A Busy First Half | King's College Taunton

I was genuinely surprised on Monday when Colin Albery (Deputy Head, Co-Curriculum) told me just before I made my weekly announcements in Common Room that we broke up for half term this Friday. I honestly imagined we had another few weeks. Anyway, he’s right. And we have come headlong and full tilt to the half-way point of the Summer Term.

Apart from reminding my colleagues of this fact, the main thrust of the announcements that morning was to thank them all for helping out at the annual prep schools’ athletics festival on Sunday. This extravaganza of sport is a long-standing King’s tradition. About a dozen prep schools send teams for an afternoon of running, jumping and throwing on the King’s fields – an old-fashioned grass track all set about with bunting, tea tents and ice-cream vans. As is usually the case, the weather was fine and the competition fierce.

It reminded me of another wonderful event we enjoyed a few weeks earlier – our Spring Fair. Organised by our highly efficient trio of Housemistresses, the fair was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first girls joining King’s College. Those intrepid pioneers began a journey that has culminated in the school being fully co-educational in every sense, not just in terms of opportunity and curriculum but also in our very DNA and ethos. Interesting that this is also the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing. Those first girls must have found this school just as daunting a place as Armstrong and Aldrin found the surface of the moon, and we salute them on their bravery and for paving the way towards normality!

The fair featured of a number of stalls run by the houses. These generally fell into two categories: stalls where you chucked something at something (or in one case someone) else, and stalls where you could buy something delicious to eat. There were carriage rides; and I must commend Mrs Edwards for her patience in driving her extraordinarily patient pair of greys around the same lap of the school and South Road all day long. The Big Band made a cheerful noise in the Memorial Garden and Mr Pyne fed the five thousand with a roasted hog or two. A girls’ cricket festival took place throughout the day. Then there was the dog show. We were somewhat surprised by the level of interest in this event – dozens of owners and their pets trooped down to the showing ring by the tennis courts, including the Biggs family with Archie and Jasper, the former entered in the “Golden Oldie” category and the latter for “Waggiest Tail”. Judging was thoroughly professional – Crufts pales by comparison. Sadly, Archie was far too sprightly to be in the running (or rather hobbling) as a Golden Oldie. Those who won could barely make it round the ring. We’ll need to wait a few years before he’s a true contender. And Jasper, despite usually almost tying himself in knots from wagging his tail non-stop, rose to the seriousness of the occasion and was completely inert.

In the late afternoon a choir of OAs, staff and friends rehearsed for evensong, conducted by Nikki Ridley (nee Dragonetti) OA. It was a lovely service, the singing was outstanding, and a fitting end to a glorious and memorable day. The event raised over £3,500 for the Malala Fund, which aims to provide an education for every girl in the world. I suggested to the Housemistresses that the fair was such a success, and the cause such a good one, that it ought to be an annual event. Judging by the look of sheer horror on their faces I suspect it won’t be.

This year, for the first time, our prep schools’ athletics festival did not clash with the second day of the Ten Tors Challenge, so I was able, with Sarah, to see the teams returning to Okehampton Camp at the end of their ordeals. Son Oliver was in the 45-mile team. We could follow progress over the weekend online, so had a good idea of when to expect them back. It was really quite an emotional moment when the team suddenly appeared on the horizon half a mile away, in perfect line abreast, looking smart and professional, the King’s flag fluttering from a bamboo pole. The telling thing was the look on the face of their trainer and mentor, Pete Belfield, standing next to us – a mixture of relief, huge pride and affection. I know that our Ten Tors record is so strong because of the support our pupils get from a simply outstanding team of staff who are experienced and wholly committed to preparing the boys and girls physically and mentally as well as they possibly can. The weeks of training are brutal, the challenge itself is extraordinarily tough, and the sense of achievement in those who finish is palpable.

Exams are now well underway for both GCSE and A level candidates. Getting the balance right between continuing to teach and giving candidates time off to revise is a delicate business. We’ve been teaching up to half term, and the pupils will then be on study leave to the end of the term. Other schools do it differently. All I can say is that the inexorable creep of the exams towards an earlier and earlier start is not helpful and is another example of bureaucracy (in this case the exam boards) putting its own convenience (more time to mark papers) before the best interests of the young people themselves. The new-look A levels have far fewer exams overall, so I don’t understand why the boards feel they need more time. What I can say is that our pupils seem to have knuckled down to serious work and are going flat out to do their best in the exams. The library is packed each evening. I wish them all every success.

Outside the school orbit the world carries on. As a passionate supporter of Liverpool and Somerset these are pretty good days – two big matches coming up over the next few weeks. And the weather seems finally to have woken up to the fact that it is meant to be summer, so those canoes are probably going to get dusted down over half term. And there are young pumpkin plants to look after …

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