Headmaster's Blog Archive

A non golfer's trip to Wales

Monday, September 29, 2014 by Richard Biggs

The turmoil of the academic year’s opening weeks is brought to a welcome end, for Headmasters, by the carefully-timed event that is the annual HMC conference. Once we reach the final week of September we feel that the great ship is well and truly underway and we look forward to the chance to escape for a few days and meet up with the other “skippers” (in two senses of the word!).

This year we are gathering at the Celtic Manor. Two years ago it was St Andrew’s. You might detect a theme here. Sadly, I am no golfer, so I’ll have to look for other amusements.

The extraordinary weather continues. We had a walk on the north Somerset coast today and it was as warm and as calm as the most perfect mid-summer’s day. It all seems rather unnatural and spooky, but I can deal with that. We’ve already had three houses’ third forms round for supper this term, and for each we happily sat outside for the whole evening.

Last week we held our inaugural Grandparents’ Day. When some wise member of the management team suggested the idea we imagined that a dozen or so grandparents might turn up. We had 90. It was a great success, logistical challenges notwithstanding. The highlight, I think, was the lesson in which grandparents sat with their grandchildren in class. In one third form maths class the adults and children sat around tables solving number problems together. What is the sum of all the digits of the numbers from 1 to 99? That had them thinking, and working well together. At our recent third form parents’ meeting one member of staff said to a parent – “your child’s doing well, but your father’s maths is a little rusty”. The response from the grandparents has been wonderful. Many have taken the trouble to write to thank us – proper, handwritten letters, or effusive emails. Either that’s because we put on an overwhelmingly splendid day, or it is the admirable habit of an older generation that they say thank you properly. Maybe both.

We also had our third form parents’ supper on Friday night, at which our newly-minted music scholars performed. They were superb. The future of music at King’s looks very strong. In fact our musicians have been on show around Taunton in the last few weeks. A newly formed jazz quartet of fourth formers played to the assembled Worshipful Company of Woolmen in Brazz (a local restaurant), and then our string group (again, lots of young players) entertained the same be-liveried crowd in the Somerset Museum the following night. And they were outstanding. The forgiving embrace of museum acoustics helped, of course, but I was a very proud headmaster that evening.

Last Friday was the birthday of St Francis of Assisi, a saint with whom I suspect our Chaplain feels some affinity. This Wednesday he will be conducting a St Francis service in our Chapel. Pupils have been asked to bring their pets, or photographs of their pets, to school and bring them to Chapel for a blessing. It will be mayhem. I really am desperately sad to be missing it…I have a golf date in Wales!

Launching the new term

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 by Richard Biggs

The ship that is the 2014/15 academic year has safely been launched and is sailing happily out of harbour. Like all sailing ships its launch has been a frantic and complex affair, relying on the hard work and last-minute scrambling around of a great number of people. But here we are in the serene waters of the first week. Always a quiet week for me; while others get on with the job of running the school and teaching I sit here waiting for the ISSUES to arise.

The holidays already seem a distant memory. They were busier for our family than we had planned. A number of last-minute opportunities and events meant that our initial intention of laying low and saving the pennies simply dissolved in an expensive but largely enjoyable heap. So we went to Northumberland for a week – which was glorious. We camped in Dorset for three days, in the middle of a heat wave. Also glorious. Then we went to Roses, in Spain, to see friends, and fell in love with the place. Then, because I got news that my father was ill and in hospital, I took an unexpected trip down to Cape Town. He’s on the mend, happily, and in many ways it was a wonderful chance to be there, not least because my son Henry was, coincidentally, coming to the end of his exchange with my old school, SACS, and we managed to spend some good time together before flying back on the same plane. Straight into GCSE exam results….collected at Heathrow. He did well.

As predicted, the exam results at both GCSE and A level were more “volatile” (a word often used in press articles on the subject) than usual. It was not a vintage year for us, but as always the detail is what counts, and there were some astonishing individual successes. Thomas Prayer, who came to us from Austria, achieved the amazing feat of securing five A* grades at A levels. He is, not surprisingly, off to Cambridge, along with three other leavers, all of whom made the required grade. The mixed bag of results soon bedded down into a very healthy picture of university successes.

And talking of Cambridge, the Oxbridge swingometer is moving inexorably in that direction amongst the staff at King’s. Three of our new teachers are Cambridge graduates, which has caused a bit of muttering amongst the staff from the other place.

One of the most exciting things about the start of this term has been the arrival of our third form cohort in their new uniforms. After the complex and lengthy process of designing, sourcing and stocking the outfits it is a pleasure to see them actually being worn. And very smart they look too. A retired Headmaster told me never to tinker with the uniform, because the process of change is always fraught with danger, but I hope that we’ve proved him wrong. In two years’ time the new look will be uniformly spread across all three lower school year groups and we’ll be delighted that we took the plunge, I’m sure. Once again, my warmest thanks go to Sassi Holford for her design input.

Amongst many highlights of the holiday (empty, sunny beaches in Northumberland, snorkelling in the Med, cooking a beef stew all day long in a three-legged pot on a field in Dorset, scootering to breakfast in Simon’s Town), was the joy of seeing Jos Buttler making his test debut at Southampton. Younger son and I got tickets for the second day, which was when when Jos strode out to the wicket and smote 85 runs in his first innings (admittedly riding his luck a tad along the way). I resisted, but only just, the temptation to stand up and say “he’s one of ours – a King’s boy!”. But the press coverage did us a huge amount of good in any case. He’ll make his mark, of that I am certain.

The holiday has been filled with heroics from our existing pupils, too. Eight boys cycled to Monaco to raise funds for a services charity. Sixteen pupils and three members of staff climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Six girls have been selected for the independent schools national football teams at U16 and U18. Josh Stickland is a Lord Lieutenant’s Cadet – continuing a long and largely unbroken line of King’s success in this important appointment. Pearllan Cipriano won both the U16 and the U18 Somerset girls’ singles tennis titles. Three of our pupils won prestigious Arkwright Scholarships for Design Technology. We live and work with extraordinarily talented and enthusiastic young people, which is really what makes this profession so exciting. And which is why we are all looking forward to another hugely successful year ahead.

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