A New Chapter: An address by the Headmaster

The school headmaster, Mark Tomkins, gave the following address at the first Quad assembly of the year. 28th May 2021

 

Good afternoon everyone and a warm welcome to this first Quad assembly
of the year.

I am delighted to be finally speaking to you all as one
school community – it has been a very, very long time indeed.  In fact,
the last time I spoke to the entire school community was 14 months ago
on Friday 20 March last year when I said goodbye to you all, before we
all embarked on the first national lockdown.  At that time, we did not
know what to expect – and we certainly would not have predicted what we
all have experienced over the last 14 months – but what we did know was
that saying goodbye to each other at that point in the school year was
not right – it felt as if we were existing an alternative life, and that
a parallel world was happening alongside our normal one.  But being here
today, looking back on what has happened, we can say for certain that we
have all come a long way and experienced something that many generations
have not.  And although MGS will be changed by this experience, I
believe we can be stronger and better than ever before: more resilient,
more innovative, more dynamic, but also more generous.  And also today,
as we look back on the last 14 months, I would like to extend a huge
thank you to you all for the collective efforts put in from both staff
and students.  We should all be very proud of what we have achieved: to
the staff who have stepped up when the moment required them to; and to
you the students who have all appreciated the situation we have been in
and worked with us to provide you with the best experience possible.
And so, when we look back in years to come, we can look back knowing
when the time came for MGS to respond – we did, and we did it right.

If we can imagine for a moment the life history of Maidstone Grammar
School as a set of 472 books – one book for every year since 1549 when
the school was initially founded; just like the seven books in the Harry
Potter series – one book for each year Harry was at Hogwarts.  Now, each
and every Maidstonian, current and former, would have their own set of
books amongst the 472, and those sets of books for each Maidstonian
would be unique and special to that person.  But, as well as individual
students having their own set, each student would be a character
contributing to the overall story.  Amongst the 472 books there would be
books acknowledging key historical events, such as the 1^st and 2^nd
World War periods; there would be books containing amazing news stories;
and there would be books containing sad ones.

But back on Friday 20 March last year it felt as though someone took the
book that we were reading away from us and gave us a new one; and that
new one has been the one we have been reading for the last 14 months.

Now, this new book that was handed to us back in March last year was one
that was initially unrecognisable – it was full of story lines and
concepts that we were unfamiliar with, and for a long time it was
difficult to read.  In fact, there were moments that made us feel so
overwhelmed we wanted to throw the book against a wall and crave for the
old one back; but it also, at times, forced us to have an open mind and
try new things; and it even sometimes, when things turned out well, made
us feel exhilarated and rewarded.

But today marks a significant point in this book.  We are still reading
the book, because the story has not been concluded, but we have turned
over the page to start a new chapter, and this new chapter is the part
of the story that is building up to the end, and as we see the new
chapter heading, we are hoping for a number of things.  Firstly, we want
to make sure that this /is/ the chapter that is building up to the end,
and that we begin to recognise aspects of the previous book that was
taken away from us all those months ago.  But at the same time, we want
this new chapter to continue to acknowledge aspects of the previous
chapters that we have just finished reading – that we initially found
hard to read.    Because, after these last 14 months reading this book,
we have in some way become familiar with its writing and got used to the
story it has been telling; it has opened our minds and given us
different things to consider.  But even though we have become familiar
with it, we also know that if we don’t return to elements of the old
book, then we may slowly forget what we enjoyed about it; and the love
we had for it will fade and not be carried on by future readers.  We now
want the best parts of both books.

So, what does all this mean to you?  As current Maidstonians we want to
bring back elements of the old MGS.  We want to do simple things like to
be able to move more freely around school; to take part in activities
that we have missed; to return to a place where our learning had an end
point that was totally in our hands; and we want to rekindle the
connections that we have missed with our fellow Maidstonians.  And I am
delighted to say that we have already started seeing this.

But at the same time as doing this we also want to take with us into our
lives ahead the new things that we have enjoyed and come to value.
Things like how we are delivering the curriculum; how we have used
technology in our teaching; how we have all been using our devices to
communicate; and, on a bigger scale, how we have re-evaluated our lives
– identifying what is important.

For me, on a practical level, I will be wanting to use Microsoft OneNote
much more in the delivery of my lessons; I will be wanting to use the
Assignments function in Microsoft Teams for setting homework; I will be
wanting to encourage your parents to buy into the new way of doing
parents’ evenings via our school cloud system; but on a larger scale, I
will be wanting to find as much time as possible for me, which is
something that I have neglected for years.

But, despite learning new ways of doing things and having a different
outlook on my life ahead, there has been one thing I have wanted to see
return at MGS for a long time, and that is what we are doing today: the
opportunity to come together as one community and recognise that we all
belong to something much bigger.  So, to Year 7, and to our newest Year
12 students who joined the School in September, this is what you have
missed: seeing the whole school together as one.  So, after nine months
of already being here I would like to say, welcome to your school;
welcome to Maidstone Grammar School; and welcome to being a
Maidstonian.  What you are seeing today is special and is something that
we are all incredibly proud of.

