It is always something of a relief when, after plenty of preparation and INSET and meetings, the new term finally gets underway. And the joys and trials of the summer break rapidly fade into distant memory.
Our INSET this year had a lovely, different twist to it. Instead of meeting in classrooms to discuss weighty matters of educational import our Deputy Head, Academic, arranged for the whole body of teaching staff to go for a walk. I am proud of the fact that everybody who could (ie were not tied up with pre-season training or Duke of Edinburgh expeditions), did – there were about 60 of us tramping along the north Somerset coastline. We walked to the little church at Culbone, the smallest parish church in England, where we squeezed in for a quick service, led by Father Mark. Then down to Porlock Weir for a refreshment at the Lower Ship Inn, then back inland and uphill, to the Upper Ship Inn for lunch. Along each leg we were given a particular topic to discuss by our new Teaching and Learning Coordinator, Emma Forward. The whole thing worked beautifully and I can recommend it highly as a brilliant way to get a new year underway. My knees still ache, but it was worth it!
We welcomed 136 new pupils and about ten new members of staff to King’s College this week. The new intake is the lifeblood of the school. As I always say to the new boys and girls, what this school looks like in five years’ time depends to some extent on them – what they make of the opportunities, how they grow and the ideas and passions they bring with them and which they develop while they are here.
My first week of the academic year, after the initial flurry of speeches and assembly, is usually fairly serene; I sit in my office, or cycle round the school or wander the corridors while the team gets on with it. I always hope that new pupils find this an easy school to settle into, and for most it is. Some find the quirkiness more of a challenge, but in the end, and usually by the end of the first week, they become old hands. We are not quite as arcane as some independent schools, and our language is fairly standard. You won’t see a reference to “grumbles will be taken by the Rising Fourth every third dropper on Bumper’s Field during Martinmas Term” in our diary! But some of our routines must seem strange, nonetheless, and take some getting used to.
The summer does seem to have flown by. The end of last term was as exciting and poignant as ever, with the last day being particularly memorable for all the right reasons. And then the weeks of summer just flew by. For one reason or another we did not, this year, go anywhere too exotic or for too long. In fact, our holiday consisted of a three-day trip to Ely. And jolly good it was too. Great cathedral. Very, very flat countryside.
Towards the end of the summer break each year we receive our GCSE and A level results, an event for which we wait with much anticipation. Being a relatively small and not particularly selective school our overall results do go up and down a bit year by year. This was very definitely an up year. We could not have been more delighted with our A level results, which were at an all-time high for King’s, and also with the GCSEs, which were within a percentage point our best ever. The achievements of some of our candidates were simply astonishing, and it was particularly pleasing to see how many A level students, in particular, really pulled it out of the bag. And as I said in the press release, the extraordinary thing is that those same young men and women did not take the foot off the pedal in terms of their wider commitment to the school. Our four captains and vice-captains managed straight A*s and As, despite the very real burden of service placed on them during the year. Our sporting and musical and dramatic and arty and outdoorsy enthusiasts also did well academically. Which serves to underline my belief that, far from hindering progress, a wide involvement in the co-curricular programme actually supports exam success. And it means those same students will be heading off to university with a “hinterland” of interests and skills that are going to stand them in good stead. It’ll make them more interesting people for one thing.
Do all families find the start of a new term a bit of a shock? Uniform has to be gathered, shirts ironed, forms filled in. Our beloved cocker spaniel Jasper is an extraordinarily effective entropy-creating machine. I do have a pair of smart, quite expensive and new-ish formal black shoes. Or at least I did. If anyone sees the right shoe lying around please let me know. Jasper refuses to tell me where he’s hidden it.
It has been the cricketing summer of our lives, rivalling the excitement of 2005, I think. It was great to see Jos Buttler OA playing an important part in the final of the World Cup. And Tom Banton and Eddie Byrom have been doing well for Somerset. Tom was a key player in the one-day county final at Lord’s, which Oliver and I were fortunate to see. Somerset might even win the championship for the first time ever. I look forward to seeing the last few games at the County Ground.
I don’t want to dwell on politics in this blog, but it says something about the current state of uncertainty in the UK that I get pitying texts and emails from my relatives in South Africa. Next week I will take my first Third Form class for Current Affairs. Where will I start? I’ll remind them, as I have reminded Third Formers now for about three years, that they live in Interesting Times and that they really ought to be paying attention, because their grandchildren will be asking them about these days. Were you really there, grandma?
Finally, a sweet story to share. Our Director of Development Julian Mack, owns a company which organises an annual, large-scale cross-Britain cycle tour. The tour sets off from Land’s End this Saturday and ends in John o’ Groats eight days later.About 900 people take part.Julian gives an evening pep-talk to the riders each day, and asked me for some anecdotes and jokes which might be useful. I sent him a smorgasbord of material to pick at, which included this simple story:
In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10 year old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him.
“How much is an ice cream sundae?”
“50 cents,” replied the waitress.
The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied a number of coins in it.
“How much is a dish of plain ice cream?” he inquired. Some people were now waiting for a table and the waitress was a bit impatient.
“35 cents,” she said brusquely.
The little boy again counted the coins. “I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said.
The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and departed.
When the waitress came back, she began wiping down the table and then swallowed hard at what she saw.
There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were 15 cents – her tip.