Headmaster's Blog

Summer Pleasures

Tuesday, June 20, 2017 by Richard Biggs

I have now discovered the only really proper way to travel: on top of a coach drawn by four horses, preferably through Windsor Great Park, preferably dressed in a top hat and tails and sipping champagne. Which is precisely what I was doing on Saturday. Emma Edwards, our wonderful Taylor housemistress, comes from a family who are steeped in the rather arcane world of coach driving. A few months ago she arranged for the whole show (and it is a quite a show: massive horsebox, trailer for the coach, several grooms and crates of champagne) to base itself near King’s, at the Netherclay stables. We were invited to join them on one of the drives, from the stables back to the school, and it was glorious. Emma very kindly invited Sarah, me and some other King’s folk to join them for the annual drive in Windsor Great Park, followed by the Coaching Club dinner at a nearby hotel. Regulation dress was full Acot rig: top hat, tails, waistcoat and gloves. Just the sort of outfit for a swelteringly hot June afternoon. We clambered aboard at the hotel and enjoyed two hours of mostly gentle (except when one of the horses was spooked – quite exciting) ambling through the glory that is the Queen’s back yard at Windsor. Photos will follow.

Back to Taunton on Father’s Day (two bottles of beer from elder son – such a sweet boy) and at last a moment to launch canoe number 2. I decided some time ago that one was not enough – it’s a bit lonely with just one – so made another. And it floated and seemed pretty much watertight, which is the main thing.

These are those days which we dream about for the rest of the year. The school, and the whole world, looks absolutely stunning. We held an OA open day on Saturday and I think the old boys and girls were genuinely moved by the sheer loveliness of the grounds. Also, I think, many were impressed by how much we had added to the school in recent years. On Saturday we formally opened the new indoor climbing wall, funded very generously by the OA Club. That is apparently the best facility of its sort in this part of the world and has opened up a new and already very popular activity for our pupils. I have not yet been brave enough to have a go…I think I’ll stick to coaches and paddling.

For the first time in a few years I am not in Kenya this week. I usually go to the Sevens tournament at Pembroke House School in the Rift Valley and help to man the King’s tent. But this week we have the small matter of a T20 match between South Africa and England at the County Ground – a rather special occasion and, I believe, the first international of any sort at the ground. We have guests joining us for the afternoon and the game should be exciting. Kate Rippin and Dr Snell will fly the King’s flag in Kenya. And Tanzania too – Kate is visiting a prep school there. We have built up strong connections with a number of schools in East Africa, greatly to the benefit of King’s.

Well the election came and went. From the point of view of the independent school sector the inconclusiveness of the result may not be a bad thing. Theresa May had radical plans in mind for education, not all of which would have been helpful for independent schools. And Labour had threatened to apply VAT to school fees, which would have been disastrous (although probably not legal). With any luck the precariousness of her position means that Mrs May will leave things as they are for the moment and we can get on with running our schools without yet more interference. All we ask of any government is to allow us a stretch of a few years without something major being changed so that we can get used to current curriculums and regulations and focus our energy on what really matters, which is teaching children.

The combination of hot weather and public exams means we are able to meet as a school each week, for assembly and for the Eucharist, in our amphitheatre; we are just about able to fit the school, minus the Fifth and Upper Sixth Forms, into that space. There is something quite profound and primal about gathering in the round outdoors. The Athenians gathered on the Pnyx, a small hill beneath the Acropolis, to debate and discuss, from as early as 507BC. Pericles, Aristides and Alcibiades spoke there, as did Demosthenes when he denounced King Philip of Macedon. We have our own Pnyx and we use it as often as we can. Though I suspect my reading out of cricket reports does not quite reach the heights of oratory those Athenians enjoyed.

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