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Having grown up in Belgium, I returned to England to study at the University of Exeter before embarking upon a career as a PE & Games Teacher in independent Prep schools. Leadership roles in day and boarding schools followed, culminating in my first Headship in 2005, as Head of the Junior School at CLFS. I went on to become Headmaster at Chinthurst School before taking on my current role at Downsend in 2013. Married to wife Karen, also a teacher, we have two sons, 20 and 17. I love umpiring for Banstead Cricket Club and enjoy travelling and reading.
Who/what inspired you to become a teacher?
In truth, I didn’t want to be a teacher until I went to university, even though I had spent a few years involved with running holiday courses at the British School of Brussels. I loved sport at the BSB and represented the first teams at football and tennis there, and at university. This led me to consider a career in either sports journalism or recreation management. In Belgium, the approach to player development in tennis is very different to the UK, so I considered a move into community development and had a number of interviews with the Lawn Tennis Association. However, I had developed the teaching bug at this point and, some 27 years later, still consider it to be the best job in the world. We always remember our most inspirational, and worst, teachers and I want to ensure that Downsend pupils are exposed to the former as much as possible. There can be no greater responsibility than ensuring that the next generation of young people are fully equipped for the challenges that will face them in the future!
What achievement are you most proud of as Head?
Having been a Head for 14 years, there are so many individual successes that I look back upon fondly: individual pupils who have gone on to achieve more than they could have dreamed possible; sporting and musical successes; mentoring teachers to run schools of their own. That said, I think the single biggest achievement has been steering Downsend through a period of intense change over recent years. The profile of schools has changed beyond recognition with many Senior Schools starting from Year 7, the growth of the appalling 11+ pre-tests and many local Prep schools having to end their provision at the end of Year 6. For many years, parents had expressed a desire for Downsend to increase into the upper years as their children were so upset to have to leave at the end of Year 8. So, I was delighted to be able to announce, two years ago, that we would be offering a GCSE provision from 2020 onwards. Since then we are due to complete a £2m refurbishment programme for the Lower and Upper schools by September 2019, to include STEAM spaces, a Learning Resource Centre and specialist Junior facilities. We will then start work on our £5m Arts Centre in the autumn, ready for completion in 2020. The response has been fantastic and interest in places is rocketing. Our motto, Nothing is Denied to Valour, encourages us to be brave and I am proud to lead a school that does so daily, whatever the challenges faced.
What does a successful school look like to you?
Some people believe that success has to be measured and point to pupil numbers and league table positions as measures of success. However, schools are all about the people, so I would always look at this area first to judge the effectiveness of a school. Happy, engaged pupils taught by inspirational practitioners in great surroundings will always deliver fantastic results, so we should focus on these three aspects and the rest will take care of itself. Downsend pupils have high attendance rates, always a great sign, and visitors regularly comment on how happy they look, how great the relationships appear between themselves and their teachers, and how they appear confident without being arrogant. This balance is key! Teachers need to be positive and energetic and we appoint ours with these traits in mind. ‘Inspiring Young Minds’ is our educational mantra and we want our staff to be creative and brave when planning their programmes of study. Which child wouldn’t want to learn chocolate fractions or visit an active volcano via Virtual Reality before labelling its cross-section? Finally, does the school look cared for by its community? Are the facilities well-lit, acoustically right and spacious, allowing for creative thought and healthy discussion and exploration? If so, we will encourage our pupils to be adaptable, resilient, forward-thinking global citizens. I believe that this is an area where many schools are failing their students at present.
What is the most important quality you want every child to have when they leave your school? And why?
Education was founded in order to ensure that young people were prepared for future life. In many respects, nothing has changed. However, we are currently faced with the dilemma that an education system that is essentially Victorian in systemic terms is no longer fit-for-purpose. Rows of children sat in front of a board (now interactive) trying to remember as much information as possible to regurgitate later in an exam scenario in the largest hall available! Perhaps this is why universities are concerned that many pupils are unprepared for life beyond school, and why so many industries decry the fact that young adults are not resilient or adaptable enough to cope with a rapidly changing world. Just look at the issues of mental health in young people to understand the scale of the failure.
I’d like to see us get back to basics and ask how we can best prepare young people for adult life. By asking our young learners to be brave and take risks, accepting that the occasional failure is just as valuable to the learning process as the many successes, we can help them to become those adaptable citizens that will cope with the jobs and technologies that have not yet been invented but that form part of their world in the future. At Downsend, our STEAM and enrichment programmes promote all of these skills and more. I believe our children are all the happier for it as a result.
Please give 5 words to describe the ethos of your school.
This school is independently managed and its admission criteria may be selective. There is no set catchment area as pupils are admitted from a wide variety of postcodes and, in the case of boarding schools, from outside the UK. Contact the school directly or visit their website for more information on Admissions Policy and Procedures.