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Read the Chief's recent letter to parents

30 September 2009

The Chief Master, John Claughton (1975), recently sent the following letter to parents.

Dear Parents

I am going to be appraised in the next few days and, since this will involve dialogue between my appraiser and some of you, I thought that this would be an opportune moment to prove to you how successful the school is and how communicative I can be.

Public examination results

A few weeks ago I was at lunch with a number of largely antique Old Edwardians. One of them, obviously worried that the school was in the hands of someone so young, expressed his concern that he couldn't find the school in the Times GCSE league tables. I had some sympathy with him because the previous weekend I had spent a nervous few minutes conducting a similarly futile search. Then I realised that we weren't there at all. That's not because of a particularly bad year. Rather, because we are doing a number of IGCSEs - which don't exist in the mind of authorities, we score 0% for all key indicators.

If we pass from the unreal world of the authorities into the real world of our results, here are some figures, of which those in bold represent records for the school.











A Level (exc. General Studies)





% A grades





% A + B grades










A Level (inc. General Studies)





% A grades





% A + B grades















% A grades





% A + B grades















% A* grades





% A* + A grades





There are plenty of reasons to be cheerful, in that five of the record numbers are in the 2009 column and the other three are in the 2008 column. Nor is such success merely the result of grade inflation. The departing generation were an outstanding bunch who fulfilled most of our best hopes: out of 123 boys, 12 got 5 straight A grades, 44 got 4 straight A grades, 88 got three or more A grades and all 20 boys achieved their offers from Oxford and Cambridge. There is a separate paragraph about where they go to after they have walked down the school drive for the last time.

The leavers of 2009 were an outstanding year, but the future leavers of 2010 keep on outperforming them. Of this group of 114 boys, 38 boys gained 4 A grades and 75 boys are carrying forward 3 A grades to their final year. So, I would hope that they will complete their careers this time next year with a triple triumph.

However, just as triumphalism wasn't always good for Roman emperors and excessive good fortune was deemed to be dangerous by the ancient Greeks - remember Croesus and Polycrates - so we should pretend to be relieved that GCSE results brought some reality to us. Having climbed to the dizzy heights on Mount Improbable of 63.1% A*s last year, we returned this year to a more normal level at 44.5% A*s and 83.5*% A*s and As. We were, therefore, a mite disappointed not with this generation, but for them. Too many boys got slightly less than they deserved and I also feel that they weren't helped by some apparently anomalous marking in some key subjects. There is a very damaging piece waiting to be written on the total randomness and unpredictability of English Literature GCSE results over the last thirty years.

Of course, I would like to congratulate all of your successful sons and even commiserate with the slightly less cheerful, but I would also like to add three things. The first is that the experience of IGCSE Mathematics and the three sciences over the last four years confirms that the move away from GCSEs was the right one. Not only are the boys achieving better results in the supposedly harder IGCSE than they did in GCSE, but also the success at AS of boys who did IGCSEs suggests that those examinations do provide the right preparation for further study. This September, the English Department and the Modern Languages Department and the Music Department have crossed over to IGCSE, too. They, too, believe that the content and the design of IGCSE are better, not least because it will feed into the IB Diploma.

The second is that these results do reflect a massive commitment from the teaching staff. Some departments have had exceptional years and I am sure that, at no time in the school's history, has there been so much help available by so many for so many. It's just a shame that the boys most in need don't always use it. I would like to thank all the staff for the efforts that they make - and not just so that they say nice things about me in my appraisal.

The third thing goes like this. I know that many of the boys here live very busy lives with activities of wondrous diversity. I also know that many of us worry about these same boys being over-committed. Of course, that is a danger of which we must be aware, but these results across three year groups tell me that, in the vast majority of cases, it is the active and energetic and busy boys who get the academic job done.

Where do they all go?

This letter is understandably formulaic: I just wonder when it won't go from exam results to IB to Performing Arts Centre, but if formulaic was good enough for Homer, it's good enough for me. However, it occurred to me that it might be of some interest, and not just to the parents of senior boys, to know what becomes of our leavers. So, attached to this letter is an appendix which shows the university and course destinations of the 2009 leavers. Those with keen eyesight or little to do might have noticed that the Oxbridge acceptances in the list add up to 18, not 20. That's because two of the Oxbridge acceptances were from the leavers of 2008. The figures do show how high a proportion of our boys go on to the best universities to study demanding and valuable courses. 50% of those securing places are going to one of the top ten universities as defined by The Times and 75% are going to a top twenty university. 89 of the boys who applied were accepted by their first choice university. Perhaps that isn't much of a surprise. In addition, a number of boys choose to follow their own path and do what they really want to do. Long may that continue. Another interesting part of this story is the increase in the number of boys taking a Gap year. Of the 123 candidates, 31 applied for entry to university in 2010 and a further 21 of the boys will also be re-applying for entry in 2010. That means that well over a third are taking the longer road to university. In general, we would approve of that longer road if it does bring really valuable experience. As for those who re-apply, they come in a variety of different flavours. Some, a small number, have missed their offers and will retake some exams. Some didn't get any offers last year and the irony of that is that the most likely to suffer such a fate are boys with straight A grades who get no offers to read Medicine or Dentistry. Some choose to turn down the offers they have received and reapply for a better university.

