A former student, who went onto become one of Britain’s greatest innovators, was welcomed back to school as the guest of honour at King William’s College Founders’ Day 2019.
Dr John Taylor, one of the most distinguished OKWs, fondly recalled his days at College and told the assembled audience how his initial struggles with dyslexia were overcome and provided the foundation for the rest of his life.
That College education ultimately set him on the path of becoming a most celebrated entrepreneur-inventor who was honoured in 2012 for his outstanding contribution to the advancement of British engineering, innovation and commerce.
Dr Taylor spoke of the importance of a ‘world class education’ and the grounding College life gave him.
The inventor and horologist said: ‘When I was 11, my parents were told I was practically illiterate and couldn’t even spell the name of my own school. But I did a good maths paper and a good science paper and staff here said “I think we can make something of him.”
Although he started as a boarder in Dickson House in September 1950, guests heard how he was summoned to the Principal at the end of that academic year as he was ‘bottom of the form’ in many subjects.
‘The Principal was sat behind his desk in full mortarboard and gown with a frown, so his eyebrows met as I stood before him. “Taylor, you are either lazy or thick – or both, you must work harder”.
‘I was neither lazy nor thick. I was, and of course still am, dyslexic, but in those days, dyslexia was unknown and unrecognised. For those who are not familiar with dyslexia, for me it means that I see words as a shape rather than a phonetic system of sounds and it requires you to think ahead and round a problem.
‘Yet three years after joining King William’s College, I passed the first exams I had ever taken with 12 O-levels
‘In the Sixth Form, I won the Beatson Science prize for physics twice and passed my A-levels. I stayed on for a third year in the Sixth Form and took the Cambridge entrance exam for Corpus Christi College.’
Offering his best wishes to the departing International Baccalaureate students, Dr Taylor urged them to ‘find a passion and follow it’.
He continued: ‘When I was awarded an OBE for services to Business and Horology, I thought to myself, that’s not too shabby for a practically illiterate person! So, I hope that you can see from my story that there are no givens in life. You can’t change the cards life has dealt you but you can change the way you play those cards and a world class education is a great way to start. Find a passion and follow it.’
Educated at College and then at Corpus Christi College in the University of Cambridge where he read Natural Sciences, Dr Taylor moved to the Isle of Man in 1977.
He joined Strix and later became famous for inventing the thermostat for the electric kettle.
His 400 patents for domestic appliances and electrical equipment have created more than 10,000 British jobs, while two billion of his bi-metal blades for thermostats that switch off kettles have been produced worldwide.
By the time he retired in 1999, Strix supplied 75 per cent of the World Market for kettle controls and had won four Queen’s Awards.
To much amusement, Dr Taylor also reflected his time at Cambridge, including an expedition to the Arctic in the summer of 1958.
‘One of the greatest experiences of my life will always be hearing a polar bear outside my tent – with the nearest rifle 30 miles away as the polar bear started demolishing the tent!,’ he recalled.
As well as a vote of thanks from Head of School, Natasha Ellis, and Head Boy Sabin Rufa.
Principal Joss Buchanan addressed the 850-strong audience and said it was fitting to recognise the achievements of an engineer and entrepreneur as the school celebrated the achievements of its pupils, particularly those in the Upper Sixth.
‘Whether through his appearances on television or radio, Dr Taylor’s passion for inventing and designing new products has encouraged a whole new generation to follow in his footsteps,’ he explained.
‘The IB diploma which College offers instead of A-levels, ensures breadth in the curriculum at the very top of the school. Everyone has to study a science in addition to maths; they have to study a second language as well as their own language. We have become a big player in the IB world.’
Mr Buchanan continued: ‘When employers complain about employability, they often mean that young people have undergone a narrow academic curriculum without a wider range of subjects and skills. The early specialisation that takes place in the UK is in stark contrast to what happens in most other countries When it comes to the next stage of education and university, that lack of scientific skills affects a very broad range of fields. All of us today need to have some scientific literacy. We truly believe the underlying philosophy behind the IB makes us different and is absolutely fundamental to the education we provide.’
Welcoming many international families to Founders’ Day from all over Europe and as far afield as China and Hong Kong, Mr Buchanan said this year’s IB exams had gone well and the students had received ‘some terrific university offers’.
‘We are a happy school and the students leaving us today will leave with a wealth of fond memories.’
One figure also leaving with a wealth of fond memories is Chairman of Governors Nigel Wood.
Speaking on his final Founders’ Day after 10 years as chair and 25 years as a school governor – ‘a good innings and the numbers have resonance’ – he highlighted the importance of alignment and investment in education.
‘I believe there has never been a greater imperative to invest in education, and to seek to make first class education available to more people,’ he told the audience. It is through education that we can encourage tolerance, understanding, good communication. Education at King William’s must be based on a tripartite relationship, between the School, the pupils and you, our parents and guardians. Our commitment is total and, in exchange for making the massive commitment you do, we will continue to seek to ensure that what you pay for, represents great value for money in terms of your children and their exposure to mentoring and tuition.
Acknowledging the event as a mix of formal celebration and informal fun, Mr Wood concluded by praising colleagues through the entire College community.
‘Such amazing achievements from our pupils are guided by our fantastic staff and support teams. Just when you think it cannot get better, it does. It does not happen by accident and we ask a lot; the common room, the senior leadership team, the domestic support team, the PAs, IT support, all have their part to play. Thank you. And to my super colleagues on the Board of Governors and Counsel of Bishop Barrows Foundation and our amazing Clerk to the Governors and Bursar, John Oatts.
‘They all make an amazing contribution and help ensure the serious business of governance is actually lively and fun. This is a mix of tradition and modernity, seriousness and fun, and a celebration of your success and growth. Congratulations one and all.’