Academic Summary – Summer Term

This has been a challenging term for all, but, as the Master said in her Chapel address on Friday, there have been unexpected positives to emerge from these difficult weeks: the restriction of lockdown has allowed space for the best aspects of learning to thrive. Pupils have shown themselves to be curious, resilient and independent, producing exceptional project-work (the Form Projects, the MC IX Research Projects, and more) and willingly engaging beyond the curriculum; the MC IX and MC XV programmes were a great success, and pupils worked hard until the very end.

The second half of term was only 33 days long, and yet, as in any other term, the weeks were filled with talks, competitions, society meetings and more – all delivered via Zoom.

Dr Tim Evans (Apothecary to HM the Queen and The Royal Households of London) gave a talk on the international response to COVID-19, in conversation with Neil Moore. Together they took us on a fascinating journey, from the beginnings in December 2019 through to the present day. It was a privilege to hear from an expert at the front line of the crisis. For the annual Everest Lecture, which as usual concluded the Summer Term, we welcomed Professor Dominic Hodgson from the British Antarctic Survey (who specialises in high latitude climate and environmental change). He gave a wonderful lecture to a rapt (albeit virtual) crowd, and we are most grateful to him for joining us.

I wrote in February about the wonderful achievement of Grisha Belotserkovsky (TU U6) and Annabel Hannan (NC U6) reaching the final of the national schools’ French debating competition, or Joutes Oratoire. The final took place last week – this time Annabel was joined by Peps Haydn Taylor (NC U6). They debated against King’s School Wimbledon and Henrietta Barnett School (whom they defeated with a defence of eco-terrorism).

The Welchman Prize took a slightly altered form this year: rather than summarising their mathematical article with a live presentation, contestants were required to create a short film. Natasha Johnson (PR L6), Oliver Light (B1 L6), Guy Mitchell (B1 L6), Madeline Tanner (LI L6), and Nadia Johnson (PR L6) reached the final; Nadia was the eventual winner with an impressive exploration of the mathematics of COVID-19.

Then, of course, there was the Buchanan Reading Prize (for Lower Sixth) which took place in the last week of term. It was, for me, a last contact with the pupils (I was judging) and I could not have wished for better.The pupils had chosen a varied selection of prose and poetry (from Maya Angelou to Kurt Vonnegut), and the “close camera” nature of Zoom added a special intimacy. The competition was won by Bella Brown (MM L6) with a moving delivery of Auden’s As I Walked Out One Evening; Toby Watson (C3 L6) was runner up with a jolly yet disturbing excerpt from Banks’ The Wasp Factory.

 

The MC XV and MC IX programmes, which were introduced this year in response to the cancellation of the public exams, provided a wealth of super-curricular enrichment for pupils. For MC XV, pupils enrolled for six study modules (each taught over a fortnight) from a list of over a hundred. Some of the modules aimed to develop academic specialisms and thus bridge the gap between Sixth Form and university study – for example: An Introduction to Complex Variable Theory for those studying Maths and Population, Health and the Limits of the Environment for those studying Geography. Other modules broadened pupils’ wider appreciation of arts, science and culture – for example, for literature: The Poetry and Politics of Pablo Neruda, for history and culture: The Lore of the Rings – The Influences on Tolkien’s Tales and for current affairs: Politics for the Lay Person. MC XV was a glorious celebration of learning for learning’s sake, and we are most grateful to the talented beaks who prepared and delivered hundreds of hours of fresh content, and to the pupils who assuredly climbed into the shoes of undergraduates, and did so with enthusiasm and gratitude:

“All three picked up the ball and ran with it in spectacular fashion. I felt like I was in a university seminar. These three individuals showed such initiative and scholarship.”

“I think the topics are not only beyond helpful for life understanding but are all actually quite cool things to be thinking about, so thank you.”

The flavour and purpose of MC IX was similar: pupils in the Hundred chose four subjects (including those intended for A level) in which to extend their skills and subject knowledge. In addition to their four courses of study, every pupil was required to create a “project” (in its widest sense) – for example: a dissertation, an investigation, a performance or an artefact. These were carried out over six weeks; each pupil was assigned a mentor, with whom they met online once a week.

