Senior Head's Blog: Autumn Term Begins

It has been great to get everyone back into school this week, and to get the new academic year underway.  Thank you to all the parents who were able to come in on Monday and Tuesday for the start of term, and it was good to be able to share with you some information about the exceptional achievements of our 2022 leavers, and last year's Year 11 cohort as well.  It was also good to share some thoughts for the ongoing development of the school, the success of the Summer School, and the new Marshall Centre for learning, which will be formally opened at the end of this month.  

It was also an opportunity to encourage parents to remain in close communication with the school, and to let us know as soon as possible if something is not going well, or to pass on news from home that we can celebrate, or provide additional support for your son or daughter.  We know that the start of a new year can be a challenging time in many ways, and with quite a lot of change going on here, we really don't want to miss something important, so please do talk to us if there is anything that we need to know.  We began the term yesterday morning with a service in the school chapel, at which I was able to address the school as follows: 

The school was founded in 1564, and the Headmaster was the same person as the Vicar of the local parish for the first two centuries of Felsted School.  Worship took place in the parish church for more than three centuries until this chapel was opened in 1873 (seven days a week, including twice on a Sunday!).  The Chapel contains a great deal of history, including memorial plaques for various people connected with Felsted, from former Headmasters (WS Grignon 1824-1907), to pupils and former pupils such as John Leslie Green, winner of the Victoria Cross for his service in the First World War.  

The chapel is a special place, and for many former pupils, when they return to visit Felsted, this is somewhere that they want to come back to.  They might come back to get married in this building (we hosted an OF wedding just a couple of weeks ago), while others will just remember their Speech Day service.  For some, the importance of the building is to do with their Christian faith, and this might be the place in which they first dedicated their lives to God, while for others, there might never have been a connection like this, and they might never have listened to the messages that were shared, but just recognised Chapel as a place of community.

We talk a great deal about respect for one another at Felsted, and that is something that is so important in the Chapel.  Whatever our own personal feelings, this is somewhere that we gather together.  We can share a moment of quiet reflection, think about those who have gone before us at the school, and those who will come afterwards.  We might just pause to think about what the day ahead brings, or consider the challenges that we face personally or collectively.  In the service, we had a reading from Luke in which a man with a shrivelled hand is saved by Jesus, despite the apparent animosity of those around him.  Those who are trying to stop him from doing something to help someone else are powerful and influential.  They are widely respected and admired, and others look up to them.  What they say goes.  As we start out at the beginning of a new academic year, there is no doubt that there will be some people out there, who are powerful and influential, who are admired by others, and who like to tell people how to behave, what you can do, and when you can do it.

All of us want to get approval for what we do.  Even teachers like to know whether they have delivered a good lesson - have they got their point across, have you listened to them!  In a new environment, a new academic year, a new house, a new school, these pressures are even greater.  Whether someone actually tells you what you can do, or not, you will almost certainly feel the pressure to conform, to fit in, and not to upset the crowd.  We see peer pressure in every area of life.  Look at the behaviour of some football crowds, think about the hostility that is stirred up towards migrants by some of our media, think what it is like when you have to choose what to wear for an event or even for an ‘own clothes day’ at school. All of us want to fit in with others, and we will frequently sacrifice our own values in order to fit in.  

“Which is lawful?  To do good or to do evil?”  What should I do?  What is right, or what others want me to do?  That is a pretty easy multiple choice question.  We can all see what the correct answer is, but many of us will get it right on paper, and then make a mess of it when it comes to the practical exam.  

But the great thing about a new term, or a new year, or a new school, is that this is an opportunity to do things differently.  Consider what is right, and do it.  Don’t listen to the people who tell you that it is OK to be rude to others, it is not clever to work too hard, if you want to fit in, you have to opt out.  Don’t worry about the people who think that you have to look like this to be one of us, who say that you can’t be one of us because your clothes are all wrong, or you are not someone that we want to talk to.  Instead, focus on what you know is right.  Make a new friend, by being kind to everyone.  Work as hard as you can, because you will be the one that benefits from that.  Opt into things, because you will be the one who enjoys the challenge, and finds their passion.  Look how you feel comfortable, because how we look is so unimportant compared to who we are.  If other people don’t want to talk to you, go out of your way to find people who you want to talk to.

So, if you want to do what is right, be prepared to challenge yourself and do something difficult.  It is very easy to follow the crowd, it is very easy to stand by and see things happen, it takes remarkable courage to go against the flow, to stand up for what is right, and to make the difference that can make things better, but that is what community is all about, and I urge you to try to do this from today.

I hope that you have had a very good week so far, and look forward to getting to know you all over the coming weeks and months.