Speaking to the Lower Fifth on Thursday (holding the floor, in fact, since our excellent visiting poet had been delayed by transport issues), Mr Marlow gave some good advice to the boys about approaches to GCSE years. Don't think you can focus on work whilst having half an eye on your phone, for example: straightforward and true, and no less true for parents and teachers as they go about their tasks (try it: not as easy as you think!)
But the key and timeless piece of advice was, and is, to read. Now, nothing gets backs up quite like reading matter in schools. Last week's Sunday Times, for example, ran one of those pieces we periodically see, criticising text choice in schools. And how many well-read parents have tutted at apparently feeble reading matter broached by their sons (and daughters). I've bemoaned 'teen fiction' often enough, and the general reluctance of teenagers to read is well documented.
I haven't checked the stats, but my strong guess is that Whitgift bucks this trend. I'd certainly challenge every boy to read lots, and read for pleasure too (by which I mean not just for your exams or work). Why?
Well, Mr Marlow gave one key reason: because reading develops your language skills, your ability to decode meaning. Obvious in a way: exercising in the gym keeps your fitness levels up, exercising your reading brain keeps it lively. And indeed research tells us that boys in particular gain a huge advantage in general performance if they read.
But there's a deeper reason too. Reading connects you to other people. 'The best moments in reading', says Hector in The History Boys, 'are when you come across something ...which you had thought special to you, and it's as if a hand has come across and taken yours'. Sentimental maybe, but a hint of how reading can connect and enrich.
And if you want a pragmatic reason, Mr Piggott, who in a former job (and NB how great it is that we have a leavening of second-career teachers at Whitgift to reality-check those of us who've never done anything else) recruited for a law firm. One question, he said, told them all they needed to know about candidates. What have you read recently? Ah, oh...mumbled some otherwise great candidates. The ones they appointed were reading.
And it almost doesn't matter what. And me? Ask me: that way I will know who's reading this.