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static about hmblog

I was glad I was sitting down.

I trotted along to assembly this morning (Year 13 followed by Y10, different presentations, but a similar theme: lovely and persuasive attempt to cajole Year 13s into looking after themselves a little more in the run-up to their ‘practice exams; Y10s listened to Y13s talking about how they could learn to ‘be themselves’ and in so doing build up strong mental health – more on this anon), and was mulling over some of the quite powerful testimonies which Y10 pupils and I had just heard when a very cheerful Y13 speaker greeted me and said that she really liked my blog. Now I’m a sucker for praise, and scour the weekly stats for evidence that someone has read the latest post, but it had never occurred to me that students, especially Highgate School’s finest, ever had the time or inclination to do so. I was rather touched, but very surprised!

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It was when I was just getting up from a lengthy, if productive, meeting about our long-term estate plan that I felt I should own up.

An experienced and sharp-witted professional had turned to me and told me that he read my blog. Now this is someone whose firm does indeed do business with Highgate School but clearly not to the exclusion of other schools and colleges across the land. It was very nice to hear that he turned to Highgate’s website, rather than to others, to be kept up to date on matters educational, and that he found those pages informative and so on. It was then that I should have admitted that when the author of these blogs is pressed hard by events or a lack of inspiration, he turns to his wonderful team of colleagues for ideas, for guidance and for editorial opinion: what you read has had the uncredited benefit of others’ similarly sharp-witted, eagle-eyed attention.

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‘Can I ask you a cheeky question?’

Thus started a conversation Heads tend to have at this time of year when parents and carers are thinking about schools for their children. I braced myself for the question, wondering what aspect of Highgate’s educational vision was up for scrutiny.

After the utterly friendly and well-rooted inquisition (more on that later), I wondered out loud if what bedevils school choice is a surfeit of love for our children: we’re wired to want the best for them and, faced with choice – local or far-flung, state or independent, co-ed or single-sex, selective or non-selective, faith-based or secular – we worry ourselves to death, and read into the minor variations on London schools seismic differences with earth-shattering consequences.

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I won’t be alone in feeling that the Christmas holidays were a long time ago: all that time for reading both indulgently and for improvement! A test for me of being properly relaxed is bothering to read Times 2 or the weekend supplements, or doing so and revelling in the entertainment value rather than busily expostulating at the nonsense of the latest metropolitan or provincial fad.

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“If I feel unhappy, I do mathematics to become happy. If I am happy, I do mathematics to keep happy.” Alfred Renyi

“The more I paint, the more I like everything.” Jean Michel Basquiat

These were striking quotations to find lodged at the core of last week’s assembly delivered by Polly Brownlee, Head of Mathematics here. Polly had been invited to talk about ‘maths - something even for the non-specialist’ (this week sees Rebecca Hyam, Polly’s counterpart in English, on something ‘even for the non-specialist’ in English). We might have expected the value of maths for the non-specialist to be argued in terms of its usefulness – say, our mathematical literacy in decision-making and in deep-reading the interpretations of our data-rich economy – but, while Polly gave us, almost reluctantly, compelling examples of applications of maths in justice and in police-work, both specialist and non-specialist can find, she argues, value in maths because of its inherent intrigue and beauty.

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