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Creating the right environment

3/2/17: Creating the right environment

One of the most difficult questions I have faced as Head came about ten years ago, during a Blues’ (prefects’) meeting. 

“So, what do you do as a head then?” 

I think the boy was rather surprised, firstly that the words hadn’t just rolled around inside his mind but had actually come out of his mouth, and secondly by the moment’s profound silence with which all his fellow Blues had met his earnest enquiry.

It seemed to me a perfectly decent question (though somewhat unexpected in the context of the meeting). I muttered something in reply, about welcoming lots of prospective pupils and parents, dealing with lots of current pupils and parents, watching matches every Saturday, the odd bit of Latin teaching, and - my least favourite activity of all time - attending meetings. And, worse still, meetings about meetings. I have often mused subsequently that none of this did justice to Jonathan’s question.

A head’s job is frankly a rather barmy one. You have what one of my governors once described as a large number of different client stakeholders. There are, of course, pupils and prospective pupils, parents and prospective parents, current staff, former staff, former pupils, governors past and present, and other members of the extended Bryanston family. There are also relations to be maintained with other schools, particularly, but not exclusively, prep schools (I and other members of staff govern at a wide range of them) and we may even be involved in an academy school too. But that is still not enough of an answer to Jonathan’s question. It’s just the transactional stuff.

I spend a good deal of my time on the above, it’s true, and my diary looks like a piece of cake some days and a merciless assault course other days. And that despite the careful ministrations of clever and kind PAs. If you’re not careful you can spend too much time in your study and not enough time out and about. I struggle to escape sometimes. And having started my career as an unimpressive articled clerk to a notary public, I’m a bit allergic to being stuck behind a desk. 

The truth is that the job of a head is not a job at all. It’s a vocation. And the thing that drives me, and I believe all my colleagues in all schools of different shapes and sizes, is the physical and mental wellbeing and intellectual and spiritual growth of all the pupils in our care. It’s what gets us out of bed every morning. It’s what takes me from D chapel on weekday mornings (not often enough, I’m ashamed to say) to A3 discussion groups on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. It’s what draws me to the touchline, to the theatre, to the art studio and the concert hall. There is a joy and energy, which frankly can only be gained from spending time in the company of talented and interesting pupils and staff. It can’t be found from behind a desk. In fact, it’s hard to imagine it can be found in many other walks of life.

I believe my job is to create the right environment. One in which our pupils and staff can thrive and enjoy teaching and learning. It’s what I aim for. Sometimes that seems a ridiculously ambitious aim. Other times the world spins perfectly on its axis and everything seems to be swept along in this joyful endeavour. The real reward, of course, is in seeing our young people leave school at 18 ready to take on the world with confidence. That’s when you really know you’ve done your job as a head. And that, I hope, at long last, goes at least some way to answering Jonathan’s question.