Lincoln Christ's Hospital School

Lincoln Christ's Hospital School
Educating in Lincoln since 1090

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                                                                                                                                                                                              ROTA Headteachers in Brugge 1992. David Cox far left.

When I came into post in September, 1985, it became apparent quickly that the School was in a far greater mess than I had come to realise from my various visits/Governors meetings since appointment. Few now appreciate also the strife and difficulty in the profession at that time, especially the battles between government and the unions. It was six months before I could hold a staff meeting which members of all unions could attend. There is a great deal more to write about the School at this time, but that is for another day.

   There was little if any European work in 1985 and little evidence of any in the previous decade. The years of professional/government strife, coupled with the incoherence and lack of morale of the staff as a whole, meant that any activities were piecemeal, resultant from the enthusiasms of a few individuals on the staff.

   As best I can recall there had been/was some hockey link with the Netherlands, led by Penny Green; an annual daytrip to France, led by Claude Fowles – and I well remember going on one of these and the chaos of the return; and the summer sixthform(?)expedition to Iceland. This had started before I arrived, organised by the Benson/ Trahearn / Milnes / Brylewski friendship. I foolishly joined them on one of their training sessions ie the tough Three Peaks Walk and suffered! I believe there were three trips in total and then rising costs brought the venture to an end.

   There was one other somewhat unexpected activity often forgotten. The School was the only one in the County participating in the Government’s Lower Attaining Pupils Project (LAPP). Arthur Behenna had seized the chance when other possible schools faltered. It gave us a sizeable annual budget, managed with some aplomb by Ivan Sexton. It gave the opportunity for some daytrips across the Channel and for those students who were rarely given such experiences, or could afford them.

   The development of a European Dimension in the School had two clear purposes, both of them with long-term objectives. The first was based on the School’s pre-GM position among the Lincoln schools, namely creating a branding that made the School distinct from the others. By good fortune Lincolnshire was one of the first LEAs to introduce LFM, Local Management for Schools. This transformed school leadership and management by giving us the whole budget, direct from central government, cutting out the LEA. It started the inexorable process of increasing competition among schools, especially to attract the mobile aspirational middle classes.

   The second objective was to broaden the horizons of the students. It seemed to me and others that those students from more deprived backgrounds rarely travelled outside Lincoln, perhaps only to the coast for a week if they were lucky. And for the more affluent students it seemed that many did not travel far and often. I was not alone in thinking that horizons were limited and thereby aspirations muted. This attitude had to change if the School’s education was to become more effective and creative. For me personally, having just arrived from years in London and Essex, the problem appeared in my first few weeks in autumn, 1985. I had insisted on some teaching and part of this was a Sixthform General Studies group. During a lively debate on the issue of the Lincoln’s Introversion I said that the students could go anywhere they wanted, what was their choice, and I would fix it. The next week they said “USSR”, and thus at Easter, 1986, I set off with a group to Moscow/Leningrad/Novgorod, with many an adventure during the trip.

   Obviously not all could manage this opening trip, but I like to think the seed was sown, with an emphasis on student-centred development. And equally obvious there were many other factors that contributed to the Dimension, not least in encouraging staff after the morale-sapping years of strife, and ensuring that we appointed new staff who might well be sympathetic to the cause,

   Two other ventures in those early years are worth mentioning, and one of these became truly important in broadening our horizons. The first stemmed from Arthur Behenna’s permission to an Austrian author to use our School as a case-study/image setter for a textbook. I forget his name but surely the books are in the Archive somewhere? Ed Korolyk was always keen on a new venture. As a quid pro quo I persuaded this author to find us a school for a possible music exchange. Thus off we went to Salzburg in 1989(?). Sadly the School’s Director was a very stuffy man; after great class activities it came to the final concert but the Director took offence, especially when Ed tried to get everyone dancing. So, we left happy, but further contact was forbidden by the Austrian director. Tant pis.

