Coming back to school after the February half term it is always good to see signs of spring at last – the mornings do seem less dark, and isn’t it wonderful to see the daffodils out? Over the half term break I accompanied the sixth form ski trip to Austria along with some other, mostly PE, teachers, and 42 sixth formers of varied experience of skiing. Despite the very long coach journeys there and back (chosen over flying in the interests of making the trip as inexpensive as a ski trip can be) we had a fantastic week. There were four groups of students, two beginners, one intermediate and one advanced, each with their own instructor. Learning or improving a physical skill is enormously satisfying and invigorating, especially for young people, and especially in the glorious setting of the Austrian Alps in the sunshine! As is almost always the case, it was an absolute pleasure to spend a week with a group of Bennett students, who were courteous, mature and impeccably behaved throughout.
This is a very busy term for the school (I wait in vain for a term about which that cannot be said!) and it started last night with a very useful briefing for some year 11 and year 12 students and parents on the process of applying to Oxford and Cambridge. The very public controversies over university charging over the past months has brought the issue of university application into the spotlight. Applying to Oxford and Cambridge has for many years been a topic which provokes mixed responses, with some prepared to do anything, including following all sorts of dubious advice gleaned from dodgy internet sites, whilst others, however strong academically, have recoiled in horror from what they see as a socially elite institution. I think last night did go some way towards dispelling both of these myths, and we were delighted that we had a representative from a college at both Oxford and Cambridge to help us get a more balanced view. We were especially pleased to be welcoming for the first time the senior tutor from St Hugh’s College, Oxford, who had generously ventured down here to talk with us. The presentations from the talk will be available to anyone interested on the website shortly.
Thursday of this week, 3rd March, as BBC viewers and listeners will be aware, is World Book Day. I talked to year 9 in their assembly yesterday about this, and all of the staff present in the room shared a few thoughts about their own favourite reads. We looked at the top selling books written in English of all time, which, apart from the various English translations of the Bible, are Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, and the Harry Potter series, and noted how strongly influenced this was by young people’s reading interests. It was also interesting to note that of more than 100 countries in the world, the UK publishes more books per year than any other apart from the US. I told the students a little about my own reading, including a couple of my favourite books, and what I was reading currently (C J Samson’s Shardlake series), and we looked at why reading fiction was so important: it feeds and develops the imagination, enables you to see life from other perspectives, and helps you become more compassionate as a person. It is fundamentally a moral activity.
I have been asked by the organisers of World Book Night, which is the grown-up partner of World Book Day, to distribute 50 free copies of another of my favourite books, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, to people who have not read it. I still have about 20 copies unallocated – if you have not read it and would like one please email me – first come, first served!