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Forty years to the very month after leaving Stanborough School, Welsh Mission President Pastor John Surridge returned to see what has changed at his alma mater.

Forty years to the very month after leaving Stanborough School, Welsh Mission President Pastor John Surridge returned to see what has changed at his alma mater. This is his report:

Ask anyone on the British Union Conference Executive Committee and they'll tell you that I have reservations when it comes to the question of Adventist schools. For me, Adventist education is something that should be accessible to all of our members, perhaps through Pathfinders or after-school clubs. My working class roots incline me to believe that the Church's resources should be spread thinly to benefit all instead of being used to create a centre of excellence for an elite minority.

Stanborough School 1958
The school in 1958 - but much as it looked when John Surridge was a pupil
Not that I didn't benefit from attending an Adventist school myself. In fact I'll admit that I owe a great deal to my own experience at Stanborough School in the early 1970s. It was there that I obtained my GCEs, forged friendships that have lasted to this day, and confirmed my suspicion that I was never going to be a cross-country runner.

But that was 'back in the day'. That was when the boarding school was still run for missionaries' kids. That was when there was a good chance that your classmate's parents were close friends of your own parents, and of the teachers themselves for that matter. It was all so different back then.

Stanborough School executive committee visit - walkSo it was with some scepticism that on Thursday, 4 June, forty years to the very month after I left the school, I accepted Head Teacher Mrs Lorraine Dixon's invitation to have a guided tour of the school, together with the rest of the BUC Executive Committee.

Admittedly the sun was shining, the grass was cut, and we had a nice meal waiting for us as well, but it was hard not to be impressed by the imposing façade of the 'new' school as we all walked up from the BUC Office building. On reaching reception we were given badges and welcomed by a line-up of student guides who would show us around the facilities. My group of five was led by Cherie Chanson, who was, as it happens, the youngest of the guides. The teachers disappeared and Cherie proceeded to do what she had obviously been well briefed to do.

Student guides
A welcome from our impressive hosts, Timothy Mannix, Aaron Johns, Grace Dube, Draupadi Ruiz & Cherie Chanson
Of course the queen thinks the world smells of fresh paint, as they say, so I was prepared for an augmented reality version of the tour, but after the first few minutes it became clear that Cherie was absolutely genuine as she waxed lyrical about 'her' school. And I have to admit that the facilities were good, very good in fact. There was an atmosphere of professionalism which I certainly don't remember from when I was a student. The students were smartly dressed and had the kind of confidence which comes from knowing you're at a good school – actually a pretty posh school.

When we walked into the classrooms, interrupting exams in one case, the students all stood up! Never in my day. Executive Committee member, Joe Donaldson stated, "The one thing that struck me would be how I was particularly impressed at how courteous the pupils were."

Stanborough School executive committee visit - notice boardOn many occasions over the last few years Mrs Dixon has told the BUC Executive Committee about the Christian ethos of the school – which to me sounded like a rather vague concept. But as Cherie led us through the corridors and pointed out the various posters, certificates, photos and paintings that adorned the walls I began to see what it was all about.

Stanborough School executive committee visit - mathsI won't tell you what we wrote on the walls back in my day but it certainly wasn't a clear set of values – each one of which is celebrated by the students and staff for a whole month. Cherie genuinely understood and was proud of the values promoted by her school. She had obviously embraced the whole ethos of the place. That also impressed Scottish Mission President, Bernie Holford. "I was struck by the clear emphasis on helping children develop Christian character. There were posters reminding students about patience, kindness and joy etc. The most rewarding part was to see the students demonstrating this true character education in the warm and friendly way that they interacted with us as visitors."

Stanborough School executive committee visit - common roomAs we went upstairs to look at the student accommodation Cherie told us that she herself was a boarder. Forty years ago we pitied these poor souls – isolated from their families, living in squalid dormitories, some with ten to a room – but today it seems that the tables have turned and those who 'live-in' are a close-knit family who consider themselves to be the privileged ones. And looking out from their common room windows, across the manicured lawns and statuesque trees of Stanborough Park, I could see why. A tiny part of me, reluctantly, felt something akin to jealousy as I imagined myself living in that same environment.

Boarding school 1971
Boarding students in 1971 including (bottom left) Executive Committee member and BUC Communication director, Victor Hulbert

Education is always a hot topic. Today some people are shocked by the number of politicians who went to school together at the country's top, elite, fee-paying schools. People buy houses in order to be in the catchment area for the best schools. When it comes to our children it seems that we'll go to any lengths to secure a good education for them.

Stanborough School executive committee visit - notice board 2Stanborough Secondary School is not going to be for everyone. You'll have to pay, and it's not cheap! Your child will need to be highly motivated. Apart from getting in, he or she will need to have what it takes to fit in with that select group of students who make Stanborough School what it is. Yet, as former student, Philip Emm reflected, "The family atmosphere, the quality of work on display and the setting of the school on Stanborough Park begs the question, why would you send your child anywhere else?" On his very first visit to the school Richmond Muimo noted that "the excellent facilities, atmosphere and learning environment we saw and experienced on our visit was well reflected in the confidence and enthusiasm of our student guide and in all the students and staff that we interacted with. I will definitely be recommending the school to all that I can."

Committee members join with students for lunch - including former students John Surridge (far left) and Paul Lockham (far right)
Looking around the BUC Executive Committee it was interesting to see how many of us had been students – some even teachers – at Stanborough School. Many more former students are spread in leadership roles around the world.

No one knows what will happen over the next forty years. It may be that a decision will be taken to broaden and therefore spread more thinly Adventist education in the British Isles. But while Stanborough School remains in operation I have no doubt that it will continue to produce high calibre students, immersed in the ethos and values of Adventism, some of whom will go on to be leaders, both in our Church and our society.

Former teacher, and now Newbold College Principal John Baildam states, "The enthusiasm of the staff and students was a joy to behold." If you would like to learn something of that joy then visit the school website or phone 01923 673268 to arrange a visit.

Contact: John Surridge / BUC News



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