Musical Trees

Published on: Friday, December 3, 2021

A huge THANK YOU to the Chief Pelican for so calmly and charmingly making the Friends of KHS Barn Dance such fun last week.  Around 70 people enjoyed a terrific five-piece band play live music and lead us through twists, turns (a few wrong ones of those!), animal impressions whilst promenading, stars, do-si-dos all combining sufficiently aligned to create what could certainly be called dancing! A hog roast from Pyne’s was enjoyed and many supportive hands made for pretty light work.  There is no doubt, however, that Donald and Bea Rice made the whole thing trip along so smoothly.

There was more live music on Wednesday when we had a visit to Chapel from Bruce Izzett and his Christian Band.  They were loud and tuneful and powerful and diverse with people from Zimbabwe, different areas of the US, Canada, India as well as more locally. Bruce himself has palpable but understated presence and the sheer energy of them all was a very uplifting opening to our day.

We had no music on Monday for assembly as the piano was still hidden following the visit of the Rural Living Show over the weekend but it did not detract from a really terrific talk from Roger Neale, our Head Groundsman, about trees.  We have been taking down trees and clearing bushes recently.  Now everyone knows that trees are an important part of our ecology and efforts to combat carbon emissions, don’t they? Roger explained to the school that we were not doing it for fun but that the trees removed are all diseased and hence unsafe and the bushes are mainly laurel which puts toxins into the ecology and hinder other growth.

Even better, Roger went on to say that his application to the Woodland Trust for trees to plant was granted and we have 470 new trees to plant. Some – Year 3 today, in fact – will be planted by the children but all of them will have a number and be associated with a child or someone who works here.  We’ll have a record of location, species and name of person.  Everyone then can check on their tree over the next 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 years.  We have about 7000 trees on site plus the parkland and ponds meaning we more than offset our carbon usage but we will continue to make this an agenda item not only for us operationally but in our education of the children.

Other trees that have appeared around school are in preparation for future festive fun and I see Roger’s team have also been putting up some outside lights. 

There are also trees to be seen as part of the brilliant senior play as we travel to Narnia.  Here, too, there is more live music with the band having a current and past member of the school in its midst as well as some excellent singing. I have peeped at snippets here and there of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe but I will witness the complete production tonight and I’m sure I will see a good many of you there.

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A Brief Pause In Proceedings

Published on: Friday, November 26, 2021

A little pause at the mid-point of the second half of term sees the Rural Living Show return to our site this weekend for the first time in two years.  Whilst it isn’t a Christmas show at its core, it obviously has a leaning in some areas and certainly is a marker of one step closer to the festive season.  The Christmas lights were turned on in Taunton last Sunday, I spotted Nursery bringing Nativity costumes out of storage on Wednesday, Advent materialises next week and I heard my first full-on Christmas song yesterday playing as background for the ballet sessions happening in the Woodard Room.  It won’t be too long before we are all wearing Christmas jumpers – or a Christmas addition to our uniform – in the final week.

Today has been wall to wall meetings for me, either with our Governors or as a Governor of another school.  The one just ended had the final 15 minutes accompanied by the delivery of a new piano in the Woodard Room – the delivery team had another drop to head off to and so they silently wheeled in and setup a terrific looking piano that will duly be tuned and made ready for action following the weekend. No doubt Mr DJ will put it to good use.

Before the Long Weekend break kicks in, I have one more meeting on Teams around tea time and then will be heading to join the Friends of King’s Hall Barn Dance – no doubt I will see some of you there for some fancy footwork.

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Fun, fundraising and raising children - King's Hall Headmaster Justin Chippendale

Published on: Friday, November 19, 2021

Silence is golden – just 10 minutes sitting at lunch today during our Sponsored Silence proved that.  The dining room was an oasis of tranquillity, and what a wonderful moment of informal meditation.  Socialising over meals is a cornerstone of civilisation, and it wasn’t so good we should do it all the time, but it’s certainly something to think about every so often.  A day fundraising for Children in Need saw some fun costumes traipsing around the King’s Loop and I know several children are looking forward to getting cosy in front of the TV this evening.

