It is always chastening to go back to old places, and I found my trip back to Kingswood School in Bath suitably chastening. It was and remains a very good school, though much changed, and I was given the warmest of welcomes by both the pupils I met and the staff, especially the Chaplain, Michael Wilson and the Head Master Simon Morris.
Methodist Schools are an important part of the life of the Connexion. Most Methodist Schools are state maintained, over 60 in number and growing. A smaller number are ‘private’ schools where the majority of pupils are fee paying. As a missionary child I was destined for Kingswood from an early age, and went even though we had as a family returned home. I was very troubled by being in such a school when younger, but over the years increasingly grateful and less clear about the ethics of it all. I know far too many better off people, or ‘able to choose people’ such as ministers, to know that most of us will choose the best for our children within the means we have, even if it’s simply a matter of living as close as possible to ‘good schools’. We will also spend as much as we can on space, books, and kit as well as give as much expertise and support as we can. None of it exactly ‘fair’ when so many children in our country let alone the wider world have none of these advantages. My gratitude, which might just as easily be given to teachers in the state sector, is the care and commitment of Kingswood and my parents to my education. Wesley was passionate about learning and founded Kingswood upon some very modern concepts of what would constitute an all around education. One of my favourite rules, though no longer kept, is that children shouldn’t play sport, but do gardening.
Kingswood today is an excellent school by any measure. It does get good ‘results’, and it has a good sporting, music, arts, drama and world development/peace tradition, the Chaplain also encourages an open and intelligent approach to faith, and the staff are able to give full measure and shaken down in their jobs which for many are their vocation. I know full well that this happens in the state sector as well – my son Ben is an equally enthusiastic teacher in an infant school in Surbiton, and Judith is wholly committed, and passionate about her role in Finsbury Park . . I could go on! However, I visited Kingswood School and preached to the seniors, had supper with Simon and Mike, and was so proud that a Methodist School could be so good at what it does, so distinctive in its Christian ethos, and so grounded in the Wesleyan tradition. With such schools as these, both in the private and maintained sector, Methodists have an important contribution to make to a wider discourse on education that needs rescuing from a simple focus on success and grades to turn out ‘economic units’. Because we do what we do so well we can offer a little support to the thousands of teachers of all faith and none who work extraordinarily hard because, like Wesley they believe in children as whole human beings!