Last Saturday morning, I was lucky enough to go out on the launch with the 1st VIII in their final session before leaving for Henley. In the afternoon, I watched Bigside lose very narrowly to Tonbridge in a wonderful game of cricket. On Sunday, I wandered round the Musicathon, managing to get to at least sixteen of the thirty concerts put on during twelve hours of wonderful music. A normal weekend at Radley, you might think. Or you might be envious of, or surprised at, the fact that the Warden should be so self-indulgent. After all, it is hardly a hardship having an extended boat-ride, sitting in the pavilion watching a cricket match or gently ambling round the site listening to the best that Radley music has to offer.
The reason I mention it is not just because it was highly enjoyable – though it was – but because of what I observed in the process: a theme that is a good one on which to end the year. It is what I turn to when pressed to give a reason as to why Radley is no ordinary place. Looking beyond facilities, results, numbers, measurables, I always come back to one thing: the relationship the boys have with the staff.
Watching the VIII listening to the final bits of technical advice, hanging on every word. Thinking about the hours they have spent together as a group, mentored, guided and stretched to peak condition . . . and yet enjoying it, relaxed and happy together with their coach. Watching a cricket match almost from start to finish: perhaps a less intense experience (apart from the final wicket stand) but just as informative as you see hundreds of little interactions between boys and staff across the course of a day. Respectful, friendly, fun. Watching dozens of concerts with music teachers either as accompanists or audience; the former with them gently helping their charges sound as good as possible and the latter with that lovely mix of nerves and pride as that piece – with which they too have agonised over for months – is played in public, perhaps for the first time.
It is particularly on my mind as we say farewell to a number of staff this year who have given a huge amount of their professional career – and lives – to Radley. Some have been kind enough to record some final thoughts in videos that you may have seen. I recommend them; what comes across is their love of the place: of many aspects but always, especially, the boys. The boys reciprocate; to hear them applauding those staff out of Chapel this week has been such a joy to witness as I know it will be when I watch them say farewell today as Gaudy comes to an end. Good teachers care; they have empathy and interest; they have time. They enjoy it. They have a great rapport with boys. Radley dons have all that, and in abundance. To those who leave, we bid farewell . . . and as we say farewell to a vintage group, I rest secure in the knowledge that others pick up the mantle.
Of course, all those qualities are seen on a day-to-day basis, not just on a weekend of Warden indulgence. It is perhaps too easy to stress in letters like this the main event, the one-off. So as this year comes to an end, I want simply also to acknowledge the unseen routine that makes Radley what it is. Each lesson taught. Each piece of work marked. Each conversation had. Multiplied a thousand times every day and not just on the academic side: the cleaning, the catering, the health centre, the maintenance of grounds, gardens, buildings, the administration, the finance etc. I count myself extremely fortunate to lead the staff at Radley and I know Andrew Ashton, the Bursar would echo that. I know too that the boys do appreciate it; I hope they remembered to say some thank-yous as they left for the holidays.
As public exams came to an end earlier this week, we wish all those awaiting results the very best for August. The team will be ready as ever to support the 6.2 year to navigate the UCAS process. They have done well to embrace A Levels having not sat normal GCSEs . . . though, as I often reminded them, all others in their year-group across the country were in the same boat. I thank them as a year for all they have done for Radley; they have been a kind and generous group who seem to love the College, seen perhaps most symbolically in their leading of singing in Chapel, which has been exceptional. They raised the roof today.
As we say farewell to them, I want to thank the Pups in particular who have led their Socials with distinction and pride. The Senior Four have been great fun to work with – Jack Wiggin (Senior Prefect), though his croquet came up short; Harry Markham (Second Prefect), who deserves particular congratulation on his selection to play hockey for England U21; Russell Kwok (Academic) and Cosmo Garrett-Cox (Co-Curricular) – and I both thank them and congratulate their successors (respectively: Zach Wickens; Sepehr Saadat; Hyunjo Kim; and Will Lowrie).
It has been a year of real academic success in a number of spheres beyond the College. The Maths Olympiads have produced the best results we have ever had and we have reached the national finals of debating, public speaking, robotics and chemistry competitions. Internally, we have had a highly successful Junior Project Prize, with boys researching their own interests, mentored by senior boys; we have research projects in Maths, Chemistry and Physics, extended reading groups in History and English and elsewhere, declamations in ancient and modern languages. The academic culture of a school is measured by what happens outside as well as inside the classroom.
