News from the School – May/June 2021

It is with great sadness that I report the death of Keith Smith, one of the school’s longest standing teachers, having first arrived as a fresh-faced, young history teacher well over thirty years ago in the 1980s. During his time at Whitgift, Keith accomplished a huge amount, having led the History and Politics department, the CCF, Fencing and Dodd’s House. In addition to this, he has been the school’s representative on the Whitgift Benevolent Society for the past few years, a role which has enabled him to help a multitude of Whitgiftians in need.

Keith passed away early in April after a brave battle with cancer and he will be sorely missed by thousands of Whitgiftians who will remember the time they spent with him with gratitude, humour and love.

Keith was my Housemaster and A-Level history teacher, as well as being my colleague for the past twenty years, and so I can say first hand that he was one of the most natural teachers that I have ever come across: when we thought he was going off on another light-hearted digression in the classroom, he was actually deepening our understanding through a brilliantly thought-through anecdote; when we thought he was bluffing his way into the U.S. Capitol Building on a school trip to Washington, what we did not appreciate was the months of correspondence he had entered into with the Alaskan senator just to afford Whitgift boys the opportunity to broaden their appreciation and understanding of American politics by talking to a real, live U.S. Senator in his office; when we thought he was trying to put the usual assortment of ‘sportsmen’ and boys grabbed from the library and gym that Housemasters had paraded in front of him in the yearly carnage that is the House Fencing competition at ease, “This is the pointy bit; be very careful what you do with it!”, what we did not realise was that Keith was talent-spotting, keeping his eagle eye out for future school fencers who would continue Whitgift’s outstanding legacy in his favourite sport.

For Keith, being a school master was effortless – a way of life rather than a profession – and ultimately the reason for this was that he really cared, something none better exemplified by the fact that on the morning of the day he died, he was emailing the Whitgift Benevolent Society Committee to make sure that one of the boys he was responsible for was getting the correct provision for the new term. A caring, selfless school master right to the end; Keith Smith, RIP.

NFTS - singing competitionThe music department has really embraced the digital learning platform, running two remote competitions for boys to take part in. The first of these, a piano event, saw no fewer than 55 videos of boys’ performances sent in. The piano competition ran in four classes and was open to any style of piece being performed, with entries being marked by specialist external adjudicators.

Winners were selected across all age-groups and prizes were awarded when the boys returned to school in March. Head of Keyboards, Mr Lane, had this to say of the event: “It was a step into the unknown this year with a competition held completely online, but I was extremely impressed by both the quality and number of entries… I have had so many positive comments from both the students and the parents – it seems it was a real highlight at the end of a long period of online learning from home!” A montage of the winning performances is available to view on the school website.

The other competition was a singing one and this was an event that was actually able to be concluded in school with a live audience! The final was a fantastic event to mark the end of the Lent Term, providing the competition finalists a welcome opportunity to sing live in the Concert Hall.

The quality of singing and vocal repertoire chosen by the students was a diverse showcase of Whitgift talent and kept judges, Mr Wilson for the Junior class and Jon Stainsby, who visited the School as our guest adjudicator for the Intermediate and Senior classes, on their toes, with a selection of music ranging from Beyoncé to Handel! Once again, a montage of the winning performances is available to view on the school website. Keep your eye out for Mason’s own, Adedamola Amusa, who won the Senior event and is surely destined for great things!

With the Olympics being postponed for a year due to Covid, members of the Whitgift community have had to bide their time waiting to see how the school fares in the games in the form of Joe Choong OW (2008-13), who is set to star in the Modern Pentathlon. However, some of the boys at school could obviously not wait that long and so took part in Olympiads themselves, although of the more academic variety.

The UK Linguistics and British Physics Olympiads took place in February and March respectively and the school entered an impressive number of competitors.

NFTS - linguistics olympiadIn the former, a national competition in which students of any age or ability level are required to solve fiendishly difficult linguistics puzzles, 12 brave Whitgiftians took part. The pupils competed in the Advanced Competition, challenging themselves in this head-scratching and intellectually rigorous test of code-breaking and linguistic aptitude. Visit the UKLO website for a flavour of the problems: Congratulations should go to all the boys who took part, but in particular to Lower Sixth Former, Khinley Trott, who attained a Silver medal – an impressive feat considering how many students take part nationally.

NFTS - Physics Challenge WinnersThe British Physics Olympiad (BPhO) encourages the study of physics, running annual competitions to recognise excellence in students across the UK. Over the course of the Lent Term, budding physicists in the Fifth Form and Lower Sixth took part in the Intermediate Physics Challenge (Year 11) and Senior Physics Challenge events (Year 12), respectively.

With covid restrictions in place, these events were moved online this year. However, this did not dampen students’ enthusiasm and efforts which were reflected in an impressive 16 Gold, 22 Silver and 1 Bronze awards in the Intermediate Challenge. A special mention should go to Fifth Former, Harvey Rendall, who achieved Gold with a score of 38/40, placing him in the top 15 of almost 5,000 entries and putting him in the 0.3% nationally.

In the Senior Physics Challenge 3 Gold, 9 Silver and 3 Bronze awards were achieved, with this event being completed as part of Whitgift’s Physics Enrichment programme. Furthermore, subsequent to finishing in the top 100 nationally in the British Physics Olympiad round 1 event, Upper Sixth Former, Anant Gupta, was invited to take part in the ever more challenging round 2 event for a place on the British Physics Olympiad team.

If you are interested to learn more about what the school does to give back to the local community, then you should head onto the news section of the website where you will find a link to the first edition of Giving Together, a newsletter celebrating Whitgift’s community activities and charitable work.

The newsletter includes articles which have been written by students and staff, including the launch of our Primary Maths videos, gifts for NHS Staff at Croydon University Hospital and our online Charity Concert. Many students have given time to volunteer or organise fundraising events in their local areas and you may well be surprised to read just how much we have managed to achieve as a school community.

To conclude, I am happy to report that despite everything that has been going on, the school has not forgotten its heritage. Indeed, this year marks the 425th anniversary of our Founder, John Whitgift, laying the stone that represented his vision for supporting the people of Croydon through a hospital and access to education and, hence, starting the John Whitgift Foundation.

The school has undertaken a variety of initiatives to mark this anniversary. If restrictions lighten and you get the opportunity to come onto the school grounds, you will see 425 flowers adorn the Whitgift name stone to the right of the driveway. You might see boys sporting the winning entry of the Foundation’s design a commemorative 425 pin badge competition on their lapels.

Finally, you will be able to see a montage of artwork and graphic design placed on the walls of the newly pedestrianised fountain quad that can be found between the science and CCF blocks and which opens out towards Bigside. These are currently being designed by boys taking part in the 425 Design Competition, the theme of which is: a celebration of our history and looking to the future.

Talking of the future, I sincerely hope that I am able to report back on some sports fixtures in the near future. Plans are afoot for a full programme of cricket, hockey, rugby and football fixtures in the Summer term, but then that was the case at the end of Michaelmas term and we all know what happened at the start of the year, so I wouldn’t get too excited yet. I am crossing my fingers, though!

Dominic Edwards OW (1988-96)