W/b 9 May 2023

Tuesday 9 May 2023

Five famous colleagues ran away adventuring with our Year 6 pupils yesterday, off to Smuggler’s Top, Kirrin Island or some such location, on a week’s residential in Cornwall.  The Cadogan team had planned an active trip that required our Hertfordshire eleven-year-olds to surf, bodyboard, and coasteer far out of the comfort zone, exploring caves by day and dancing at beach discos in the evening.  It would be untrue to say the primary intent of this action-packed itinerary was to ensure that Year 6 fell asleep at a reasonable hour each night, but apparently this was a lovely side benefit.  The primary intent of any residential’s itinerary is awe, I think, always.  Awe and wonder.  It behoves us as teachers to ensure that our Year 6 pupils are astonished to be alive and to experience awe!

Meanwhile, back in the Head’s office on a Tuesday morning, Awe and Wonder had yet to clock in for the day, there being only the minutiae of my usual line management meetings.  The day is perked up by the regular Year 8 class, and while the bonus Year 12 class doesn’t quite scale the heights of last week, we still very much enjoy studying contemporary poetry together.  Poetry gives infinite pleasure, and while some have forgotten this fact, all humans need poetry in their lives.  Every human child delights in rhymes: the music, rhythm, wordplay, and (non)sense.  Tap a human thinking hard about a poem and you will hear infinity ringing.  The Year 12s and I did some good, hard thinking this afternoon.

I check in with a colleague who I need to know is okay, before dashing over to our boarding houses to enjoy an Open House evening.  These are opportunities for all RMS colleagues to see where our boarders live, to be given a tour of their home, to play a few frames of pool with the students, or just to enjoy a cuppa and a chat.

Wednesday 10 May 2023

Our fab Head of Art, Maxine, has arranged to see me first thing.  Maxine has told Sharon, my PA, that the meeting is about how we can display the new RMS Mission and Vision statements around our grounds, and of course this angle gets my attention and gets Maxine straight past the ‘PA as Gatekeeper’ role that Sharon must perform at times.  Now, Maxine wasn’t exactly lying in her pitch to Sharon, but in her early morning words to me I also hear echoes of “We really need an artist-in-residence” and “The New Mark Hall would make a great gallery”, aspirations that Maxine has articulated before in a selection of her more ambitious budget requests.  This is all good, of course, it’s the nice kind of pushy.

I joke with Maxine that she is essentially commandeering the new Mission and Vision statements, conscripting them into performing artistic service. Maxine protests that the idea is wholly in agreement with our Mission in imagining an art project that will involve all of the school’s students creating their own cornerstone images. We are both right, and Maxine’s ideas are certainly worth rubbing together for a while to see if they breed. We talk through a few options, scaling up Maxine’s original idea from New Mark Hall to The Garth, and seeing the limitations of one thousand students displaying their artwork in one room. I ask Maxine to explore options further with the artist she has in mind, and I promise her that I will take it to Emma as DFO, to explore what funding options we have. The truth is I do like Maxine’s idea. All schools need something special happening each year, a few sweet treats besides the bread-and-butter business of learning.

A Head of Year and Alison, our DSL, meet with me to talk through an issue they are working on at present, then I catch up with the Chair of Governors, before heading off to Watford Girls’ Grammar for a SWHSSH meeting of local headteachers. SWHSSH meetings for the last year have been solely focused on SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities), and EHCPs (Educational Health Care Plans), largely because these are areas that in the views of many are broken due to underfunding. For this meeting we are joined by County Councillor Douris, whose name sounds like a Dickensian creation but who is the actual councillor that oversees this area in Herts, and the Director of Inclusion and Skills. Themes discussed include processes, communication, and how we evaluate effectiveness. There is a recognition of “inconsistencies in delivery of service”.

Early on, Councillor Douris says, “There is an 11-14% increase in EHCPs each year in Herts and so we’re going to have to turn the tap down”.  There is quite a lot that I want to ask about this line, but I am mindful that there are other schools with far greater issues in this area than RMS so I keep quiet (which doesn’t come natural to me, (though I have had cause to practise this skill on occasion in recent years)).

The best question I hear asked comes after we are informed that there are Officers each with caseloads of 400 who can’t get their case details up to date, and that therefore schools shouldn’t keep phoning these officers. One Head asks if the council might invest in recruiting to better resource this area of Case Officers. We are told that there is no point in throwing a huge amount of money at things this year as (i) there are no resources to deal with that, and (ii) we need a sustainable fix. We are promised more than once that there is a commitment of “very significant” amounts of money coming over the next three years. Again, I keep quiet. I have learnt that silence is a muscle you can exercise if by nature you are insufficient and puny in this respect, as I am. But like my glutes, delts, and triceps, I’m still unconvinced that I want to supplement this muscle with creatine and daily workouts. I imagine that my wife would disagree, in all the above respects tbh.

We are then told that Herts spends more on alternative provision than any other county, that Herts has historically filled up children in special schools who should not be there, and that there is more exclusion in Herts than elsewhere.  These claims are not supported by evidence in the meeting, and there is strong pushback against this last point in particular, with a few Heads pointing out that SWHSSH is highly collaborative, that it does not have an exclusion culture, and examples are provided of occasions when schools have been prevented from working collaboratively in pupils’ best interests.  One Head says there are children in Herts schools that the Provision Panel have said should be in specialist settings, and asks “What are the numbers on this?” but these numbers are not shared.  The Director of Inclusion and Skills told us that the decision making of the Provision Panel is not right.

These are all complex and emotive issues, and I wouldn’t pretend to understand them as well as others with far more experience.  Neither can I claim to have solutions.  I can only say that it seemed to me, listening carefully, that the Councillor appeared to view the increase from 3600 EHCPs in 2016 to 11,000 EHCPs with suspicion, as if people were lying to get EHCPs or as if they were being given away cheaply or incorrectly.  We were told that something was “not right” with this 11-14% annual increase.

I played the role of considerate stone, wanting to build endurance in this area, but my mind kept coming back to the line that, “There is an 11-14% increase in EHCPs each year in Herts and so we’re going to have to turn the tap down”. Why? What if these children require and deserve EHCPs and it is a credit to everybody that we are getting better at recognising this? If we are to presume positive intentions, and that cases are genuine and identification is successful, then why would we wish to “turn the tap down”? Would we not be failing these children if we did so? I genuinely appreciated the attendance of the councillor and the Director of Inclusion and Skills, however I felt that their intent was to justify a process rather than trying to address a hugely important issue that our pupils need us to be working hard together on in order to improve.

After our guests left us, there was a discussion about schools’ budgets.  If I heard correctly, the deadline for maintained schools receiving budget information for 2023-24 has been extended to 31 August 2023, which put my challenges into perspective.  Some schools were predicting deficits of £400,000, based on fictional budgets.  Schools were having to assume what the increase to teachers’ pay would be – 4%?  5%? – and to produce multiple versions of their budgets.  It all seemed less than fair, less than ideal.  I know that maintained sector Heads across the country are having to consider the extent to which they can manage financially next year.  It has recently been reported in the national press that some schools in England are preparing to move to class sizes of as many as 60 children from September to deal with the funding crisis.  Some headteachers say underfunding will force them to cut staff, which is inevitable.  One academy school leader has warned a newspaper that another year of underfunding will force some schools into a four-day week. 

Everything discussed at SWHSSH today has been years in the making. It has taken dedicated neglect to bring education to this point. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) told government ministers last year to collect “reliable evidence” on the impact of financial pressures on schools as reports circulated of narrowing curriculums and of dwindling support for vulnerable pupils. The Department for Education promised to publish their report by March 2023, which would make interesting reading, but a letter sent to the PAC in April confirmed publication has been pushed back until after September. Independent schools will face challenges over the coming years, for sure, but the extreme challenges and hardship faced by many school leaders in the maintained sector is not good enough for what their children and all of those schools deserve. I stayed quiet in the meeting and let those most in need lead, but my thoughts had to come out at some point. The incomparable Melvin Hoyle’s reading of Shakespeare back in my Sixth Form taught me that it’s unhealthy to suppress natural emotions and strong viewpoints.

Back at RMS in the afternoon, I complete some compulsory training, observe a couple of lessons and then get over to Harris House, where our youngest boarders live (up to age 14).  The pupils show me how tidy/messy their rooms are (not bad at all, in truth), and then our conversation evolves into a Town Hall style meeting where I am quizzed on matters including why RMS students can’t wear shorts in summer term and why we have Phone Free Wednesdays after 6pm in Harris House.  Do I find myself slipping into politician mode and defending a process rather than addressing the issues directly?  I’d like to think not, on the whole, but I can neither confirm or deny that this was the case.

Thursday 11 May 2023

Today is the final day before study leave for our Year 11 pupils.  It is mostly a lovely day for them, filled with the usual shirt signing and final assembly fun.  However, for about fifteen minutes around break, a few of them get it wrong, which is disappointing.  It was not serious by the nature of many schools: a flashmob that got out of hand, a silly charge down a corridor, and a little thoughtless graffiti in the loo that is confessed to within the hour.  But it’s not what we’re about at RMS.  For many years, we have not been used to the issues that can accompany excessive exuberance of this nature.  There are lessons to be learned by us here too.

With our Head of Prep, I hear about a parental concern, a colleague needing support with accommodation, and a colleague’s illness.  With the Director of Admissions, we cover boarders’ numbers, Sixth Form scholarships, and links with boys’ schools.  All of this is important, and I try to add value to these chats, but in truth my mind is still on Year 11.  I am not a person who shouts, or loses his temper, or is knee-jerk in response to a work issue – that would be silly and unhelpful.  I am told that I’m pretty even-keel, calm and measured on the whole.  I do say to close colleagues that “If I go really quiet, it sometime means my emotions are very strong, and I’m staying quiet to make sure I don’t say anything rash.”  This doesn’t happen often at all, only four times over six years at RMS, perhaps most often in meetings with our landlords about rent and the new lease, however this afternoon I am quiet.  I know that it will be the weekend before I allow myself to think about how we best reflect on what happened with Year 11 today and leading up to today.

