Five years of highlights

As I stated in my last blog post I have now been Headmaster of the High School for five years. As this 5th anniversary came around and in part prompted by the visit of someone who is about to become a Headmaster for the first time I decided to reflect on the time. As I wrote in my last post there have been many highlights but for the purpose of this post I have decided to pick out five. This has not been an easy exercise as there have been many.
So here is my top 5 not in any particular order:
1. Building of new Sixth form centre – This stunning building makes the list not so much because of how well it was designed nor how good it still looks a few years on but for the way that it has helped to transform the sixth form experience of the High School. At the same time as we were building it we considered what the ethos for our sixth form should be and we set out to engage with the sixth form in developing this ethos. This has meant significant changes in terms of the introduction of specific sixth form assemblies weekly, the introduction of the Friday Forum but at the heart of it has been the desire to establish a really vibrant atmosphere at the heart of the Sixth form experience so that the students feel valued and are fully engaged with the School in achieving their goals. Thus, a new building has helped to establish a new vision for the Sixth form which is continually developing and it has been exciting to be a part of this.
2. Administering the bursary scheme – One of my primary duties each year as Headmaster is to conduct our entrance exam procedures and one of the key parts of this is to allocate the bursaries which we have available each year. During the recession years there has been record demand for these bursaries and we go to a great deal of trouble to ensure that we reach an accurate assessment of need. It is very important to the School that we retain a good mix of pupils of all backgrounds and as we complete the bursary awards each year I am left feeling that this is such an important part of what makes the High School as it is. Of course, raising funds to allow this bursary scheme to flourish in the years ahead will be a key focus of our 500th anniversary year from September 2012-13. In an ideal world we would never have to turn down a boy on financial grounds but this will only be possible if we are able to raise substantial funds in the coming years.
3. Links with Old Boys – Given that when I took over I knew that we would be celebrating the School’s 500th birthday a key focus has been reaching out to the old boy community. Over the past few years we have reconnected with so many different people and I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting with them and discussing their school days with them. Above all else, this has left me with such a strong sense of just how important the School has been to their lives, not just when they were at school but in the years since. I have been privileged to meet so many interesting people and when someone visits the School again after perhaps not being back for a very long time it is great to see that whilst they recognise the traditions of the School are still being carefully stewarded they are always so impressed by all that has been done to modernise the School both in terms of its buildings but also in terms of its ethos. Pride in their old school is thus increased and this has been fantastic to be part of.
4. Exam results – One of the challenges of becoming Headmaster of a successful school is that you are so aware of the need to maintain the high standards that have always been a feature of the School. Thus, the fact that the last four years have seen the School’s best ever A Level results has been a source of great pride. All the more so in that this is such a tribute to both the staff and the students in the School who have worked so hard to achieve these impressive results. Prior to 2008 no year group had achieved more than 80% of their A Level passes at A*-B grade, yet over the past four years students have broken through this barrier each year and last year the figure at this level was 87%. A massive collective effort but one which all who work and study at the School can be proud of.
5. Thank yous – Finally a more personal observation. In my office I am required by the Independent Schools Inspectorate to keep a file containing any formal complaints made. Thankfully this is a very thin file with only a handful of issues which have arisen over the five year period. When I visited an experienced head before taking over the role as Headmaster he suggested that I kept a further file, one of all the thank you letters and all the nice things that people say about the School. This now sits on my shelf alongside the complaints file (interestingly ISI don’t require schools to keep such a file!). Unlike the complaints one this one is a bulging lever-arch file full of lovely letters from people about things that they have taken the trouble to praise over the years. It has been a great privilege to receive so many nice letters about so many different aspects of our provision as a school and looking back through it recently it reminded me of so many happy memories of great events, productions, concerts and so much more. Knowing that so many people are happy with what we are doing is so important and the fact that this feeling is backed up by the many parental surveys we do makes it all the more special. So I would like to end this post by thanking all those who have brightened any one of the days in the past five years by saying thank you!

Five Years On

On 17th April 2012 I will have been Headmaster of the High School for five years. I cannot believe how quickly this time has flown and I am delighted to say that I am still enjoying the role every bit as much as I did back then. I remember the days running up to taking over very vividly, the sense of excitement and trepidation, the natural nerves over the first staff meeting, the first assembly etc, the feeling of not really fully knowing what to expect.
Five years on I have learnt a great deal! I thought I would use this post and perhaps a subsequent one to reflect on what I have learnt. One of the first things I noticed when I became Head was how other people react differently to you. Although I remained in the School where I had been a deputy head, there is a distinct difference in the way that people view you as Head. The title, the doors that people have to go through to reach you place barriers in the way despite my avowed intention to be approachable. Thus, I have had to find other ways to achieve this. Chief amongst these have been such things as this blog and my use of Twitter. I have found that such methods allow me to show that I am a real person and not just a title, that I have a life outside of the School and that I welcome contact of all sorts from different people. I have been thrilled by the way that blogging and tweeting has caught on at school and by the overall improvement in our communications that this has brought.
Of course, there is much more to being approachable than using these methods. I also want to be approachable to boys and whilst weekly visits to the games field have helped with this, I have also started having lunch with groups of sixth formers on a weekly basis. I have really enjoyed this opportunity to chat informally and have learnt a great deal in the process. This is now one of the favourite parts of my week. Of course, on the other days, I have lunch with the staff and again these informal opportunities to chat have proved very useful.
Another feature of the past five years that I could not have foreseen is how much I have gained from working together with other Heads as part of HMC (made up of the Heads of the leading independent schools). I now chair their communications sub-committee, one of four main committees that do much to promote the work of independent schools in this country. The opportunity to share ideas, concerns and good practice with other Heads around the country and to benefit from shared experiences and interests has been hugely beneficial. Yes, it means time out of school but I have no doubt at all as to the benefits this has brought to me both personally as a leader but also to my school.
Another feature of this role of Head which is hard to prepare for is the fact that in the end you always have to make a decision. Whilst there have been times when reflection on a decision is useful, it is evident that you do really have to have an answer to every question you are asked and are expected to give a prompt answer no matter what the topic is. Not rushing in to answer has been useful, so too has been access to expert advice from the various professional firms that the School uses but in the end one just has to rely on good common sense the majority of the time!
I have loved every moment of the past five years. Even the difficult decisions provide a sense of challenge and fulfilment once the dust has settled. I love the variety that every day brings, I have enjoyed bringing in a number of new initiatives which are now working very successfully to enhance the education of boys at the School and I enjoy the challenge of planning for the future. In an ideal world I would receive fewer emails; I would be able to get out of the office a little more. I could not do the role without the support of an excellent management team, dedicated staff both on the teaching and support staff, and above all without a very loving and understanding family. Five years though have flashed by with many, many highlights and I will reflect on some of these highlights in my next blog post.