Now, I have just used the word ‘belong’ to illustrate a point – and
belong to MGS we certainly do – and very soon we are going to see and
hear that word belong much more often.

Over the last four years since 2017 we have been developing the quality
of the experience students get in the classroom; and we have called it
‘Inspire to Learn’.  You are now seeing massive displays around the
school illustrating this very point.  But over the last 14 months we
have come to recognise that now, more than ever before, there is another
strand of Maidstone Grammar School that we wish to see develop – and
that strand starts today in this very assembly – and we are going to be
calling it ‘Inspire to Belong’.

Students of Maidstone Grammar School have always referred to themselves
as Maidstonians, and being a Maidstonian means something very special
indeed.  Being a Maidstonian means that you belong to a community; that
you belong to the traditions of the place; that you feel safe and
supported; that you are nurtured into fine young men and women; and that
you have a connection with other Maidstonians that lasts forever.

Having such a thriving community of Maidstonians means we have common
ground between each other in this generation and also with each other
across different generations.  And what creates that common ground
between different year groups is the of sharing common goals, beliefs,
values and outlook.  These qualities, which are seen all around the
school, are the essence of our community.  And being a community of
Maidstonians with shared values is probably the most wonderful aspect of
this school.  We are all individuals with our own identities, but we are
also all the same with shared values.  We all treasure how important
this school is to us – it provides us with a foundation that we will
carry away with us for a very long time.  But most of all we treasure
the friendships and relationships we build here with others.  And it is
this aspect of Maidstone Grammar School that is a delight to see and be
a part of.

This feeling and culture that has been a part of Maidstone Grammar
School has been somewhat lost during the last 14 months.  It is
certainly strong enough to survive a pandemic, but if not rekindled,
could soon fade as new Maidstonians arrive; and so next term, as well as
the new academic year, is a perfect time to remind ourselves of what we
have missed, and so we are launching our ‘Inspire to Belong’ agenda.  We
want Maidstonians to be reminded of what they belong to; how they thrive
as one community; and how they interconnect with others.  And as I said
a few minutes ago, this has already been seen.  The numerous inter-house
tournaments that have taken place have been such a delight to witness.
Seeing over half a year group stay behind after school to play in one of
them is testament to how those students feel towards their school and
their house.

So, see today as a fresh beginning: an opportunity to regroup and do the
things that we have missed.  For example, with the summer months ahead
we will be having whole school assemblies outside in the Quad; we can
now have house assemblies back in the hall – as you have seen this week
we can spread you out in your individual year groups more safely; we can
begin to introduce more extra-curricular activities that we have been
longing to restart; and we can begin to think about returning to
vertical forms, which is hopefully going to happen in September.  Yes,
verticality will return, and we will return to it as soon as it is safe
to do so.

But the most significant change that we have made, and that you have
already experienced this week, is the moving around the school site for
your lessons.  Now, moving around is not only good because you get to be
taught in subject-specific areas and teachers get to teach in their own
classrooms with their resources to hand; you also get to have a bit of
exercise and fresh air between lessons.

But for me, moving around the school site achieves something much
bigger.  It reminds us that we all belong to something much greater: a
community of Maidstonians far beyond our own friendship or year group
bubbles.  It reminds us that we belong to a community of people that we
have something in common with – allowing us to extend kindness and
respect to everyone.  And it is these aspects, and all of the other
aspects I have mentioned, that make MGS what it is; and so, I look
forward to steering the school over the coming months back to what we
remember, but at the same time embracing the new things we have learnt
and seeing things with a fresh set of eyes.  So, please join me in this
journey.

Transcript provided by Mark Tomkins

R V Hughes (Staff 1968-74)

We received the following news from Joe Cloke:

I am writing to let you know that Mr R V Hughes, who was Director of Music at MGS in the 70s (I think), died last Sunday 26 March at the age of 88.

I met Reg in September 1962 when I took up my first teaching post at Gosport County Grammar School and became friends with him and his wife, Peggy.

He was Head of Music and somehow persuaded me to take a leading rôle in two operettas, La Belle Hélène and Gypsy Baron. He also played the organ at my own wedding.

It was an odd coincidence that, when he left Gosport, he joined the staff of my old school!

Sadly, just over 2 years ago he suffered a stroke, which, while not impairing his mind, left him immobile to the extent that he spent the rest of his life in a nursing home. He is survived by Peggy, his daughter Jane and son John.

I am sure that there will be Old Maidstonians who have fond memories of him as I do.

The Society’s archivist, Jeff Wilkinson, writes:

Reg Hughes was at MGS from 1968 to 1974 when he taught English and was, as you say, Head of Music. During his time he played the piano when the school choir entered the Llangollen Eisteddfod, led the Transport Society, was instrumental in creating the Musician’s school tie, arranged concerts and school productions as has been mentioned before. Included in the latter was La Belle Hélène (photos attached) when appears to have been an exquisite production judging by the photos, although I am not too sure about the Victorian bathing costume! Sorry about the quality of the photos – they are scans taken from The Maidstonian (best I can do at the moment).

