We are blessed with an interesting Chaplain. Father Mark, apart from being the only other South African on the staff, is also involved in much that goes on at King’s: he runs our naval CCF section (I do struggle to picture him in a sailing dinghy), and he looks after the mini farm, in addition to his pastoral role as our spiritual leader. You may recall that a few years ago we had a flock of guineafowl on the farm. These are noisy birds, and we soon received complaints from neighbours. Father Mark’s solution was brutally simple, and the Smith deepfreeze was soon well stocked with guineafowl casserole. When we last enjoyed a full ISI inspection I was asked to show our complaints log to the lead inspector. He pointed to the letter complaining about the noisy birds. “And how did you resolve this issue?” he asked. “We shot them all” I replied. He closed the file quietly and moved onto other matters.
You will, then, understand the frisson of excitement and anticipation that ran through pupils and staff on Wednesday morning. A glorious day, three year groups away on study leave, so we held our Eucharist in the amphitheatre. Father Mark placed a small altar in the centre of our stone circle, and was himself in full ceremonial rig. There is, it must be said, something antique, even pagan, about the sight of a large bearded man, in bright robes, under blue skies, surrounded by a tightly-packed circle of celebrants. The effect was only heightened when, as the first act of the service, two third forms girls brought a bleating goat down the steps and handed it over reverentially to the priest.
Nobody actually said it, but you could tell what everyone was thinking. This was the man who had solved the guineafowl problem.
Of course he didn’t, and the goat (a three-day old kid, remarkably comfortable and calm within the voluminous folds of Father Mark’s cassock) was a prop for the sermon…on rebirth. Sermon over, and the kid (Binky) was taken back, alive, to rejoin its mother on the farm.
It’s been a week full of interest and incident. I went on one of my prep school wanders yesterday – to Sandroyd near Salisbury. As I approached the school I had to stop the car and get out to drink in the view; as bucolic and sunny and green and peaceful an English scene as you could ever imagine. The school itself is utterly splendid and we ought to get more pupils from there!
I returned to the annual Meade-King Cup swimming gala between the four local independent schools. There are conflicting accounts of its historic uniqueness: the oldest annual event involving more than two schools; the oldest ever school swimming competition and so on. Whatever, it’s definitely the oldest something between some number of schools. Which makes it very special. And there is a ritual about it. The four heads gather in the host school’s head’s study and drink tea and discuss what we are going to do in our holidays. Then we squeeze through the crowds at the pool and take up our positions in the splash zone. It looks like chaos, but there is an extraordinary efficiency and calm underlying it all (a bit like Delhi traffic). King’s is not, it must be said, a swimming juggernaut, but I was impressed that we filled every slot and put up a good fight. We even won a race.
I ran from the post-gala prize ceremony to join our philosophy symposium. King’s is the centre for a large group of school RS and philosophy teachers from the south west who gather periodically for discussions and lectures. Last night we welcomed Drs Genia Schonbaumgarten of Southampton University and Andrew Pinsent of Oxford, highly regarded, outstanding thinkers, who spoke, respectively, about Wittgenstein and religious thought and the relationship between science and religion. It took some heroic concentration from this particular one-time and seriously rusty undergraduate philosophy student to keep up, but what a treat! In the post-match discussion back at the Headmaster’s House, red wine in hand, we decided that what makes us human is that we value the useless but interesting and beautiful – like particle physics, music and good food. At least I think that’s what we decided. It was a long day.
Education has been in the news this week. The Headmistress of Cheltenham Ladies College is going to scrap homework, which I suspect will make her popular with the girls. My own pupils will be disappointed to hear that I am not going to do the same. Hard luck. And a school in Scotland is scrapping cricket, because the term is too short, the weather is too awful, the exams too numerous and the game too complex for their boys to make any progress. Again, I am not inclined to follow suit, and any boys from Morrison’s Academy who want to keep their cricket going are welcome to join us. Though the pressures of exams do not help, and the weather has not been wonderful this term, I still think it is a great game. I am trying to persuade other schools to play a bit of cricket at the start of the autumn term, when invariably the sun shines and the ground is too hard for rugby. Finally, some pupils found a maths question in a GCSE paper hard – and that has made the national news. It wasn’t, they complained, like the other questions they had been practising on from past papers. Which just underlines the danger of teaching to tests and getting pupils to jump through hoops rather than actually teaching them to understand the maths and how to think for themselves.