Monday, 28 March 2011

Who killed Truro Cathedral School?

Last Saturday I was invited to speak at the annual dinner of the Old Truronians Association, for former pupils of Truro Cathedral School, which had existed since the 1600’s and survived many wars but closed in 1982. It was a well supported event and I met Mary Presley, my very first teacher at the school, who I had literally not seen for 30 years.

My first conversation was with someone who asked me when I had Ieft the school, “1982”, I said. “So it was your fault” he joked. Politicians get the blame for a lot of things that are not really their fault and you get used to it. But the really big question about what contributed to the final downfall of this excellent school in 1982 remains unanswered.

My three years at Truro Cathedral School are what I associate most with my boyhood. It was an old fashioned prep school education. My memories are of conkers and marbles, “Blakeys” in our shoes to strike sparks on the playground and, occasionally (if we could get away with it) the Cathedral. Then there were outdoor camps made of grass during summer and, most of all, rough and tumble games of British Bulldog, before the days of health and safety kill-joys.

The reason the school closed remains a mystery. Undoubtedly, it was struggling to attract pupils in the depths of the 80’s recession. The school seemed anachronistic to some. In an age when education was supposedly being “modernised”, what place was there for an old fashioned boys Prep school? Parents with money to spend were starting to value “facilities”, swimming pools and the like, over the quality of teachers and a school ethos. Simultaneously, there was a failure of leadership within the Church of England. Changes in personnel meant that there was no one arguing the case for the school and, suspicions remain to this day, that it suited the church to sell off the school property to raise the capital needed to repair the roof of the cathedral in Truro. All this took place against the backdrop of an era when the nation was throwing away far too many of its past values in the name of modernity and people can see that today.

The thing that surprised me was there were nearly 60 people at the annual dinner. That shows the resilience of those left behind who, like me, will have fond memories of this amazing, yet fallen, school until the end. The real task is to project some of those values into the schools of the future.