   The other venture was the establishment of a strong partnership with Canton, Pennsylvania. Both before I arrived and after, Dr. Fred Heaps of Mansfield University Pa. had brought a group of his masters students to the UK on a study tour, including several days at LCHS. This involved us in preparation/work etc so, again, on the basis of quid pro quo I asked Fred to find us a partner school. In 1988 I and Chris Williams led the first group to Canton and so was established a partnership that lasted until 2000. We were blessed with finding William Krause (later CHS Principal) and Wayne and June Seely as splendid movers and shakers on their side of the pond.

   This link may seem to have no connection with the European Dimension. However, in 2014 the Gymnasium Waldstrasse in Hattingen, Germany, one of the ROTA group, produced a Festscrift to celebrate its Centenary, led by its Director Heinz Niggemann. It recounts the strength of the music links between LCHS and Hattingen, and also the three-way music exchange with Canton in 1998-2000.

   By far the largest element of the European Dimension has been, of course, ROTA. It continues still. Just a short while ago I was reminiscing with my good friend, Koen Seynaeve, Director of the St. Lodeswijk College, Brugge, Belgium. We calculated that several thousand students have passed through the ROTA experience, as well as perhaps 100+ teachers, let alone the hundreds of host-families. We believe genuinely that there can be very few other multi-school partnerships in the EU that can match us in longevity and obvious educational success. ROTA certainly helped LCHS gain a string of International School Awards. Many teachers remain friends. But who knows how far the seeds sown by ROTA will spread and what fruits they will bear?

   In 2016 Koen Seynaeve published a magnificent booklet on Twenty-Five Years of Rota, titled “Haec Olim” (typical Koen!) Each year is celebrated, and the photos often tell more than words. Koen writes eloquently about the founding of ROTA. He was only recently in post and in 1991 he invited four school directors to Brugge to discuss partnership. Bernard Podevin came from Sarlat in France, at the suggestion of one of Koen’s staff. Christina Baselga (not exactly a director) came from Zaragoza in Spain via a meeting at a European centre in Ryckevelde. Gymnasium Waldstrasse in Hattingen, Germany, shared a partner school in Vise, France. The German director was soon to retire and his internal replacement was the irrepressible Karl-Heinz Rosendahl. And the LCHS link came about through the Grace of God, as Koen and I like to think! There was an ecumenical Diocesan link between Brugge, Lincoln and Nottingham. Andrew Stokes, at the time the Bishop of Lincoln’s Secretary, and later to become Cathedral Precentor and governor of LCHS, was contacted by Johann Delbaere, one of Koen’s staff and involved also in the Diocesan links. Andrew is a linguist and a staunch European. He and Johann visited me, and I accepted their invitation within a few minutes! In one sense it was manna from Heaven, as far as School objectives were concerned. The name ROTA stemmed from that first meeting in 1991. Koen came up with a classic mouthful – Rotatio Europearum Scolarum. I suggested the simpler ROTA – we were all joined as the spokes of a wheel and we would rotate through the partners year by year. I am sure we who started ROTA never thought our path would be so long, so enjoyable and so educational. Despite the vicissitudes of Comenius/EU funding bids, the heavy workload when your school was hosting, the hard search for enough host families, the many meetings squeezed into a tight diary and the cynics waiting for disaster, we collectively succeeded. I have many fine memories and many good friends. We even invited guest schools to the annual ROTA week – Czech, Danish, Polish, Russian, Dutch. Over time Sarlat dropped out, Zaragoza was replaced by Tres Cantos (Madrid), and Elde College joined from the Netherlands, but the core of Lincoln/Brugge/Hattingen remained strong. Eventually Karl-Heinz Rosendahl retired but his place was taken as director by Heinz Niggemann, who was at the first ROTA as a teacher.