The Research Project programme was conceived and managed by Mr Barclay, to whom we are most grateful. The quality, variety and individuality of the work that the year-group produced was breathtaking; serving as a reminder of what teenagers can achieve with a just little encouragement and guidance, and – crucially – plenty of time. Projects included a well-researched dissertation on D-Day, a technical account of building a loop song from scratch (including detailed descriptions of the work of other artists and a superb finished song), and a beautifully illustrated “scrap-book” account of the creation of an environmentally-sustainable jacket (without a sewing machine…).

Of the 160 submitted projects, seven were listed for special praise, thanks to the inevitably subjective judgement of the Deputy Head (Academic). “Highly commended” was awarded to Henry Blatchford (CO Hu), Ben Burdett (B1 Hu), Amy Beckett (DA Hu) and Henry Dukes (BH Hu). Bronze medal was awarded to Freya Høgevold (NC Hu) with Can I make a dress inspired by Elizabethan fashion? (a wonderfully researched and beautifully presented project, proving that the answer was very definitely: “yes”). Silver medal was awarded to Molly Jones (MM Hu) with Exploring Water (a detailed examination of how water can inspire art and photography, which included a number of original drawings and photography – a piece of art in its own right).

And Gold Medal was awarded to Sean Lincoln (LI Hu) with Lockdown MTB. This was a magnificent three-tiered project, involving the detailed design and construction of a full-scale mountain bike adventure course (including dirt jumps, banked corners and a scary-looking cycloid ramp), a wonderful 8-minute film recording the journey and the process (it is humorous and inspiring in equal measure), and a well-researched and carefully presented final record. This was an extraordinary project, that captured perfectly the lockdown zeitgeist: time leading to boredom leading to inspiration leading to creativity. I urge you to watch the film and, if you have a mountain bike and are at a loose end, pay Sean a visit; the course looks great fun.

As with the Hundred, the Shell year-group proved themselves to be independent, motivated and creative; they seized opportunities and they rose to challenges. In place of Shell OA Week (a memorable highlight for Marlburians past and present), they took part in Shell Exploration Week, a week of challenges, activities and events tied together by the theme of exploration (specifically the feat of Sir Francis Chichester (C1 1915-18), who in 1967 became the first solo circumnavigator of the globe). Conceived and created by the Head of Shell, Mr Sandall, the week wove together all aspects of the Shell experience – with talks in the evening, books recommended by the library, exercise challenges, journals, video diaries, adventure, science, creativity, mindfulness and more. Exploration in its fullest sense – physical, of course, but also cerebral, artistic and spiritual.

And, finally, the Shell Project. As in a usual year, the term’s focus for each of the 188 Shell pupils was the preparation and presentation of a significant essay, portfolio or artefact. Mentored by the Form teachers (with the support of the Memorial Library team), the projects required pupils to be independent, organised and self-motivated, and to demonstrate skills of research, literacy and presentation. Despite the challenges of lockdown, they did not disappoint. There were social studies (social stereotyping, factors that determine successful outcomes in life), historical studies (Who killed the princes in the tower? The Troubles), artistic studies (including The Evolution of Hands in Art), moral, philosophical and psychological studies (for example: Is there such a thing as a criminal mind?), and much more.

A special mention goes to William Snooks (C1 Sh) for his 11,000 word dissertation on The History of Medicine and Development of the NHS when Considered alongside a Brief History of Pandemics – a monumental yet readable commentary, giving historical and political context to COVID-19 (from the Antonine Plague in 165 AD to the present day). A quite remarkable piece of work.

So there it is: the end of a short and extraordinary term. The pupils should be proud of all they have achieved, and all they have learned: not just about their subjects, but about themselves. To the leavers: good luck and keep in touch. To the rest: have an enjoyable, Zoom-free summer.

As this is my last academic report, I would like to thank everyone – colleagues, parents and pupils alike – for their friendship and support.

Ed Tolputt
Deputy Head (Academic)

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