I was told several times, as the last week before half term unfolded, that the Autumn Collection concert would be outstanding. And so it proved: many thanks to Rosie Whitfield, Director of Music, to Philip Winter, Tom Motley, Simon Lane, Alan Weakley and many other music staff members for an outstanding evening. And of course thanks above all to Alex Ciulin, soloist in the superb Dvorák Cello Concerto, as well as to every single Upper First boy who sang (and, genuinely, they all did). It was a memorable evening.
During this half of term, I’ve met boys who have set up a theatre company (see previous post!) and this last week a boy who has published a novel. I’ve met one who has set up a 100-mile charity walk, and others who have put forward serious plans for societies as varied as dance, ice-skating and digital archives. It’s hard not to feel we are in a real engine-room of creativity and achievement.
But we do face some big challenges. Even as our cohort of Oxbridge applicants approach the ‘business end’ of their campaign, we hear yet again complaints that the selection system is unfair. And one of our jobs – one of my jobs, to be honest – is to keep convincing the world that ‘independent school’ does not automatically equate to ‘rich and privileged’. For the record, our 70 Oxbridge candidates present a pretty fair reflection of the very varied borough in which we operate. Tempting though it is to quote numbers, I’ll resist, since these boys are individuals, not representatives of any groups. And as I’ve written elsewhere, it’s good that the Sutton Trust, whose latest report was published this week, agrees that blanket grouping of students into categories is simply wrong.
Who knows what Whitgift himself would have thought of all this. Watching the BBC’s documentary on Tudor spies, it is hard not to feel a bit cynical about an Elizabethan prelate. But I still like to think that, venal though he may have been, Whitgift would have approved of the school bearing his name: energetic, progressive and setting the highest standards. And still transforming boys’ lives.