In the summer of 2011, I visited Monmouth School and picked my way through the builders’ debris while Head Steven Connors talked me through the vision of how the new boarding house would look ‘in just a few months’. And he was right. So it was a delight to be able to attend the opening of the new Upper Sixth boarding house on 21 March. And standing clapping after the curtain was drawn from the naming stone, I fall into conversation with Helen Davy, Headmistress of Haberdashers Monmouth School for Girls, alma mater to my own two daughters, and she tells me her school is also in the midst of a building project which will increase her boarding numbers significantly. These are straws in the wind, but significant in these recessionary times. It is heartening for the whole sector to hear of schools where demand for baording is sufficiently high for Governors to invest in even better boarding accommodation, in a sort of virtuous circle of growth and development. Well done to both schools, and thank you for letting me share the occasion.
The reference to ‘training’ has to do with First Western, which transported me from London to Cornwall and back on 27/28 March. Five and a half hours on a train at a stretch is just that – a stretch. No matter what the comfort, it’s a stretch. But wonderful to get a concentrated and uninterrupted period to tackle some over-due paperwork. On a train, you also get some interesting sidelines on Britain today – a mobile phone conversation overheard – ‘Listen mate, I spent all last week firing people – yeah – yeah – twenty two of them! Yeah – amazing!’ It was hard to tell if he was amazed that it was necessary, amazed he had managed a tough job, or amazed at the state of the nation. And when I complained about the level of service from the catering department on the train, the man with the trolley says, ‘Thank you Ma’am, I will make sure your feedback is passed on,’ – which was a reasonable if not immediate response – and a voice on the other side of the carriage says, ‘And so will I – I am a manager of the company and we are trying to improve our catering offer, so I too will relay your feedback to the right quarters.’ Not quite a win, but better than being greeted with a careless shrug.
In Cornwall – in the spring sunshine, magnificent – to see the operation of Tempest Photography. Most schools only ever see a couple of people when the school photograph is taken, even when an enormous gantry is needed to slot the people together. But Tempest employs 400 people, so the operation is huge. Fascinating to see the work going on to adjust, for instance, graduation photos, which are records of more glamorous occasions than the group shot done in schools, or the single photo which parents will treasure even if they are fanatical photographers themselves. Digital photography has changed the world – and of course, can change the world in any one shot! It was good to spend some time with the people who have been stalwart supporters of BSA Conferences and even offer free portrait sessions to new Heads -how tempting is that! And lovely to have the pleasure of meeting Mrs Tempest herself.
The visit to Cornwall was also an opportunity to visit Truro School (the High School had already broken up for Easter). Thanks to Paul Smith, Headmaster, finding time to show me the great art in their new gallery – the Methodist Art Collection on tour. Very impressive written work from pupils in the school, inspired by these strange and moving pictures about faith.
The week ends with two splendid pieces in The Times about state boarding, one featuring Ray McGovern, Headmaster of Sexey’s School and current SBSA Chairman, and the other written by Melvyn Roffe, Principal of Wymondham College. All good grist to the mill with state boarding schools desperate to hear from this Government what their plans and strategy are for the state boarding sector.
Next week to Manchester for the ATL conference and then a week off before the SCIS AGM in Edinburgh. Hope the on-train catering is better with Virgin. . .
And meanwhile, a happy and peaceful Easter to you all.
This article originally appeared at http://boarding.org.uk/blog/show/23