Royal Grammar School


Traditional Values

Traditional Values


Wow! What a week for education in the news! In response to threats, real or imagined, there’s much talk now about promoting traditional British values in schools, and even building them into maintained schools’ compulsory curriculum. Desirable British qualities listed by the Prime Minister, amongst others, include tolerance, adversity, democracy and the like: all are things we can all sign up to.  

But can we make them “compulsory”? What does that even mean? In fact, the Trojan Horse affair asks some uncomfortable questions about our whole education system, what it stands for and how what it stands for can or should (or shouldn’t?) be monitored and controlled.  

But I’m not going there! We’re very sure where we’re going at the RGS and what values we espouse: you can read those on the home page of the website, so I don’t need to repeat our ethos statement here.  

But this week has seen some traditional values and events gloriously espoused right here in school. On Wednesday I escaped from the office to spend several hours in blazing sunshine enjoying sport at the younger end of the school, all of it absolutely embodying what we are all about.  

Wednesday afternoon was the Junior School’s Sports Day. I’m tempted to say it was a “traditional school sports day” but, if I remember back to my schools days as a little fat boy who was no good at running or jumping, I wouldn’t want to go back to them! Let me say very swiftly that there was no ritual humiliation at the Junior School’s Sports Day! On the contrary, it was a perfect example of good educational practice, balancing participation with challenge and excellence.  

Everyone took part: there was lots of fun; races such as egg-and-spoon, sack and skipping races provided entertainment as well as excitement; high-jump was particularly competitive this year, after some good training in techniques in preceding PE lessons; and then the serious races, particularly the 200m and 4 x 50 relays, were keenly contested by the school’s strongest athletes. And, as if that weren’t enough, the last race of the day was an open 800m, again competitively run by a good number of boys and girls who will be the serious school athletes of the future (they’re pretty serious now!)  

Fun and aiming high, then: a hallmark of great education, and happily done in glorious weather and in the lovely setting of the Intake field. Normally used for football in winter, and unlike the First XV pitch within the school site, the Intake is big enough to furnish a 200m track plus an additional 60m track so that, throughout the early part of the afternoon, we could have two sets of races running simultaneously – again, allowing huge levels of participation.  

Enjoying the sun so much, I then went off after school to watch the Under-12 cricketers play St Thomas More in a 20-over match at our beautiful Jesmond ground. As happens in U12 limited-over matches there is generally plenty of action: it was a fine example of the great summer game played in the best spirit by boys relatively new to the sport.  

Okay, I admit it: it’s all the easier to enjoy traditional summer activities when the weather is so good! But Wednesday provided the sort of afternoon that reminds me as a Head about what we’re here for.  

And then we reached back centuries (literally) on Thursday when the Lord Mayor visited the Senior School. We don’t know when the tradition started: but it stems from those ancient days when the City Council used the Grammar School’s schoolroom (now under what’s left of the Stephenson railway sheds behind the station) for the Mayor-making.  

The school goes back nearly 500 years: the office of Lord Mayor will celebrate 800 years in 2016, so we are talking very long timescales!. Having used the school for his (in those days) election, the tradition is enshrined that the Lord Mayor’s first act is formally to visit the school.  

Thus, two days after taking office, Councillor George Pattison arrived yesterday morning and inspected the Honour Guard of our Cadet Force (not forgetting that it’s a joint force with Central: it was a pleasure to have some of their cadets generously forming part of the guard). Then he addressed all of Years 7-10 in the Main Hall, with admirable brevity, and remembered to ask for that traditional and ancient Lord Mayor’s holiday which, as usual, I generously granted it, which this year will be taken on Monday 1st December.    

Head Boy Charlie Smith thanked him with due ceremony, and the formal part was over. After a pleasant lunch amid the usual hustle and bustle of the dining hall, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Councillor Sharon Pattison, left to get up to speed in what will be a very hectic year for them.  

Tradition: we can’t do without it. On a beautiful sunny morning (sorry to keep going on about the weather), in the fine historic surroundings of our main hall, it reminds all of us that we are part of a great tradition and merely passing through: so it puts us in perspective too.  

A highlight of our summer in school is RGS Day, two weeks tomorrow (28th June). Let’s hope this great weather continues so we can enjoy both that and all the other activities around. It’s hard not to feel good in this weather: but, unlike when we are in holiday mood, we don’t stop. Indeed, we seem to be doing more than ever.  

But, then, that is the hallmark of an RGS education.  

Bernard Trafford