by Dom Simon McGurk
Headmaster of Belmont LONG BEFORE Oxford and Cambridge. Eton and Harrow, the Benedictine monks were educating young men in the monasteries of Europe. imparting to them the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the wisdom of the classical ages.
Today, in Britain. eight monasteries of the English Benedictine Congregation are still maintaining this commitment to the very best in education for young people.
The major difference between today's monastic schools and those of former centuries is that ours are more complex establishments, rejoicing in all the modern educational amenities and broad teaching curricula; they are fully adapted to the needs of young people preparing for a Christian life with a career.
The interesting thing about these particular schools is that, although they are run by monks of the same order. in fact each community is quite independent and its members do not get moved from monastery to monastery. Thus a distinct community spirit grows up in each place which in turn gives its own character to each school.
Belmont Abbey, near Hereford. is really quite small and everyone knows everyone else; you just can't get lost. Nevertheless, with 225 boarders and about SO day pupils. it is possible to enjoy a very favourable spread of amenities from the modern living accommodation of the boarding houses to the latest designs in laboratory equipment: from a thriving art and craft centre — shortly to move into Design and
Technology — to a heated swimming pool and squash courts.
Incidentally, they've just built across the road a new 18 hole golf course which we use.
The monastic influence in the school comes mainly through the boarding houses. which all have monks as housemasters. Day pupils have a lay housemaster and a monastic chaplain.
As one would expect. most of the religion is taught by monks. though an increasing amount of lay influence is important in the sixth form. Most of the other teaching of other subjects is done by a dedicated lay staff of both sexes.
In the "mod" jargon of the seventies, a parent once described Belmont as not only a school but a "happening"; something always seemed to be going on.
Somehow. the age-old Benedictine framework seems to allow for an easy flexibility and a freedom to develop. It's the same with the discipline too. Fundamentally, this is quite. strict; indeed. there are probably too many rules but no sensible person minds because, when you know everyone, as a housemaster does, it is possible to be very understanding and to allow for the genuine exception within a rigid framework.
Academically, Belmont is blessed with boys as bright as you will find in almost any school. We pursue the 'Oxbridge' line with some success, including two recent Cambridge exhibitions. and our university entrances — not counting polytechnics — for several years have been around 10 per cent higher than the average for HMC schools.
Yet some think that our strength lies with the 'B' streamers. many of whom would not make Grammar school but few of whom leave us with less than five '0' levels. Many with distinctly sub-university level I.Q.s get into universities and polytechnics.
We do not like to split up families so we have never refused the brother of a current pupil because he was academically weak.
Such boys and many others thrive in our 'C' stream where they benefit enormously from the stability and confidence provided by the school, many good '0' levels and C.S,E.s are obtained by these boys on account of our disciplined study framework.
About 80 boys form the school's "Guild of St. Stephen" for serving Mass and other liturgical ceremonies. With that sort of number, you can imagine that we are not exactly 'Low Church'.
I lose count of the numbers in the various choirs. The orchestra. -like the school, is small but building up.
Drama has always been a very major activity and tends towards the progressive and adventurous rather than to Shakespeare. (We're near enough to Stratford to go and see him performed better there.)
It was said that there were two religions at Belmont and one of them was rugby. Actually, many sports thrive here and the most successful in recent years has been rowing with six international oarsmen in three years. (Incidentally. we are the only English Benedictine school which has rowing.) Fencing is thrusting its way to the fore and golf is well on course.
The 'Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme' probably gets more Gold Awards than any other school in the country — 28 Golds two years ago. This year, the boys went to arctic Norway, along with some of our scientists who were studying the effects of acid rain.
We seem to have come a long way from that secluded little monastic school for future