Will commentators with their obsessions about exclusivity ever wake up to reality?

This week’s blog is written not by myself, other than this introduction. Lord Lexden is both a personal friend and one of our school, and of both our association and the Independent Sector as a whole. Below is his letter, published in the Spectator yesterday, which really needs no further explanation nor amplification. Take away, Lord Lexden…

Sir: Those who write about independent education rarely manage to stray beyond the 200-odd establishments they love to pillory as public schools, an antiquated term long since abandoned by all save their critics. This is perhaps because they have usually been educated at such places, or have taught in them. Alex Renton, like the books he reviews, presents a caricature of independent schools as a whole by repeating well-worn charges against the well-publicised few with their ‘faux-Gothic spires’ (‘Old school ties can’t last forever’, 2 February).

The Independent Schools Council has some 1,300 members, varying in size from 50 to 1,700 pupils. Few possess lavishly equipped theatres or vast playing fields. Just 68 have top-class athletic tracks. Most of them stand at the heart of the local communities from which their students mainly come, and work closely with their neighbouring state schools which often share their (usually limited) facilities. Half of them are non-selective. Fees vary greatly, with an average gap of some £2,000 per term between schools in the north and south of the country. More than a third of families pay reduced fees. Parents are well aware that diversity and openness are the independent sector’s most striking characteristics today. Will commentators with their obsessions about exclusivity ever wake up to reality?

Alistair Lexden
General Secretary, Independent Schools Council 1997-2004
House of Lords, London SW1

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#WeRemember – Holocaust Memorial Assembly at Claires Court, 28 January 2019

Eight remarkable ladies have produced a remarkable short film, to support the International Holocaust Remembrance day: “Join us in ensuring the Holocaust is never forgotten – 2019 #WeRemember Campaign”. We are asked show them we’re listening. Post your ‘We Remember’ photo with the hashtag #WeRememberor send it by email to weremember@wjc.org 

As you’ll see when watching the film, all the women survived the Holocaust as children. This film formed the centrepiece of our Senior Boys assembly this morning, Monday 28 January, and you can find the full assembly presentation as short movie here – and as slide-show here. I have drawn my graphic below, and pleased to do so. Who knows whether these 8 will be back next year; they certainly don’t think so.

During my assembly, I highlighted some key features of a school child’s life under the Nazis. Children had little chance of avoiding being ‘brainwashed’, most specifically because Adolf Hitler took a personal interest in all german children, seeing as he did their part so clearly in his master plan for the German race. He stated ““Germany’s children’s hearts are mine”, and in the light of the evidence that followed, he made that a reality throughout most of Germany.

Whilst Hitler sought to win the hearts of his own nation’s children, he gave and the Nazi party gave no such affection to the children in other countries.

I concluded assembly with a reminder of one of the clear themes of this term. It is our choice whether we accept the received wisdom in the following process chart: Witness > a sense of Violation > Bypasser syndrome > Learned helplessness.

As we develop our own determination to ‘Notice Better’, we can perhaps accept the alternative: Witness > a sense of Violation > Conscience response > Elective Action.

Indeed, I don’t regard this as a choice for our society. To slightly misquote Garry Herbert: “If not us, who, if not now, when?”

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Into Africa – the Claires Court journey begins

Claires Court’s Global Charity for 2019

Claires Court is supporting Charity Pearl The Gambia as its global charity this year, helping to make substantial improvements to day-to-day life in the Brufut area of The Gambia.

As a result of our initial donation, the community started building a well this month to enable neighbouring villagers who haven’t had access to water so far to have water available 24 hours a day! We are pleased to announce tickets are now available to purchase for our Gambia fundraising evening, taking place on Friday 25 January from 7pm at College Avenue. Lots of curries and African drumming promised! Find out more: http://ow.ly/Cgnx30nh3Fy

The PTA and School’s decision to support Pearl in The Gambia arises from the inspiration our pupils took from last year’s global choice of Charity, that being the UWC school promoted by ISA in Pong Tek, Cambodia. Sadly, the school’s distance from the UK, number of time lines to cross and huge interest from the other 500+ ISA schools meant that our students’ ambitions to get hands-on could not be supported.

