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Amen to All That

Published on: Thursday, November 15, 2018

In every Headmaster’s diary there are now and then passages of a few days which I have come to call “Amen Corners”, after the famous sequence of holes (11, 12 and 13) at Augusta National golf course. They are days when more than usual seems to happen in quick succession. We have just enjoyed something of an Amen Corner in the past week.

On Thursday I attended this term’s Education and Pastoral Committee meeting at King’s Hall. This is a governors’ sub-committee, chaired by a wise and experienced ex-Head, and its glory is that it encompasses all that really matters in our schools. The committee had been sent a mountain of paperwork in advance in the form of the collated reports from each Head of Department in my school on their exam results and their plans for the year. It is to the committee members’ eternal credit that they had read though it all. We heard from the full spectrum of both schools – from Pre-Prep to the Sixth Form, on pastoral and academic matters. We also heard from the Heads of Design Technology at both schools, who were hugely impressive and inspiring. We do DT extremely well at King’s Schools. Perhaps we don’t trumpet that excellence loudly enough.

On Friday Sarah and I hopped into the convertible and drove into the rising sun to attend a memorial service in the Chapel at Lancing College. Ken Shearwood was a Lancing institution. When I joined the school in 2001 he had already been retired for several years, but he was very much still a presence – genial, kind, loyal to his old school, still an inspiration to pupils and staff. He died a few months ago. Ken had served in the navy during the war, had turned his hand to commercial fishing after that, before going up to Oxford as a mature(r) student. He joined Lancing and basically never left. I’m not even too sure what subject he taught; in the eulogies maths and English were mentioned but I think it was mostly history. His passion was football. He played for the amateur team Pegasus at Wembley in front 100, 000 people, and he was a decent cricketer; he coached both successfully at Lancing. The Chapel was packed with a remarkably jolly crowd, and laughter punctuated the solemnity of the occasion. It was wonderful to see old friends and colleagues, and even the odd parent and pupil who remembered me from Lancing days. We drove back feeling enormously cheered up, despite the sadness of the event, and despite the torrential rain hammering down on the canvas roof.

After a bit of umpiring on Saturday (possibly the best third XI girls’ hockey match I have ever seen – a gripping 1-1 draw against Bryanston), and a sneaky peak at the second half of the rugby match on TV (England were unlucky – that was never offside), we moved seamlessly into the OA Reunion dinner. We always have a reunion on the night before Remembrance Sunday, our habit in recent years being to invite especially, but of course not exclusively, those who left 10, 20 etc years ago. A good number of 2008 leavers turned up, which was a first for me: the first time that I actually knew those who had left ten years before. When my Deputy Head, Pastoral, Karen McSwiggan saw the guest list she visibly paled. She has been here much longer than I have and inevitably, because of the nature of her responsibilities, has a slightly less rosy memory of some past pupils. But she needn’t have worried. Time had done its magic and all were impeccably behaved. Of course: they are King’s men and women! It was huge fun chatting to the OAs and finding out what each had done in the ten years since leaving us. One spends his time in Geneva marrying up ships with cargoes, another manages funds in Guernsey, one runs a nursery school in London, several are in the armed forces. They were universally impressed by what they saw at the school, and it is true that we have managed an enormous amount of development in the past decade. Sometimes it takes the return of old boys and girls to remind ourselves just how much we have achieved.

On Sunday we held our annual Remembrance service in a Chapel that was packed to the rafters. The weather was kind to us and we were able to conclude the service with the traditional wreath-laying ceremony in the Memorial Quad. We added a few extra touches this year to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War. Our School Captains read out the moving poems In Flanders Fields and We Shall Keep the Faith, and staff and pupils placed perspex silhouettes of soldiers, the “Tommies”, around the memorial. In my sermon I reminded the pupils, in particular, that the OAs who died were just like them. They were fellow King’s schoolmates who had had their lives taken from them far too early and often in horrible and lonely circumstances. The ritual of Remembrance Sunday could only have meaning if they, the present pupils, dedicated themselves to action and committed themselves to working for peace and a better world. A recording of the service is on the Chapel page of our website.

Amen Corner ended on Monday, with the biennial inspection of our CCF, a joint meeting of the two senior management teams of both our schools and, finally, a lovely first rehearsal of the occasional choir of parents, staff and friends in preparation for the Advent Carol service in a few weeks’ time. The inspection was led by Major General Charles Stickland, Commandant General of the Royal Marines. He was extremely kind and clearly has a knack for putting nervous cadets at their ease. Both he and I enjoyed moments of pride in the parade. He, because the cadet leading the whole show, saluting the General and asking for permission to carry on was his son. I, because the noisy chap yelling at the Pringle Trophy Marines drill squad was my son. I believe the whole inspection team was impressed by what they saw. I am a great fan of the CCF and am proud of the enthusiasm shown and the high standards set by our staff and cadets.

By comparison with the previous five days, Tuesday was really quite low key – a train journey to London and a board meeting of ISEB (the Independent Schools Examination Board). My train there was delayed by “leaves on the line”. Genuinely. I had always thought that was a comic myth, but no, trains do get delayed by wet leaves. But I do love travelling by train. For one thing, it gives me time to write my blog.

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