Happy New Year!

From the Headmaster's Desk, September 6, 2019

Welcome to this new term and new academic year. A warm welcome to all of you. I have spent my entire life in academic institutions, and the beginning of term in September always feels to me much more like the beginning of a new year than January does. There is a sense of excitement and expectation on the first day of an academic year. So I say to you all:  Happy New Year! I hope that it is a good one for you.

A particularly warm welcome to all new pupils; I appreciate that, for you, it may be a slightly odd feeling sitting here in the Sports Hall. At Blue Coat this is customary – we gather as a school twice a week. We have Headmaster’s assemblies – normally on Mondays, and a spiritual assemblies on Thursdays. I hope that you will find the assemblies interesting, thought-provoking, and it is certainly a time in which we can reflect on the shared ethos and values of the School, which help make this community such a special place.

I also wanted to extend a warm welcome to new teaching staff this morning. Mrs Heffernan in Economics, Mr Hoy, a graduate sports assistant with a focus on strength & conditioning. Miss Malpass, teacher of Psychology. Mr Möller, Director of Drama. Mr Pritchard, teacher of Maths and Dr Williams, Deputy Head Pastoral. Dr Williams replaces Mr Wise, and is the Safeguarding Lead in the School. He is also in charge of discipline, but hopefully you won’t have too many meetings with him this year.

Now it is a new academic year, and another important year in your educational journey, whichever year group you are in. Years 13 and 11 have a particularly important year ahead, with public exams looming in the summer term, but each one of you as a student is at some stage on that journey, and each stage is important. As a long distance runner, I often think of the educational journey as a marathon. If you’ve ever watched the London Marathon on TV or in person, you know that a range of people are in it, all moving at their own pace, but all making progress.

I hope that all of you will make good progress this year, whatever your pace might be. And whether it’s your first steps off the starting line or your last lap of your journey at Blue Coat, I hope that you will make the most of it.

Academic progress is important, and we are a competitive, selective school with impressive academic credentials. Last year we had more applications than ever before, and all of you can be proud that you have earned a spot here: you very much belong, and there are many others that would like to be sitting in your place. Well done on earning your place – it’s not easy, a bit like it is not easy to qualify for the London Marathon these days.

Over the summer, our recent Year 13 leavers finished their academic journey at Blue Coat. As a cohort, they did extremely well in their A levels, with over 40% of grades being A* or A and over 70% of grades A* to B. I’m delighted that the vast majority went to their first choice university, and the remainder went to their insurance choice, with just a handful in clearing.

The A level results last summer place us in the top 100 independent schools in the UK, according to the Times, actually moving up a few places from last year. So we can all be proud of this.

Our GCSE results were also brilliant, with the highest ever A* rate and our Year 10 RS results also being the best in the history of the School, which is a good sign for Year 11 GCSE results next summer. Congratulations to those boys sitting here who achieved such good results, and to the new Year 12 joiners – all of whom also achieved excellent results and passed the required hurdle to join us.

But beyond academic results, I hope that all of you enjoy the process of learning in your time at Blue Coat. To return to my marathon analogy, there is no there, there. The process is the reality.  When you reach finish, the event is over. Your time at school is not simply about your results, but about the relationships you build, the interests you cultivate and develop, and the experiences that you enjoy.

The marathon is over when you reach the finish line, as is your schooling on results day. But you will remember the process, and each day is a special part of that process.

I hope that you all enjoy your lessons and are inspired by your teachers in your academic subjects. Learning is a wonderful journey of discovery and the world is a fascinating place – I hope that you enjoy learning this year, and develop lifelong interests and good habits in your time at the School.

Academics are important at Reading Blue Coat, but we are also a school that prioritises what happens outside of the classroom. Co-curricular activities are given extensive time, staffing and funding, as we know that what happens outside of a classroom can be as important as what happens inside of it. Outside of the classroom is where you might develop characteristics that do not fit in league tables. By this I mean resilience, the ability to work with others, communication skills, problem solving, perseverance and the value of hard work. One day employers will be interested in your exam results, but in an interview with you, they are interested in what kind of a person that you have become, beyond what you can put on paper.

Opportunities abound in music, drama, sport, CCF, DofE, art, public speaking. Over the past year we have greatly increased avenues by which pupils can volunteer and work in the community. You could also have a go at chess, Lego robotics, Olympiads in maths or science, book club, climbing, or becoming a peer mentor. And of course there is so much more on offer here that I have not listed just now.

Last year I had exit interviews with Year 13 leavers in their final term. I asked two questions: What did you like about Blue Coat and what could be better? Amongst the positives, pupils frequently talked about the opportunities. One boy made me laugh, as he said: ‘I haven’t actually taken advantage of all the opportunities here, but it was great that they were on offer!’

It’s funny comment in a way, but also a bit of a shame. One of the defining aspects of this School is that we offer so many brilliant things outside of the classroom – so get involved. Speak to your tutor, teachers or parents about your interests and how you might find what you love. I really hope that you will all find something you enjoy – don’t be afraid to try new things and make the most of this place. It is a great privilege to attend a school like this; do not take it for granted.

Alongside academics and great co-curricular activities, we also think pastoral care is important at Blue Coat. Pastoral care might sound like a vague concept to a school pupil but what it means is ultimately that you are safe and well. If you are not safe and well, then how can we expect you to learn in lessons or enjoy other activities? The ages of 11-18 bring all sorts of challenges, and no doubt all of you here will have a bad day, at some point, for one reason or another. Even if you have a bad day, I hope that you won’t stay in a bad place. There are always people here that you can talk to – friends, teachers, tutors, any member of staff – if you need help or are worried, then just ask, we will do all we can to look after you. Now that you are here, we want you to be happy and to flourish.

I hope all this all sounds positive; in truth, it is just a brief reminder of what this school is about. Just a couple of words of warning as well: there are many school rules, naturally, just like there are many laws in society. We have to set boundaries, and within these boundaries we can ensure that you are safe and well.

But the bottom line is this – do unto others as you would have them to do you. In other words, put yourself in the shoes of others. Show empathy and treat them kindly. At this school we want you all to show care, consideration and courtesy for others at all times.

Any sort of bullying, we do not allow. So be nice to each other, please.

I do hope that you all had wonderful summer holidays. I travelled to both continental Europe and America, enjoyed time with my family, read some great books and very much enjoyed not wearing a suit, but wearing sunnies and being unshaven.

Whilst way on holiday I saw a number of other schools, in different countries. I’m always interested in seeing other schools. Perhaps it’s natural – I’m a Headmaster and I like to see what other schools look like. My father was a farmer and I remember him stopping and checking out every tractor we ever saw, wherever we were – he was eyeing up the quality.

I’m the same when I travel – I eye up the quality of schools. I must say that there are few places that compare to what we have here:  we have beautiful, historic, School House and a range of other buildings, including a plethora of new IT classrooms and 3-D printers in DT. We are surrounded by playing fields, perfectly placed for rugby, cricket, hockey, football, netball, athletics and of course we are one of the few schools in the country with a boat house on its grounds.

But this school is more than just the buildings. It is the people. Schools are about relationships and I hope that you all enjoy great relationships with each other, making lifelong friends, and good relationships with staff, that help you excel inside and outside of the classroom.

Everything is ready – have a great year. And in the words of one of my favourite sportsman, Tom Brady, the quarterback of the current SuperBowl Champion, ‘Let’s Go!’

Have a great term, and a great year.

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