The Gambia provides us with much more scope, not least the enthusiasm that exists in The Gambia to encourage young adults with skills to travel over to promote adult education and skills acquisition amongst their youthful population. The plans for our student-led trip to the Gambia in October half-term 2019 are progressing nicely, of which more details can be obtained from the Sixth Form office via

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‘Exam reforms boost private pupils in race for universities’: Observer newspaper (Sunday 30 December)

An edited version of my letter to the editor appeared in the Sunday 6 January 2019 edition. Below is the full text, with one amendment, updating QCDA name to Ofqual.

Dear Sir

Your front page headline ‘Exam reforms boost private pupils in race for universities’ (Sunday 30 December) leads an article of the worst kind of lazy journalism. 
The core argument proposed by Toby Helm is that International GCSE (IGCSE) qualifications are ‘easier’ than the latest generation of English GCSEs, which the DfE requires its state schools to use, and thus are making it harder for state pupils to get to Uni. 
The new GCSES  may have heavier content, but the % of passes at level 4 (C) and level 7 (A) remain the same as before, and as a consequence have the same level of difficulty as before. This equivalence is managed as a requirement of the exam boards by the government’s regulator, Ofqual. So actually, the exams haven’t got harder at all. 
IGCSEs are changing and developing at the same time, so that their curriculum content has become weightier, in response to the arrival of tougher A levels. These have gained heavier content to come more into line with the toughest international qualifications gained for University entry.

Given that GCSEs and IGCSEs are level 2 qualifications, whatever exams pupils are taking at 16, they don’t meet university requirements for level 3 qualifications, such as A level, which are taken 2 years later, at age 18. Surely Helm knows this?

There’s more to understand though.In the previous generation of English GCSEs, pupil studies involved taking lots of mini-tests, ‘controlled assessments’,  involving the submission of coursework, over an 18 month period, as well as terminal exams at the close. Adding in the opportunity to resit and resubmit, candidate GCSE pass rates inexorably rose, but at the expense of developing the deeper study skills needed for both Level 3 qualifications and University beyond.When (back in 2010)  Michael Gove recommended state schools should consider mimicking the independent sector by taking the more demanding IGCSEs, it was to enable state school pupils to have the opportunity to gain this more advanced skill set for higher studies.The ‘new’ GCSEs are like IGCSEs in that they are mainly terminal exam only, and have ‘heavier’ content than before; thus they are more suited to prepare children for the university entrance examinations. 

Herein lies the rub:

Like many eminent international commentators, such as Sir Ken Robinson and Professor Guy Claxton, I resent the whole trajectory of the recent reforms at both GCSE and A level, whose basic premise is to prepare children for University entrance. Education in school needs to be far broader than this, to assist children to enter adult life as emotionally well-balanced individuals, with a range of interests and passions, willing to play their part as contributing members of their community.
As one of some 500 private school secondary heads, I remain proud to provide a deep, broad and engaging school experience for my secondary and sixth form pupils. Yes, I understand my responsibilities to prepare them for University, but I take even more seriously my responsibilities to ensure my children enjoy their childhood for longer. The arts, sport, community engagement, above all fun and play must enrich children through their teenage years. This is how we can build the adults of the future, with both better skills for life and greater mental well being.

Yours faithfully

James Wilding

Academic Principal and Headteacher

Claires Court,Maidenhead

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A very real British ‘Brexit’ is on the cards…

Live from the Claires Court Sixth Form centre 12 noon Wed 12 December 2018

With the excitement gripping the nation this last Wednesday, and our very own local MP (aka Prime Minister Theresa May) very career at stake, the ITV news team came out from London to interview some Maidenhead Sixth Formers on their view on her chances of survival during the ‘Brexit’ vote of confidence she was facing that evening from her own Conservative party MPs. 