I distract myself with a “Prevent” online training course that I am required to do, and with a lesson observation. I have completed a few of these online training courses in recent months, and overall am not yet a fan. The cynic in me thinks they exist to save money, the tired teacher in me wants to sleep through or skip the corporate videos, and then the swotty schoolboy in me becomes annoyed if I don’t get 100% in the tests at the end. The tests themselves are invariably too easy for us all so the certificate you print off at the end feels worthless, the final insult of a tick-box exercise. I am conscious on this particular afternoon that I am viewing these courses in this moment in time, and that my response says more about me just now than anything else.

And then out of nowhere my mood lifts, and of course it is due to the students.  Year 13 have stayed behind after school to set up for their Leaver’s Day tomorrow.  They have decided on a pirate theme, and they have decorated the ‘Long Corridor’ accordingly with bullions, balloons, and bad puns.  There are jokes at the expense of teachers, headteachers, and at Year 11’s high jinks today.  A dedicated dozen Year 13 pupils are still there until after 6pm, along with Clare and Jennie, the Head of Sixth and Deputy Head of Sixth.  It’s good-natured fun, all in the right spirit from students who love their school and are working with the school to enjoy licensed merriment in the morning.  It’s all exactly how it should be.  I stroll down the corridor at 7pm and am greatly looking forward to tomorrow.

Friday 12 May 2023

Year 13 students are in early, from 7:30 onwards, in costume, armed with a sound system and water pistols.  Their targets are any pupils who wish to participate in this fun of running the gauntlet through the main gate into school.  I see some Year 8 pupils go back through the gate repeatedly, delighted to be teased and chased in this way.  It’s the start of a lovely morning that continues with a series of activities, memories, and an incredible magic show. Today will culminate in a wonderful formal dinner with their parent, tutors, and teachers this evening.  We do the final day for Year 13 extremely well at RMS.

My morning is busy.  Aside from joining Year 13 at a series of points, I catch up with a relatively new colleague to hear how his first few weeks at RMS have been, see Sarah about next year’s timetable, attend an Accommodation Committee trying to accommodate everybody’s requests, meet a Year 12 pupil called Molly who has impressed recently with her mindset and maturity, see Lucy and Melanie about PE staffing next year, and then pause for breath before lunch.  And as I stop I realise, out of nowhere, that I have a headcold, a sore throat, a runny nose, and aching eyes.  It’s as if they all arrived at once; I was fine in my meetings earlier on.  I haven’t taken a Covid test in quite a while (haven’t had need to), but I am conscious that this evening I am due to be attending pre-prandial drinks, sitting down for a final celebratory assembly, and then joining a party of eight at a table for a formal dinner over a couple of hours all as part of the Year 13 celebrations.  It would be irresponsible to sit with Year 13s who are about to take exams, and with their parents, without having taken a test.  I do. It’s positive.  Rubbish.

I am hugely disappointed to be missing one of the most special nights of the year at RMS, and an evening at which the headteacher really should be present. I inform relevant colleagues and head straight home to Covid isolation, for the third time since 2021.  I smile to myself as I remember that at one point, when schools first reopened, the government tried to tell us all that Covid didn’t spread easily in schools.  We didn’t believe them then.  As it is, at RMS we have had a few cases this last week, nothing like the scale it once was of course, and everything is different now we are jabbed, have caught it, and our immune systems have built up, but a new variant is definitely doing the rounds.

My disappointment aside, one great thing about working with truly wonderful colleagues is that I know my absence won’t impact the evening a jot.  The school runs just fine without me, Clare and Jennie have it all in hand, and Jennie has even written a beautiful poem that I later learn from the students had a number of them experiencing “happy tears”. 

I attend my afternoon meetings on the phone, or by Zoom, feeling essentially fine.  I hear news of the Year 13 evening through pictures and text updates.  And then, about 9pm, a fever comes on quickly, shakes start, and I try to settle down for a disturbed night experiencing Covid all over again, (hopefully) for one last time and just for old time’s sake.

W/b 2 May 2023

Tuesday 2 May 2023

“Year 12, hip-hip-hooray, Year 12, I teach today, they’re letting me teach poetry, brand new contemporary poetry!”  This wasn’t exactly my internal monologue as I walked in to work this morning, but it probably wasn’t far from it. Giddy with excitement, I was.

There are specific pleasures to teaching every year group.  The reason that teaching is an extraordinarily rewarding job is because you work with all manner of wonderful young people. I am a secondary specialist, but I loved teaching a ‘Q.I.’ class to Years 4-6 in Cadogan over the last couple of years.  That said, teaching your specialist, beloved subject to Year 12 students is arguably as good as it gets for a secondary teacher, and there are a few reasons why: 

1/ Sixth Form is an intellectually fertile age, full of open-minded students who are brim full off post-GCSE confidence, and world-at-their-feet curiosity. 

2/ Your students all picked your subject as one of their three most favourite subjects. As opposed to teaching GCSE English, which is also great, but includes some students in the class who are there through compulsion rather than choice, which inevitably changes the classroom dynamic. 

3/ Year 12 is a blissful moment in time, balanced deliciously between the immediate, pressing pressures of GCSE and A Level examinations.  This is good for teachers and students alike.

4/ Year 12 students are less tribal than younger adolescents, the spirit of having ‘survived’ GCSEs together makes everybody better appreciate one another.  It’s kind of like The Breakfast Club, but spread over a year of young adults breaking out of their adolescent pupa stage.

5/ A Level texts are more interesting, demanding and grown-up than those at GCSE – the joys of teaching Hamlet, Atonement, Antony and Cleopatra, Jonathan Swift and other tricky, complicated brilliant texts and authors are some of the happiest of my teaching career, and a world away from the brilliant but simpler study of Lord of the Flies and An Inspector Calls

6/ And finally, as a class Year 12 will be really quite good students of your subject and will most likely be ready to become truly bloody brilliant at it so you can have oodles of fun intellectually stretching them as far as possible. 

Anyway, the facts around my morning mania are that my English HoD, Catherine, has asked/allowed me to teach a couple of lessons on contemporary collections of poetry with a Year 12 group.  I put a bit of time on Sunday into planning a lesson, and did a half-decent job of teaching it today.  That we were studying the incredible Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine did most of the heavy lifting for me in making the lesson successful.

But before I got to enjoy this 75-minute highlight of the day, we had second-round interviews for the important support role of Operations Manager, and think we have appointed somebody with great talent and potential.  I also observed part of a Psychology interview lesson where I saw what a truly great Year 12 lesson looks like, and so we appointed there too.  We have got some special teachers joining our already-wonderful team next year.  The RMS students are very lucky, and this is why we put so much time into getting our appointments right.

I also met late afternoon with Sophia and Emma, two sharp, special colleagues who explain to me why we should use a communication system called SOCS for our school calendar from September.  I could share with you the reasons why, but if Sophia and Emma (approaching this problem from two different starting points back in January) both separately tell you that X is the best solution for any particular problem, then just do as I did, and trust them – they’ll have found the best solution for you.

Wednesday 3 May 2023

Today is the Wednesday after the first of three Bank Holidays in May, so at RMS we’re all following a Monday timetable. Confused? Blame bloomin’ Sophia, it was her idea! Foolishly, I just trusted her.

A morning stroll and chat with the Chair of Governors, a first probation meeting with a colleague, a call with a Head who has asked, a routine catch up with Alina in HR, a regular meeting with Rachel, a call with Sarah about faith, and then birthday cake with a group of fab Year 11 boarders who I have seen grow up over a number of years at RMS.  Today is all a delight.  It’s a four-day week that’s followed by a three-day weekend and then another four-day week – how often does one of those come along?  You’d be mad not to lean into that and enjoy it.  Plus, Spring is here and if you ever need reminding of the joys of Spring then you need to visit us to experience how gorgeous the trees of RMS look in full bloom.   

To be honest, I think I’m still genuinely buzzing with the emotions from studying contemporary poetry with Sixth Form students yesterday, safe in the knowledge that we get to study more contemporary poetry together next week.  I genuinely think that teaching an enjoyable class is impacting how I’m viewing everything today.  Perhaps I will be in the pits of despair by next Wednesday, when there are no more Sixth Form English classes on the horizon, but for now the sun is shining.

Thursday 4 May 2023

Today is the Spring Conference for the Heads of HMC schools.  HMC is “a professional association of heads of the world’s leading independent schools”, founded in 1869, with a membership of the headteachers of 300 British schools and 50 schools from across the globe.  Blurb aside, it is a very good organisation that appears to me to have been increasingly forward thinking over the last six years. 

I once imagined and feared that it would be filled with characters like John Cleese’s headteacher Mr Stimpson in the 1986 film Clockwise, and perhaps it was in the 1980s, but if that ever were the case it is fast/finally modernising in respect both of the diversity of female  and male heads who are leading HMC and chairing HMC sub-committees, and also through the issues being discussed.  Of course, in truth there are some heads here who appear to love to pose and boast, but refreshingly few.  My sense is that HMC as an organisation and the vast majority of its members are working for the best for the 300,000 pupils educated at our schools, and, wherever possible, for all young people in schools. 

Talks today include, “The journey from diversity and inclusion to belonging”, “Legal perspectives on trans children in schools”, “What racism look like from a parent’s perspective”, and a “Reform of Assessment” update.  These are all good, important topics that are relevant to schools nowadays and are important for heads to hear about.  It is a useful day.

One of my friends who is head has a theory that there are headteachers who are most concerned about their school, as we should be, and headteachers who are more concerned about themselves than their school, with the implication being that the three of us who were chatting together were all in the former camp.  I know what he means insofar as some heads would always appear to be looking over the shoulders of their current school towards a more prestigious appointment, and maybe that’s just the way of some humans, but I think that being a headteacher asks so much of you that if you aren’t fully immersed in what is best for your school, pupils, and colleagues then you would fast be found out.  I am told that the average duration of head at an independent school is fewer than four years, so perhaps they are. 