Picking up on that theme, it is always important for the Warden to have hobby-horses, so I mention two, and do not apologise for the repetition. Late last night, at the end of a convivial evening in the Common Room, I was talking to a group of colleagues about reading. We all agreed that it mattered and that boys should do more of it . . . even if we were not sure how to achieve that. In a digital world that means concentration spans are under threat and we all live with multiple prompts for our attention at every turn, it is more difficult to focus on a piece of text – paper or online – and really dwell on and in it. We also celebrated the fact that we were talking and discussing and no-one had their phone out (they are not allowed in the Common Room on pain of the wrath of Mr Wiseman. . . ). I am delighted that debate and discussion is alive and well at Radley and that is seen informally in cocoas (part of the Radley DNA that creates good relationships between boys and dons) and more formally in public speaking and debate competition successes. I would love the habit of reading to grow and we will be thinking more about it next year . . . but I was encouraged that groups of boys thought a rough average target of ten pages a day five days a week was manageable. The mathematicians will tell us that equates to ten 250 page books a year. That would be something. So, over the Summer, can I encourage you all to talk about things and read.
The biennial Milligan Cup was a wonderful evening of Musical Theatre and I strongly recommend watching it: there were many outstanding performances but a definitively distinctive Mrs Trunchbull (Sam Maynard) won the day. The Musicathon and the final Bands night were the culmination of an outstanding musical year and if I were to pick out two highlights alongside the Milligan, it would be the Warden’s Music (with two remarkable concerto performances by Anthony Williams and Aleks Khundzakishvili (6.2, B)) and the many chamber ensembles led by Warren Chan (6.2 E), who has been an inspirational musician over his time at Radley. In Drama, we had a highly enjoyable Shell Show earlier in term involving a huge number of actors on stage, and, as ever, Max Horsey and his team have filmed it all . . . thank you to them for that and for recording so much of Radley life.
I am delighted that the VIII made it through to the semi-final stages at Henley, they were pipped to the post by a strong St Edward’s squad this afternoon but they can be very proud of their efforts. This caps a wonderful season for the Club which saw golds for 2nd VIII, 3rd VIII, J15.1, J15.2, a silver for 16.2 – and a remarkable bronze for the 15.3 in the category above – at National Schools. The golf team are about to play in the national finals of the HMC Foursomes, the first time we have reached such a final in years . . . and the lovely fact about the team is that it has members from every year-group. Our top tennis player, Woody Walker, recently won a significant individual competition reflecting the health of tennis in the College and the cricket club has had significant success with an unbeaten Colts team as well as block wins against Harrow, Eton and Tonbridge being highlights. A tense win for Bigside against local rivals Abingdon, with a Shell – Manny Lumsden (G) – scoring a fine unbeaten fifty to take us over the line was a good way to finish.
As we close the year I want to congratulate those boys who won the major College prizes for the year:
- Outstanding All-round contribution to the College: Harry Markham (G)
- Martin Wade Prize for Leadership: Warren Chan (E)
- Richards’ Gold Medal (for the leading 6.2 Academic): Inha Choi (F)
- Simon Molyneux Prize (for ‘under the radar’ achievement): Harry Stanwell (H)
- Hector Scott Russell Chalice for Performing Arts: Max Wappner (L)
Can I also draw attention to the annual Partnerships impact report: ‘Voices’. As the name suggests, it is full of stories as partners speak about how much they have valued working with our boys. And, of course, in reverse it has been lovely to hear our boys talking about the impact on them. It is now a crucial part of what we do.
I was lucky enough to be with Steve Rathbone in Washington with a group of boys over Easter. We were fortunate to be able to interact with leading political figures from both sides of the aisle alongside a group of boys from a school in South Central L.A. As the week progressed, it seemed to me that that it modelled exactly what Steve has stood for over his time at Radley and particularly as Academic Director for the last eleven years. All the right things academically, I think: learning for its own sake; the joy of intellectual conversation; the pursuit of excellence beyond the classroom; the stimulus of visiting speakers; the importance of freedom of thought; the power of civilised debate.
Back to the opening theme. Watching Steve with the boys modelling that was a joy. But it could equally be Ian Yorston provoking a debate with an iconoclastic comment. Or Anthony Williams happily accepting the last-minute request to play some fiendishly difficult accompaniment. Richard Greed chatting with boys in his beloved JCR, reliving that rugby moment. Again. It could be George May round the table in H; Gaby Dalrymple guiding a boy through Spanish oral preparation; Ben Knox helping a boy with a Design project; Kate Knox doing the same in Art. Seven dons leaving this Summer whose collective time at Radley matches almost exactly the age of the College. We thank them for their service.
Thank you as ever for your support over the year; it has been lovely to see you at concerts, matches and plays. The Summer drinks parties with year-groups of parents were a huge success. Just this week, a number of ORs and parents were kind enough to help with two Careers events and they were excellent. As I say at the start of every year, when we welcome new boys to Radley, we welcome their parents and families too; we want genuinely to be a community, all trying to achieve the same end. There are challenges ahead for the sector and Radley will not be immune. But the strength of the community will stand us in very good stead.
Diana and I wish you and your families all the very best for a lovely and restful Summer.