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Friday 27 January

How Old Are We?

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Having been a master at West Buckland for a number of years, and now the schools' archivist and historian, Berwick Coates knows the history of West Buckland School better than anyone. Here he clears up some confusion over the age of the school and us gives a fascinating insight into the school's founder, The Revd. Joseph Lloyd Brereton and his vision for 'county' schools.

If you are a well-informed member of the school, you will know that it was founded in 1858.  So, by simple arithmetic (if you have a calculator handy), you can work out that, in this year of grace, 2017, it is 159 years old.  But if you are extremely well-informed – like, say, the School Archivist – you will know that the school is only 105 years old.

No catch. No trick. Just a matter of names.

 When the Revd.Joseph Lloyd Brereton founded the school, his idea was that the boys would do lessons in the school house in the morning; in the afternoon, they would work on the school farm.  They would sell the produce, and the income from that would help to pay for the upkeep of the school – buildings, books, meals, staff salaries, and so on.  (The rest of the money would come from investors, who would be given dividends from the profits every year.)

 Profits?  With only three pupils to begin with?   It takes very little insight to realise that there were going to be very few profits with a set-up like this.  It was typical of Brereton; in a long life, he was forever hatching wonderful schemes for advancing education, and making money, very few of which ever came to anything.

 West Buckland did, but not by virtue of being the ‘West Buckland Farm and County School’, which was Brereton`s first name for it.  That very speedily faded into the mist of broken dreams.  But Brereton kept the ‘County’ bit.  His idea was for a nation-wide network of secondary schools for the sons of middle-class people in every county.  Hence ‘county’.  Therefore, the West Buckland Farm and County School became simply the ‘Devon County School’.

 As such, it thrived.  Pupil numbers soon rose above a hundred.  The DCS became a national celebrity as the first successful secondary school for the ‘middle class’.  Journalists wrote articles about it.  Celebrities came to visit it.  It came top of the league in exam passes three times, against competition like Manchester Grammar School.  Two archbishops of Canterbury came down to present the prizes (not together, of course – separately).

Then, towards the end of the century, the country suffered an agricultural depression.  Local farmers, as well as local butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers found that they could no longer make ends meet.  They had to make economies.  They took their sons away from the school.  By the 1890`s, the school was not doing well.  It nearly closed twice.  Numbers dropped as low as 31.  Dividends were no longer being paid.  Something Would Have to be Done.

It was.  A new headmaster was appointed.  The school company was put into liquidation, and the shareholders were persuaded to give up their investments.  The county council agreed to put in a grant, so long as the school promised a few places to bright sons of local citizens.  The school income was to come in future entirely from fees, all of which were to be spent on the school, not on dividends.

At a meeting in Barnstaple on the 24th May, 1912, in the solicitor`s office, the Devon County School officially died, and a new one rose in its place – ‘West Buckland School’.

Take 1912 away from 2017, and what do you get?  Exactly – 105 years.  So now you know.

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Having just been received a conditional offer to read Physics at St Peter's College, Oxford, Year 13 student Tom Perry gives some interesting insights into the daunting Oxbridge interview process and how best to prepare.

When applying for Oxford, or Cambridge, you must either apply to one of the 38 colleges or for an open-college application. I applied to St John’s, Oxford, but I was assigned to St Peter’s, as St John ’s didn’t have enough space. This happens with some applicants, so do not be alarmed if it happens to you as it doesn’t really matter in the long run.

Arriving off the train, the daunting interviews lay ahead of me, but the beautiful city, with its archaic shopfronts, winding backstreets and atmospheric high street lifted my spirits on the journey to St Peter’s College. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a team of students eager to help and show me round. I was given a brief tour and a pack of useful information.

My interview period was over two days, I spent these in St Peter’s accommodation.  All applicants stay in a standard first-year room in order to get a good feeling of what it would be like. My room had a brick archway in the middle but was very spacious with a great layout and a sink, I shared a bathroom with three others. The raised area with a desk in the room provided a great environment in which to work.