The students had about 20 minutes notice, and genuinely scrambled to get the chance. When spoken to afterwards, they were quite shocked that their views had been sampled – in between taking the ‘Vox Pops@ at 12 noon and appearing on the 6 o’clock news in the evening, some feel that their balanced views had been ‘clipped’ to suggest greater divergence of opinion than actually.

Ria Chatterjee, the journalist who interviewed them said:

“Great to see young people politically engaged with such strong opinions and obviously well read and knowledgeable on the issue. It’s hopeful for the future to know that young people are prepared to engage this way”.

As matters turned out, the Conservative Parliamentary party voted for Theresa May in the vote of no confidence, 200 to 117. That has ‘buttered no parsnips’ in the days that have followed, with the EU leaders saying ‘Non’ and the ragged elements from all sections of parliament remaining dominant over those MPs that continue to support the limited Brexit proposals suggested

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“A rising tide lifts all boats”

As many of my readers know, I currently have quite a lot on my plate, being the Academic Principal of Claires Court. We have a school of 1050+ children and 350+ staff actively going about our business, and that does in itself generate ‘busy’ things to do. In addition, we have planning developments slowly and steadily making their way through the process; not just the New Campus application up by CCJB off Cannon Lane, but also short term facility management changes for our water sport of Sailing, as despite the recent rainfall, Sheephouse lake is desperately short of water. We’ve moved a lot of our kit to Bray lake for the time being, but longer term we need to recover our Sailing Club, which means both finding a way to refill from the river whilst preventing South East water from taking so much out of the natural water table that s the usual source of water for the lake. Keeping on the water theme, and as the new header to my blog illustrates, we have a new bridge over the water at Boulters Lock, linking Ray Mill Island to the old St Regis paper mill site, opening up a whole new public amenity on the Taplow Riverside development by Barclay homes. Suddenly we all have a brilliant new walking/running ring free of pedestrian traffic joining up the riverside walk from Maidenhead Bridge to Boulters Lock.
For some time we have been working with the Environment Agency and RBWM to open up above the lock towards Cliveden for our rowing and outdoor education activities. We are taking over the former Thames Water conservancy office on the island, giving us office and dry changing facilities there, and enabling us to row, scull or kayak up past the weir onto the most beautiful reach of the River Thames. There is of course still the little matter of the weir to risk assess and manage, plus infrastructures of pontoons and storage areas to create, but it’s exciting to see long term plans such as these gently move towards fruition.
Whilst the above all sounds terrific, in addition I am preparing for my restart as day-to-day head of the Senior Boys school in January 2019, on the retirement of John Rayer at Christmas. I am learning lots now of course from John and his terrific team; though I can’t emphasise strongly enough how much I am gathering from the (now) experienced headteachers Leanne Kirby (JG) and Margaret Heywood (SG) on the College site, whilst gently assisting in the induction of our new headteachers in post, Dean Richards (JB) and Stephanie Rogers (SF). What with Anne Halpin stepping up from Holiday Activity finance to become our new Holiday club manager, the onward management of our multi-faceted teacher training programme, plus further refinement activities on all of our areas of activity, it’s no surprise to feel that the tide of work is relentlessly rolling in.
And far from feeling submerged by it, there is a huge ‘bouyancy’ and ‘willingness to pitch in’ that is genuinely exciting me. It helps of course to have Justin Spanswick at our sides, getting stuck in to his new role as Executive headteacher, and also to have the incredible support of the administration team my brother Hugh leads. But it’s more than that. We’ve spent years establishing our core ‘values’ programme, and the profound depth and quality of our work to develop a ‘question-based’ curriculum over the same decade is now evidently appreciated within the profession as well as by our pupils and parents. The incredible commitment of teaching and instructing staff to ensure stretch, challenge, exercise, competition and skill development supports our plans has led to extraordinary opportunities and outcomes for all ages within the school. The way our support teams, be they within SEN, Nursing, Library, catering and/or housekeeping just keep relentless on task inspires us daily. And it must be said, that wider of network of professionals elsewhere with whom we must engage are also now giving us the genuine credit we deserve for ‘knowing our stuff’ and giving really generously with our time.
Gary Player may have coined the phrase ‘The harder I practice, the luckier I get’, but that does not quite fit this scenario, does it? I think I prefer the concept of ‘Making positive waves’, whereby with our concerted efforts we bring the tide in, and in so doing lift all the boats and enable them to sail. Since our INSET sessions in September, I have seen so many occasions where our adults working with our children have gone the extra mile, stretched the able, been less helpful yet supportive for the idle, nurturing for the vulnerable and calming for the excited. They say ‘Making waves’
means ‘Causing a disturbance’ or even ‘Upsetting the status quo’. I’ll say Amen to both those, because in what actually is quite a drear landscape of ‘never ending bad & fake news’, in and around Claires Court we have a smile on our faces and a purpose in our steps, lifting everyone to give of and be their best selves each day.