Overall, the picture is very positive. 50% of those securing places are going to one of the top ten universities as defined by The Times and 75% are going to a top twenty university. 89 of the boys who applied were accepted by their first choice university and by September 2010 there might be one or two, but no more than one or two, out of 123 who are not in further education. If one of the things that we must do is get your sons across the bridge to the next phase of their lives, I think that is success.

International Baccalaureate Diploma

September 2010 will be the last time that this letter will have three sets of exams to talk about, and some of you might be glad to be spared this deluge of numbers. However, it will be better for the boys, too, because they will be spared the deluge of exams in the Divisions: the bliss of a summer term being salvaged for a year group. To make sure that the IB Diploma does actually happen, we have to do two things this term: in October we will have to deliver Form B to the IB authorities and in December we receive an accreditation visitation from the IB Wise Men. John Fern has arrived just in time as Director of Studies, to save us from flunking these tests. Since he has taught the IB Diploma at Oakham and introduced it successfully at Fettes College, we feel that we are in safe hands. We'd better be. There are two other significant elements in the process. The first is to ensure that our staff have been trained by IB and already 23 of our teachers have been to several places, including Budapest, Berlin and Birmingham for that purpose. The second is to ensure that you, as parents, are kept informed of what is going on. In early November, we will be holding a meeting for parents of boys in the Fifth Form so that they know exactly what awaits the Pioneer Corps of 2010 and next term we will be holding meetings for parents in the Upper Middles.

Performing Arts Centre

Those of us who are local residents will have already received notification of the planning application that has gone in for the Performing Arts Centre, which we are building in collaboration with KEHS. I have already registered my opposition. The process of planning still has several weeks to run, but one positive sign was that the response of those concerned about the heritage aspect of the programme seemed positive. They thought that the new building, both in its siting and design, would enhance the conservation area. Nor did they mourn excessively the loss of the gyms. The planning application is available on line, but I gather that the site tends to crash. So, you might find it easier to see some images on our website from a link on the front page: this will all happen in the next few days. The exterior closest to the South Front is designed to integrate with the existing brickwork, whereas it becomes increasingly glassy and translucent as it works its way towards the KEHS hockey pitches, Winterbourne and the woods beyond. There is also one significant feature in the brickwork: the original building has black, patterned brickwork to reflect the school's Tudor origins: the new building aims to transpose that language into music, but using the pattern of bricks to represent pianola music.

As for the insides, the key elements beside practice and teaching areas are the two auditoria. The Concert Hall will seat over 400 and accommodate an orchestra of 90 and the drama studio will seat 120 in various different configurations. In addition, there will be another dance and drama rehearsal space above the drama studio which will serve a variety of purposes and all the teaching and rehearsal and practice space needed by the Music Department.

If all goes well in terms of planning, preparation for building should begin in the summer holidays of September 2010 and the construction period will be 18 months. By such a calculation completion will be in early 2012. And then we start on the indoor sports complex.

Development Office

A year ago, I wrote that we had appointed Simon Lerwill to be our first Development Director. I said then and I say now that Simon's work will be critical in raising funds for Assisted Places in the coming years. Since his arrival, Simon has transformed the Old Edwardians website, database and publications, created a programme of events to bring alumni back to school and even conducted a telephone campaign to over 500 Old Edwardians, manned - or boyed - by several of your sons. Only this week, he organised a lunch for over thirty alumni who left in the mid-1950s of whom the vast majority had not been back for over fifty years. Best of all, he has brought into the light over 850 alumni who were lost and are now found. Simon's work also adds to the sum of human happiness in turning up strange truths: who would have thought that the Aldis Lamp, star of so many Second World War convoy films, was invented by an Old Edwardian of that name (Aldis not Lamp), or that Obama's recent biographer, Richard Wolffe, was an Old Edwardian. Some of you, having the good fortune of being Old Edwardians, will know much of this, but even non-Old Edwardians can help us. It may be that you are in contact with Old Edwardians who have lost touch with the school. If that is the case, I would be most grateful if you could get any such people to contact Simon Lerwill at

Parents' Association

I don't usually do commercials in my letter, but since product placement is coming to ITV, this may be a time for change here too. The Parents' Association exists primarily for the purpose of organising events to bring the parents together. It does other things, too, providing guides for Open Mornings and other events, funding travel scholarships for pupils. Every parent is automatically and immediately a member and the Committee is keen that as many parents as possible should get involved, particularly those who are new to the school. To that end, there are two events that I want to advertise, the Christmas Buffet in Big School on
Friday 4th December and the Quiz Night on Friday January 22nd. Further details will come to you by e-mail from the PA itself, but try to pay attention.