I mainly revised my Physics knowledge the night before my first interviews and that evening had the opportunity to speak to the other students in the Dining Hall. They came from a variety of backgrounds but all were keen to talk about their main worries for interview and how theirs had gone already. The main worry seemed to concern being asked about books they had claimed to have read in their personal statement, but hadn’t. Everyone was incredibly friendly and were all trying their best to calm the others.

In the useful information pack I was given, I had a timetable for the coming days. On the morning of the first day, an informal orientation meeting was arranged. However, I was timetabled to attend an interview at my second-choice college at the same time so, unfortunately, missed it and therefore missed out on some vital information. I had two interviews at my first-choice college and one at my second-choice, Lady Margaret Hall.

The interviews were nowhere near as horrific as they have been made out to be. Mine consisted of answering several tricky Maths and Physics questions on paper. All three interviews were conducted by a panel of two different college tutors. They led the session in a similar manner to that of a tutorial lesson here at school. They made me feel at ease and did their best to work through the catching points in the questions with me and tried to teach me more about the subject matter at the same time. They were just looking to see if I would fit in well with the tutorial style of teaching and had sufficient aptitude with the subject.

If I could do it again with my knowledge now, I would tell myself to remain calm and not fall into a state of panic after each falter. They expect you to make mistakes, they are looking to see how you deal with this. Also, I would recommend talking through technical aspects of your subject with someone who has similar interests to you, whether that be a teacher, parent or friend to become more accustomed to the level of precision in discussion that they are looking for.

I enjoyed the experience greatly and I wish anyone who is applying the very best of luck.

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At the end of an exciting term of boarding, we hear from Shaun Morrison, Lead Houseparent of Boyer (our boys’ boarding house) who tells us about a term of busy schedule of boarders’ activity, a particularly momentous event in his own life and some healthy inter-boarding-house rivalry!

It all started off so well… at the beginning of term we were barefoot playing volleyball and slacklining out at the front of school; and now as we are approaching Christmas we’re gritting the walkways and running to the Karslake between squalls to avoid getting blown off our feet. The Autumn Term’s length is not to be scoffed at, and the boarders have done remarkably well in staying enthusiastic right up to the end.

Despite our ‘boarding entertainment budget’ being less than excessive, we live by the motto that there is no creativity without constraint. Even last week Mrs Booker showed her culinary creativity by running a Great WBS Bake Off in which the boarding participants producing some fantastic (and admittedly some wonderfully weird) results. A few weeks ago Mr Conlon ran a Take-Me-Out-Come-Blind-Date style event where the eventual dates had a candlelit dinner in the Karslake (eating the same food as everyone else of course). And Mrs Turner, together with her team, worked their magic with the Boarders’ Christmas Ball last weekend.

I’m also going to give an important mention to Mr and Mrs Ford - often they are the first people we turn to when we need guidance and they have been rocks!

On a personal note, I have been heavily involved in all my standard activities: we now have a healthy, regular group of boarders going to Saturday morning ParkRuns in Barnstaple; volleyball is going well – we usually have a few ‘legendary’ rallies every session; boarders’ badminton is proving really popular and everyone is improving – I hope to continue improving as well (hopefully to beat Benson Tai one day).

For me, a couple of big things have changed this year: firstly, Mrs Morrison and myself started our new family with the birth of our daughter Effie Morrison; and, secondly, the levels of rivalry between Boyer and Bamfylde (girls’ boarding house) have reached new levels of pettiness. It turns out that my new counterpart in Bamfylde, Mrs Bailey, is incredibly competitive. For example, I told Mrs Bailey that I’m planning to redecorate Boyer slowly with pictures and framed work; the next thing I know, she’s commandeered the Artist-in-Residence, (the too nice) Zoe Roberts, and she’s making artwork for the entirety of her boarding house!  The challenge has been laid down!

I’ve had a fantastic first term as Boyer’s Lead Houseparent working with the wonderful boarding team. I’m looking forward to seeing the boys in the New Year, even with their inevitably questionable haircuts.

