Visiting families often ask what students do at weekends here at Ampleforth. As you will know, the answer is very long, and the provision is very reassuring for parents who want to know their children will be busy, happy and surrounded by friends.

This week’s blog certainly gives an insight into some of the ways in which our students have been occupied recently and what’s in store for this weekend.

Our chess team (pictured above) achieved a national first last weekend, as the first ever school to qualify for the 20/20 Chess National super-final. Competing in the regional competition against university students and alumni, our seven students alongside Mr Mutton (who of course has himself represented England at chess), found their opposition, in a competition which included teams from Durham and York, was daunting and strong. Nevertheless, and despite some members of the regular team being otherwise engaged playing other sports, the A team have qualified for the national finals, and the ‘B’ team really gave a superb performance. Ben McDonnell (Year 11) achieved a prize for scoring 4/5 in his matches.  It was a fantastic experience and an even more exciting prospect for the finals.

The annual Burns Supper for members of the Sixth Form took place last Saturday and began with a traditional dinner in the Upper Building including all the ‘Ongauns’ of a Burns Supper:  the Selkirk Grace, Address to the Haggis, Toast to the Lassies and its reply. This was followed by reeling in the new Performing Arts Centre, with favourites such as the Dashing White Sergeant, The Eightsome Reel, the Duke of Perth, Reel of the 51st Division and Strip the Willow. The evening ended with everyone joining hands to sing Auld Lang Syne. Of course, it was Burns Night on Wednesday, and a small group of pipers and drummers went to nearby Coxwold Village Hall to pipe in the guests and haggis. The event raised money for New Life Ghana, a charity which supports the needy in Accra and which is supported by one of our former parents.

The cast of ‘Teechers’, our Year 9 play, had their technical rehearsal last Sunday afternoon, before taking to the stage for two successful performances this week in front of full houses in the downstairs theatre. Congratulations to them! The Year 9s’ comic characterisation and dynamic teamwork really brought to life the experiences of students, teachers and caretakers in a modern comprehensive school. They handled a difficult script with real sensitivity and demonstrated incredible focus, being on stage for the duration of the performance. Due credit also goes to the Year 9 technical crew who worked diligently to create a seamless audio-visual backdrop to the whole performance. Thank you to everyone who came to support them.

Auditions for Exhibition play begin next week.  The play is open to all students from Years 9 and 10 and rehearsals will start after half- term.  Exhibition play is an ideal chance for junior students to take on larger roles and develop their team work and performance skills. 

There are lots of social events on this weekend – Years 9 and 10 have a cinema trip tonight, and there’s the ever-popular trip into York tomorrow afternoon. Many of our students are marking the official date for Chinese New Year (or simply enjoying the chance to consume some very good Chinese food!) by going into York this evening for a celebratory meal. Following Australia Day earlier this week, Year 11 are holding an Aussie party, and there’s Duke of Edinburgh Silver award planning going on for some.

We have a new activity at school this year, the River Cascade Group, which operates in partnership with the Environment Agency.  The six sixth form students involved are gaining an understanding of fresh water ecology while gathering data from the Holbeck River which is passed on to the Environment Agency. It is also hoped that in the summer the sixth forms will pass on their experience and knowledge to a local primary school and thus inspire future generations to take in interest in our local rivers

On Friday the River Cascade group visited the Holbeck River, which runs along the bottom of the Valley, to sample the invertebrates (insects) which live in the water.  Dr Beveridge reports that the sampling was a success, as the group was able to identify nine different species of insects, including some freshwater shrimps (Gammarus) and three species of mayfly larvae (Ephemeroptera); these species are of particular interest as their presence in high numbers is an indicator that the water in the Holbeck is relatively unpolluted and that the general ecosystem is in good health.  They also observed some blackfly larvae, caddisfly larvae, cranefly larvae, a water hoglouse, a thread worm and some bullhead fish.  These data have been passed on to the Environment Agency and River’s Association who are keen to obtain data on this stretch of the Holbeck River. Next time you are walking through the Valley, you will know what to look out for in the river!

It was time for House Badminton this week. After some strong games and fierce competition, the eventual winners were St Thomas’, an excellent start to their evening of House Punch celebrations.

This Sunday, our sixty-five Confirmandi are on retreat, both Catholic and Anglican, with our House Catechists. Please keep them in our prayers as they prepare for confirmation next term.