Headmaster's Blog Archive

For the rain it raineth every day King Lear 3.II

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 by Richard Biggs

On Sunday afternoon, on a whim, I decided to drive out onto the Levels – or as far as I could get – to see the flooding and to take some photographs as the sun went down. Oliver, my younger son, came with me. What an extraordinary sight that area is at the moment. An inland sea, with village islands surrounded by miles and miles of water. We live in a very strange world at the moment, a peculiar dampish atmosphere pervades all that we do; and it never seems to stop raining. I work to the constant rhythm of rain drops falling down the zinc gutter outside my office window. A melancholy sound.

There are bright moments: I took my U14C hockey team to play Millfield on Saturday afternoon. We waited for our slot on the pitch in a howling gale and the odd lashing of rain. Luckily we could take shelter in the very smart pavilion. The hot drinks dispenser was feeling generous and we warmed ourselves on copious mugs of hot chocolate. When we finally got onto the pitch my boys were fantastic. We have that unusual luxury this year: three (and more) teams’ worth of players at U14 level all of whom seem to know what they’re doing and can play hockey. In the world of U14C hockey that can be a devastating prospect for the opposition, and so it proved: we won 8 – 0. Team of the week. Manager of the Month, I would hope. The bravery and dedication of the parents standing huddled on the touchline leaves me in awe. I salute you, brave men and women.

Last week I was away inspecting another school. For the first time I actually enjoyed the experience – it was good fun. It may just be old age and a growing tendency towards dull conformity (fight it, fight it!) but I felt that my fellow inspectors and I were doing a good and worthwhile job and that the inspection system works pretty well. It is still, to my mind, heavily dependent on the character of the lead inspector, but I’m not sure there is a better way to do these things. And the chance to rummage around and get under the skin of another school is a real privilege. I came back with lots of ideas. The staff here are dealing with a barrage of new, and possibly daft, plans spewing out of my office. Some may be worthwhile.

On Friday we’re hosting a meeting of all the local prep school heads at King’s, which is a wonderful opportunity to show the school off. The visitors are in for a treat: a morning spent playing with the kit in the Design and Technology Centre. We have: a laser cutter, which cuts plastic and thin wood to astonishing accuracy and complexity, guided by a computer; a plasma cutter (the same again, but beefed up to cut quite thick steel sheeting) and a car hoist, recently acquired, which makes taking the bottom gubbins out of a car a thing of ease and comfort. I am proud of the fact that our DT courses major on making things. At the end of the process the pupil has a coffee table or a guitar stand or a make-up box to show for his or her efforts, not just some elaborately produced folder of designs (although they have that too). And the emphasis is on quality in the making as much as it is on quality of design. The stuff they make is extraordinary; I hope the heads are impressed and send us all their budding engineers and designers as a result.

I understand that the inaugural philosothon last week was a great success, much enjoyed by the eight visiting schools. The contestants debated, among other topics “can machines think?” and “would we do good even if we were invisible?”Well done to Wells Cathedral School, who won this historic first event.

The forecast is not helpful for the days and weeks ahead. The astonishing thing is that as I walk about the school I still see pupils and staff smiling and going about their business with a sense of purpose and even, it must be said, enjoyment.

“The rain falls upon the just

And also on the unjust fellas

But mostly it falls upon the just

Cause the unjust have the just's umbrellas”

Cormac McCarthy The Stonemason

Happy New Year

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 by Richard Biggs

Having said I would write another blog soon after the end of term – here we are at the beginning of the next. Christmas does that to you. We had a wonderful holiday. Apart from three days in our cottage in Cornwall (new heating system – the place is actually warm; bliss), we hunkered down in Taunton and enjoyed a stream of visitors for Christmas and New Year. The weather was diabolical – howling winds and lashing rain were the order of the day – but nothing could dampen the sense of festivity and fun. I do feel, though, that I’ve packed and emptied the dishwasher more times over the last three weeks than I care to remember.

The holiday ended on a particularly joyful note. Sarah and I were kindly invited to the wedding of Oliver Ridley and Nikki Dragonetti. Oliver joined us as our new Head of Sixth Form last term. For Nikki the move to Taunton was a step into her past: she is an OA, and was once Head Girl here. They met at Lancing College. The wedding was in Salisbury Cathedral. If you’re going to get married, that’s not a bad venue. It was a beautiful occasion, with a professional-standard choir of Nikki’s friends and our Provost, Bishop John Kirkham, leading the way. It was good to catch up with old Lancing colleagues; at that point all agog to discover who their new Head Master was to be (announced on Monday – Dominic Oliver from Bedales; it looks like an excellent appointment).

We’ve had two days of INSET before school starts properly tomorrow, the main thrust of which has been planning for the future. The teaching staff have been discussing what needs improving and how we move forward over the next five or so years. It’s been a fascinating exercise, with plenty of enthusiasm and a positive sense of shared purpose. And lots and lots of good ideas.

Today we welcome our two SACS exchange boys, Gareth Tate and Sihle Lonzi, to King’s. They’ll be spending the first half of term with us, along with Casey Morgan, a member of the SACS staff (SACS is my old school in Cape Town ). They always bring a healthy dose of old fashioned good manners and charm with them. I hope that, despite the appalling weather, they find a warm welcome at King’s.

I for one am delighted that for the first time in many years our sixth formers do not face module exams over the next few weeks. We used to lose a large chunk of this term to exams; now we are able to crack on with teaching and learning, which is as it should be. They will have a week of trial exams after half term. The poor old fifth form, though, go straight into trials tomorrow. This is not a particularly fun year for them – they seem to lurch from one controlled assessment to another and all their focus is on the large number of exams they need to get through between now and the end of the summer term, with endless revision and practice on past papers. We need to make a point of being as supportive and as kind to these poor souls as we can. Hug a Fifth Former (unless you’re a teacher…in which case you’d better not or OFSTED would get upset).

Happy New Year to you all.

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