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With the launch of the latest Student Magazine, entirely produced by members of the Sixth Form, we thought we'd share some of the interesting articles and musings on the blog site.  The first is an interesting article by Elizabeth Baker on the importance of the Arts in contributing the creativity in everyday life and whether it is given enough credability in our education system.  The article has been brought to life by some stunning illustrations by Mary Lykova (Year 13) and we are delighted to be able to share these.

All those that have found a love of the Arts struggle to be taken seriously in their studies, work and even whole careers. A stigma surrounds the arts as a soft, easy subject for all those that are not intelligent enough for Academic subjects.

As a result, many people are put off the idea of pursuing an artistic career in which they may have thrived and adored, for fear of seeming academically unsuccessful, unrealistic or just lazy. Yet for individuals from Jamie Oliver to Coco Chanel, an education and pursuit of a career in the arts had yielded massive success.

The creative industry permeates a huge range of things we just don't notice in our day-to-day lives. How about fashion? Pick an item of clothing you own, maybe you're wearing it right now. That piece of clothing has likely been meticulously planned and designed, scrapped, reimagined, tweaked and perfected countless numbers of times to even make it to the final cut.

The arts are in anything and everything we see in our world. Yet we take all this completely for granted. This morning we all rolled out of bed, got out of those pjs, maybe flicked on the radio or checked the morning paper. Some of us put on some makeup, others ate a bit of toast, but we all interacted with someone's final product of massive amounts of hard work. (Interior Design, radio, music, the written word, fashion, the culinary arts- on PowerPoint). And we haven't even begun to touch on the major industries of music and film.

However, if we look at the Creative Arts as equally challenging, rewarding and beneficial to study as, say, the sciences -this does then beg the question, are subject choices a fair measurement of ability? What could have been made of these brilliant creative minds had they somehow joined the ranks of brilliant academics of their time?

Professor of speech sciences at University College London, Valerie Hazan says: "As a scientist you have to be creative to really think what is the question."

Poet, Lavinia Greenlaw says: "Poets are often thought of as vague and wishy-washy, but, like scientists, they can't be. A poem can be about vagueness, but it has to be in precise relationship to vagueness if it's any good.”  

Perhaps it's not only the would-be-rock stars-turned-accountants that are missing out. Perhaps the Industries themselves are missing out on prospective innovations and contributions that a wider diversity of talent and types of intelligence could bring. A creatively-nurtured brain could bring a critical new perspective to a patient's diagnosis or ground-breaking new scientific theory to the table. Interestingly Albert Einstein, for one, had a passion for classical music and playing the violin. In fact, historically a proficiency in arts and sciences has proven to produce the most impressive individuals, like Plato (epistemology, militarism to politics) and Brian Cox.

Conversely, our society today pigeonholes individuals so easily that great potential may be woefully neglected. Confining and categorising ourselves in this way as Creative or non-Creative, to me at least, therefore seems entirely illogical. This is especially true of the incredibly early specialisation seen in England's schools where children as young as 13, are required to drop subjects. Imagine if Leonardo da Vinci had gone through our education system today. One of the greatest geniuses of our history may have been put into the bottom set for maths, been completely discouraged in his abilities outside painting and sculptures and turned solely to art. Some of the world's most outstanding investigations into human anatomy, botany, machinery, military engineering, and physics would have been completely lost to the world. Or maybe his mathematical talents would have been recognised but isolated, forcing him into a corresponding career, never allowing him to take an artistic apprenticeship and develop his artistic talents or paint 'The Last Supper' or the 'Mona Lisa'.

Da Vinci, like many leaders of the Renaissance humanist movement, never saw a divide between science and art, seeing them instead as intertwined disciplines from which one benefitted from one another. For that reason, I think da Vinci would approve of my saying that I believe we need to rekindle our respect for the Arts and allow our talented individuals to redevelop a relationship between science and art and pave the way towards their joint thriving evolution.

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