The modern development of the School was largely the achievement of Canon John (‘Fred’) Shirley, who became Headmaster in 1935 when the School was suffering from the effects of the Depression. Through his dynamism and financial skill, he saw the School expand rapidly in numbers from about 200 to about 600 pupils in some 30 years. He also acquired and built several more buildings in the Precincts. In his time, too, the School survived the war-time evacuation to Cornwall and received a new Royal Charter from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1946. Above all, the School grew in reputation, thanks to its academic, sporting and cultural success. ‘King’s Week‘, the festival of music and drama at the end of the summer term, was started in 1952.
It is no surprise that modern OKS have achieved fame in a variety of fields, including literature (Patrick Leigh Fermor, Edward Lucie-Smith and Michael Morpurgo); music (Louis Halsey, Harry Christophers and Christopher Seaman); politics (Lord Garel-Jones and the Powell brothers, Charles and Jonathan); and sport (David Gower and Frances Houghton), as well as in business, journalism, science, education – in this country and around the world.
In recent years, this development and modernisation has continued apace. The School now has over 820 pupils, aged 13 to 18. The most significant change came when girls first joined the Sixth Form in the early 1970s, and the School has been fully co-educational since 1990. In 2000, the School welcomed the first children both of whose parents were OKS Today the thirteen boarding houses are mostly scattered around the Cathedral Precincts, in buildings dating from the 13th century Meister Omers to Kingsdown House, opened in 2015. There are three houses in the nineteenth century St. Augustine’s College, next to the ruins of the medieval St. Augustine’s Abbey; the nearby Harvey House was built in 1998 and the New Grange opened in 2007. The rest of the School buildings are a similar mixture of old and new. The main classroom block is in a former medieval brewery and bakehouse, an art centre was recently opened in the converted Blackfriars, drama takes place in the converted medieval St. Mary’s Hall, and there is a Sports Centre, whose foundation stone was laid by David Gower. The Edred Wright Music School opened in 2009.
Imps of Promise by Thomas Hinde is the most recent history of the School. It was originally published in 1990, and a second updated edition appeared in 2005.