Friday 5 May 2023

I have three interesting conversations with teachers today, all different subjects, different stages of their career, and different issues.  I won’t share the contents, the point is that it is good for me to hear colleagues’ perspectives, and also good as appropriate at times to offer a colleague a steer or prompt and then see how they respond.  It is a very good Common Room at RMS, many dedicated colleagues that the pupils and I are lucky to have with us. 

Later, I meet with our Academic Deputy, Sophia, to talk through a series of meetings we are going to have together with a very dedicated HoD, and to see how we might best support them. All colleagues benefit from support and development, from ECTs through new and experienced middle leaders to SLT and Heads. Dylan William said it best: “If we create a culture where every teacher believes they need to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.” This is as true of HoDs, HoYs, SLT, and Heads as it for teachers. The occasions I have found frustrating at times are when a HoD or Head tries to tell me that everybody in their team is brilliant and they don’t need to improve. The first clause could well be true; the second is nonsense that convinces the middle/Senior leader that their job as line manager is only to defend and praise the team. I’ve only known it on a few occasions, but it’s one of the few leadership positions I can’t relate, connect, or work with. CPD is one area that I am very excited about over the coming couple of years at RMS; we are investing more time and resources into it than ever before, and a colleague called Helen has put a great deal of time and work into thinking about how we can make it work best for all. A commitment to self-improvement is necessary for everybody who works in schools – we are learning communities.

There are the usual run of meetings with colleagues, a good assembly that I observe, and words to write for a newsletter, before the afternoon ends with a productive meeting with two colleagues and parents of a pupil with her own particular context about how we best support them and her going forwards    

W/b 24 April 2023

Monday 24 April 2023

Brilliant teachers are taking our younger pupils away on a series of residential trips, and preparing older students for study leave and examinations.  The syncopated rhythms of a school year are music to my ears because while Covid hasn’t wholly disappeared from our lives, every headteacher (or at least this one) is delighted by all the little, mundane, regular school activities that now take place and that young people were deprived of during peak pandemic years.

This is a week to tie up as many of our outstanding vacancies as possible.  In Senior/Sixth, we need to find great teachers in Food and Nutrition, Biology, Maths, and Psychology, and we also are interviewing for two teachers in Cadogan House.  Maths and Biology are both posts that we tried to fill before Easter without success, but we will get there, and for Psychology we have applicants in this week and next, so fingers crossed.  For Food and Nutrition, however, it is a much smaller pond that schools are fishing in, ever since in 2015-16 the government announced that the study of “Food Technology” and “Home Economics” would be removed as A Level options. 

Food Technology was a brilliant A Level – we offered it at my last school and it was a popular, challenging course, and also distinctly different to the vocational options in this area. Nutrition is complex, the new science of eating is hugely important, and the impact of discontinuing these subjects is significant and under-appreciated. In early 2020, the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), in partnership with the Food Teachers Centre (FTC), surveyed secondary school food teachers in England to ascertain the impact on students of stopping the two A Levels. An executive summary included the following:

  • There is less food teaching in our schools
  • The removal of A-levels in ‘food’ led to the reduction of food and nutrition education at Key Stage 3 at 1 in 4 schools
  • There is less funding for teaching about ‘food’ at 1 in 4 schools
  • The status of the subject (food) is in decline
  • Staffing remains an issue, in terms of capacity and subject specific knowledge and skills.

In some respects, that summary is saying the same thing in five different ways: stopping the A Level impacted the teaching and learning of food and nutrition this country. Now I do enjoy my food (insert your own joke) but surely I’m not alone in thinking this is far too important a subject area for us to have let happen. While I am not aware of more recent research, I would not expect the situation to have improved since then, and my anecdotal knowledge of other schools suggests Food has continued to spoil, curdle, and rot in many settings since 2020. Ay-Thang-Yaw, as Arthur Askey would say!

At RMS, in addition to all students studying Food through Key Stages 2 and 3, and to it being a very popular GCSE subject here, we are becoming a specialist Leith’s Cookery School. We have a superb Head of Department in Yvonne, a true subject specialist who literally writes the books that exam boards use. However, after a talented colleague had to leave for personal reasons, we have been seeking an additional permanent teacher who is strong enough for what our students deserve. Unfortunately, today’s applicant didn’t have the pedagogy talent we are hoping for from the evidence that we saw in the classroom. This process is one that will run until the end of this term, I fear.

In some good recruiting news, two experienced Early Years specialists who have taught in Ruspini House before now both wish to return to work again with our Head, Vicky Greig. Great Early Years practitioners in nurseries and pre-schools are four-leafed-rocking-horse-teeth, or something, i.e. rare to find because there are so few of them, so this is fab news for our Ruspini pupils. Vicky also talks me through pupil numbers for next year because we are finalising these numbers and linking it all back to our projected budget for 2023-24. It is that time of year in independent schools too!

Tuesday 25 April 2023

I am enjoying teaching a Media unit to Year 8 this half-term. It’s a lovely unit, but it exemplifies just how fast the world is changing because in part we look at newspapers, i.e. tabloids/broadsheets, facts/opinions, etc, including language analysis and semiotic study of media texts because that is what students are assessed on (as they were twenty years ago when I first taught this area for a GCSE English question). However, a quick survey of my class before Easter confirmed that in 2023 most thirteen-year-olds don’t read newspapers or watch TV news; any news they access is through social media such as Tik Tok and Instagram.

Sometimes new media raises awareness of important issues, for example in relation to environmentalism and sustainability, but it perhaps also exposes the pupils more than previous generations to fake news, to more sophisticated media manipulation, and to product promotion through influencers.  I have read that there isn’t yet evidence that this is the case, but I think if we looked a little harder then…y’know?

Anyway, when planning my lessons, I had to smile to myself when I realised we are at a distinct point in history where we are now studying social media, apps, and influencers with schoolchildren, and rightly so, yet with many of the teachers not digital natives but middle-aged 49-year-olds like myself. Suffice to say, I did a fair bit of research, found some great resources to do the heavy lifting, and asked the pupils to help me out a little in this area. I feel that I am learning about this topic with them, which, on occasion, is how some great teaching can work (I tell myself). Next week, we’re covering fake news.

Anne Williams comes in to update me on the We Collaborate conference that RMS are hosting on Saturday 10th June, and to give me the headlines about how her sessions with our middle leaders at RMS are progressing.  We also talk through how we can keep Anne with us at RMS next year as she has been a wonderful addition to our community in so very many ways.  We’ll have a couple of hundred teachers on site on 10th June, all learning together and being energised by one another.  I do enjoy a teachers’ conference.  It will be a glorious day at RMS!

Staffing remains on today’s agenda as I meet first with the boarding team to discuss improving provision for our boarders next year, and then with Sophia, our fab Academic Deputy, and two Heads of School to have a final check that we are where we wish to be with staffing and class sizes for next year.   Emma, our DFO, also meets with me later to discuss pupil numbers against budgets. 

All of this post-Easter number checking matters hugely because typically, around 75% of an independent school’s income is spent on staff salaries, and so every extra staff member that is requested and each pupil fewer can each make a big difference in a business with a marginal surplus such as ours. Independent schools must set budgets and fees ahead of Easter in order to give parents the opportunity to provide a term’s notice if they wish to do so. However, pupil numbers cannot be finalised until after Easter when any parents who wish to have given notice. So Headteachers and DFOs make best plans one side of Easter, agreeing budgets with the Board based on what we know and what past years suggest will most likely happen, and then make final sense of it all the other side of Easter once this year’s human beings actually make their decisions, not always conforming with the algorithm that the data from previous years has generated.

I have on occasion smiled thinking about the strange career route that a head of a large independent school takes. You start off wanting to teach young people, but if you’re half-decent at this then at some point you will be offered the post of Head of Department, and if you make a decent job of that a school might put you forward to be their Academic Deputy until before you know it they’ve got you overseeing a business with a turnover of £20 million and discussing KPIs with the Global Chief Experience Officer at Ipsos while you’re still struggling to teach Year 8 something they don’t already know about social media.

Wednesday 26 April 2023

This week the Whole School Leadership Team meeting involves our Head of Senior School, Rachel, feeding back from a working party that she has been leading which has been reviewing the structure of our school day across RMS. It is early days with this, and of course we are not looking at changing anything before September 2024. The initial Working Party were asked consider ways we might: (i) make best use of time for pupil learning and development, (ii) help to further establish a one-school mind-set across RMS, and (iii) better facilitate the sharing of physical and human resources across our schools as appropriate.

The first point above is partly requiring us address a concern that Senior and Sixth Form pupils and staff have been feeding back for many years, that the gap between 12:50 (when our Period 6 ends) and 2:40 (when our Period 7 commences) is not always used as well as it might be. It is also a prompt to a larger question of “How does a school get the best balance of pastoral, academic, and co-curricular time?” RMS doesn’t do a bad job at all with the later, we’re a truly great holistic school. However, the consistent feedback regarding those middle two hours of the day tells us that it is worth looking at again, from a variety of perspectives. The second and third points that the WP were charged with each touch on the merits of better connecting our Prep School and Senior/Sixth Form because at present there is only one lesson each day that shares the same start and end times, and this places some significant restrictions on our timetabling each year.

Rachel tells us that there is no “best or right answer” to any of this, otherwise every school would do the same thing.  Well, I certainly don’t want that for RMS.  We hear that the Working Party looked across a range of schools before considering three models that might work for RMS in detail, and then dismissing one of these options.  Rachel has shared pros and cons and examples of the other two models with us prior to today’s discussion.  The group has also sought feedback from a wider range of staff on the benefits and drawbacks of moving to a one-hour lesson length. 

There is then a pretty good, open-minded discussion of the two models, however one of these models (a nifty, radical proposal that involves varying lessons in 15 minute blocks, i.e. some 30, some 45, some 60, some 75) excites but ultimately is not felt by this group to be able to address one of our key principles of allowing for more efficient sharing of resources across the school.