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Lest we forget…

20180914_124543What follows is more of a publication than a Blog.

With the help of 3 boys and 4 girls whilst they were in year 10, we have successfully met the challenge given to us by the National Trust at Cliveden to find out something about the 15 Cliveden Estate workers, who lost their lives in the Great War 1914-18, and whose names are commemorated on a Brass plaque on the Octagon chapel at Cliveden.

From a range of evidence arising from research carried out over a 3 month period, we were able to provide the National Trust with the following information, for release as an original publication to commemorate the 100 year’s anniversary of the Armistice declaration on 11 November 1918.

The boys and girls are participating in a special event at Cliveden on Sunday evening, by invitation only. We are very proud and thankful of what we have been able to achieve.

Cliveden pamphlet copy

There are 15 estate workers names to be found on the Octagon Chapel memorial plaque,




MM indicates award of the Military Medal

Sjt is short for Serjeant, the official spelling of the rank at the time in the British Army

James Edwin Marjoram

James Edwin Marjoram was born in 1891 in Binfield, Berkshire. He was a footman for the Cliveden Estate. Nancy, the wife of Waldorf Astor (the future Lord and Lady Astor) who owned the Cliveden Estate, loved her footman being really tall and big built. This implies that he must have been a handsome young chap. His last known address was in Windsor, Berkshire, where he lived with his beloved wife Edith Rose and daughters, Nora and Edna. When the war broke out he volunteered for service, 2 years before he would have been obliged to sign up due to conscription. His service number 11728 tells us that he joined the army at the beginning of the war (1914). He enlisted in Maidenhead,  joining the Royal Berkshire Regiment (the 1st Battalion) and arrived in France on 29th November 1914.

James was obviously a good soldier, because he was awarded the Military Medal.  Promoted Serjeant, unfortunately, he was killed in action, on 8th October 1918, in front of Forenville, during the Second Battle of Cambrai (one of the last battles in the war, only a month before the Armistice). So it must have been devastating for his family; he had survived four years of battle, only to die tragically at the last hurdle. James died at the young age of 27 and is buried at the Forenville Military Cemetery, Nord, France. They have a memorial here at Cliveden in the Octagonal Temple for Sjt Marjoram.

Freddie Hurn

Frederick Everett Hurn was born in 1864. Formally known by his middle name (hence E Hurn on the chart), he had been a ‘regular’ in the Royal Berkshire Regiment of the British army before the First World war, evident from his army service number, serving in Egypt in the early 1890s before returning to Cliveden after the death of his first wife, Sophia in 1893. By this time, he had a four year-old son, also called Everett, who was cared for by maternal grandparents until Freddie got back. Freddie lived on the Cliveden estate and had worked as a night watchman at Cliveden for William Astor before enlisting in the 1890s; it seems that he was a reliable employee, whom Astor was willing to re-employ on his return. Freddie’s job as night watchman would have been to make sure all was well on the Cliveden estate after dark, a job for which he would have needed a degree of bravery, for sure! In 1901, Freddie married for a second time: Clara, the sister of his first wife.

