to commit to - was a great achievement. I was extremely proud to be part of our school that night.

Another really proud day was at Blenheim Palace on Saturday to witness the amazing Leo Burbidge complete his ‘mega-mile’ to raise money for a new mini-bus for the Ormerod Resource Base here at school. To witness Leo (and his good friend Will) battling away to complete the challenge was another hugely impressive and humbling occasion. The lessons we can all learn from Leo about perseverance, resilience and selflessness were plain to see. He is a remarkable and inspirational young man.

Finally, the rite of passage that is the annual Summer Ball took place this year at Worton Park in Cassington. Once again, our community of young people and staff came together to celebrate their time in school and make some memories they will never forget. As ever, the Sixth Form Team and the Ball Committee did a brilliant job in transforming the venue and our students did us proud on the night. The common theme that links all these events is the idea that school is so much more than a place where you do your lessons, sit your exams and go home. It is a place where you are part of something bigger than yourself, where you learn to be part of a genuine family that cares about each other and looks after each other. It has been a great few days in the life of the school and a reminder of what a special place the Marlborough School is.

8th June 2017 - Talking Politics

In the week before half term, we were all disappointed when the political representatives from the Labour Party, Greens, Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party withdrew from the scheduled political debate we had planned for the 24th May with Year 10 students and members of the Sixth Form. We are really keen here at Marlborough to engage our young people in the political process, to give them access to the politicians and people who hold power and to hold them to account by engaging in reasoned debate and reflection. 

However, the reason for the cancellation was totally justifiable and understandable. The terror attack in Manchester, as with the terror attack in the Houses of Parliament and on London Bridge, have caused us all to reflect and sympathise with the innocent people whose lives will be affected and changed forever after such an event. Reading the stories of young people, parents, children, teenagers and friends who lost their lives was just terribly sad.  

It is hard to know what to say to students in these circumstances. However, we encourage staff to talk about the incidents with students and are aware that some of our young people are, understandably, anxious about going to public places and perhaps even slightly nervous when they come to school. Such anxieties are real. To address this, we produce resources that Form Tutors can use with their Tutor Groups that provide facts about potential threats and place these events in their social and political contexts. We do so with extreme sensitivity, whilst stressing to all our students that, despite the best efforts of people who threaten us, we remain – and we are proud of this at the Marlborough School – a tolerant, civilised and harmonious community who are accepting of others and where difference is not simply tolerated, but celebrated.  

To prove this was this case, we have had, this week at Marlborough, a visit from all major party candidates involved in the General Election campaign. Robert Courts of the Conservatives spoke to a small group of Sixth Formers and members of the School Council, whilst the whole of Year 10 took part in a ‘Question Time’-style event with Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems. Listening to the students ask searching and challenging questions of our political figures was really inspiring and, who knows, one day we may well have one of those Year 10 students who were present come back to visit us in school having been elected as our new local MP – or even as Prime Minister.

5th May 2017 - Sports Award Evening

I had the pleasure of attending our 12th Annual Sports Award Evening last night, which was held for the first time in the MEC. Our previous Awards ceremonies had been held at a Golf Club, and so I was strongly concerned that, in holding it at school, it might lose some of its ‘shine’. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Huge credit has to go to the whole team who did an amazing job on transforming the MEC into a genuinely impressive corporate venue. The food was really well received and thanks again must go to the indefatigable MSA who ran a friendly and well-stocked bar. Many parents commented to me that this was the best evening that they had been to so far.

The highlights, of course, were the awards themselves. The range of students nominated was fantastic, and we celebrated all that is good about the school: sporting excellence, where our young people perform at county, national and international level; leadership, where sport is used to develop confidence and maturity in a variety of contexts; and effort, commitment and dedication, celebrating and rewarding those young people who go out of their way to make a contribution to their team and community. It was truly inspiring. 

All of these characteristics and qualities were emphasised and personified by our guest speaker Gee Purdy (google her to see her rowing crew’s amazing video). She was a tremendous advocate for female achievement and, as a local (ish) girl who went to a nearby state school, she made it clear to our students that, in her words, ‘’there are no limits to what you can do and what you can achieve’’. At a time when schools are under pressure to narrow their curriculum and squeeze spending on sports facilities and physical education, I was proud of the way we here at Marlborough continue to be highly committed to this aspect of a young person’s  education. It is crucial, and we have students for whom it is the most important part of their lives.  Here at Marlborough, it is our job to find, nurture and develop young peoples’ talent, whatever they may be.

I was left at the end of the evening with a real sense of pride and felt that the whole event was an assertion of what makes our school special, particularly the attitudes our young people display – the tenacity that has made them successful in sport, and will do so in life: ‘’It is hard to beat someone who never gives up.’’

6th April 2017 - Destinations and Apprenticeships

A couple of weeks ago now I attended the inaugural Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards Evening which was held here at school in the MEC. Last Wednesday night, along with 300 others including over 100 students from The Marlborough, I was also lucky enough to visit the Apprenticeship Fair which we also hosted here at school. The evening was an enormous ‘eye-opener’ on a number of different levels. Firstly, it was incredible to see the MEC transformed into a genuinely impressive corporate venue and secondly, it was interesting to see the various companies and sponsors attending the event, as clearly there is a massive investment from local, national and international business in ensuring Apprenticeships are successful and continue to flourish in Oxfordshire. 

