Good Schools Guide
KING’S COLLEGE, TAUNTON
GOOD SCHOOLS GUIDE 2009
Head: Since 2007, Mr Richard Biggs (mid forties). Much admired at his previous school, Lancing, where he was deputy head and, for a long time, acting head. Prior to that he was a director of studies and a house tutor at Magdalen College School, Oxford. Degrees from the Universities of Cape Town (BA in physics) and Oxford (MA in maths and philosophy), where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Very bright, but not intimidatingly so; he has a wonderful sense of humour and has made a tremendous impact on the school. “Inspirational and on the ball” says one delighted parent; “he’s brilliant” says a pupil, “he knows everyone’s names and leads from the middle”. An interesting concept but as we toured around, it became clear what was meant. He pops up everywhere: joining campers over night and staying, watching on the touchline, attending plays and generally wandering about, observing and encouraging. Prep school heads and teaching staff at the college alike, talk of his energy and interest in what they are doing.
Shrewd, open to ideas and clear about implementing the best, he has a refreshing vision for the school and is on the way to implementing it. He is ably supported by his charming wife, Sarah, and their two young children, who attend King’s Hall.
Academic matters: ‘There are far too many exams and too much attention paid to league tables’, say the headmaster. ‘I’m less interested in the grades than the process of learning away from exams. I want teachers to be passionate about their subjects.’ A new third form curriculum has been devised to make it stimulating and not merely early steps towards GCSEs. The head of English tutors the young scholars, inspiring and challenging: prep is not sacrosanct and can be used for rehearsals and discussion groups: pupils are encouraged to plan and use their time effectively. The dismissal of league tables is not a defensive game founded on sour grapes: separate sciences for most at GCSE and value added is very impressive, a clear sign of good teaching and hard work. An average of 63 per cent A/B grades across the board is further evidence of good practice.
Games, Options, the Arts: Flourishing. Games are taken seriously (‘but there’s no embarrassment if you’re not all that good, you can always find something you can do’). Still holders of the Roslyn Park 7s cup (this year was washed out), designated a centre of excellence by the English Cricket Board (the legendary Dennis Breakwell still reigns supreme), successes at fencing, cross-country, netball, hockey; Senior School Choir of the Year in the BBC Songs of Praise of 2007; wonderful jazz CD with other musical delights sent out to prospective parents; new art building, clever adaption of an old house, with stunning work being produced under inspirational head of art and artists in residence; new theatre and absolutely amazing DT. Superb building for it – and how well it is used; cars stripped down and repaired, inventions mushrooming, skilfully drawn up plans converted with real craftsmanship. No wonder they have won the Good Schools Guide Award for Design and Technology three times. And it could happen again: this year’s GCSE results saw 92 per cent of candidates gain A*/A grades.
Pastoral Care and Discipline: Seven houses, two recently built, mix day and boarders. Day pupils are welcome to stay over night, by prior arrangement, and we were told of several instances of that which resulted in permanent boarding. Boarding is very popular: weekend activities are arranged by houses and boarders are expected to be in residence for most weekends. Those we spoke to were delighted to be so. “Weekends are the best time of the week” said a young boarder and then grinned sheepishly. This is a school which takes boarding seriously and where the boarders are absolutely not day pupils who live too far away to go home. As far a discipline is concerned, common sense and courtesy really do seem to prevail, though the authorities are not stupid!
Pupils and Parents: This is not an overwhelmingly grand school: there is more aspiration than pretension and this is reflected in the clientele. A number come from the Services, others are from business, farming, etc. 10 per cent come from abroad. The parents’ association is active; indeed one of the things we noticed when talking to parents was their loyalty. OAs include Geoffrey Rippon, cricketer Roger Twose, rugby internationals Tom Voyce and Matthew Robinson, historian John Keegan, singer and broadcaster Alexandra Edenborough and children’s broadcaster Dominic Wood.
Entrance: Via Common Entrance or VRQ at 13. 50 per cent or so come from King’s Hall, the excellent partner prep school just out in the country; the rest from a wide geographical area: Exeter and Salisbury Cathedral Schools, Jersey, Port Regis and around. A number enter a sixth form.
Exit: 98 per cent go on to universities; five or six a year to Oxbridge.
Money Matters: Academic and sports award of a third of fees at 13. Several music scholarships, plus art, drama, DT awards. At sixth from sports, music and academic scholarships held in November each year. Special scholarships for those from state schools.
Remarks: A sound, well balanced school, setting out into new exciting waters with a very able skipper at the helm.