The other model would involve a move to six one-hour blocks. We currently have 4 blocks of 75 minutes, plus 60 minutes of “pastoral time” each day.  It’s 30 hours of overall pastoral and academic contact time either way.  There are inevitably advantages and losses from this (and every) model, and its interesting to weigh them up against the best of what we have.  The group are happy for Rachel to take it out for wider consultation across the school giving all staff the chance to feedback, but decide that we would like there to be two versions of this general model, one just as it has been presented to us, and the other with a longer lunch (as we have now).  I am pleased that the group recognises that we must ensure enough time for (sporting) co-curricular clubs that take place over the lunch break.  We are a truly great holistic school, and any possible new model must not threaten the conditions that allow every pupil here to thrive.

There is more I could discuss here, but of course we will wish to hear the thoughts of colleagues, parents, and pupils on this issue.  It is a topic that will recur over the coming months, and I shall keep my powder dry for the time being.

We interview a head of a local prep school as a potential new governor.  He will be a great addition, just what we need, and a recommendation is sent to the wider Board.  The day ends with a MF&D Committee (Marketing, Fundraising, and Development).  It’s only our second meeting of this group, and our first with the new Head of Marketing and Admissions, Emma, who impresses the Chair of the Sub-Committee (and me). In meeting two we make the very important decision that it needs a name change to Marketing, Admissions and Development, (because names are important) but once we get onto weightier matters and Emma gets the true measure of our School, this group is going to be a very good thing for RMS, I believe.

Thursday 27 April 2023

I join the Senior and Sixth Form SLT this morning.  Now, it is not normally like this when I have attended, but in truth today it’s a slightly chaotic affair.  It was probably trying to bite off more than any one meeting could chew in an hour.  I stay a short while to gauge what I think is happening, and then decide to leave them to it, worried that by my mere presence I am doing more harm than good in the context of today’s meeting!  I don’t think too much of this – we’ve all had a meeting that hasn’t been prepared or teed-up as well as it might have been (or at least I have).  I speak with Rachel and Clare in the days that follow to get their take on why it got to where it did. No biggie.  The SLT are wonderful in very many ways, but they are human too.  We move on.

One of the lovely things about RMS is that there is a room were staff can enjoy their lunch together that is adjacent to the main Dining Hall. I haven’t enjoyed this experience in my previous schools; we always ate in the same room as pupils, just on separate tables. RMS staff enjoy having a bit of peace to enjoy 10-15 minutes of pleasant conversation with colleagues from a range of areas across school – it is a very good thing. I don’t get down there every day as sometimes the lunch hour is needed to meet people, but this school year I have got in there at least a couple of times every week, and I do appreciate the chance to hear about colleagues’ lives inside or outside school. As with school trips and examinations, perhaps it took Covid and the enforced loss of such collegiality to better make me appreciate how important a civilised lunch together is for us all.

In the afternoon I observe Biology lessons, and in the wash-up afterwards we all feel that we have a teacher that we can appoint at RMS. The applicant accepts our offer, which is wonderful, and Melanie tells me she has appointed two new colleagues in Cadogan House – let’s keep the strong teachers coming!

Friday 28 April 2023

I meet with our Head of Learning Support, Claire Hawkins. Claire is an experienced SENCO and leader in this area, who fulfilled the role very successfully in the maintained sector for a number of years before joining RMS. Her challenge when starting here was replacing a colleague who by her own admission went (far) beyond the bounds of what could be expected of a dedicated professional in her particular care and support for a small number of students and families. Expectations when Claire arrived were not realistic among some of our parents. Ann was truly fabulous, as is Claire, but Claire has to be allowed to be Claire and not Ann! Our meeting is a brief, productive one that prepares the ground for two or three discussions to follow about PALS provision at RMS.

I observe a number of Maths teachers today, and the HoD and I both agree that we have two great, appointable applicants. We are on an appointing roll. It’s a no from the Psychology observations today as they’re just not right for us, but we have high hopes for the applicant who is in early next week. We sign up three great teachers on the phone, and I consider that an acceptable day’s work for a Friday because there isn’t much that is more important than appointing great teachers and keeping the great ones that we already have here happy and committed to self-improvement.

It’s a long Bank Holiday weekend for most, and a long, working weekend for our brilliant boarding team. They are taking the students to Windsor tomorrow, to soak up something of the pre-Coronation atmosphere. The week ends with us having finished our recruiting in Ruspini House, Cadogan House, Science, and Mathematics. And if anybody knows a great teacher of Food and Nutrition that is seeking a school where the subject is truly, truly scrumptious valued, then do please point them my way.

W/b 17 April 2023

Monday 17 April 2023

Our Trinity Inset Day starts with Whole School start-of-term updates.  Everybody comes together – all support colleagues, all Ruspini teachers, Cadogan, Senior and Sixth Form staff, grabbing a croissant and finding a seat in our recently refurbished and beautiful, large performance room that we call The Space.

Our DFO, Emma, covers financial details, including a greatly deserved salary increase for all staff, and makes us aware of the significant challenges facing the sector in the immediate years to come.  We will rise to them.  Emma and I do a double act in this whole-school session, switching back and forth between us, and Emma’s second section provides more details on practical matters such as our transition to Google, and also on the imminent move to School Post in our use of comms.

My section of the update contains important recognition and thanks for work undertaken over the ‘holidays’, and then takes everybody back to our Mission and Vision building process undertaken at RMS in recent years.  It wasn’t rushed, it involved all members of our community.  It belongs to everyone.  And now we need to be clear about how we all take it forwards.

In some respects, I want to apologise to colleagues for returning to this topic, but not really.  Until I hear all colleagues talking about, referring to, planning around, and constantly enacting our Mission, Vision, and Five-Year Plan, then we will all keep hearing about it from me.  And given we only launched it in January 2023, we’re not there yet.  These things take time.  I’ve been advised that I should communicate it, and communicate it more, and when I think I’ve communicated it until I’m blue in the face, communicate it some more.  In time, all of us will come to appreciate that this is the only game in town and embrace what this plan offers us. 

We wanted to simplify our Mission and our Vision to a couple of sentences, a pair of clear, simple messages so everybody connected with RMS knows our why, i.e. our purpose, and knows where we want to be heading. Our Mission is what we stand for, why RMS exists, and that is to ensure that “Every pupil thrives and is prepared to shape their future.” I dwell longest on the importance of us all living that Mission. For the main theme of my talk, I ask us to dwell on the first three key words of that Mission, a simple idea that makes RMS work best: Every Pupil Thrives.

It’s the starting point of our Mission statement so it merits us thinking about a bit more. And when I was taking drafts of our Mission/Vision ideas around focus groups of parents, pupils, staff, alumnae, “Every pupil thrives” was the phrase that repeatedly landed most strongly as capturing what RMS does at its best. So, I ask colleagues to consider, “What does it mean exactly, for all of us, that our Mission is ‘Every pupil thrives?’” I’ll share a ‘script’ of some of the words that I presented to colleagues because this theme is central to our working life at RMS…

“Forgive me for stating the obvious, but of course “Every pupil thrives” means us knowing all our pupils, which requires us to hear the voices of all our pupils so we can best respond to the very particular needs of all the pupils.

If as a form teacher, I don’t know which pupils in my form live for team sports, or perhaps more importantly, the pupils who live in fear of having to do sport, or the girl who isn’t currently attending any lunchtime clubs, and hasn’t all year, or the pupil currently frozen out by the group who were her friends, or the pupil that’s figuratively dying of embarrassment every lunchtime on her own, or the pupil who is undiagnosed ASC and what that means for her, if I don’t know these kind of crucially important details about each of the twenty or so pupils in my form, then I am not best positioned to ensure that they will thrive at RMS.

Or if, as a subject teacher, I don’t fully know the learning support contexts of all my pupils, or don’t respond to each pupils’ SEN context in all my planning and teaching, then those pupils won’t thrive at RMS.  Or, if I convince myself some of my sets don’t need marking regularly, then those pupils aren’t going to thrive here.  So our RMS Mission statement of “Every pupil thrives” asks an awful lot of care and dedication and hard work of every one of us working here.  And of course we get this right so very often.  But the thing about “Every pupil thrives” is that it’s the hard-to-reach voices that I need to keep working at.

It is both wonderful and hugely important to know and support the pupils who love our subject, who thrive in our co-curricular areas, who are the geeky book kids in English, or top set scientists and mathematicians, the ones who have solid friends and radiate positivity in our forms.  But if those pupils are the ones we’re giving a disproportionate amount of our time and attention to, then not every pupil will thrive.  Are we all giving all our pupils the time they deserve?  Because that’s what we say our Mission is here.

Please understand that I truly know we get it right an awful lot.  Don’t mistake what I’m saying here for me not knowing and fully appreciating that.  We know from every pupil survey that we get high percentages of pupils who feel hugely known and valued at RMS.  Very many of them, and that’s a credit to everybody.  “I feel welcome and I can be myself at RMS” was one of my favourite lines from some recent feedback with a group of pupils.  I loved hearing that line, expressed as it was by that particular pupil.  It made my heart swell with pride for you all.

But while we don’t always share the specifics with you because we don’t want to upset you, the school leaders here know that in every pupil survey, in every 6th Form exit survey, and in the recent ISI survey, there are also pupils who write less positive phrases.  Not as many, a small minority, but they are there.  We’ve had sentences such as, “My tutor gives time and attention to the same girls in my form, and I’m not one of them”, and “My teacher doesn’t think enough about my learning needs.”  The pupils will tell us this, because for some of them it is their lived, daily experience.

What are we doing about those whose voices aren’t heard?  What are we doing to listen to them, to support them? Not the students who love your subject, not the pupils in the A teams, not the popular girls, but the ones who struggle, the ones who don’t enjoy large parts of school life.  If our Mission is “Every pupil thrives” we do need to ask ourselves, “How much are we looking out for the less happy pupils and the quietest voices?” and, “In what ways are we setting clear expectations with other students about their behaviour towards pupils who are having a tough time?”

