The start of a new year is traditionally a time when we make determined efforts to change our ways: to eat more sensibly, perhaps; to think of ourselves a little less; to think of other people a little more. We all want to look forward. This time we have been stopped in our tracks.

Sadly, the start of 2019 has been blighted by the death of somebody who was an integral, valued and much-loved member of the Blue Coat community. The death of Pauline Rilley at a relatively early age puts everything into perspective. It means that in this new year we need to thank God for her life – and to thank God also for our friends, our colleagues, our health, and all those bright and beautiful things which we so often take for granted.

A much-loved member of our fantastic catering and housekeeping staff, Pauline had a wonderfully engaging personality. She really cared for the children. She will be greatly missed by them and by her colleagues. As we go about our frenetic business, we will remember Pauline for her good service, humour, her optimism and her dedication. May she rest in peace.

Life goes on, of course. It is so refreshing and renewing to see the children full of energy and enthusiasm. This week, when I enjoyed my first assembly of 2019 with Years One and Two, we discussed the importance of making good choices and of how we make others feel.

The pen is mightier than the sword, it is said. The words that come out your mouth are hard to retrieve, too. When I encouraged some of the children to try to scoop the toothpaste back into the tube after it had been squirted out, they found that this exercise is not only messy; it is virtually impossible. In essence I want the children to realise that it is hard to take something back and mend it.

Following this up more widely, in Prep chapel we will be focusing on ‘pathways’ and the making of good choices. You may have followed the opprobrium which dropped on the head of restaurant critic and former Waitrose columnist William Sitwell. His comments on ‘killing vegans’ were made light-heartedly, I think, but, in an age when it is so easy to post a message to the world, we all need to be careful to take responsibility for what we say.

And humour, it seems, can be as explosive as bigotry. Staff here are in the business of helping children to find that tricky balance between having their own independent, thought-out views, and being tolerant and respectful of the views of others. And we look forward to welcoming a range of speakers to chapel this term to reinforce and develop this important value.

Anyway, it was lovely to welcome the children back on Tuesday morning. Although a small minority looked somewhat exhausted by their holiday antics and ‘sleepovers’, the vast majority looked delighted to be back. The School community slowly, but surely, moved back into action. Children and staff got to grips with academic life. It was satisfying to see, on a recent walk around, the children fully engaged in their learning. I am looking forward to visiting classes next week to observe our staff and children. This is an opportunity to celebrate and further develop the high expectations we have for the children.

Over the course of this term the calendar, as usual is very busy, with a rich range of opportunities and events. Please can I encourage you to join us for chapel services, class assemblies, music recitals, performances and fixtures. It means the world to the children to have your support.

Finally I would like to thank all staff and parents for their support to my family over this very sad and fragile period. Losing my brother Stephen was a massive blow. Jules, Bea, Jasper and I greatly appreciate your warmth and kindness.

Have a great weekend and let’s work together to ensure that your children continue to develop as well-rounded, thoughtful, respectful young people.

MR NOEL NEESON | HEADMASTER