What did school give you?

Over the half-term holiday I have started to read Old Nottinghamian Ken Clarke’s autobiography entitled “Kind of Blue.”  In Chapter two he talks in some detail about his school days and in particular what he gained from them.  He was a pupil here at the High School from aged 11 until completing his A Levels.  He came to the School on a city scholarship and talks movingly about this being a great age for social mobility allowing him to eventually go from being a watchmaker’s son in Bulwell to becoming in later life Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Chancellor.


As well as telling the story of his time at the High School he speaks about what his school years gave him.  There is no doubt that he learnt academic rigour at the School and is full of praise for those of his teachers who inspired him.  He says that his economics teaching was in effect the only formal education he had to become Chancellor of the Exchequer!  It also taught him the importance of working hard – up until he joined the High School he had been well ahead of his peers but upon arrival had to push himself to thrive.  It was during his school years that he developed a love of cricket – not as a player, he scored a duck in his one outing for the school team, but as a spectator at Trent Bridge.  The School gave him his first exposure to foreign travel – a History trip to Bruges. This gave him a love of mediaeval architecture and Flemish painting which he still enjoys today.  During his time at school he also developed a love of Jazz – again this has remained a lifelong interest.  His love of politics was fostered in the School’s debating society, like so many of our ON politicians.  At that stage he admits that his views veered quite widely across the political spectrum but it taught him the rudimentals of public speaking.  Standing for a role of responsibility in the Debating Society gave him his first electoral defeat.  Above all his interest in Politics was inspired by a trip to Parliament organised by History Teacher David Peters where he witnessed an aged Winston Churchill and on another occasion Nikita Krushchev was a visitor to Parlliament at the same time.


It is a very warm account of his time at the School and it made me reflect on just how those things you are exposed to at School become the influences for what you go on to do and enjoy in the future.  In my own case such things as my love of football were generated by the many debates at school as to whose team was best.  These were the days before televised football so we could all dream that our team really was the best – and I am still dreaming this today!  Like Ken Clarke, I too was inspired by particular teachers and it was because of one of these, Geoffrey Scott, that I developed my love of History which set me on the road to teaching this subject.  It is also due to a teacher that I ended up following this career – I was looking to take a gap year and one of the staff suggested that I took up the opportunity he was aware of to teach mainly sport in a prep school in Devon.  I enjoyed it greatly and this again was to inform my later career choice.  My first incursion into helping to run a school came when I was one of a few students who led a protest about the standard of food at the School I attended.  We had led a boycott of one meal in protest and then I was invited to sit down to help the School with finding a solution to the issues.  This exercise taught me that we actually achieved far more from our talking than through our protesting!  Importantly it gave me a sense of justice and a belief that by making a strong case anything is possible.


I hope that all those at the High School today are also being inspired in ways that will live with them far longer than they are at school.  Whether this be in a love of foreign travel or a passion for Music or theatre, or by developing those skills which will equip them to be so successful in the years beyond school.  The influence that a school has is truly life-lasting and it is our role as educators to provide as many opportunities as we possibly can so that such passions are inspired.


I would love to hear from anyone reading this as to those things that they first encountered at school have gone on to be passions that they have taken forward in life.  I will use the best of them to inform a future assembly I am planning on this topic.


What did your school give you?


At the start of the past couple of years I have written blog posts outlining my goals for the forthcoming year and I have enjoyed re-reading these recently to reflect on my strengths and weaknesses in fulfilling the goals I set out to achieve. I want though this time to take a slightly different approach by looking at the inspirations that get me most fired up, most enthused and most excited.


