A note from the Head - A year at Mowden
I am delighted to be able to tell you of some of the things that have gone on in what I believe has been a successful year for Mowden. But first I want to talk about the partnership which we, as staff and teachers at Mowden, share with you parents in the bringing up of your children.
Put at its simplest, our own share of the partnership is to oversee the children’s academic progress and foster games, and during term time, extra-curricular activities. Your share - and naturally I hesitate to define what we all as parents must aspire to - is that complex of love, duty and care that stem from the home and the family. What we both share, parents and teachers, is the task of imbuing your children with a set of values.
On the academic side I believe that at Mowden we have the tradition, the standards and, above all, the teachers who will get our pupils into the Senior Schools that are right for them. Also, from the very wide variety of activities and games, your children are able to gain their faith in themselves to accomplish the things they want to do.
These are not my words. They are words taken from the Mowden Headmaster, Andrew Morrison’s speech, in 1990. I was 15 years old when he gave that speech, not that much older than our Year 8 pupils. His words are over 30 years old, and yet they are still an entirely accurate description of our school’s values. Every school is different, and every Head will influence their school’s direction to some extent, but the best schools will have an enduring ethos on which it stands firm. They will know who they are, what they are and what is important to them.
30 years after Andrew Morrison gave his speech, my message is fundamentally the same. Our words and tone may differ, but our values are in perfect harmony. Our approach now is the same as it was then; we foster a partnership between ourselves, staff and teachers, and our families. This partnership has the same aim, which is to achieve the very best for the child at the heart of it. This year has not been easy, and I have no doubt we have not always made the right decisions, but we have always made our decisions with the interests of the children as our priority; they do and will continue to come first in everything we do at Mowden.
Teaching, like so many professions, has been particularly challenging since March 2020. No one chooses to become a teacher to deliver their subject via a screen, and nor do they expect to be teaching in someone else’s sitting room, kitchen or even bedroom. Our staff have adapted to so many new ways of teaching; none of us could have imagined how important the initial Google Classroom sessions led by Mr Hartley and Mr Lamb would be. We were so lucky to have staff who were able to teach and support us all in those early stages and beyond. I believe that we have a most outstanding and hard working group of colleagues at Mowden, and on behalf of our entire community I extend my sincere gratitude and thanks to them all.
The last academic year has been one that is typified by the overcoming of educational obstacles. Educationally, the pupils here at Mowden, have been some of the luckiest in the country. The continuity of provision has been first class and the end result has been an atmosphere of business as normal, with a hint of Blitz spirit. With the help of new technologies, married with Mowden ingenuity, we have navigated new waters with an explorer’s spirit, and learned so much along the way.
Despite the lockdowns and the disruption, Common Entrance in Year 8 has gone ahead and the pupils have gained some stunning grades. Indeed when one compares these grades with historic grade patterns, we have just enjoyed our best ever crop of CE grades in recent history, in spite of the educational crisis gripping our country. In total, 83% of our pupils achieved either an A*, A or a B and all pupils achieve their desired destination. We also achieved a competitive entry to Eton, Radley, RGS Newcastle and Rugby for all those pupils who had applied. We must applaud our pupils for their diligence and determination in making this one of the most successful years in the School’s recent history, in spite of the monumental challenges. I would also like to mention our scholarship success. Congratulations to Sam P, Stowe; Clover J, Ampleforth; Alfie G, Ampleforth and Oscar R, Barnard Castle. I know some still have scholarship assessments to face as they arrive at their senior school. We wish them the very best and look forward to hearing how they fare.
The past year has also presented its own unique challenges pastorally as our whole community suddenly found themselves having to adapt to very different and challenging circumstances. Looking back, we feel proud of how our community has coped, and how we have constantly looked for the positives. We grew stronger together, pulled together and supported each other. Through maintaining our boarding ethos, weekly assemblies, our PSHEE programme, our strong tutor system and our regular pupil well being and attitude to school surveys, the net held fast.
In addition, Our Eco Project is well under way, with thanks to all the parents who generously donated towards it in so many ways. It is now a place where children can ‘be’, whether it be digging and planting, weeding, caring for the hens or picking the produce to take to our kitchens. It forms a vital part of our pastoral care. As it develops and expands, its role will no doubt increase, as the long term plan includes beekeeping, making preserves, creating a reading and contemplation area, and wild flower meadows.
September 2020 saw the Year Three class moving to the traditional set-up for Prep schools, and finding a new home as part of the Prep school. This opened up opportunities for the Pre-Prep to utilise a room dedicated to Music, French and special educational needs. Year 2 children themselves have risen to the challenge of leading the Pre Prep this year, being excellent role models to the younger children and confident bearers of responsibilities.
Our boarders have continued to meet their commitments, and tackled numerous unexpected changes to their routines with enthusiasm and enduring good humour. As a result of lockdown restrictions the majority of boarding events have been held onsite. In many ways, it has been good for us to really utilise the grounds, and we have not lacked creativity when making our own entertainment.
We’ve had den building and fire pits, bonfires and murder mysteries, escape rooms and hunger game quells, gladiator assault courses, bbqs, paintwars, and even our very own spin off of “I’m a celebrity” aptly named “I’m a Mowdenian”. There have been many firsts for me this year, and eating bugs was one I may not repeat!
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the co-curricular life of the school very hard, and we have needed to be creative with our delivery to ensure our pupils are able to access a wide and varied range of opportunities. Due to buy-in from the entire school community we have been able to continue to offer various sporting opportunities and activities throughout the period of toughest restrictions.