I don’t care if it’s less than 10% or 5% of pupils who are having this kind of awful experience at any given time, it’s our jobs, mine and yours, to ensure that we are looking out for them, that we are making the time to spot them and listen to them, and then following up and helping them get to a better place. “Every pupil thrives” is our stated, published Mission. It’s why RMS exists. Genuinely please do forgive me because that last section was quite a monologue, but I would also hope that it gives you some security to know your headteacher cares enough to draw attention not only our strengths, which this area overwhelmingly is, but to it simultaneously being our collective area for further improvement, especially given it’s an area that impacts some of our pupils.”

I had spent the final days of the holidays preparing for the coming term, and returning to this Inset talk (which covered other areas too) was part of that prep. Some of these thoughts had experienced a long gestation period. I was confident it was the right topic and time to do this, but nonetheless worried how it would be received. Most teachers are highly dedicated professionals, and term time places demands on every single teacher and support colleague in a school, so being at least implicitly critical of some behaviours, and also of some behaviours not being challenged and supported by line managers, was potentially going to cause upset. But what was hugely pleasing was that the number of colleagues who took the time to thank me or praise the Inset talk, and particularly the “Every pupil thrives” section of that talk, was far greater than usual. I shared my concerns with one colleague who thanked me that I worried it might have been poorly received by a small minority. “If the cap fits” was their reply. Though harsher than I would have phrased it, my (junior, younger) colleague made the point that if you don’t know your pupils and/or are not working to support each of their particular needs, then it is right that you are appropriately challenged about it and are asked if there is any support needed for you to ensure that all your pupils thrive.

Given that other areas addressed during Inset with colleagues covered topics including the post-pandemic mental health crisis for children and teens, our responsibility to train and develop teachers, and the purpose of the independent sector in society, I wanted to end with something a little more uplifting or inspiring. I went back to our Vision statement, that “RMS is renowned as an exceptional learning environment and as a school that thinks differently”. I believe that this Vision statement can and should be hugely empowering for us. To be renowned as a school that prepared to think differently for what is best for young women is a mandate that we can happily accept. And I shared with colleagues that I am determined that RMS fully embraces the opportunity that this Vision statement offers us. It is a command that allows or even demands us to be bold and audacious in our thinking and actions. What might being prepared to think differently about being an exceptional learning environment for our pupils and young women mean? What could that mean for our curriculum, for our co-curricular offer, for our support for pupils’ well-being and pastoral care?

I didn’t want to set hares running by giving for instances, but I did strive to assure colleagues that I have a wide-open mind about this, and that I am determined that RMS grasps the opportunity this Vision statement offers us.  Being part of the fast-changing, post-Covid world involves reimagining what our world might be.  It is creative thinking that will inherit the new normal.  A talent for following the ways of yesterday won’t be sufficient to improve the world of today. 

All schools need to be centred around a hope for our children’s future. Our Vision statement allows RMS to be centred around a really special hope for the futures of our pupils. I invited colleagues to come and talk with me and others about this, and I look forward to hearing the creative ways that they rise to our Five-Year-Plan and school development plan. I also can’t wait to read their departmental development plans for the coming year to see how these tie in with the School’s mission, vision, and overall strategy.

Tuesday 18 April 2023

After a day of Inset, RMS pupils and students return to school. Always a joy. As I leave the house in the morning there is a splendid April sun and the fresh dew of early morning. I stroll through the garden deliberately, just to let nature add its wet shine to my shoes and see the sparkle that it places there. I once watched a student strolling across The Garth early in the morning, unaware that I was stood outside Hind House, and she stopped under a large tree, stood on tiptoes, and licked a wet leaf. Brilliant! We should never stop responding like a child to the natural world.

The pattern of my day is touching base with the four Heads of School and Emma as DFO, just to check in with them, to hear if all is well (or not), and to listen to what they are grappling with at present.

Vicky in Ruspini House, our nursery and pre-school, tells me about classroom structures, staffing, and CPD. Melanie in Cadogan House, our prep school, informs me about a colleague on compassionate leave, and a couple of resignations that we were expecting and have now arrived. Rachel in Senior School updates me about a colleague with a long-term health context, and a student who is struggling at present, and also requests feedback from me ahead of an upcoming appraisal she has with a great colleague. Clare in Hind House, our Sixth Form, gives me dates and instructions for all of her upcoming events over the coming term and the summer (which is very on-brand for Clare), and also shows me her exit survey questions for Year 13, and the colour scheme that the students have selected for the extension of our Sixth Form that is taking place this summer.

There is a catch-up meeting with the landlords, hopefully some good news about work on our roofs, and a degree of progress on The Great Hall. A call with a local headteacher about an issue they have, and a series of updates from HR. We have nine applications in so far for the important post of Operations Manager. A steady start to term – we’ll take that!

Wednesday 19 April 2023

Another day that is fairly straightforward – it’s really noticeable how different the end of terms are to how they start, simply because tiredness impacts term time like nothing else.  The Whole School Leadership Team meeting updates us about progress regarding social media plans, School Post comms (going out first to Ruspini parents), and staff wellbeing.  I see two colleagues about a matter that a parent raised with me over Easter (ahead of getting back to the parent tomorrow).  I catch up with the marketing team about the ad campaign they wish to run this summer (which links back to the “Shape your future” words from our Mission statement, and the “RMS thinks differently” phrase from our Vision statement – all good), and I hear from Emma, our Head of Marketing and Admissions, about a wide range of plans as she continues to make the transition from gathering info and getting to know RMS to making plans and getting things done for RMS.

Perhaps the most interesting meeting of my day is with Catriona, a brilliant teacher in Cadogan House who has recently been appointed to the post of Academic Deputy from September 2023. The meeting isn’t especially interesting in respect of what’s said, largely because I talk far too much in it, but it is interesting to me in that when not wittering on I am witnessing a colleague at the very start of making a formal transition from being a dedicated class teacher and member of the PLT in Cadogan House, to becoming a Senior Leader there. An internal promotion of this nature brings its particular challenges, and that will be interesting to observe and support over the next year or two. But even more challenging than that, Catriona has been appointed one of two new Deputy Heads at an important point in the evolution of Cadogan House.

Melanie Horn took up post as our new Head of Cadogan House in January 2022. Angela retires as a sole Deputy Head after two decades of dedicated service to the school. In September 2023, Melanie will then lead a new team of two Deputy Heads, Catriona and Jill, (a highly experienced external appointment), alongside a superb Head of Inclusion, Jo, who herself only took up post in September 2022. This team, working together and with the broader PLT, will need to win over and lead colleagues, parents and pupils. My job is to support them of course, and to challenge as required, to steer them within the bounds of the RMS ethos and strategy, but also to empower them to lead things on a day-to-day level. As Vicky, Rachel, and Clare have grown into their roles as Heads of School, this Cadogan team can receive more of my thoughts and time (though often from a distance, mostly wishing to let them get on with it). And so the meeting with Catriona was interesting insofar as it was another early marker of what is going to be a truly exciting time of development for Cadogan House at RMS.

Thursday 20 April 2023

I have a 45-minute meeting with a pair of lawyers for advice about a matter.  I have learnt a great deal from educational lawyers over the last decade, asking questions of me about ways we can think differently as school leaders, giving clarity about legal frameworks that we must adhere to and the risks of any situation, and providing reassurance about areas where we can be very confident and emphatically firm about what our role is and is not.  It is really helpful; Krissy is a great counsel over the trickier matters of school leadership. 

I meet with our medical team about a matter. They are genuinely reflective, and acknowledge things could have been handled differently. I am always happy if a colleague feels they can come into my office and say words to the effect of “I tried X because I wanted to achieve Y, but it didn’t work out and now it’s a bit of a mess”. This particular conversation isn’t like that basic template of reflection, but the principle of honest reflective practice is certainly present throughout it, and I truly am always pleased to hear this. As long as we’re always learning, we’re allowed to make mistakes. We all make them; I make some every day.

For example, in a foolish, silly-old-man way, I find myself getting annoyed by Clare (who, as I have said before, is wonderful). Clare is being an advocate for a colleague, and is trying to be helpful, as always. However, I would like the colleague to speak with me directly, rather than Clare doing so on behalf of them, and subsequently there is misunderstanding. No biggie. One of the many great things about working with Clare is I feel I can walk over to her office, hear her views, share mine, better understand one another’s perspective, and then both move on with no silly ego or hangover from the original issue. All is well. I will hear from the colleague tomorrow, before we head into the weekend.

Friday 21 April 2023

A day that begins by walking the ground with Head Groundsman, Billy Lees, is always a good one. Billy cares. Today he shares his frustrations with how contractors are treating our grounds, and of course he is right. I ask him to share his views with Emma, the DFO and Billy’s line manager, and over the coming couple of weeks the three of us will work to try to move matters on.

I meet with a great teacher about how we make things work best for her and keep her motivated, learning, and developing over the coming years. These kinds of conversation are always a delight – a great colleague who I know gives absolutely everything to the pupils, who needs a little help from us just now, and who wants to keep growing and being challenged professionally. You can bring those conversations to my door every day.

We longlist for the Operations Manager role; it ended up being a good-sized field and we bring seven candidates in, from a range of backgrounds. I then observe two prospective DT teachers teach a lesson, as that department needs to grow. One is great, the other we don’t believe is appointable from the classroom practice we see, and so that becomes a straightforward wash-up meeting. Later this evening, Amy agrees to join us. She has worked with our HoD, Dan, before, and so that all promises really well for that team next year.

There is a Friday afternoon assembly that is a little bit like a Taskmaster episode as Clare, Rachel and I try to find a novel way of introducing this term’s RMS Value of Perseverance.  After assembly, one surprise meeting for me today is with a parent who works overseas but is passing and would like to see me.  Fortunately, I am available. He has sent three incredible daughters to RMS, and he wishes to see me today to thank the school for all it has done before his youngest leaves us this summer to go to university.  Again, these are the meetings that make my job a delight, and having known all three of his daughters, and the youngest particularly so, I can truly tell mum and dad how truly fortunate we have been to have their girls contribute so much to our school for over a decade now. 

