The founding of the IC

Kim Taylor was the Headmaster of Sevenoaks from 1954 to 1968. Arguably our most influential Head of the twentieth century, he oversaw a period of innovation at the school, including the development of a global outlook and the introduction of a new international boarding house, the IC. 

Pre-war, at high noon of the British Empire (1939: 700 million souls) some wealthy and ambitious colonial families sent their sons to the 'mother country' for their whole schooling; post-war,however, in the imperial sunset, a boy from one of the assertive, newly independent countries would gain not advantage but handicap from such a practice. The elite British universities, though,continued to exercise their allure.

Entry to them was forbidding. Not only was the competition more severe but it was based on A-levels, an exam unlike any other in the world,which assumed that candidates had specialised narrowly while still at school. To take just one example: a candidate to read Physical Sciences at university spent 25 periods a week in the Sixth Form studying Maths, Physics and Chemistry; his continental equivalent spent ten. As a consequence, a first degree course at an English university took three years; elsewhere, four or even five. Post-war, overseas university candidates – often from influential families and away from home for the first time – had no way to cross the A-level bridge.They were compelled to take digs in some industrial city to attend a tutorial college in order to compete with English candidates more happily prepared, usually at a public school. The 'mother country' was proving singularly unwelcoming.

Newly arrived older boys needed a separate house, exclusively for Sixth Formers, where they could live under rules and arrangements appropriate to their age.

Schools showed unwillingness to accept such older foreign applicants, recruiting at 13, from well-conditioned boys taught at preparatory schools. Their boarding houses developed a complex hierarchy based in part on merit, chiefly on the passage of time. Sudden seniority given to a late-arriving foreigner meant an unfair disturbance to the cat's cradle of privilege such communities developed. Newly arrived older boys needed a separate house, exclusively for Sixth Formers, where they could live under rules and arrangements appropriate to their age.

I took these perplexities to the Governors at Sevenoaks within a year of my appointment as Headmaster. They finally agreed in principle, adding the caveat that all the funds required would have to be found from new, outside sources. This I recognised as an astute decision: if such substantial sums could indeed be found, then the need for such a house would in the process have been proven.

So I wrote a 'Sixth Form house proposal' and set about raising support. The notion was strongly endorsed by Robert Birley, headmaster of Eton, and the British Council. Shell and British-American Tobacco gave cash too.

These global industries were pursuing a policy whereby senior executives in newly independent countries were brought to headquarters for familiarisation and training; they often had teenage children whose education was a problem.The Dulverton Trust offered a grant (as later did the Leche and Alexandria Trusts)... all of which was encouraging but slow. In the late 1950s the current of inflation was strong; it seemed we would never reach an ever-receding shore.

Then a miracle occurred. The Ormiston Hotel and its estate in Oak Lane (now School House) was offered to the school in a private sale at an attractive price. It wasn’t the new building envisaged, but sufficient for a start, with room for later extensions. By then, the Governors were sufficiently persuaded, bought the estate, and in September 1962 the International Centre began, with 11 overseas and 120 English Sixth Formers.

Sevenoaks became a school particularly attractive to parents who recognised that the world was 'shrinking', that English was spreading fast as a common language, and that children could usefully acquire a global awareness.

Diagnosing the need of this unprecedented sort of boarding house was a necessary preliminary, but could it be made to work? That was the achievement of the first Housemaster, Brian Scragg, his wife, the remarkably cooperative boys, and their successors. The house clearly flagged the school's interest in accommodating older entrants from overseas. Other similar families moved into the school's 'catchment area' so that their sons – soon their daughters too – could attend. After the International Baccalaureate was devised, Sevenoaks was the first English school to adopt it. Sevenoaks became a school particularly attractive to parents who recognised that the world was 'shrinking', that English was spreading fast as a common language, and that children could usefully acquire a global awareness.

Kim Taylor
Headmaster 1954-68