Academic Update

Feeling out of your depth is an unnerving feeling for a teacher; we are often expected to be masters of all that we survey, and I am pleased to report that Marlborough beaks generally are exactly that. Wittgenstein is reported to have said that ‘problems arise when language takes a holiday’ and I can say I felt this most dramatically when I stepped from the Philosophy classroom to the Mathematics Department, as a guest at the final of the Welchman Prize in the last week of term; there was at least one man in the room who felt out of his depth in a sea of mathematical talent.

The prize is named for Gordon Welchman (C3 1920-25), probably Marlborough’s greatest ever mathematician, who worked alongside Alan Turing at Bletchley Park cracking Enigma. Now in its fifth year, pupils are invited to write a paper exploring a particular problem in Mathematics, before delivering a presentation to beaks and pupils on their findings. This year’s three finalists from the Lower Sixth chose very interesting but contrasting topics; Max D M spoke with poise and confidence on the ‘Sofa Problem’; Allegra H was able to talk with remarkable elan about attempted proofs of the Euler-Mascheroni Constant hypothesis; while Charlotte G brought her considerable expertise in Physics to bear in a presentation on the part that calculus would play in a future mission to Mars. Despite these contrasting topics, each of the presentations showed confidence in handling the material, and presenters handled questions from beaks and pupils with skill. I was also struck by the supportive and collaborative approach of the other Lower Sixth mathematicians in the room, each of whom had submitted their own papers. Allegra emerged the winner after deliberation, but I know that everyone who entered will have been inspired by the experience.

Entering competitions such as this is an intrinsically worthwhile enterprise, of course, but it can also add a strong sheen to UCAS applications, the business of which has begun in earnest for the Lower Sixth this term. Pupils have had workshops on constructing personal statements, have been involved in negotiating predicted grades with their beaks and, in some cases, re-taking assessments so that their predictions can improve. If they haven’t already developed a first draft, I would recommend that pupils return to College in September having done so, since hitting the ground running at the start of term can help to get this important task completed quickly, so that focus can return to the business of learning.

Pupils in the Hundred and the Upper Sixth have had to contend with the first public exams series since 2019. There was certainly a strong sense of industry around the College, with the library and other study venues busy with pupils preparing themselves for, in the case of the Upper Sixth, the first public exams since Common Entrance or Scholarship. In the end, the exam boards generally followed the guidance on advance information well, meaning that beaks and pupils were able to focus revision in lessons and in extra classes on preparing for what was an abnormally long exam season, built that way to minimise the potential disruption from COVID.

We wish all those who were taking public exams a restful break and look forward with them to results days in August. For those returning to the Sixth Form, a recommended reading list has been sent to encourage pupils to think about getting ahead and to offer some structure to the long summer break.

Reports are that the Shell had an outstanding experience on OA week, whether climbing mountains in Snowdonia, sailing to the Isle of Wight or caving in the Gower. While they were away, I was lucky enough to be able to read a range of their Form projects; it is so good to see the creativity on display when pupils have the chance to stretch beyond the curriculum, and the range of different approaches that they have taken to achieve some outstanding outcomes was impressive. I was thrilled to see the level of accomplishment in many of these projects, whether about the history and sociology of rap music, the economic and ecological future of the village of Saundersfoot in Wales, presentations on the theme of ‘acting against one’s conscience’ in literature, and just about everything in between. The creativity has continued apace as the term continued, with the Shell Film Festival taking place outside of my window as I write. Not to be outdone, the Modern Languages Department held a Lower Sixth drama festival and a Remove film festival, with pupils composing and performing in their target languages.

All of these enrichment activities, combined with a return to full in-person classroom teaching, and the innumerable concerts, trips, talks and visits has made for an outstanding year.

Dan Clark
Deputy Head, Academic