Kent history

Members may be interested by the information in this email from John Bunyard to the OMS committee.

“I just wanted to let you know that the talk I gave before Christmas at Maidstone Museum, which you kindly advertised in the last Newsletter, was a sell-out. Interestingly, there were some heavy hitters in the audience from the Kent sports scene. It led directly to the start of discussions about the possibility of developing more than one permanent exhibition of Kent sports and social history. Not a bad result!

Needless to say, the Covid crisis has put it all on ice for the moment. Since the public appetite is obviously there, however – 20,400 visitors came to the Maidstone exhibition – I thought we must keep the flame burning. So I’ve been working furiously on a major new website concerning Kent’s amazing history. If I get to the end, it will contain over 800 exhibits; but, as a lot of people are already going a bit stir-crazy, I’ve just posted the first 10%, which ought to keep anyone occupied for an hour or two. It’s now up at https://oldbunyardskentpride.com/

Please do take a look, and by all means share it around.

Regards
John”

John Bunyard Memoir

From the membership secretary

Dear Old Maidstonians,

John Bunyard (1972) has been working on an extensive memoir of his time at MGS in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He requested that we publicise it to the membership, but as it is too extensive to publish it the ‘Old Maidstonian’ we are therefore sending it as a website link. He published the first half of his memoirs under the title ‘Through the Red-Brick Gate’ and which can be read at
https://oldbunyardsmemories.wordpress.com/

He has followed it up with ‘Into the Sixth’ on the same website, and in it he covers both his 6th Form experiences and more recent encounters with the School, including a personal tour conducted by the Headmaster himself. OM’s will be particularly interested on the update on the school and its architecture.

It makes for extremely interesting reading, and I suggest every student, past and present, can relate to at least some parts of it.

Warmest regards,
Graham Belson on behalf of the Committee

William Golding – any reminiscences?

Dear Members,

Jeff Wilkinson, archivist at the school, has requested that this be passed on:

I know that this is a long-shot but I am aware that we have Old Maidstonians who lived at this time and have good memories, so please can you help? I am trying to find any OM who has memories of William Golding, author of ‘Lord of the Flies’, when he taught at the school between 1938 and 1940, or perhaps when he joined the Navy for war-time service. My reason for asking is that Kent Life are intending publishing an article about him next year as a celebration of the time he spent at MGS and I am sure that individual memories would highlight the item.

If any relation of yours was at MGS at that time but does not have internet access, then perhaps you could ask them on my behalf.

Please reply to jeffrey.wilkinson@mgs-kent.org.uk

Thanking you in anticipation,

Jeff Wilkinson, Archivist

John Francis (OM) and the Paralympics

We have received the following from John Francis’ father, which may be of interest to those of you who were at school with him.

I thought you may be interested in the two links below from online newspapers in respect of my son, who is a former pupil of Maidstone Grammar School (2009). An article has also appeared in the Kent Messenger this week.

John Francis left MGS in July 2009 and started studying Sports Science and Coaching at the University of Worcester. He has continued his studies at Worcester and is currently working towards his PhD.

The PhD is in conjunction with GB Wheelchair Basketball. John has been involved with the Wheelchair Basketball for nearly four years and is Head of Performance Analysis for both the Men and Womens teams, and for Rio, he is also the Men’s Team Manager.

With the Opening Ceremony for the Paralympics due for tomorrow evening and the first games on Thursday 8th September I am sure MGS would wish to support the Paralympics and to roar on Team GB.

Regards,
David Francis

http://www.worcester.ac.uk/discover/sports-science-students-heading-off-to-help-paralympic-athletes-in-rio.html

http://www.kentnews.co.uk/sport/maidstone_student_off_to_rio_to_enhance_performance_of_team_gb_wheelchair_basketball_teams_in_paralympic_games_1_4672277

Eric Haslam

I recently made a visit to the OM Website and on inspecting the Register of members noticed that there was reference to our oldest recorded member Eric Haslam who left the School in 1935.

I don’t whether you are aware that Eric died aged 96 on 21st April, 2014.

He was a distinguished Police Officer who was the holder of the OBE and the Queen’s Police Medal for outstanding service.

I served with him at Gravesend in the Kent Force and later followed his career when he became Deputy Chief Constable of Kent and later Chief Constable of the British Transport Police

Best wishes
Denys E. Whatmore
1944 – 1949

Chris Meigh

I don’t know if this information has reached you by other channels, but sadly Chris Meigh passed away recently, and his funeral will be held locally at St. Luke’s Church, Foley Street, Maidstone, Kent ME14 5AW on Friday 26th June at 12.30 p.m.

I know that Chris taught at MGS from 1976 to 2010, so I am sure that many will remember him, and some may wish to attend the funeral.

The wish is for no flowers but donations instead to the Barnabas Fund and Practical Action, care of the funeral directors, who are Family Funerals, 6 Marlborough Parade, Beverley Road, Maidstone , Kent ME16 9JN; 01622 260210

Regards,

Mark Stockham