  1. A challenge – I have never been someone who wants the next day to be the same as the day before! To me life is at its most fulfilling if I am being challenged. Thus, at present, with the School’s imminent move to co-education I am particularly excited as a big project such as this is full of challenges. Not only do I have to overcome many of these but also I have to try to lead the School community so that this project inspires all of our staff, students and parents both now and into the future. What I am enjoying most about this work is that there is a real sense of energy and excitement about the School at present. Schools can sometimes be negative places and very reluctant to change and yet with this project I feel that there is a shared vision that we are working towards and because this is such a positive one all are enthused to play their part in moving towards this goal. It is in the little details that we see some our ethos shining through. This can be something as simple as the warmth of the welcome we give to prospective parents or the help received on the telephone or in the inspiring comment made by a member of staff as a potential new student walks around. Organisations like schools need a shared vision if they are to create genuine, warm and happy communities and we certainly have this at present.
  2. Personal goals – I have always been someone who has enjoyed reflecting on my own performance. At this time of year I always go back through all the feedback I have received in the past year. I have been formally appraised and with so many in the school community contributing to this it has a rich vein of helpful, friendly and inspiring advice. I will certainly do my best to react to it. I also meet regularly with a mentor who has helped me to develop so much as a leader over the two years I have worked with him. In the main he encourages me to face up to the challenges of the role and to be myself – this certainly has helped me to develop my leadership but remain true to myself at the same time. I have so enjoyed getting out of the office more – it is amazing how refreshing it has been to take the odd tutor set or to have lunch with the Sixth Form and I hope to do more of this in the coming year.
  3. The World Beyond Education – It is very easy as a teacher or even as a Headteacher to take all of your inspiration from those around you in schools. However, I do feel that it is really important to look beyond this and to try to learn from others in very different fields. I find Twitter invaluable for this purpose and I regularly ‘favourite’ articles I have come across which have helped to inspire me in my thinking, the majority of these do not have any direct connection to education but amongst the current list of articles to return to in the coming months are ones on time off, introversion, delegation, the adolescent brain and feminism! Such articles broaden my interests, stretch my thinking and provide inspiration which is relevant to my current work. I know that many are sceptical of the value of Twitter but the way it draws so much to my attention that I would not otherwise come across is just amazing.  One such thing in the last year was a mobile phone App called ‘Wunderlist’.  I read about this on Twitter and am now using it to organise all of my work – it has played a huge role in my organisation and in doing this has helped to make me so much more efficient.  Sometimes the simplest ideas really do help to inspire you.
  4. Reading and Music – We all need inspiration to lift our souls on miserable days or to take us away from the challenges of day to day life. If ever I was to go on Desert Island Disks my one luxury item would be my Spotify account. This window into such a diverse range of music to suit every mood, to inspire, to dream to and to relax is amazing and all at the cost of one CD a month, it really is worth every penny. I hope this year to finally sort out some wireless speakers around the house so that I can get even more enjoyment from all this music. Reading remains another great pleasure in life and again I love its ability to inspire relaxation and to open up new worlds either professionally or just for interest. I am sorely tempted to take out Amazon Prime as this opens up their catalogues of books to read in a similar way that Spotify does for music. Last year I managed to read 14 books – not quite the 24 I aimed at but nevertheless each one a real treat and hopefully this year will be the same.
  5. Time off – My one main goal this year is to make more of the time off I do get. Inevitably my role as a Headmaster is an all-embracing one and one which places massive demands on my family. Thus, I do want to do more to cherish all of the time off that I do get. I am trying to make some conscious changes to enable this to happen. Thus, when we received the theatre schedules for the coming few months we did sit down and book a number of productions to go and see. I still help to run my son’s local football team for similar reasons and if ever I am lucky enough to get to Arsenal I will always take up this opportunity. I guess my challenge now must be to make even more of the time I do have available. I hope that we can get away for an occasional weekend away even in term-time or have a clearer division between leisure and work time during school holidays. I want to get exercising again after a period when this has been limited through injury. These things help to re-charge the batteries which become under such strain at busy times of the school year and help to remind me of what is really important in life.

In conclusion, whilst I am not  the most outwardly-confident, extrovert of people, I do have confidence in what I am trying to achieve and a strong sense of purpose. More introverted people often do have this strength of purpose at the core of their personalities and in my own case I hope that I can continue to lead with humility, integrity but above all with a desire that the School I lead can continue to improve and to cement its place as the strongest school in the region. If each day both personally and professionally I can be just a little better than the day before then 2015 promises to be another rewarding and exciting year!