What is it that lends The Abbey its identity? To use a lovely and neglected word: what is The Abbey’s quiddity – literally its ‘whatness’ – the thing that makes it what it is?

We set four students the task of answering this question over recent days in their speeches to the Senior School and Sixth Form Open Evenings. We asked them to tell visitors about a personal experience that, for them, defined what makes the school special. Their answers were such a delight to hear.

Ingeborg remembered standing on the highest diving board when she first started at the Senior School. It was impressive to have got up there in the first place, given that she doesn’t like heights – but once she arrived, she had the experience familiar to many of us of realising the water was suddenly much further away than it had looked. What struck her so powerfully was the support and encouragement she received, not just from the teacher and her friends, but from new classmates she had only just met. It was positive and kind and authentic: and it was the quality she felt had continued from that moment throughout her journey all the way to the Upper Sixth. And yes, it gave her the confidence to jump!

Jigya told a very funny story about her method of making friends and influencing people by sending every member of the English department, including several she had never met, a practice essay around the time of her mocks. The point of her story is that every single one of them got back to her immediately with personalised and thoughtful feedback. Sometimes visitors may assume that Abbey students do so well because of who they are – and in truth they are amazing young people who bring so much to the learning experience. But it is this dedication and commitment from teachers that helps to develop and support their wonderful success.

What was lovely about Jigya’s story was not just the help she got but the warmth, self-deprecating humour and generosity with which she told the tale. This was true too of Reeti, who shared a similar but even more intense moment. She had hit that point of the UCAS university application process when it had all become overwhelming and she didn’t know what to do. In one day, via support from five different members of staff, she felt back on track. Again, her story spoke of dedication – and above all of care. It mattered to everyone she spoke to. She mattered. That is what we want above all for every one of our students.

Finally, back to the water. Poppy told her audience about her 120km canoe trip for Gold D of E. She spoke about the moment when the current picked up, the exhilaration mounted – and just ahead of her, her friends’ boat capsized, hurling them into shoulder-deep water, and sending many of their possessions swept away by the current. They were of course completely safe – Richard Godfrey, our inspirational Director of Outdoor Learning, would have me out on a forced march if I neglected to make that clear – but it would have been a scary moment and a set-back. What made it stand out for Poppy was the response to adversity – the way the team dealt with it, not only by getting through, but by laughing about it and turning it into a song as they did so.

I often say: to know The Abbey meet any one of our students. That could not have been more true of Ingeborg, Jigya, Poppy and Reeti’s contributions. It is equally true of the dozens of students who have given tours and answered questions, including at the packed Junior School Open Event this morning. We burst with pride, seeing them do so with such assurance and kindness – and we know how intensely parents share that pride. It is well-earned.

All of this is part of what The Abbey is – and part of the reason this community continues to thrive. At the Sixth Form Open Evening we shared a remarkable statistic: over the last three years Sixth Form has grown by an astonishing 33%. We will of course keep an eye on that and ensure we maintain sensible limits and the sense of friendship and family that is so important to the experience. However, this is such an endorsement of all that goes on, and of the relationship between staff, students and families that we value so much. In the end, the answer to the question of what makes The Abbey is – its people. Thank you so much to everyone in the community who, together, make it so special.

Will le Fleming, Head