2019-20 is a significant year for Exeter Cathedral School. This academic year marks the 25th anniversary of co-education at ECS, and the 25th anniversary of Girl Choristers at Exeter Cathedral.
To the best of our knowledge (and it is hard to be precise – we are talking, in educational terms, about a seriously long time ago!) the School was founded in 1179. It wasn’t on its present site, of course, and existed to ‘educate’ the boys of Exeter Cathedral Choir. ‘Education’ is, I suspect, a loose and rather generous term for the experience of those 26 boys who were effectively part-singer-part-servant for the clergy under whose care and jurisdiction they spent their days.
And it remained thus for a very, very long time.
In 1870 The Chantry was built. Our current Prep School building on Palace Gate gets its name from having been constructed as the house for the Cathedral’s Precentor – known back then as ‘the Chanter’ (to this day, that post-holder – currently Canon James Mustard – does the ‘chanting’ and oversees the musical side of the Cathedral’s mission). A pretty massive house for a single occupant (the Church of England does that pretty well, of course), though I suspect the Gym and the bag-stores were later additions (they certainly have all the hallmarks of neo-brutalist simplicity).
Still at this point Exeter Cathedral School – or, rather, the Chorister School, Exeter – existed with the sole purpose of educating the Choristers – 26 of them. It was not until the 1960s that the Dean and Chapter began offering places at the School to non-singers. Over the course of the next 30 years or so the School grew into a boys’ Preparatory School of some 100 pupils.
Then, in 1994 – in a significant and far-reaching move which propelled Exeter Cathedral and Exeter Cathedral School (just 3 years after Salisbury had led the charge) to the forefront of inclusivity, forward-thinking, and accessibility – both musical and educational – the School and the Cathedral opened its doors – and its Quire Stalls – to girls.
And so it is that 1994-95 was the first year of co-education at Exeter Cathedral School, and the founding year of the Girl Choristers. A quarter of a century later – in 2019-20 – we are proud to celebrate our inclusivity as a fully co-educational school, and we will be marking our 25th Anniversary with a series of events throughout the year.
We have already started, in fact, with a Celebratory Anniversary Lunch for former Girl Choristers, held in the Chantry on 17th November – 25 years to the day from the first ever Girls’ Evensong in 1994. Other planned events in our series ’Celebrating 25 Years of Co-education’ include: a Music Soirée (to coincide with the official launch of our new grand piano); an Art Open Studio Event; a 25th Anniversary Charity Concert; a Sports Festival (to coincide with the launch of our girls’ cricket programme); a series of ‘inspirational leaders’ displays chosen and created by the pupils; a panel event for parents/guardians and the wider community ‘Changing the Equation: This Co-ed Life’ (working title), with influential panellists/speakers from the world of the Arts, Science, and Education. In short, an exciting celebration of our 25 years as a leading co-educational school. Watch this space for further details.
25 years is a drop in the 840-year ocean, perhaps – but the ripple effect from a single drop can be huge: we are making waves as a school, and I am mighty proud to be at the helm of a very fine ship with a mixed and diverse crew. All aboard!