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Who owns the school?

22/1/16: There’s a famous story I’ve used before about Cyril Alington, Head Master at Eton College from 1917 to 1933, being asked by a small boy in his school, “Sir, Sir! What is the difference between you and God?” And of Cyril Alington’s tearing his gaze away from the lofty firmament (his natural habitat), and replying, “Well, boy, there is one but whilst you are at my school you need not let it trouble you.”

Headmasters are not gods, not even I fear gods with feet of clay. The schools with which we are involved, however closely aligned to our own values, morals, even our personal energy, are not ours. Schools, particularly I would hazard boarding schools, are organisms; precious and complex, not unlike a Benedictine monastery in some (but not all!) important regards. Indeed I sometimes read to the pupils in assembly from the Benedictine rule for a new brother (they love that) when talking about the importance of community to the individual. In fact, I’m only interested in the balance between the two, and not solely in either one nor the other. 

It’s an interesting antidote to the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s “ME, ME, ME!!” mantra and, in my view, the basis of a life-long sane and healthy sense of emotional well-being.

Bryanston allows more latitude than many schools in both regards: the community is recognised and allowed to breathe – and be and develop (we spend as much time planning for the social as for the academic when building or refurbishing) – whilst the individual, in its true and glorious Bryanstonian variety, is cherished within this loving environment. And it’s the governors’ and Head’s joint role to ensure that OBs who return after 70 years away from the school recognise the ethos every bit as much as those who left five years ago.

Interestingly, this means that we must do the opposite of stand still. It means instead we must focus on our overarching strategic aim: 

The overarching aim of all we do is for Bryanston to provide the highest quality of co-educational boarding education in the UK; this is expressed in our producing happy, purposeful and well-balanced 18-year-olds, rather than merely processing pupils through an exam factory. A further statement of this is to be found in the prospectus. All of this is very much in line with the principles upon which Jeffreys founded and Coade built Bryanston.

And in order to achieve that aim, careful, evolving change must be directed and managed to see to it that in 50 years’ time, those who return to reunions will still recognise this forward-thinking, outward-looking, proud-to-be-Bryanston school.

Currently, in terms of ethos and longevity, we’re working towards raising £20 million by 2020 as an endowment fund. This will allow us to continue to support our bursary programme, which we presently do by using 10% of gross fee income. The money generated by this endowment fund will allow us to alleviate the burden on current parents. It’s important work and with support from our close friends and supporters we hope, given their pledges and gifts already received, that we are well on our way there…The aim is to see that Bryanston is providing its purposeful and unique brand of all-round education to a broader range of interesting pupils in 100 years time by continuing to build on this work. This is not just my vision, nor even just that of Robin Pegna, Chair of Governors as well as longest serving governor, and of Bryanston’s board of governors; this was also Coade’s vision (1932-1959) and I very much hope that when I eventually hand the reins on to my successor it will be their vision and that of their board of governors too.

et nova et vetera! And the happiest of new years and best wishes for 2016 to you all.