Throughout the day (and this week), I catch up with colleagues to check all is well ahead of the SATIPS Prep Schools Art Exhibition that RMS is hosting for the second year running tomorrow. Many colleagues, particularly in our Prep, support teams, and Art departments have worked very hard to ensure that tomorrow and the coming week is successful and enjoyable for all of the prep schools participating, and for all of the teachers and pupils visiting. Melanie assures me everything is in place, and I should merely turn up and enjoy the official Opening tomorrow morning – sounds good. There will be over 500 visitors on-site and enjoying RMS at its best. The Spring sun is set to shine, and I am looking forward to it very much!

W/b 27 March 2023

Monday 27 March 2023

After the intensity of the penultimate week of term, the final week mostly settles down.  A few dramas, but not as many as a final week of term sometimes brings to a school.  At this stage of the year, all schools are recruiting teachers, and I observe lessons by Biology and Chemistry teachers today.  We need one extra Science teacher because the subject is growing, and one because a great teacher is moving on to a promotion and we are very pleased for her. 

When teachers apply to RMS for a job, I leave the interviewing to the Head of Dept and Academic Deputy but I do want to see them in the classroom.  The excitement when you know you are witnessing a ‘proper teacher’ is thrilling, and the gulf between that experience and that of seeing somebody who isn’t a natural teacher trying to teach – it’s worlds apart.  The latter can honestly be almost painful or upsetting; it sounds ridiculous, but I find it hard to watch.  If a teacher isn’t good enough for our pupils, I won’t appoint – you’re just creating further problems down the line.  Today we appoint a fantastic Chemistry teacher, but we decide to advertise again in seeking a great new Biology teacher.

In contrast with all of that, the DSL, another colleague and I meet to consider discontinuing the employment of a colleague.  This is never a decision you reach easily, and we have pondered this over the weekend to ensure that nothing was rushed in the white heat of last week when concerns reached a head.  Inevitably, I won’t share details.  It’s interesting because the ‘truth’ that you know as headteacher when somebody moves on is often quite different to the narrative that you are aware is out there among colleagues or other members of the community but of course you must keep quiet because it would be wrong to share private details.  We talk it through thoroughly and over the course of an hour seem to all move to the conclusion that the position must come to an end.  However, I ask us to sleep on this possible outcome in case any of us have second thoughts.  Ultimately, ending somebody’s employment is a decision only I can reach, but I am hugely appreciative of my two colleagues for talking this through, and for taking the time with me to consider the issues from a range of angles; sounding boards and touchstones are part of how I like to weigh up the important decisions.

The length of time (measured in days) shows this one is not a straightforward decision to reach.  I wish this colleague well in their future, but there have been errors and concerns across more than one term, with opportunities for learning not always taken; there are risks to them continuing at RMS.  If you work in a school, in any role, you are going to have to be more professional than you ever previously understood was meant by the term.  By Tuesday morning I am satisfied it is the right decision, that given their actions over time, it was not right for them to remain at RMS.

Tuesday 28 March 2023

I teach Year 8, I cover Year 11.  I love it.  I watch a Sixth Form lesson taught by a colleague.  All of this is the wonderful side of the job.

Separate to direct interaction with pupils and students, I meet with Emma, the DFO, and there’s a long list of items for us to talk through, from benefit in kind, accommodation decision-making criteria, a JD for an Operations Manager, childcare support for staff, the fees letter to parents that will go out, an external let that we need to ensure we are safeguarding appropriately, boarding rotas, communication with the Charity Commission, etc.  Emma is really good.  She gets things done.  There are many brilliant female colleagues at RMS who ‘get things done’ and I/we would be lost without them.

Later I meet with Rachel, the Head of Senior School, for our regular meeting.  Rachel is another who fits the above description.  Rachel has a particularly tough job.  Firstly, because it is a very broad job, overseeing years 7-11, over 500 pupils, and their parents and staff – a mix of high-stakes, high-visibility work, while also overseeing so very much that happens behind the scenes.  Our meeting today covers a parent, a couple of staffing contexts, and a series of pupils.  But beyond the breadth and import of the role, Rachel’s job is also tough because she must fulfil it within the confines of my role as overall Head of RMS, and the frustrations or challenges of my quite particular character and personality – I don’t know how my wife or closest colleagues put up with me at times!  I sometimes worry that to Rachel it may on occasion feel as if I am hard on her, pushing her to address the strategy, wishing the operational side to be perfect (which of course it can’t always be), and conscious as I inevitably am of things that are less than a Platonic ideal.  Equally, I know that I wouldn’t have appointed Rachel to the role if I didn’t believe her able to meet its demands and able to keep growing in the role as she continues to gain experience and to learn.  But I am very conscious that the Head of Senior School truly is an insatiably demanding role, and I am also conscious that I always want more and that I can be more demanding of those I most respect.  As I say, there are so very many brilliant female colleagues at RMS, and I/we would be lost without them.

Wednesday 29 March 2023

Following the difficult decision that we talked through on Monday and finalised Tuesday, today I must give a colleague the news that we are ending their employment.  These are conversations I have had before, across three schools now, and so in that respect it is a role I know I can play.  The toughest part is reaching the right decision; once reached, I know I can lead that meeting, and the aspect of the meeting I try to put more time into is my consciousness of the impact on the other person.  When somebody’s employment is ending, you always try to share this information as humanely as possible.  I was once made redundant myself, before I became a teacher, and I remember the strength of emotions I felt that day and in those that followed.  It’s not actually the end of the world or your career, and that perspective is important, but it will never be one of the better days of your life.  I would like to think I have some empathy in these situations, and that we give bad news as well as is possible.

I then must inform the immediate colleagues, who will also be upset, and who will be experiencing a heady mix of emotions.  I meet them with a colleague.  We manage the meeting well, I feel.  No sooner are those colleagues out the door than I must quickly change into tracky bottoms and a t-shirt and then make upbeat small talk with pupils as I quickly head down to our sports hall for a staff versus Year 11 pupils charity netball match.  As ever for me as Head, it’s the sharp contrasts in the roles you must play that keep the job stimulating, and it’s the interactions with the students that reinvigorate you if ever you have had a tough experience during the day.  The netball match is lots of fun.  Of course, we are thrashed by the mighty Year 11 team, one of the strongest teams we have had at RMS in recent years, and even my pantomime villain attempts to stretch the laws of the game don’t do us any good.  But the game is well attended by pupils, who enjoy seeing their teachers in a different context, and probably enjoy seeing teachers losing to the mighty Year 11.  Perhaps most importantly, in my mind at least, no pupil gets hurt by an over-competitive 49-year-old headteacher who is more than a few stone heavier than any of the opposition.

In the evening, we have a Prefect Treasure Hunt organised by Mrs Freeman, the Head of our Sixth Form.  It is one of the ways that Clare has of rewarding our Pupil Leadership Team of 2022-23 for their hard work in helping to run the school.  This Treasure Hunt is new, an innovation of Clare’s, and it involves cryptic clues, knowledge of the school, dashes around our grounds, and videos from teachers pretending to have been kidnapped. It is wonderful.  Once again, I acquire a reputation for being over-competitive and attempting to stretch the laws of this game, and once again I convince myself it is merely a pantomime villain role that I am playing up to and I am not actually so ridiculously competitive in a fun contest with a group of wonderful teenagers. 

If I add Clare to the list of brilliant female colleagues at RMS who I would be lost without then it might seem as if I am forcing things, but it’s the simple truth.  On occasion in the past, when there has been a lack of generosity of spirit around a tired phase of a term, Clare has sometimes received bad press for her direct manner that might appear to lack a little in softer skills and nuance.  In my view, these readings of Clare are wrong, perhaps on occasion wilfully so.  Clare gives everything for her students and for her colleagues, thinking of them constantly, supporting them all tirelessly behind the scenes in an ‘unseen’ way for which she could never receive due credit.  As this term reaches its close, and as every term reaches its endpoint, Clare is undoubtedly one of the colleagues in a challenging role of leading a school, whose dedication and brilliance ensures that RMS remains a very special place.   

Thursday 30 March 2023

There is an early morning meeting with a great Cadogan House family before a pair of observations for a Maths teacher role as the great Mr Broome is retiring from teaching at the end of this year. We are not convinced by one applicant, but we do wish to appoint another. However, sadly she decides to remain at the school where he has been completing her PGCE and so politely declines our offer. Our hunt for great teachers will continue into next term, but we will get there.

I meet with a pupil who is better than she believes herself to be, to tell her how impressed we are with her recently, in-between a pair of meetings with our Director of Admissions, Emma, who is fast making a great impression on each of the teams around her.  There are line management meetings, some feedback from a survey we have given our pupils to hear their thoughts on their individual music lessons, and then the day (and almost the term) ends with an early evening Staff Association Quiz.  For once, I am not over-competitive or pushing the bounds of what is acceptable, as time has told me that I am a pretty hopeless quizzer. 

I enjoy the company of my colleagues, some food, fun, and silliness.  While this blog-thing is about the daily life of a headteacher, I know all too well the relentless demands of a busy term on every dedicated teacher and support colleague in schools across the country.  It is nice to enjoy a social event together at the end of term, with support staff and teachers sat in teams together.  It is also very good of my colleagues in our staff association to consistently organise, host, and put on such events for us all – the more of this sort of thing, the better.  Term time is a relentless brute; we all have earned the rest.

Friday 31 March 2023

A non-uniform, House Day to end the term for students in Senior School and Sixth Form.  There is an international theme, and my colleague will ensure the students enjoy good, competitive House fun through the day.  The race to fit everything in before colleagues enjoy their Easter break means I have meetings throughout much of the day.

These range from early morning accommodation meetings; ensuring the neurodiversity parent group can meet in school;, an update from the Assistant Head (Academic) on our ECT teachers’ progress; a meeting about the timetable for PE across our Nursery, Prep, Senior and Sixth Firm, and how we can best make that work; the second meeting of the week with a member of our boarding community; a sensitive phone call with a parent; and a more formal meeting with a colleague regarding competency and their progress in this area.  I leave a message for a headteacher at a local school, to get back to their request of me, phone the Maths applicant who enthuses about RMS but nonetheless turns us down, and then head out to the cinema early evening to begin some downtime with my family at the start of our Easter break. 