Even though he was 50 when war broke out in 1914, Freddie volunteered to serve again in the 6th Battalion of the Berkshire Regiment. His previous service obviously counted for something, so he became a sergeant; we might imagine him as the ‘old soldier’ setting an example to the raw recruits in his care, and them looking to him for reassurance. By 1915 he was at the front again and during 1916 he was Mentioned in Dispatches. By late June 1916, the men of the Berkshire Regiment were in position for the big battle about to take place: the Somme. On 1 July, when the battle began, Freddie’s regiment advanced with some success, despite finding themselves at the mercy of enemy fire; but Freddie was killed on the first day of this campaign, which would eventually end at colossal loss of life in late November. He was awarded the Military Medal posthumously.

By this time, William Astor had gifted Cliveden to his son and daughter-in-law, Waldorf and Nancy. When Freddie left for France, and subsequently died in battle, Waldorf ensured that Clara was able to remain in Taplow in decent housing, a respectable war-widow. Until her death in 1934, Lord Astor paid her rent: a mark of the respect with which Freddie Hurn and his family was surely held by his former employer.

The only estate worker for whom we have a photograph is Private Herbert Abdey, also of the Royal Berkshire Regiment who died with the Royal Berkshires on 15 October 1915 following their engagement in the Battle of Loos. We also have a photograph of his brother Private Alfred Abdey, who had joined the Royal Berkshires before the war and died in an Aldershot hospital on 5 August 1914, war on Germany having been declared the previous evening.   

Abdey H J

Herbert Abdey

Abdey Alfred

Alfred Abdey

Original photos here – http://buckinghamshireremembers.org.uk/casualties/m5745.html


The Royal Berkshire Regiment and the Battle of the Somme.

Two of the estate workers, Serjeant Reginald Comley and Serjeant Freddie Hurn lost their lives fighting with the 6th Battalion, Royal Berkshires on the first day of the Somme, 1 July 1916. A third, Private Albert House, a reservist who had been in France with the 1st Battalion since September 1914 was killed at the end of July during the Battle of Delville Wood, one of the many subsidiary engagements of the Somme Offensive.

On 1 July 1916, Serjeants Hurn and Comley along with the 650 other soldiers of 6th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment (6 RBR) were entrenched in the Somme valley, near Carnoy.  Part of 53rd Brigade, itself a constituent of 18th Division, the Battalion was tasked with seizing the road between the villages of Mametz and Montauban and beyond to a distance of some 3000 metres. 6 RBR was fortunate in being under the divisional command of Maj-Gen Ivor Maxse whose training methods were at the forefront of those in the BEF.  Consequently, the two Berkshire assault waves left their trenches even before the British barrage was due to end but such was the adrenalin rush that the lead company was caught by the late detonation of a huge mine at Casino Point, a German machine gun nest. As the Germans emerged from their deep dugouts they found 6 RBR already in their forward trenches and not disposed to take prisoners.  Within two hours, the Battalion had secured its secondary objective and by 6.30pm reached its final objective some 2500 metres from its starting point. On the day, this was exceptional and matched only by the similar advances of 30th Division and the French 6th Army just to the south of 18th Division.

Elsewhere, the day did not go as well for the British – with 60,000 casualties of which over 18,000 were deaths, it is still ranked as the worst day in British military history.  Among 78 killed in 6 RBR that day were both Hurn and Comley. Along with 6 other ranks from 6 RBR, the grave of Reginald Comley is to be found in Dantzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz, while Freddie Hurn’s body was never found and his name is recorded among the 72,000 to be found on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing in the Somme sector.

Medals awarded to the Cliveden 15:

Soldiers who served in France or Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) between August and November 1914, had their service recognised in 1917 by the award of the ‘1914’ Star medal (known as ‘Pip’), carrying a clasp across the ribbon marked ‘5th Aug-22 Nov 1914’. The 1914-15 Star (which did not have a clasp but was also known as ‘Pip’) was awarded to all those soldiers not qualifying for the 1914 Star but who had served between 1914 and 31 December 1915. Thus was acknowledged the service of most who had joined the colours voluntarily before conscription was begun in January 1916. Both Stars were always awarded with ‘Squeak’, the British War Medal* and ‘Wilfred’, the Allied Victory Medal*, so were worn in a row of 3. Soldiers only eligible for the War and Victory medals wore them as a twosome, nicknamed ‘Mutt and Jeff’, all names being drawn from popular cartoon characters of the 1920s. These ‘campaign’ medals would be worn with any other gallantry or service medals that the wearer was entitled to.