In the last year we have been having a look at our system of reporting and Parents' Evenings in terms of timings, gradings and format. There have been some minor changes in the timing, we will be making our tentative way towards electronic reporting in the coming year and some of you have already seen a valuable innovation, a self-evaluation by the Fourth Form last summer. However, the most obvious change in the coming set of reports, both mid-term and end of term, will be in the grading system. The old system had different numbers meaning different things at different times, and it seemed to lie beyond description. The new system will move towards greater consistency on a five-point scale. So what? Well, when you receive the Mid-term Reports (previously known as Intermediate Assessments) soon after half-term, there will be a letter enclosed explaining the details of what the new system means. This paragraph demands that you read that November letter in detail before you start judging the numbers. Otherwise, you might mistake the recalibration of the instrument for the demise of your son.

Trips review

The Parade Ground may not, as yet, be quite as populous as Stansted departures, but it does see a good deal of holiday traffic. Last summer, there was the usual range of activities, where usual really means remarkable, ranging from RAF Camp to cycling in northern England and in Denmark, diving in Malta, trekking (twice) in Morocco, and the most ambitious of the expeditions in southern Africa. Next year will be very little different with sports tours to Gibraltar and Barbados, skiing and snowshoeing and Alpine walking and water sports and caving and climbing and cycling and so on. All of this activity isn't peripheral: it is at the core of what we do. However, we hope to use this year to review all that we offer to ensure that the scale of what we do is supportable, by our staff, by you and your bank accounts, and even by the planet. We also want to ensure that the programme is laid out clearly into the future so that you can plan your son's peregrinations. I'd also quite like to stop the writing of infinite cheques to infinite members of staff, not least because I forget myself.

New Staff

The end of last term saw the passing of an era with the retirement of, inter alios (excellent Latin), Phil Lambie and George Worthington. I will never forget - and nor will they - the ovation they got in the Final Assembly in July. However, giants have to be replaced. In the Classics Department, David Corns has come from finishing his M Phil at Balliol College, Oxford, and Eleanor Jordan has come from Cambridge, having completed her PGCE. In the Chemistry Department, David Wong has seen sense and crossed the road from research at Birmingham University. Fiona Atay, who has taught here before and who has had a son through the school, returns to the English Department. Henry Coverdale has left the Southampton version of King Edward's to teach Economics and Business Studies. Lynn Seamark has come into the Art Department from another version of King Edward's, KEHS, although she will continue to live a double in teaching for the rest of this term. Finally, the PE and Games Department has been strengthened - physically at least - by the arrival of Jamie Taylor, who has just graduated from Birmingham, and Paul Gleghorne, who has just graduated from Loughborough.

Machinery, machinery, machinery

And now, as a coda, for some minute particulars of school life.

• Absence: if your son is absent, please either telephone (0121 472 1672) or e-mail ( as early as you can that morning. If you do not do so before 10 am, we will attempt to contact you lest something untoward has happened between home and school. Although a call or an e-mail from you will suffice at this point, we still require a letter, addressed to your son's Form Tutor, explaining an absence on his return.
• Drugs: each year we need to make clear the school's policy on drugs so we all know where we stand, but also ways in which we can work together for the welfare of your son. Our policy is quite simple. We will not tolerate any illegal drugs in school or on any school activity and any boy found to be in possession of substances of this sort will be dealt with very severely indeed. The most likely outcome is exclusion from the school. However, punishment in such a situation isn't all there is. It is important that all of us are vigilant about the boys' behaviour, and, in particular changes in behaviour. If we have any concerns in this regard, we will share them with you. If you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us: Colin Howard, the Assistant Head responsible for pupil welfare, may be the best place to start.
Once upon a time we used to send out a leaflet on drugs. More extensive information is now available from the government's website, if you go to the alphabetical list of topics.
• Complaints Procedure: all independent schools must have a Complaints Procedure and must inform you of its existence. I am now doing that. It is designed to provide a formal resolution to a complaint if the existing, informal channels don't work. If you ever want a copy, one is available from my secretary.
• Support for your son: we all hope that the boys here are having a lovely time in this balmy September, and I suspect that the vast majority are. However, that won't be true of every boy all the time. If you do have any concerns about your son's progress or welfare, please do not hesitate to contact his Form Tutor in the first instance. However, there may be a situation when you want to consult with a slightly higher authority. In each year group the following have specific responsibility:
Mr Duncan Dewar: Shells
Ms Debbie McMillan: Removes
Ms Sarah-Louise Jones: Upper Middles
Ms Elaine Sigston: Fourth Form
Mr Ed Milton: Fifth Form
Mr Rob Davies: Divisions
Mr Julian Burns: Sixth Form
In addition, you may want to contact Mr Colin Howard who is the Assistant Head responsible for pupil welfare. One final point. If your son has a problem, but doesn't want it to be communicated to the school lest such communication make things worse, ignore him. Tell us. Almost always we can, between us, solve problems that we know about. It's less easy to solve problems that we don't know about.
And, if you have got to the bottom of this letter, I'd like to congratulate you and express the hope that your son shows such tenacity in his own studies.
With best wishes for the year ahead
Yours sincerely

J A Claughton
Chief Master