One of the last times I dressed up for school was in Doha when the King’s College Doha Head asked me to wear a penguin outfit for an animal themed assembly. Earlier in the week I was on Teams (not dressed as a penguin) for our termly Education Committee meeting with KCD.  Those children who started in Year 4 when KCD opened 5 years ago are now making their GCSE option choices and there are 680 children in the school meaning it has increased by about 100 pupils each year. The development plans for a second site in Doha are in motion although challenged by competition for construction companies which is fierce due to the demands of the World Cup infrastructure requirements.

Yesterday saw our home-based Education Committee meeting where, as usual each term, updates for the whole age range from 2-18 are covered with curriculum, co-curriculum and pastoral aspects all considered in great depth.  The whole governance structure requires finance, estates, compliance etc etc but the Education Committee is definitely the one at which we spend most time talking about what it is we actually do at the coal face.  The Council members who sit on that committee include three past Headmasters, a Deputy Head, a recent Captain of Britannia Royal Naval College, a JP and an eminent Bishop so there is huge experience to draw on as we review and consider all that creates a King’s education. Long meetings but professionally very rewarding.

Back to lunchtime today, where the fact there was pea soup on offer allowed me to bring out an old favourite which I printed on a piece of paper (silence, remember).  One side read “What’s the difference between mashed potatoes and pea soup?”  The other?  “Anyone can mash potatoes.”

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Rocket Powered Return - King's Hall Headmaster Justin Chippendale

Published on: Friday, November 12, 2021

Today certainly ends with a bang (and a whoosh, and a sparkle, and a pop, and a whizz and possibly with a glug glug of some mulled wine) and it is also true to say that this second half of term has started in rocket powered fashion.  

Two parents’ evenings, matches on Wednesday including the U11 boys undefeated at their tournament, our respectful and moving Remembrance Service (look for the link in the Newsletter to hear the choir) and then our Fireworks this evening – life as usual!  8S are preparing for some important mock exams next week, play rehearsals and artists decorating the set, Drama Festival finishing touches being added, orchestra rehearsals filling the air with melodies, yesterday after lunch I met Year 1 up in the woods in their Forest School mode and then later on, after darkness had fallen, I came across the Pioneers hobby up there having a great time with their torches.  

So we’re back together after a valuable two-week rest which came at a point we were just beginning to feel the impact of seven weeks well run as well as some covid cases emerging (we still may have some more of that to come). Two weeks is quite a long time and I have heard many parents comment this week how excited their children were to come back as they had been missing school and their friends.  One little girl in Pre-Prep was proudly showing me the double gap in her bottom teeth that has appeared over the two weeks and I made a comment about how it was two teeth not just one.  She nonchalantly replied that two wasn’t very many really because her Grumpy Gramps can take all his out – but he gets into trouble with Granny when he does it in front of everyone.  

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The Rain it Raineth Every Day

Published on: Monday, May 24, 2021

I try hard not to fall into the very English habit of talking about the weather more than is necessary or particularly interesting. But, for goodness’ sake, this is getting a bit much.