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred

*The recipient’s service number, rank, name and unit were impressed on the rim of the two medals. The same details were impressed on the rear of the Star.


Timeline of the deaths against the battles mentioned

Untitled drawing
human interest narrative about the work they did on the estate

Footman (Marjoram): The first footman lays the table for each meal, serves the family breakfast either on trays in the different rooms or in the breakfast or dining room, and attends the door during the morning. In households where but a butler and one footman are kept, the two alternate in tending the door.

Gardener at the Cliveden Estate (Cheshire, Cowley, House brothers, Grey, Price)        The gardeners at Cliveden house maintained the 375 acres of land. They did this using only metal and copper tools as machinery such as electric lawn mowers had not been invented yet. They also planted flowers, in particular they planted a seasonal mix of bulbs, annuals and shrubs such as gladioli, hollyhocks, tulips, pansies and azaleas.

Stable lad (Millership)
A groom or stable boy is a person were responsible for the management of horses and the care of the stables themselves. They would sweep the stables clean and prepare the horses with the correct equipment for riding. Cliveden’s stables were rebuilt during the ownership of the 1st Duke of Westminster (1868-1893), an important ‘stud’ farm for many years subsequently. .


Assistant electrical engineer (Waugh)
An electrical engineer designs, develops and maintains electrical equipment, solves problems and tests equipment. They would have worked with all kinds of electrical devices, from small items to big. After the disastrous fire 1849, which destroyed the house, Cliveden was completely rebuilt  in 1851 and then extensively remodeled by Lord Astor in the 1890s who gave the estate to his son, Waldorf on his marriage to Nancy Langhorne Shaw in 1906. Nancy proceeded to redecorate the house and modernise it with electricity which became an important service throughout the house. Waugh was assistant at Cliveden to his father, Thomas.

Night watchman at Cliveden Estate (Hurn): At Cliveden Estate, a night watchman’s job would have been to guard the main building at the estate around it.

Other trades: Woodman (Pheby), Oddman (Kitchener) otherwise categorised as ‘working at Cliveden Estate (Jewell, Wells). Abdey‘s occupation at Cliveden  is not known, but his parents were ‘carters’.


David Bilton, Reading in the Great War, 1914-1916 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2016) n.p.
Smales, N (2015). Taplow moments : a unique history. Bicester: Words by Design.

Underwood, J.&.P. 2005. Buckinghamshire Remembers. [Online]. [June 2018]. Available from: http://buckinghamshireremembers.org.uk/memorials.htm

The Royal Berkshire Regiment Great War Project.  [Online]. [September 2018]. Available from: http://www.purley.eu/RBR0000.html.

Battalion War Diaries 1914-1919, Royal Berkshire Regiment.  Transcribed. The Rifles Berkshire & Wiltshire Museum. [Online].  [September 2018]. Available from: http://www.thewardrobe.org.uk/research/war-diaries/search.

Census returns, various, England & Wales. Ancestry.co.uk. [Online]. [June 2018]. Available from: https://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/db.aspx?dbid=1543

Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  Cwgc.org. [Online]. [June 2018]. Available from: https://www.cwgc.org/.

Imperial War Museum.  Livesofthefirstworldwar.org. [Online]. [June 2018]. Available from: https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/home.

“Lincoln’s End,” Hitcham & Taplow Society Newsletter, #107, Spring 2017, 16b. Online edition, http://www.taplowsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Newsletter-107-screen.pdf, accessed 25 Sep 2018
Wikipediaorg. [Online]. [29 June 2018]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cliveden.

Grateful thanks to:  Katherine Gwyn, Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies who provided details on the estate workers from the Cliveden Pay Roll book ref D158/29) AND Nick Forder, Curator of the Maidenhead Heritage centre for the medals and advice

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