At the awards ceremony, it was revealing that the prizes that were presented to the young people reflected not necessarily their academic achievement, but the skills they have demonstrated in the role of an Apprentice – perseverance; flexibility; commitment; independence; and thinking creatively.  It is absolutely clear that these are the skills that employers are looking for – and so, therefore, the skills we need to be developing in our own young people.

The final thing that struck me was the confidence and self-possession shown by the young people who were nominated and achieving their awards. They were genuinely inspirational, and the point was made more than once that there are many different routes for young people to take in order to be successful.

We were recognised as being a ‘highly commended’ school for our work in promoting and valuing high-quality Apprenticeship places. As a school, we are justifiably proud of our success at getting our students to the most appropriate destinations– be it college, employment, Sixth Form, university (with 86% achieving their first or second choice destination last year, and six students in the last two years going to Oxbridge) and, increasingly, high quality apprenticeships at 16 and 18. We will continue to promote every possible opportunity we can, to be at the forefront of apprenticeship provision and be relentless in ensuring all of our students get the help and support they need to flourish in their next stage of life.

17th March 2017 - Developing Great Teachers

I would like to thank parents, carers, grandparents, friends, neighbours and any other adults who were pressed into service as a result of the whole school INSET Day on Wednesday of this week.  INSET is an educational acronym that stands for ‘In-Service Training’ and it is an opportunity for the teachers in the school to spend some time working collectively as a group of professionals on the agreed priorities of the School Development Plan.  On Wednesday, we were able to use this incredibly valuable time to explore together new and innovative ways of encouraging reflection and debate in our lessons; to update all staff on our progress towards achieving the NACE Challenge Award (another acronym, NACE is the National Association for Able Children in Education and is an important part of our work to improve provision for our more able students as well as provide appropriate challenge for all our pupils); to focus on the latest developments to do with safeguarding and paramount importance of keeping all of our children safe, at all times; and examining the Ofsted framework and our current self-evaluation process, so that, as a school, we are thoroughly and properly prepared for when we are next inspected. 

Having time together as teachers to share good practice, discuss key issues and do some practical work aimed at improving all our teachers is absolutely vital and enables me, as the Principal, to ensure that we are all operating to the same level and that our systems, processes and expectations are really clear.  Of course we have our staff meetings and other meetings in school that happen on a weekly, bi-weekly and termly basis, but that block of time together is vital in moving our school forwards by identifying excellent practice and using that practice so that it becomes common practice.  We are grateful for your forbearance, and I want you to be reassured that we make the best use of any time we have been given to make the experience for your sons and daughters here at school even more safe, purposeful and challenging.

10th March 2017 - SIAMs – Good With Outstanding!

I am delighted to be able to share with you the final report and verdict of the SIAMs (Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools – the Church’s version of Ofsted) Inspection which took place earlier this year.  The overall judgment is that ‘’the distinctiveness and effectiveness of the Marlborough school as a Church of England School are good’’, with a secondary judgement that ‘’the school is outstanding at meeting the needs of all learners’’.  This is great news for us as a community and great credit has to go to all the staff, pupils, parents and Governors who were involved in the process itself.  Of course, the actual inspection is simply a ‘snapshot’ of what we do, and the real work that was so positively recognised by this Inspection has been going on for a long time now and it is most pleasing that the things that have been recognised as outstanding are the things that we have been really focussing on over the past two years: the culture and ethos of the school; the relevant and living values; the clear vision that informs how we treat each other on a daily basis; the expectation of excellent behaviour and high aspirations; and the caring, inclusive and outstanding culture we have here that means that all people are valued and respected.

What is also particularly pleasing about the report is that it reflects our guiding principle of putting the students and their needs at the heart of the school.  The culture they praise is not simply one that cares for each other, but one that is now increasingly ambitious and purposeful.  One key section of the report states that ‘’the pupils are excellent ambassadors for the school, demonstrating its values consistently through their courtesy and eagerness to learn’’.  It talks of a ‘’team’’ of staff working ‘’relentlessly’’ to ensure the best outcomes and progress for our pupils, especially the most vulnerable: ‘’strategies for Pupil Premium pupils, known as Marlborough Scholarship Students, are helping these pupils to flourish.  The vision and ethos has helped to create resilient and self-aware pupils with strong aspirations both for themselves and for their peers’’.  The report mentions lots of other strengths of the school:  the opportunities available to all students, particularly through Electives; our Whole School Assembly; our opportunities for prayer and reflection; the dramatic and ‘’amazing’’ development of RE in school which now makes an ‘’outstanding contribution’’ to our community; improving attendance; working with Governors; and the place of the Ormerod Resource Base at the heart of our school.

You are now able to read the report yourselves on our website.  For us as a school, I feel that we have, in some ways, broken a ‘glass ceiling’.  I have made no secret of the fact that I want our school to be outstanding – and I have meant that in every way possible, not just in ‘Ofsted’ or ‘SIAMs’ terms.  The report recognises that we are on a journey, but that the progress we have made to get to this point is at the ‘top end’ of good and in some crucial areas, genuinely outstanding.  And I believe we have achieved this by creating a school where people – all people in the community – are listened to, valued and trusted.  This is an important report, not just in itself, but in the affirmation it gives to the work we are all doing, parents included, to create the right environment for our young people to flourish.  They are proud to be part of our school, and you can be proud too.

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