Games lessons have continued throughout the year with a focus on the delivery of our core sports, alongside the introduction of new ones that usually struggle for a place on our busy sporting schedule. In order to retain a competitive sports provision, at a time when inter-school fixtures were impossible, Wednesday afternoon Games lessons became intra-school matches and competitions. These included: swimming galas; touch rugby matches; ultimate frisbee; athletics; netball; hockey; football and many others.
Keeping the pupils in year group bubbles meant we lost many of the occasions when the whole school would usually come together. We used cross country events to find a way to bring the school community together; taking part in the Shrewsbury Hunt event and organising our own Children’s Cancer Run in aid of charity. These events were successful in creating a safe and secure opportunity for the pupils to undertake a shared challenge, and in raising several hundred pounds for charity. The full school games of Manhunt also proved a highlight of the year!
Undoubtedly Music is one of the areas hardest hit in educational settings this year, yet we have tried to produce as many of our regular concerts and workshops as possible, and we continue to offer individual lessons to suit all interests. All of our concerts have been recorded and delivered online, showcasing the talents of children from all year groups. We formed a new choir in September, open to children from Years 3-5 and they have developed into a fantastic group. They are very keen and learn new, often challenging, pieces of music very quickly.
We have also managed some live music; a Year 6 band accompanied their peers in the recent Year 6 Play, and a group of brass players performed a set of pieces as part of the summer fun afternoon.
Drama was another subject heavily affected by the ongoing pandemic and, whilst our capacity to teach and deliver drama lessons may have been narrowed by government guidelines, the creativity within our approach widened considerably.
In the Autumn Term, our Year 7 children worked in small groups to dramatise a range of Gothic extracts from classic texts such as ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Frankenstein’ whilst our Year 8 pupils presented a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens, their work being videoed and shared with the entire school community, including parents.
In the Spring Term, our Year 5 children worked online to write and produce an adapted version of Phillip Pullman's story, 'Clockwork'. The idea of individual cogs working together towards a shared purpose fitted perfectly with the children having to write the script individually, due to Distance Learning, then bring it together to tell a cohesive story. They started the process with the notion of performing on screen, but were ultimately able to film their 'play in a day', adapting their ideas to fit the current theatre rules, when we returned to school in March.
Thereafter, it was the turn of our youngest students in the Prep School to impress and entertain. Our Year 3 and Year 4 children joined forces to perform an adaptation of two beautiful stories - ‘The Awongalema Tree’, an African folktale which explores the idea that taking your time can often lead to success, was paired beautifully with the story of ‘The Lost Words’, a ‘book of spells’ that seeks to conjure back the near-lost magic of the nature that surrounds us. And, with Covid-restrictions still in place, it seemed fitting to make the most of Mowden’s magnificent grounds - so, dressed as animals and plants, and wearing the masks they made with Mrs Belshaw in their Art lessons, the children headed to the woods to film their play amongst the trees.
Next to grace the stage was Year 6 who were fortunate to perform ‘Scenes from Shakespeare’ in front of a live audience of up to 30 guests on Mowden’s outdoor stage. It was a truly special moment to welcome guests back on site.
The Art Department has continued to thrive, and the pupils have produced some incredible artworks, developed through collaborative projects and the influence of different art exhibitions, artists and craftsmen. We have been so proud to exhibit their talent and creativity within our End of Year Art Exhibition. Pupils have entered and won Art competitions and had their work exhibited at the Laing Art Gallery. Artist workshops have been enjoyed online and in school, and the pupils have virtually visited galleries and museums across the world.
As always, we have endeavoured to ensure our children have had access to as many different opportunities as possible. Outdoor Education allows pupils to learn, and develop a wide range of life skills, promoting self-confidence and self-reliance, personal organisation, teamwork, responsibility, leadership, and environmental awareness.
Following the Great North Swim our Year 8 Leavers went on to Hartsop in the Lake District to spend five nights after their Common Entrance Exams. The group stayed in a bunkhouse type centre and participated in a number of outdoor activities in the areas around Ullswater and Coniston.
These included gorge scrambling, hillwalking, traversing, bouldering, abseiling, navigation and teamwork exercises. Four gorges were tackled by the group and they increased in difficulty and challenge as the week progressed. There was a steep and tough walk up to the Old Man O’ Coniston and a lower level walk around the centre at Hartsop. The week was tiring but fulfilling for the Leavers’ and hopefully will have given them lasting memories of the area and the Leavers’ Programme. The Year 8s also took part in a 24 Hour survival in woods up in Northumberland, involving walking, building shelters and cooking food on an open fire.
Years 2 to 6 have enjoyed overnight camps in the school grounds. This involved putting up the tents, being involved in team building activities and bushcraft in the woods.
Those who received awards are to be congratulated on achieving the standards they do. Some will not have received a specific award this time, which may hurt, and is certainly no reflection on their efforts or personal progress this year. I encourage all of our pupils to aim high in the coming year, and carefully consider the goals they would like to set themselves.
Year 8 will be missed. I know the next step may feel quite daunting, but I also know that you’re ready to move on from Mowden.
There is a story in the Bible about a mustard seed.
In this story a man takes a mustard seed and sows it in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows up, it is the biggest of all plants. It becomes a tree, so that birds come and make their nests in its branches.
In many ways I think this story represents Mowden, we are small like the mustard seed, but together we are the biggest of plants. As you move onto your senior schools, remember the lessons you’ve learned here and always remember to make the most of the opportunities that come your way.
You cannot change what happens to you, but you can always control the way you respond to it. We send you on your way with our love and very best wishes. I have no doubt your friendships will endure, and I hope you stay in touch with all of us here at Mowden. Thank you.
-Mrs Kate Martin, Head