In reality, I do a little work each day on Monday to Wednesday of the following week, then put the ‘Out of Office’ on for a week to switch off and visit my parents, before coming back to work the end of the second week of Easter in order to tee things up for Trinity Term and write an Inset session for our first day back as a staff body.

W/b 20 March 2023

Monday 20 March 2023

When I started writing this blog-diary-thing, in January of this year, I was conscious that I had to find and walk the fine line between (i) a credible, honest account of the life of the headteacher at RMS, and (ii) not oversharing things that my colleagues wish I wouldn’t disclose, or that I simply shouldn’t share because they are too private/sensitive to an individual or the school. 

And I try hard to respect all of that, to walk that line, inevitably skipping some issues and conversations each day/week, sometimes giving it a week or more before publishing until I have the perspective that distance provides, and by having asked the colleagues who I work with most frequently to let me know if I have ever typed something and got it wrong so I can apologise, remove it, and learn from it (fortunately, to date nobody has done so). 

Some days/weeks you can be more open than others.  However, this week, at this stage of term, there are a few things taking place that have kept me and the team pretty busy but that I can’t talk about.  Which is fine, insofar as there was more than enough happening that I can write about. I share this point only so that you have an understanding that some days or weeks in any school there’s more that a headteacher can’t type up than the words I can.

The week starts early, with two fairly sensitive meeting in succession before I head off to teach.  One of the great things about teaching, for all teachers, is that whatever issues that you have going on personally or professionally, when you close the classroom door and walk into a room full of young people you have to leave everything behind and immerse yourself in them, in their context, their learning, their development.  And most often, the pupils very quickly take you to a very good place.  Young people energise older folk, I have always found.   

After Monday Briefing at break, I have a Zoom Parents’ Evening appointment with a family who couldn’t make the actual Parents’ Evening in person.  Their daughter has her own particular context, (as all young people do), and so it is time well spent by us all.

Emma, our new Head of Marketing and Admissions, has put more than a dozen items onto our shared Google doc ahead of our meeting.  She wants to learn, to soak everything up as soon as possible, and I love this.  I then meet a colleague worried for their subject, unnecessarily, and we chat for a good while, and then there are some lesson observations of potential new teachers.

One of the best conversations today is hearing from our two newly appointed Head Pupils, Hattie and Maya.  It was a particularly competitive process to select our Prefects, our Pupil Leadership Team and in particular our two Head Pupils this year, and these two are exceptional.  I want to hear how they felt through each stage of the process, how they felt when they heard the news, and how their parents and grandparents responded to the news.  It is a special time for a family.  And it is all an absolute privilege to hear.  These are pupils and families who have given a lot to education.  I am so very pleased for all of them.

I call my predecessor as Head here, Diana Rose, for a catch up about a few matters, as we do from time to time (she pops in the following day too, because she is in town for an appointment, and the conversation is, as always, so very stimulating and useful).  Diana gave seventeen years dedicated service to the school; she loves it, and she is the only other person who really knows what it is to be headteacher at RMS in the twenty first century.  I value every conversation I have about the school with Diana.

I catch up with Clare, our Head of Sixth Form, who talks through a few matters related to students needing support. Clare also talks through the pupils most disappointed by not being appointed Prefects or Head Pupils, and the coaching and feedback that we have planned for them, which is good to hear. She ends by slipping in that a magician is booked for Year 13’s final day at RMS, and that I am needed for the finale.  It sounds ominous, but of course I am up for it.  As a male Head of a girls’ school, one part of my role, or at least how I interpret it, is to be made fun of in the nicest possible way.  Being sawn in half, or some such, is a couple of months away yet, so I can put it out of mind for now.

Tuesday 21 March 2023

RMS was founded in 1788 by Bartholemew Ruspini.  We are one of the oldest girls’ schools in the United Kingdom and world.  Today, the descendants of Bartholemew Ruspini, an extended family from America, have travelled to see the school that their ancestor founded, and to see how it is prospering 235 years on.  It is another enjoyable meeting; their pride in what has been created from the dreams of Ruspini is evident, and it is lovely to witness.

Having been teaching Year 8 and then meeting the descendants of our founder, I only just manage to get out the office for the final thirty meetings of a neurodiversity event for RMS parents.  Claire, our Head of Learning Support here, has organised a morning for all parents whose daughters are or may be neurodiverse to come in and to hear from parents of older neurodiverse pupils so they can (i) feel less alone and know that others have been through something similar to the things they are experiencing as parents, and (ii) hopefully better understand what their own daughter’s experiences are like.  Afterwards, we are approached to ask if we will facilitate this group of parents meeting regularly in school.  While you can never allow any group of parents to become the equivalent of a ‘pressure group’ on the running of a school, we do certainly wish to offer the ongoing support of parents sharing experiences and learning from one another, and so we make sure that this can happen at RMS.

I have a Zoom meeting with the CEO of the charitable foundation that owns the land that our school occupies to update him on a few matters, and then get out the office to watch a thrilling football match between RMS and St Clement Danes school.  RMS dominate possession, hit the bar and post multiple times without scoring, and SCD defend superbly.  Goals are overrated in football; this was a thoroughly enjoyable game from two determined teams.

There is a call with our lawyers about an issue, a call with the CoG, and then I get the privilege of heading to The Space to watch a rich and varied Boarders’ Concert. As the last 48 hours indicate, sometimes being a Head is a mix of incredibly rewarding conversations and events where you get to see or hear from incredible pupils or wonderful members of our our community, alongside some more high-pressured or high stakes conversations. It’s a thrilling, demanding, incredibly rewarding job. There must be stress involved, but for me it is the stress of scenario planning/considering what could go wrong X days, weeks, or months down the line, and always carrying around the thoughts of how we best avoid any of that, rather than the stress of any given day or meeting, which I think I am fortunate not to feel in any significant way as these are things I can control or influence. I might be wrong but think that by nature I focus my energy on the things I can control, and that this tendency is good for the job I am in.

Wednesday 22 March 2023

Another typically busy day for the school.  A helicopter arrives on site as a former pupil who is now a pilot in the forces lands to give a talk to pupils.  Sadly, I am not there to see it, caught up in other matters.  The pupils enjoy it, I am told, which is all that matters. 

Early in the day, I meet with an incredible student who was not made a Prefect. She has given a great deal to our community, and I now feel that in a very strong year of exceptional students, we made a mistake and missed a great one.  It can happen. I don’t have any blame or ill feelings towards anybody who contributed to the process with the best of intentions, but I do feel that I should have spotted this oversight along the way.  I hear from and talk with the pupil, and I don’t think I’ll share more than that, except to say I am glad that we have spoken.

Birthday Tea with boarders who have celebrated or soon will celebrate their birthday is a treat at the end of the day.  These take place every few weeks at RMS.  Like teaching, I enjoy hearing from the students, immersing myself in their thoughts and world, whatever that is at any given time, be that joy, sadness, or silly nonsense.  As I say, young people energise older folk, I have always found.  It’s a very special rewarding part of working in schools.

The day ends with a gymnastics showcase, a wonderful evening, with RMS pupils of all ages and abilities showcasing their often-incredible talents.  It’s a joyous night, but along the way in my tiredness I am slightly rude to a person in a reply I give to them.  I apologise afterwards, and all is well.  It wasn’t the worst offence, but I’m annoyed at myself for having made it.  I mock myself for the hubris of my earlier thoughts about stress and thinking that I manage it well.  

Thursday 23 March 2023

RMS is situated in an expensive part of the UK to rent or own property.  We are fortunate to have some flats and houses on site.  We currently have more staff wishing to live on site than accommodation available.  Priority is given to new joiners who have travelled from far away to join us, which makes sense.  Without going into tedious detail of contracts, I have to have a series of “tenancy review” meetings over the last week or so to let longer term residents know that depending on appointments to new posts it may be the case that we have to ask them to live off-site from next September.  These are worrying meetings for these colleagues who, even though they know they are only offered accommodation on-site for 2 years at a time, would always like it to be for longer.  I try to manage these meetings as sensitively as possible.    

It’s a very busy day, today.  In the morning there is a SLT meeting, a meeting with our DFO, a catch-up with the new Director of Admissions, a meeting with a colleague whose employment we are discontinuing for personal reasons that I can’t go into here.  And then, amid this, a walk to The Space to rehearse my ‘singing’, aka words-spoken-with-emphasis, with the Years 7-8 open choir for the start of Hakuna Matata that they will perform wonderfully at the Spring Concert later this evening.  As I walk in, I notice there are cameras filming this day, and the pupils cheer, giddy with excitement, as I enter, mistakenly believing I will be dressing up as a meerkat!  The many voices of rumour.  I happily would have done had I been asked in advance / somebody hired a costume, but sadly for the pupils, this is just a rumour.

Later in the afternoon, there is a full board meeting with governors. I have been asked to guide the Board to three ‘Discussion Points’ at the start of the Head’s Report I sent to them.  The one I will share here is titled: Impact of the roofing work on the School, and some of the key points are:

  • The work on the roof of The Great Hall has not yet started.  Preliminary work of various types has taken place but as I type the Trust have not gone out to tender for the roofing contract on The Great Hall. 
  • We have been unable to use The Great Hall since December 2021.  
  • Increased inflationary costs have also been referenced.  Is there a disinclination to move at pace?  There is a spurious logic to this, in my opinion.
  • The timeframe for using the temporary Platinum Jubilee Hall may need to be extended, and planning permission sought again.  It costs in the region of £200K per year.  It is hoped that MCF will fund this, but conversations do need to take place.
  • The longer the School is expected to function without The Great Hall, the greater the possible impact on areas such recruitment of new families and on the parental satisfaction levels of current families.  It also impacts on staff morale the longer we walk around closed corridors to lunch every day.  Work completing and reopening the Great Hall needs to progress with appropriate urgency.
  • Work repairing our beautiful Chapel looks like a luxury in comparison with the Dining Hall, Maths corridor, and Great Hall, but should not be forgotten.  The longer the first three roofs take, the greater the delay to addressing the Chapel.

