Creaking into action once again
Monday, September 7, 2015 by Richard Biggs
After a frantic few days, the dust of the start of the academic year has begun to settle and the school is beginning to develop its usual sense of purpose and pattern. We welcomed 138 new pupils to King’s last week; about half into the third form and the rest scattered amongst the remaining four year groups. We even have two pupils joining us in the final sixth form year, which is very unusual.
And there have been a number of new faces amongst the staff as well. I am hugely excited about the new talent and the obvious sense of energy and enthusiasm that they bring.
Once again I have the honour of being the parent of a new pupil myself and it is refreshing to see the school through that particular prism once more. Feedback around the breakfast table so far has been positive. Long may it remain so!
GCSE and A level results came and went; the former an improvement on last year, the latter pretty much the same. There were, as always, some stunningly brilliant individual performances and I was pleased that the great majority of our leavers got the grades they needed to move onto the universities of their choice, including the four going to Oxford and Cambridge. One thing that was particularly encouraging was the standard set by the modern languages department, both at GCSE and A level . A real facility in a second or even a third language is such a valuable and marketable attribute these days that we absolutely have to persuade as many of our pupils as possible to consider taking a language through to the end. The first-rate results this year will help a lot in that regard. As always our pupils have done well in the tough, academically rigorous “facilitating” subjects which are preferred by Russell Group universities.
As before, there has been plenty of grumbling about the quality of the marking of the various exam boards. In one AS history paper we have had three papers re-marked, and each has gone up by two grades. That is ridiculous. I have heard stories of similar experiences from other schools too. A friend of a friend’s daughter was awarded BBB as her final A level tally, which was not enough to go on to her chosen university. She asked for a number of remarks and ended up with AAA – and a place at the university. How can the boards get it so wrong? An enormous amount depends on the results and much hard work and emotion have gone into preparing for exams, so it is essential that the boards take as much care in getting it right as they possibly can. But they don’t, and I think that is inexcusable.
To be honest I still don’t quite understand why we need three (at least) exam boards, all of whom are trying to make a profit out of the exam industry. The result is, inevitably, pressure to dumb down (because schools will choose the apparently easier courses) and pressure to streamline and cut corners (because they’re businesses). No amount of official oversight and Ofqual-ing will resist those pressures in the end. I’m not sure what benefit competition brings in this case - it clearly isn’t improved service - so why not just have one board?
As always, the weather this September is unseasonably warm. We ought to be playing cricket now (but that’s another rant I’ll get off my chest some other time). I am delighted that our pupils have had a sunny start to the year. Many of them went out on house activities yesterday (Sunday). Tuckwell went mackerel fishing. Apparently quite successfully so: they came back with 130 fish. They cleaned and barbecued as many as they could eat in Mr Lewis’ garden, but by 6pm he was moved to send out a plea for help: “I have 60 freshly caught mackerel in my fridge. Please come and help yourself”. So guess what the Biggs family are having for dinner tonight.
The final week of the holiday brought an unexpected bonus for my family. We have a cottage in Cornwall which is rented out as a holiday let. It has become very popular. We rather carelessly took our eye off the ball and before we knew it every week of the holiday was booked up. But in that final week the tenants took umbrage at some aspect of the cottage (a strong smell of oil, apparently) and left in a huff on the Monday. So in we went…and had a wonderful few days, a final, serious bout of relaxation, glorious coastal walks and top-notch West Country food. It made the start of term just that bit more manageable. And we’ve booked the cottage for the half term break already. We won’t make that mistake again.
Just before my welcoming speech to parents of new pupils last Wednesday a parent who had heard it all before said “I bet I can predict what your opening line is going to be”…and pretty much rattled off a word-perfect rendition of the text that was tucked away in my pocket. So I fled to my office and rapidly changed it, and included a joke, which I would not normally do on such a solemn occasion. Here it is:
Early one morning, a mother went in to wake up her son.
'Wake up, son. The summer’s over and it’s time to go back to school'
'But why, Mom? I don't want to go.'
'Give me two reasons why you don't want to go.'
'Well, the kids hate me for one, and the teachers hate me, too!'
'Oh, that's no reason not to go to school. Come on now and get ready.'
'Give me two reasons why I should go to school.'
'Well, for one, you're 52 years old. And for another, you're the Headmaster!'