Bean feasts and balls
Friday, February 5, 2016 by Richard Biggs
The annual bean feast that is the Woodard Heads Conference was, I think, a success. We had some inspiring speakers, one of whom had the assembled Heads stamping their feet and singing in four part harmony. No mean feat. This was the opening salvo in what will become, we hope, a major Woodard musical occasion. Dominic Peckham will spend the next year going round the schools preparing our choirs for the Woodard Thousand Voices event in the Birmingham Symphony Hall in February 2017.
Monty Halls spoke about the need for schools to teach leadership skills more effectively and more deliberately. It is something we are looking into here at King’s: we too often assume that leadership skills are being picked up by our pupils “by osmosis” rather than putting in place a proper plan. Hopefully that will soon change.
On the final day we had an excellent talk from Prof Gerald Pillay, the Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool Hope University. Gerald is a theologian, and spoke about the importance of church schools in establishing and maintaining what we would recognise as a Western education. His talk went back to Charlemagne, who in the 8th century set up a pan-European education system, run by the church, which taught a curriculum we would recognise today: the Seven Liberal Arts of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and music. Sounds like a pretty rich and balanced diet to me! His point was that we still play a role in keeping alive that idea of a broad and rich and civilised education, which speaks to the whole person. Our schools, he said should be “Oases in a parched world”.
Which was, fascinatingly, the same message we got from Paul Mbugua, the Headmaster of the Woodard School in Langalanga, Kenya. Paul had flown out for the week, to visit Woodard schools and to attend the conference. He spoke of the extraordinary success of his school and the fact that it provided a haven of learning (along with one much needed meal per day, running water, a good library, dedicated teachers) in a very poor community. He has painted his roofs green, and has planted grass and trees – and spoke of his school as being a green oasis in an often parched part of Kenya. I like that image very much: our schools are havens of learning and places of comfort and safety, and also beauty.
Paul returned with me from the conference and spent three days at King’s College and King’s Hall. He spoke movingly at both schools and was himself moved by the warmth of the welcome and support he received from staff, pupils and parents. His school is a wonderful project and it makes a massive difference to lives in Africa. We will continue to support him. He needs a 51-seater bus to take classes on trips. A new vehicle, with a Kenyan (and suitably robust) body built on a Japanese chassis, costs about £40k. I am determined that, together with the other Woodard schools, we will be able to buy him a bus soon.
Since then the weeks have flown by. We held our annual inter-schools Philosothon here a fortnight ago, with eight schools attending. The winning team, from Wellington, should be congratulated, as should all who took part. This is now a regular and very impressive feature in our calendar and we are proud to be leading the way in competitive philosophising.
I coach the U16B hockey team this term, if “coach” isn’t too grand a term. Sadly, not many other schools put out an U16B side, so we have a limited number of fixtures. However, our first match, against Sherborne last week, went well. I unleashed a team of caged wild animals after all that training and preparation and the opposition didn’t quite know what had hit them. At half time my pep talk consisted of: “I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get to double figures”. I was disappointed in the end, but only just. I do like my teams to play positive, simple hockey. Don’t faff around – get the ball into the D and score a goal. It usually works.
The canoe project has slowed to a glacial pace. Running a school seems to get in the way of more important things, sadly. But the hull is covered and painted, keels screwed on and this weekend will see a final push to the finishing line.
Only one week left to half term, which is a frightening thought. I am looking forward to the PA Valentine’s Ball and hope this time to restrain my usual carelessness in bidding for things I really don’t need and certainly can’t afford (like a weekend with a Mercedes SLK…Mrs B has still not forgiven me for that one). The PA have worked extremely hard in getting everything ready and have an established track record of putting on wonderful events. It will be huge fun, and a great start to the half term break.