Mirus Bilis! Shebbear has reintroduced Latin. After how many years? Nobody seems to know. Furthermore, two verses of the school song are sung every Friday morning. In Latin, of course.

The subject is not exactly on the curriculum but is available as a spare-time activity, along with German. Old boys who struggled with the fifth declension await to hear how many take up the opportunity.

Good news, also, from the sports’ fields – the Ist XV managed to see off Plymouth College, Blundells, Grenville and Kelly College in the winter term. At the same time, the girls’ netball team had one of their most successful seasons.

No wonder then that Headmaster Bob Barnes was in an upbeat mood at the 97th OSA reunion dinner at the RAF Club in Piccadilly on January 24, helped, no doubt, that at last his new house is taking shape on the Lake Chapel side of Beckley field.

His toast to the association set the tone for a good-humoured and even exuberant reunion with a splendid meal of venison and numbers totalling 77.

It was good to note that there were more younger members attending than ever before, among them a good showing of old girls.

There was even a memory test for the “ancients”. Keith Arnold brought up a school photograph dating from 1938.

So what of the school in its 163rd year of existence?

Bob Barnes answered the question as he replied to the President’s toast to the school: Shebbear College, he said, was very much going forward, both academically and financially.

“Last year was best financially in 14 years. Now we can actually reinvest in its infrastructure to make it the best small independent school in the south west.” That reinvestment was going into teaching resources, into computers – not just for the computer and business studies’ centre – but one for every room in the school and into the new 6th form centre.

Academically, more than 70% of pupils sitting last year’s GCSE examinations had achieved five passes or more ranging from A* to C.

That put Shebbear into the top 20% of schools in the United Kingdom.

There had been a change in routine. Now morning service in chapel took place before morning break. “And if pupils don’t sing – they don’t get a break!” he added. The school stressed moral values and standards.

“Shebbear College is working flat out to ensure that when pupils leave they are fully prepared to face and play their part in the modern world; that they are independent and able to speak up for themselves.

“We at Shebbear work tremendously hard to achieve that because we have hopes for our pupils.”

The school had had an outstanding year with regard to music and drama. Violinist and pianist Rebecca Betambeau had been appointed leader of the North Devon Youth Orchestra.

At the centenary celebrations in London of the 14 schools in the Methodist group, Shebbear had been the smallest school taking part but had contributed the most. “Some schools were more than six times as big as us.”

He went on: “As a collective the college is in very good heart compared to how it was when I first arrived. Wherever you go people speak very highly of its pupils, their academic excellence and their moral fibre.”

Over recent years £750,000 had been invested in the infrastructure. All this had come out of revenue – “making us the envy of schools in the west”.

“Shebbear is easily the most successful school in the Methodist group.” President David Shorney, proposing the toast, said he had enjoyed his year of office immensely, especially his visits to Shebbear in the summer.

He recalled his father’s time as a teacher at college and said there was always a danger that some might confuse father with son but instead he had been flattered at being recognised by people he had not seen for fifty years.

There had been a Shebbear boy called into the RAF in 1948 who was summoned to see his Commanding Office. He marched in with some trepidation. “Rodney – how nice to see you,” said the CO.

It was Old Shebbearians Alfred Earle, later to become Sir Alfred Earle, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff. “Being recognised can be a good thing,” he added.

He was grateful to Shebbear for having made so many differences to his life. It had fostered his love of music and singing, books and radio which, in that remote school, had been the only link with the outside world.

The toast to the OSA was jointly and charmingly proposed by Cara Hyman, Head Girl, and Greg Barnes, Head Boy, and responded to by Paul Sanders.

Then came the award of the War Memorial Scholarship. Charles Verney reminded guests that the award owed its origins to the work Lt Col Walter Parkes, H.E.Down and John Rounsefell.

Their aim had been to establish a fund in memory of the many Old Shebbearians who gave their lives in two world wars to provide a grant to help old pupils in higher education.

This time the recipient was Debbie Kinsey, of Winkleigh, who had achieved four A grades in her A-levels and was now reading Political Science at York University. The evening drew to a close but not before Lt Col Michael Johns JP was elected as President for 2004, Michael Buckingham as vice-President and the committee en masse.