With a bit of lateral thinking the title can be interpreted in a number of ways regarding the experience that King’s has been going through. Not only has it been a journey for all at King’s, regarding the conference preparation and organisation, but it has also been one for those are travelling from all parts on this third rock from the sun to be here for the event. In some ways it mirrors what delegations went through, way back in 2001, just after the events of 9/11, when the conference was held at St. Phillips College in Alice Springs, Australia. I distinctly remember, as I entered one of the boarding houses of Aiglon College in Switzerland, one of my delegation rushing out of the house, shouting at me: “I am not getting on another plane in my whole life!” I had no idea what had spooked him to make such a proclamation and he realised that I had no idea at all what had happened. He told me that a plane had just flown into one of the Twin Towers in downtown New York and that the building was on fire. “It’s on the tele.” So I duly found a TV and watched with horror and incredulity, along with ever growing numbers as the news spread, and witnessed the live event of the second plane crashing into the second tower. Parallel to this, in Australia, the carrier Ansett was fast disappearing down financial tubes and with absolutely no possibility of a phoenix–like resurrection from its financial problems. This latter event had nothing to do with what had happened in New York but was to have a major impact on travel in OZ for delegations going to the conference. What can be said, however, was that neither event deterred in any way, whatsoever, the resolve of the RS world to get to its annual conference. Present world events have not made the preparations and attendance at the conference, hosted by King’s Academy, straightforward to manage either by either the hosts or incoming delegations.
We were lucky, since all the Aiglon flights were with Qantas, so we arrived in Centralia on schedule along with a handful of other fortunate schools. As after 9/11 airline security had never been so good, all schools arrived safely at some point on the periphery of the country, while those that had booked on Ansett were stranded there, but not for long. The antipodean members of the RS family rolled into action. Skinny Dogs were ordered and, for some, the 48 hour journey, from places like Melbourne, started—destination: Alice in Centralia. The buses stopped for food, fuel, comfort stops and driver changes but ploughed on, hour after hour, further and further into the outback beyond the black stump. Within two days of the official start, the RS family had gathered and, in so doing, proved yet again its capacity to take on Adventure and win through.
This episode reflects the place that the annual gathering of RS members has in the life of the school year. In just the same way that family members endeavour to meet up with each other so does RS and its member schools. When the first conference took place in 1967 at Gordonstoun and the oxymoronic name of one of the school’s buildings was adopted as the name of this headmaster’s club, few could have envisaged its future development. Jocelin Winthrop Young is a central figure in this respect. He was one of Kurt Hahn’s first students at Gordonstoun. He was head master at Anavrita in Athens, where the present Round Square President, hm King Constantine of the Hellenes, was a pupil, and in 1954 he was instrumental in organising a major service project to the island of Cephalonia to help after a major earthquake had devastated the region. He was head master of Salem and proposed in 1966, along with six other like-minded head teachers, to form an association of schools, which had Kurt Hahn’s educational ideas as the basis of their schools’ programmes. Up to 1991 membership in RS was at a personal level but things changed at the Doon School RS conference and membership became school based and, from this point on, the organisation flourished. Today RS has 143 schools in the organisation, which stretches the length and breadth of the world. Given the nature of its educational philosophy, most of the schools are from the private sector and RS has often been criticised as being elitist. However, the philosophy is for all levels of the social strata and RS is actively looking to both attract and accept schools from the national state sector.
To get back to the international RS conference: it is hosted every year by one or two schools from one of the five regions on a rotating basis and, as already illustrated, world events can have a major impact on such a gathering. The five regions, at present, are Europe, Africa, the Americas, Australasia, and the Gulf and South Asia. There is, both throughout the regions and the year, a great deal of activity organised by member schools but the one focal event which all strive to attend is the Round Square International Conference. The fact that the school, hosting the conference on behalf of RS itself, is often in a most interesting part of the world provides only the icing on the cake as far as the attraction of the conference itself for the members. The cake relates to the gathering of family, when staff reps can actually meet up and network on a whole spectrum of things that enhance the educational programmes and experiences schools offer both students and staff. However, more importantly, it gives students from widely differing cultures, nations, societies, social backgrounds and languages a chance to meet, interact and learn about—and from—each other. As such, the IRSC is a treasured moment in schools’ calendars and those schools who are unable to attend for valid reasons feel there is a void, which simply cannot be filled. Some do feel that split conferences, while better than none, do not provide the same experience, especially at the adult level, but for the students it does work, so perhaps one should not worry too much. For outsiders and those attending for the first time, there is a definite air of expectation and unfettered joy to be felt as they witness, in many cases, longstanding colleagues, from schools across the world, welcoming each other and catching up after varying amounts of time not seeing each other. Students are initially a bit coy but such barriers soon break down and, at the closing of the conference, they could have been friends since time immemorial, if the so-called pains and tears of impending departure and separation are anything to go by.
Cairns? Some will by now have worked out that this is an anagram for an IRSC: an International Round Square Conference—and I hope one now has a better idea how much of a way guide, like a cairn on the hill, it is for the organisation and its philosophy. In just the same way that a cairn keeps indicating that one is still on course so also does the international conference. Attending one and seeing its effect on all who attend—and this applies equally for staff as for students—one realises that we are still on track regarding education and it can also provide an indicator for the minor tweaks and course corrections that are constantly required. Looking ahead cairns show the path in front over a varying amount of ground, depending on the terrain profile. Lose the cairns and one loses the overall direction and its sense. This could, perhaps, be said of RS for if it were to lose its own Cairns, it could possibly lose the way as well. One of the obligations of membership is attendance at the global conference and, in just the same way that family members need to gather from time to time, so does the RS family.