   And then the CED network developed. The name stems simply from Czech Republic/England/Denmark. Haslev Gymnasium in Denmark and Kutna Hora Gymnasium had a linkage in 1991 and LCHS was invited to join in 1992. Erik Stengaard, Vlada Slavicek and I are still hazy about quite how the connections came to fruition. In reality it mattered not. Both Chris Williams and I felt strongly about the new Europe developing after the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the desire to work with a school just emerging from communism. For me personally I recalled a glorious three weeks in Czechoslovakia in 1967. Time to repay. I remember well my first visit to Kutna Hora and the school operating on several upper floors of a decaying old building. Again, there are many tales to tell. The directors became firm friends, the partnership flourished and lasted well over 10 years.

   So, over many years one aspect of the School changed significantly. I sometimes felt that our work was valued more outside Lincoln than within, but then that is an issue within the City that has existed for a long time. I have not named many individuals on the staff, both teachers and support staff, who helped further the work. I mean them no disrespect. The list would be long, and probably I cannot recall all the names. To give some names and not others would perhaps be invidious. But I value their input immensely and am grateful for the impact they had on students’ broader education and the joie de vivre of the School. We were fortunate to be working at a time, even when budgets were hit hard, when we had degrees of freedom to develop education. I suspect the current data-led rigidity of school assessment would leave little room for European/International initiatives, in the same way that the Arts are in decline because they do not count towards “scores”. I also benefitted from a senior team that was keen to participate and take on some of the spade work. For long Chris Williams gave great input, enthusiasm and assiduity. Phil Scully rose splendidly to my request to organise a ROTA week, and survived. Clive Young became ever more enthusiastic and took charge of the torch after my retirement. There is some satisfaction even today when parents, students, staff mention their experiences. When we had visitors there was an added frisson in the School, and many a youngster noticed the different flags flying from the flagpole! After each ROTA week our flag was passed on to the next host school, an idea I cribbed without shame from the Olympics.

   I am writing this without going back to my school diaries, so inevitably I may have forgotten some other activities! No doubt there are blemishes in my memory. Phil Scully would rightly belabour me if I forgot his annual Spanish trips. But I have not forgotten the Chinese programme. The School went through cycles. LMS gave a boost. GM gave another boost. Post GM was a hard time of retrenchment. And then we became a Language College. At the time the regulations were tight on specialisms, in that duplication in an area/city was not allowed. No other Lincoln school went for Language status, so we did! As such we had to offer a non-European language. We chose Mandarin Chinese. There was a tenuous link with the industrial city of Tangshan, east of Beijing, due to the business contracts for generators by GEC Lincoln. In my view the City lost a great opportunity as China was just gearing itself up to foreign linkages and keen on partnerships. The City was too slow to seize the opportunity, as I recall from various meetings with City fathers. But at LCHS we needed a link. Again, the actual process is clouded – mea culpa – yet in a short time we were working with Deyuan Wang and his team at their secondary school. It was a culture shift on both sides! Deyaun became a close friend; a remarkable man of intellect who enjoyed Mozart and had survived banishment to the fields during the Cultural Revolution, to return as an honoured party member who saw the value of working with the West. He and I reflected often over the educational process, usually fuelled by whisky, which, I have to admit, was the norm among the European Heads! There were great times. I wonder if two maths colleagues remember the challenge of teaching a class of 400+ fiercely enthusiastic children? A great deal has gone on since those early years, but it was a triumph to be able to fund Liu Min, an excellent teacher and linguist, for six months at our school. We were again forging new pathways.

   Enough is enough. I am sure I could refine this set of recollections if I set to and went through my diaries and archives, so this is just a first stab. I remain as committed to those initial two objectives now as I did in the mid-80s. Indeed, I go so far as to suggest they are even more important. There is much more to write, but that is for another day. So often my former colleagues talk of the personal friendships made through the School’s many contacts. That gives me great pleasure. Indeed, I am in the same boat. Of the heads/directors with whom I have worked I have only lost contact totally with Christina in Zaragoza. I have regular contact with all the others and see most of them each year. And I have been to that alternative centre of the universe, Brugge, now at least 60 times, so hope for honorary citizenship post-Brexit. I wonder how many politicians realise, in these times of political foolishness, that the secret for the future is happy co-operation and understanding between young people, the future citizens.

                                                                        David Cox     February 2019