More than 100 Old Shebbearians were at the annual reunion dinner to take part in a piece of OSA history – the unanimous election of the first female Treasurer.
It was entirely appropriate. There was only one table on which old girls were not represented. Out of 104 old boys and girls present at the RAF Club, Piccadilly, on January 20, plus nine guests, many were of the fairer sex and some three-quarters of everyone attending were at Shebbear from 1993 onwards.
The event also saw Bill Lyddon, who left in 1941, attend his 53rd reunion and Tony Barnfather, who left in 1964 his first, but then he does live in Calgary, Canada.
Headmaster Bob Barnes, attending his seventh dinner, applauded the “positive and youthful” attendance and with tongue firmly in cheek contrasted the “attractiveness of the ladies and the ugliness of the men”.
Emily Trace became the first female officer of the Association 99 years after its foundation. Like her Old Shebbearian father and sister, she went on to Cambridge University. Afterwards, she qualified as a forensic accountant and now practises in London.
Outlining his year in office and proposing the toast to the school, barrister Simon Birks, President, said that on a visit to Shebbear, he had actually managed to learn something.
This, however, concerned the anatomy and habits of a wombat and your reporter hesitates about using the details here.
But he did set a quiz, including the questions: name two teachers who had helped you? three friends who had helped during a difficult time and five people with whom you enjoyed spending time?
Finally: why did you take an interest in the OSA?
The answers to all led back to the school, “so that is why I ask you to stand and drink a toast to Shebbear College.”
Responding, Mr Barnes said this was the sixth occasion he had attended the reunion as headmaster – and it still gave him “phenomenal amount of pleasure” to be among friends. “Each year is a privilege.”
He contrasted the struggles and uncertainties of the 1990s with the thriving nature of the school now. “These are good times at Shebbear.”
“This is the first year that I have not had to worry about numbers, when I have not had to look over my shoulder in fear of financial gloom. Financially we are as strong as we have ever been.”
This had enabled a huge of money to be spent over the past year, including the provision of a new sixth form centre, a new library and a “sumptuous” new staff room.
Pollard House had been refurbished with new bedroom furniture and bathrooms throughout. .
Approval had been given for a new Astro turf sports’ facility. The Sports’ Hall would have a new roof fitted during the Easter holidays.
This year’s GCSE results had been the best for 20 years with 90 percent of pupils achieving five A Star passes.
“In the League Tables of Independent Schools – and we are not selective, I refuse to be – this put us level with West Buckland School, which is extremely selective.
“That gave us enormous pride. They are selective, we are not – yet we still achieved the same academic results.”
In September 2005, Shebbear had started the academic year with 272 pupils.
“This September, we started with 319. This is an indication that we must be doing something right in that we are meeting pupils’ and parents’ needs, not just in the local community but from far and wide, because the number of our boarders has now grown to one hundred.
“But does all this mean that we are successful? Every year I come here to tell that we try to foster the values and ethos that has been in existence since the school began. That recognises and respects differences and tolerates differences and instils in pupils a willingness to learn and be inquisitive.”
He said Shebbear was devising another five-year plan to take the school forward. Questionnaires had gone out to parents “and I would love to be able to send questionnaires out to you, to see what was good and what was bad from your memory and thereby eradicate the bad and improve the good.”
“At Shebbear we endeavour to continually look at ourselves and re-evaluate to make sure we offer the best in education, not just educationally, but socially, in sports, in drama and in every area and facet of school life.”
The toast to the school was as now is the custom presented in a charming duet by Claire Ashworth, Head Girl, and Josef Schmmalfuss, Head Boy. Was there a mention of the new sixth form centre, of some alcohol and the occasional sweepstake? Your reporter closed his ears to such heresy!
But what would Geoffrey Wrayford say in reply?
It was that his affection for the school had been influenced by his headmaster Jack Morris who, even when he was dying, sent small mementoes to his former pupils.
Morris in turn had been influenced by Thor Coade, Headmaster of Bryanston, founded in the1928, where he had been a Housemaster for 15 years.
Coade’s theorem was that education existed to introduce children to a wider and deeper experience. Jack had done just that.
It was left to Mike Johns to propose Chris Blencowe as President for 2007 and Norman Venner as vice-President. Charles Verney seconded.
Harry Aspey, proposed Emily Trace as the OSA’s first female Treasurer, after first thanking Michael Buckingham for his years of service which had left the association with reserves equalling those of a “small banana republic”.
Emily, he said, would bring not just a well-trained mind but, more importantly, youth to the OSA Committee.
The formal part of the evening ended, but the party went on in the long-suffering RAF Club bar. Next year is the 100th reunion/dinner. We look forward to it.