Headmaster's Blog Archive

King Alfred Holiday

Friday, October 28, 2016 by Richard Biggs

Well that was the first half of term that was. Is it a function of getting older that time seems to pass by with growing slipperiness? Anyway, here we are halfway through the King Alfred Holiday (which is what we formally call this Michaelmas half term break).

Much has happened. We won the Royal Marines Pringle Trophy once again. Every year Captains King and Belfield tell me how tough it’s going to be this time, and pretty much every year we either win or come second. It is a fabulous and much-valued tradition at King’s, this dominance of the Pringle, and we should never become complacent or blasé about how much our success depends on the willingness of the boys to push themselves hard – I suspect to the very limit of what is acceptable and allowable in a school setting. They are, truly, heroes and I am deeply proud of them.

It has been heartening to see, as it is every year, the new pupils settling into the King’s community. Sarah and I have had all but one of the Third Form House groups round for supper – Taylor still to come in two weeks’ time – and they have all been charming and interesting, which is the main thing. I imagine some feel a little daunted about supper in the Headmaster’s house, but the two dogs soon break the ice. I have also had lunch with the new Sixth Formers. They, too, seem to have made a good start. They are certainly a lively and talented bunch; and not shy to tell me what they think. A new girl from New York was adamant that we ought to hold a “Rap-off” (I think that was the term she used) in our amphitheatre, which she felt was ideal for the job. And that I ought to compete. I suggested that this might be way outside my particular skill set. But we’ll see.

Last week I proudly took possession of the keys to our new art studio. What an excellent project that has turned out to be, and how lucky we are to have an OA, Garth Pedler, willing to fund the whole thing. New furniture arrives next week and the artists will be able to move in soon afterwards (though I noticed they have already snuck in a long piece of printed fabric and stuck it to the wall. I imagine the virgin pristine-ness of that building is not going to last long, and nor should it). We’ve secured the services of a proper artist, Michael Brennand-Wood, to open the building formally in February. Do Google him – some wonderful pictures heavily influenced by textile designs, and of course that fits in nicely with our own recent re-introduction of textiles as one of the art options.

This year’s HMC conference was at Stratford (the Warwickshire one, not the site of the London Olympics, although apparently not all the Heads knew this), and the theme was, appropriately, Running Creative Schools. The best talk was from Will Gompertz, BBC arts editor, who was pretty scathing about the traditional “STEM” curriculum and the skills we were teaching our children. Most of the jobs we are currently training our pupils for, he said, will soon be taken over by computers. Which leaves we humans to do the creative thinking and imagining. So all schools should be art schools. Artists, he said, take risks, are innovative, entrepreneurial, collaborative, resilient.

The gradual decline of non-STEM subjects has been much in the news. I was horrified to read that the last board offering an A level in art history had decided to withdraw the subject, and that sixth form colleges are having to cut back on some of the less popular courses, like dance and modern languages. We will always offer creative opportunities at King’s – on the stage, in the choir, in the art school and in our choice of subjects. If you ever doubt our commitment to creativity, pay a visit to the DT centre…

The first half of term ended on a somewhat frustrating note for me. I was due to fly out to join the first-ever board meeting of the new school in India. So I left at 5am last Thursday, drove to Heathrow, and caught the morning flight to Delhi. The flight landed at midnight local time. I queued for the usual eternity at emigration, and when I got to the officer he took one look at my visa application and said “the dates are wrong”. As indeed they were. One way or another “Oct” had become “Sept”. “Well clearly that’s just a simple mistake” I said. “I’m here now, in Oct, and didn’t come in Sept – as you can see in my passport.” He told me to wait while he fetched a more senior officer. Another long wait, then another chap arrived, and started to fill out lots of forms. Slowly. At least they’re sorting it out, I thought. Then I spotted the heading of one of the forms: “Refusal to Enter”. And it dawned on me that they were not going to let me in. And they didn’t. Despite much protestation they turned me around and marched me back onto the very same plane I’d just arrived on. And that was that. I arrived back at Heathrow very early on Friday, and was in my office once again by mid-morning. Somewhat disappointed. I did join the board meeting, by Skype, but I missed seeing the school, enjoying the Diwali party and spending a day with some of our parents. We live and learn.

Five extra, unexpected days of half term break were put to moderately good use, not least in getting paperwork completed sooner than planned. We’ve booked our cottage for next week, so I fully intend to spend seven days doing as little as I can possibly get away with. North Cornwall offers that rich trio of blessings: stunning coastal walks, superb pubs and terrible weather. A bracing tramp along the cliff path in the driving rain, followed by a pub lunch in front of the fire and you genuinely feel that you’ve spent your day well and do not owe the world another jot of effort. My pile of books is packed.

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