22nd June 2018

Rarely has there ever been a more welcome half-term break, after a very successful but high intensity 8-week first half to the Summer Term. This culminated in a super Kith ‘n’ Kin day, and I thank all of you who brought friends and relatives to sample our wonderful French Café, to tour the school, and to listen to poetry and music recitals, before heading off for the half-term holiday. You may be aware that Mr Ian Millar took ill at the end of the gathering in the Morrison Hall, but I am pleased to report that Mr Millar is making a sound recovery. As the holidays got underway, preparations for the Borders Book Festival were taking place all around us, and senior schools began to contact us with news of how our Form 8 pupils had done in their Common Entrance exams. More of that later.  
Mrs Hardie and Dr Morgan accompanied a talented team of Form 7s and 6s to take part in the Gordonstoun Challenge. Lara, Freyja, Thomas, Ollie E and Oliver L proudly represented St. Mary’s, and gave a fantastic account of themselves over the weekend. Mrs Hardie and Dr Morgan could not be more complimentary of their contributions. Having returned on Sunday evening, the following day saw residential trips for Form 6 (Ford and Etal), Form 7 (St. Andrews), and Form 8 (Galloway Activity Centre/College Valley), and if you have been keeping an eye on the website, and the constant flow of photographs that were sent back by staff, you will have gained a clear sense of what a marvellous success all of these trips have proved to be. Whilst over the last three days we have fielded tired children and staff as they have returned in stages to school, the tales and anecdotes highlight a most enjoyable week for all concerned. 
Whilst the senior part of our school were out, Mrs Rawson and her boarding team took the opportunity to offer a taster night for Forms 2 and 3 in the boarding houses We were hugely impressed by how our youngest boarders made the most of their opportunities during the evenings activities, and how they settled into their accommodation, rested up, and, after a hearty breakfast, were raring to go the following morning. Well done to Mrs Rawson and her team for making this taster evening such a success. 
On Wednesday, Kindergarten held their pyjama party, though amusingly some visitors to the school could be forgiven for wondering if they were the Form 2 and 3 taster boarders that had slept in! Mrs Berni reports that their party went very well. Two cricket fixtures took place here at St. Mary’s, and reports feature on the website, and we welcomed the first of our senior groups back to school as Form 6 returned.
On Thursday, we ran swimming lessons as normal, and Form 7 returned from camp raving about the week in St. Andrews, whilst Mrs Currie prepared to deliver syllabus evening for parents whose children are starting in Reception. Also during the evening, Miss McRae and her choir accompanied the Melrose Primary School choir to take part in the Installation and Crowning Ceremony of the Melrosian and the Festival Queen at Melrose Abbey. I was honoured to be invited to give an address at the ceremony, during which I highlighted that whilst this town is surrounded by natural beauty, in the Eildons, the River Tweed and the Gattonside Hills, and has a wonderful history best symbolised by the abbey setting, it is the hard-working people of Melrose and the surrounding area that make this town a special place. This year’s Chairman, Douglas Hardie, and his tireless and ever-enthusiastic wife, Penny (our Head of Learning Support and Form 7 Teacher), invited Marnie and I to be their principal guests for the ceremony. We are most grateful to them for bestowing upon us such an honour. 
Meanwhile, 19 of our new starters have settled into their classes for New Pupil In-Day. They did this after a rather off-the-cuff assembly this morning, during which I congratulated Imo, Geordie, Ollie dG, Beattie M, Aleshya, Mahi, and Ms Wood for representing St. Mary’s at a design competition to do with the Great Tapestry of Scotland. Our six representatives impressed a judging panel with their delivery in describing what we as a school chose to represent in the tapestry. Our three older members did this without notes, and could be heard on Radio Scotland earlier today. I congratulated 35 pupils on passing their ABRSM music examinations, but we will make formal presentations of these certificates when we receive them. I also paid tribute to Form 3 for their excellent performance in the Sumdog competition prior to half term, and in particular to Kira, who finished as the highest individual of all pupils taking part right across the Borders. I then went on to thank Former Pupil Jacqui Evans, who has been with us to fulfil a Duke of Edinburgh requirement by working with groups of youngsters during the day and in the boarding houses in the evening. Jacqui proved to be an excellent assistant around the place, and it has been lovely having her back. 
And then came the morning’s entertainment. Mr Brown intended to produce an assembly on the Sacrifice of Isaac. However, given his Form 7 charges neglected to learn their lines whilst on their residential excursion, the assembly turned into the sacrifice of Mr Brown, as I invited him to sing a song to the school. However, true to his irrepressible nature, he quickly donned robes to appear God-like at the front of the assembly hall, and led the school in a two-verse version of ‘Sing Hosanna’. Those of us who know Mr Brown could not wipe the smiles off our faces, but our 19 new pupils could be forgiven for looking somewhat aghast, as this unorthodox message of positivity was delivered.
As we look forward to Form 8 returning from their week-long excursion, our minds have turned to plans for Sunday as the IAPS Athletics approaches, and I wish Mrs Bell and her team of athletes the very best of luck. During the day today, we have heard that FP Elizabeth Morgan has been chosen as Deputy Head of School at Sedbergh. We congratulate “Biz” on being selected for this position of honour. Finally, I conclude by passing on my sincere congratulations to all 22 Form 8 pupils for their excellent performances at Common Entrance. Amongst them, there are individuals who have excelled amongst all other Common Entrance candidates from all over the country. We have pupils going to the following schools: Eton College, Longridge Towers, Oundle, Sedbergh, Uppingham, Fettes, George Heriots, George Watson College, Glenalmond, Gordonstoun, Loretto, Merchiston, and St. George’s. Congratulations to all of you. You have done us proud. 
Have a good weekend.

Jules Birdsall, 22/06/2018

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