Posted on Feb 4, 2020

This is taken from an address by the headmaster of Shrewsbury School to Third Form entrants in September 2019:

WB Yeats’ definition of education always rings true with me: “Education is not the filling of buckets but the lighting of fires”. Of course, we want our pupils to learn interesting things; to develop remarkable skills; to nurture their own individual gifts and talents. We want them to become the best possible version of themselves.

But there is a deeper project here.

Schools are not about dispensing truths unthinkingly. Schools are about empowering the young to seek truths for themselves; to pursue lives of meaning and purpose; to grow in character. And, in quiet moments, to seek the deeper truths of the spirit.

The dynamics of the modern world make trust, truth and meaning increasingly elusive. Rapid change is the only real certainty. As well as navigating the turbulence and change of adolescence, our children need to equip themselves with the wisdom and skills to thrive; and the virtues and values to be a force for good.

The Shrewsbury School motto captures the deeper project of education: Intus Si Recte Ne Labora – If all is right within, trouble not.

We want our pupils to learn, and to learn deeply in an atmosphere of serious fun. We want them to develop the virtues that allow them to lead lives of meaning, active compassion, generosity, purpose and truth.

The fires we aim to light are the true fires, the torchlights, that guide us through life’s choices; those fires that cast light into dark places; those fires that light the way to truth.

Post Office

Posted on Jan 26, 2018

The sun is shining (yes, really) and Sean is busy, fussing over his post office, writing all sorts of important stuff. A customer (Miss Felicity) approaches

“Please may I buy a money order?”

“Yes, of course”

“How much will it be?”

“Fifty pounds”

Startled, but fully aware that she is talking to a master of the universe in the making, Miss Felicity tells Sean that she has to go to the school’s ATM to draw some cash. She returns and, under Sean’s watchful eye, counts out five £10 notes to make £50. Sean hands over the money order and says:

“Would you like anything else?”

“Yes, please. I’d like some stamps.”

“How many stamps?” Sean is nothing if not patient.

Miss Felicity tells Sean how many stamps she needs and he carefully counts them out for her.

“How much do I owe you?”

“One hundred and eighty five pounds!”

“Goodness, that’s so much money. How am I going to pay you?”

“You must give me money with £185 on it”

There not being such a thing as a £185 note (nor any notes, seeing as Miss Felicity is currently £50 lighter on account of the money order), Miss Felicity and Sean decide to embark on a bit of quantitative easing. They use as their inspiration a poster, pinned to the garden shed, of Australian dollar banknotes (the reader need not be concerned that we appear to have moved countries. Children at Victoria Road frequent countries, and continents, at their pleasure, and Sean has been much taken by Australia during the term’s theme of The Continents).

While they are easing away, and making an excellent job of recreating the faces on the notes too, Miss Felicity, who has learnt a thing or two over the years, starts telling Sean about the two faces on the $20 note: Mary Reiber and John Flynn.

Mary Rieber was a child convict, transported, aged fourteen, to Australia before making a considerable success of herself. At the end of Miss Felicity’s peroration, Sean knows a lot about transportation; possibly, he is left with the impression that the way on to an Australian banknote is to steal a horse first…

John Flynn created the flying doctor service and Miss Felicity is no less loquacious in her description of the importance, given the vast and inhospitable terrain that is most of Australia of this essential, and life-saving, facility.

Suitably nurtured, and having finished the necessary banknote production, Miss Felicity enquires again as to the price of the stamps:

“One thousand eight hundred and fifty pounds”, says Sean!! Miss Felicity is tempted to ask Sean for his views on the Weimar Republic’s inflationary period but thinks better of it.

“Sean, to count that amount of money we are going to need some help!” Miss Felicity and Sean go back into the classroom and emerge with the Golden Bead, which, together, they use to re-create the massive numeral of one thousand eight hundred and fifty, and its quantity, laid out in exquisite glass beads! I know many readers will be in urgent need of a full explanation of the Golden Bead. Well, tough. All you need to know is that it is to Montessori maths what Mozart is to music.


So, what has Sean done? Personal, social and emotional development by interacting with teachers and peers as the postmaster; maths by selling (successfully) money orders and diamond-studded stamps, geography by visiting Australia, history by learning the wisdom of being a horse thief and a doctor with a pilot’s licence; art by creating, drawing and colouring banknotes. What will Sean take home in his bag? Nothing, because learning like that does not get written down. But Sean knows, and we know, and now you know too.

To train or not to train?

Posted on Aug 6, 2014

Whatever sparks imagination in children, they (the children) are not usually short of it. One morning, two boys arrived at the junk-modelling table. The possibilities of junk-modelling are unrestricted! We have seen boats with multi-function turrets (some to catch pirates, some to make biscuits!), castles, rockets (galore) and even space booster packs, strapped on with metres of tape. In this case, it was string that caught the boys’ interest. String is for tying, or, if you think of it as rope, it is for pulling…train carriages. Chairs make good train carriages, so the string was tied to the chair and the chair pulled into the middle of the room, to be joined by a second and a third, as the train got longer. Curiously, the boys seemed more interested in the process of moving the chairs than in the actual train; the train was just the excuse to move chairs. They tried to move teachers stools but had to agree with a teacher that these made a *lot* of noise. Thus, their effort to expand their activity led back to chairs: not just a single chair, but now two chairs. For this, a teacher had to be persuaded to tie two pieces of string together to allow for the second chair. Disaster! Two chairs could not be moved without one, or both, falling over, and although they persevered that result remained the same.

What, now, is the temptation for the teacher who has just arrived in the classroom to witness two boys pulling chairs that keep falling over? A mild admonishment of “in school we carry our chairs like this”? Not at Iverna Gardens. The teacher immediately understood the benefit of what she was witnessing: for 40 minutes those two boys were completely engaged, caused no disruption to those around them, caused no damage, problem-solved, role-played, practised their fine and gross-motor skills, and developed their concentration, self-esteem and probably their friendship too.


Posted on Mar 20, 2014

Miss Susanna’s lunch bunch is nothing if not fun. This week she made an attempt at a mini-project on spring. With the London temperature close to zero, the children were less than impressed and decided to put the popcorn they had made (to represent blossom) to better use. One sought out reels of coloured ribbon, and the rest laid the table with plates and glasses of water. Once the entire area had been festooned with satin streams, the children partied. They talked and laughed and drank their water and declared, to a person, that it was the best party to which they had ever been.

Which all goes to show that much as the one year old prefers the wrapping to the wrapped, so the grand project is no match for water, ribbons and joie de vivre.