Beyond the Briar Lea tennis courts, where Father Marks’ mini-farm used to be (sheep, goats, alpacas guineafowl), there are now several allotments which are cared for by members of staff, and a large greenhouse, which was built by the Chaplain and the late, much-missed, school plumber Pete Ovens. I am lucky enough to have one of the plots, and have managed over the past few years to grow a modest amount of more-or-less edible food on it. It is a little competitive, to be honest. The Smiths (English Smiths, not Chapel Smiths), the Pearsons and Mrs Lawson tend to vie for top gardener spot. My sons and I trail far behind. But we try. One thing I have discovered over the years is that growing vegetables – at least at my sort of level (i.e. rank beginner) – is largely an exercise in feeding the local wildlife. Slugs and caterpillars take a very high proportion of the plants I put into the ground. As they absolutely should do: these are expensive plants, bought from one of the better garden centres near Taunton, and must be the equivalent of eating at a three-star Michelin restaurant for our local creeping friends. I have of course tried growing plants from seeds, but these are almost always gobbled up by hungry early-season slugs, so I then spend more and more cash in the garden centre, buying vegetables seedlings in ever-more-mature states of development, until I finally resort to sticking a fully-grown lettuce in the ground and picking it the next day while some of it is still there. But this year has been worse than ever. The weather may not be great for cricket (we can’t remember a Summer Term where so many games have been cancelled), but the slugs are having a great time: plenty of mud, and a good supply of high-quality food available from the Headmaster.

The greenhouse is a different matter. I have discovered an innate talent for growing cucumbers. Not tomatoes – those die – but cucumbers seem to like me, and reproduce in great profusion. The vines take over a large part of the greenhouse and once they start producing they never stop. I bring bucketloads of cucumbers home every week. The only trouble is (and it really is a minor point) I don’t actually like them. This year the cucumbers are roaring ahead as usual. The tomatoes are looking anaemic, as usual. And I’m throwing caution to the wind and branching out: I bought three healthy looking sweet pepper plants. At a cost, it must be said, of about three dozen supermarket sweet peppers. The profit margins are going to be tight, but I am determined to try growing something in the greenhouse that I can actually eat.

Back to more serious school matters. My retirement from the post of Headmaster was announced a few weeks ago and the process of finding my successor is well underway. It’s a strange feeling, of course. I am deeply attached to this school and this community, and the prospect of leaving it is a sad one. But I do believe that schools need to see an occasional change of leadership. They need a fresh perspective now and then. And I hope very much that my own career will head off in other, interesting directions. I am not sure what they might be yet, but something will come along. I do know that King’s has a strong reputation nationally, that the field of applicants will be strong and that the governors will be able to appoint a new Head of the highest calibre. The new person will find the school in very good shape – full, buzzing with energy and achieving great things.

Despite the challenging weather, it has been a joy to return to a full school this term and to resume most of the range of activities we had in place before the pandemic. It has also been a pleasure and relief to see the Covid rules and measures being dismantled, step by step, as the term has progressed. There is still a long way to go, but we are getting there. A big moment will be when we close the day rooms and invite our day pupils back into the boarding houses. Much of what makes King’s special is that close interaction between day and boarding pupils; it will be good to have that connection restored and the houses full once again.

We need to provide accommodation once again over half term for those overseas boarders who are not currently required to have guardians in this country. A good number of staff have stepped up and volunteered to help run that provision, while giving our house staff a much-needed break. Then, if all goes well, that will be the end of having to open our boarding houses at strange times.

Right now our main focus is on assessing and grading our GCSE and A level pupils. We are allowed by the exam boards to use a wide range of pupil work as evidence for the awarding of grades, and schools have been left to make up their own systems. Like many other schools, we have decided to put formal, exam-like assessments in place for our pupils and to base our grades largely on those results. This is what the A level and GCSE courses are designed for and it is the objective, independent process that students usually go through at the end of their courses. We will, though, bear in mind that the experience of the pandemic and remote learning has been different for different candidates; some have been more adversely affected than others. We want in the end to make sure that the grades are a fair reflection of ability and effort, and if needed will look more widely to find the evidence we need to do so.

I must say I have been very impressed by how well our boys and girls have prepared for these assessments. There is plenty of evidence of hard, detailed revision. On the whole I think they have appreciated the final, formal opportunity to show us what they can do.

Half term looms. Apart from helping out in the boarding houses for a short spell, we are heading off to old stomping grounds in Oxford for a few days, and are welcoming old friends to stay with us in Taunton. What a blessing to be able to visit other people and to have guests again! Let’s hope the weather improves, at least enough that I can get out to the allotment over half term and plant the next row of expensive slug food.