We also cover fees, reputational risk, the challenges of recruiting in Ruspini/Early Years, mock examination performance, the evolution in support leadership teams at RMS, and issues with teacher recruitment for all schools.  The unfortunate truth is that at present there are are simply fewer great teachers: 36,262 left the teaching profession in 2020-21, greater numbers are moving overseas to teach, and recruitment numbers are down by 20%, leaving a catastrophic shortfall.  Outside London, recruitment is down by nearly a third compared with 2019-20.  In the last five years 102,588 teachers have given up teaching before reaching their 40th birthday.  The total shortfall over that time is 6,367 Physics teachers, 3,112 Maths teachers and 3,519 Languages teachers (all these figures are from The Guardian 25/2/23). 

At the most recent meeting of South West Herts headteachers, it was said that “If the current trajectory continues, there will simply not be the teachers to teach our pupils.  The numbers leaving vs the numbers coming into teaching in our area is unsustainable.  It is the single biggest challenge we all face.”  HMC are running webinars on the theme of staff recruitment issues – that’s HMC independent schools.  As the Heads at South West Herts told me: “If you’re having problems then the rest of us are ______”.

And then, finally, a long day in a buy week ends with the most glorious pair of Spring Concerts, firstly in Cadogan House, our Prep, and then in The Space with students in Senior School and Sixth Form.  We have three incredible music teachers in Mrs B, Ms Mac, and Mr Werner, and they have raised musical standards so much in their time at RMS.  I sit back and enjoy our pupils enjoying performing and their parents loving hearing them.  Evenings like this are as good as it gets as a headteacher.

Friday 24 March 2023

A long week ends mostly easily and enjoyably with the important second round of interviews for the role of Pastoral Deputy in Cadogan House.  In between the interviews, there are two sensitive meetings, and then at the very end of the day, my PA and I attend another meeting that would a year ago have been tense and tricky, but now is with a family on much better terms with the school. 

Have I mentioned before that the weeks as Head at RMS can be very intense, sometimes challenging or stimulating, but also so incredibly rewarding?  While I sometimes miss not teaching more (not the marking obvs, but defo the teaching), I wouldn’t wish for any role other than Headteacher at this age of my life and for the years to come.  I think I am so very fortunate to be in this most rewarding of roles at such at incredible school.

W/b 13 March 2023

Monday 13 March 2023

Some moments when I’ve felt myself possibly offering something of value to the world have been while teaching.  Nowadays my role is to help create the right environment for others to teach and learn, but today alongside teaching my Year 8 I also got to offer a revision session to Year 11 on An Inspector Calls

Being a great teacher is more comparable to needing to keep exercising in order to stay fit than it is to once learning how to ride a bike well and having that standard forever – you have to keep practising to maintain a high standard.  I teach less now and so am undoubtedly not as good a teacher as I once was, but I do take my classroom practice seriously, hopefully do a half-decent job, and the Year 11 pupils appear to appreciate having a different voice approach An Inspector Calls with them.

Later, there is a final probation meeting with a colleague in a support role who has done pretty much everything we could wish for in her first year in post: talented, professional, hardworking, committed, possessing integrity, a learner, honest.  The only real development area I can offer is to keep getting to know the school and our community, keep attending school events, which is an important development area, but one that can only truly arrive with time and experience.  Such colleagues are worth far more than their weight in gold.

My meeting with our Head of Prep, Melanie, covers a range of items including a few that Heads wouldn’t have had to discuss ‘back when I were a lad’:

  • Airtags – apparently there is a small but increasing numbers of pupils being tagged, sometimes secretly, so that their every movement can be tracked.  Goodness!  Do we need a policy on this?  Yes, sadly we do.  Melanie says she will ask other prep schools about this, and also organisations such as ISBA and IAPS for their templates as a starting point.
  • Parents use of WhatsApp, both helpfully and some less appropriate use on occasion
  • Social media awareness, and workshops for pupils and parents.

Tuesday 14 March 2023

March is the key recruitment month in independent schools.  At present, there are not enough teachers coming into the profession and too many leaving it, but today I observe three Geography teachers for one post, and all three are really good.  Jane, our superb HoD Geography, is very pleased.

There are a series of meetings with colleagues, including one with Clare, our Head of Sixth Form, feeding back on a UCAS conference she recently attended about universities and higher education.  It is a fast-changing, fluid landscape, now more so than ever.  Aside from the changes coming to applications and references, some of the many points that Clare shares with me are:

  • UCAS itself wishes to be the place to go for all post 18 options, not just universities, and to be “a discovery brand from Year 6 upwards”.  Goodness!
  • By 2030 they believe there will be a million applicants each year.
  • 1 in 3 students say they would pick a different course if they could go back.
  • Applications for education and nursing are falling.
  • Contextual offers are based on deprivation index and socio-economic background
  • The average student debt is currently £42,000.  There are now food banks just for students.

The working day ends with a Finance and General Purposes sub-committee meeting at which increased costs to schools, staff salaries, and next year’s fees are all discussed.  We see how our costs are in comparison with all competitor schools – RMS offers incredibly good value, but our costs are rapidly increasing in the current economic climate.

Wednesday 15 March 2023

After a morning Whole School Leadership Team meeting on our transition to Google (which is now getting into the knotty stage of things), I have a catch-up with our new Chair of Governors.  Simon has been on the board since soon after I arrived, and he has been excellent in our Lease negotiations in particular.  He is from a legal rather than educational professional background, and wants to get to know our school community well, which is wonderful.  I need to keep Simon fully informed about the most significant issues and the biggest threats as there can be no secrets between a Head, Bursar/DFO, and Chair of Governors.  At this stage I expect that there will be a lot for him to process, but one of Simon’s strengths is he is a calm, measured, ‘even-keel’ kind of person.  Which is both very good for RMS and greatly appreciated by me.

A true highlight of the day, week, and term is the RMS “Find Your Future” Careers Fair that takes place this afternoon and evening.  We pack 60 exhibitors into our Platinum Jubilee Hall and there are well over 1000 students attending from RMS and many local schools.  The exhibitors represent all industries and there are universities from the UK and overseas so every young person attending is given plenty of opportunity to consider their intended direction at the moment.  Liz, the Head of Careers at RMS, must be delighted because her sustained hard work in making this happen has created a very special and helpful day for very many students.  I go home feeling like all the best days leave a Head: so very, very proud of my wonderful colleagues and our brilliant students. 

Thursday 16 March 2023

A tricky first morning meeting ends with tissues out.  We are at that stage of term, sadly.  I was informed many years ago by an experienced colleague in SLT at my then school that 2-3 weeks before the end of term they go through a box of tissues in their office as exhausted colleagues come in to share what they are grappling with.  My job is to listen, to sympathise, sometimes but not always to offer bigger picture perspective.  They are meetings you sometimes have to play by ear.

The rest of the day whizzes by: the Senior/Sixth SLT have a meeting which isn’t linked closely enough to our SDP but should be; I teach a Year 8 lesson; I get out and about school; I cover another Year 11 lesson, for a different group; there is a call with a reputation management specialist about a sensitive matter; I speak to a governor while travelling to a local prep school where I am a governor; I attend the local prep school’s Board meeting which is a long one, lasting over three hours.  Staff salaries, increased costs, and the setting of fees are matters of import debated by this Board too.  Presumably they are matters being debated by every Board at every school in the country at present.

Friday 17 March 2023

The day starts pleasantly with a walk of the campus with Billy, our inimitable Head of the Grounds team.  Billy cares deeply about RMS, our pupils, his team, and every tree on the 300-acre site.  Billy has lived and breathed the school for over thirty years, has raised two children here, seen births, marriages, death, it all.  Nobody knows the site better.  While he plays up to being a tight-fisted, grouchy Scot on occasion, he’s fooling nobody: Billy loves the life he has given to the school, our pupils, his colleagues.  Time strolling the grounds with Billy is always informative and a great pleasure. 

We bump into a few female colleagues at the end of our walk, and have a brief chat together.  Billy plays up to expressing outdated views on gender.  He receives worse back than he gives, and everybody understands that he means nothing more than to tease in a way that deliberately opens himself up for criticism too.  It’s an interesting one though isn’t it?  This was light-hearted chat in which wit was exchanged in both directions and the man was ultimately self-deprecating though he initially pretended to be otherwise. It’s the kind of exchange I love reading/seeing in a Shakespearean Comedy.  And yet, sometimes less than professional views are shared between colleagues in a way that leads to problems, even if unwittingly.  There absolutely needs to be room for humour in the workplace; but that humour can’t be offensive.  Context is everything.  Context is everything.  Fortunately Billy, Jackie and Olivia are all wise enough to know the game that we’re playing here.  I walk back to the office simultaneously shaking my head and smiling.

As with Thursday, the rest of the day whizzes by: I speak with Ali Henderson at Springboard, and we make plans; meet with Lucy our Director of Sport, and hear what she’s grappling with; meet Nicola the Head of Languages, in an initial conversation about where Languages at RMS might head; meet with Sophia, our exceptional Academic Deputy, about a few matters; then it’s assembly, followed by a sensitive and confidential chat with a colleague about a current issue; then parents of an ASC pupil; then a parent sharing mixed experiences; and finally a chat with the Director of Marketing and Admissions.  All important stuff, but sometimes you wish you’d seen colleagues and pupils more.  As terms near their end, and issues come to conclusions, it sometimes happens less.  Let’s see what the final fortnight of term brings.

W/b 6 March 2023

Monday 6 March 2023

Each week passes fast, and most days are intense this term.  Monday morning sets off at a brisk pace and no sooner have I waved it off than Thursday evening arrives, exhausted and without much pause for breath in-between. Every Thursday evening this term I have noted with a, “Friday? Tomorrow! Already?”.  It is really not a complaint; I enjoy feeling the life of school intensely and term time demands busyness.  Everybody who works in a school is all doing important work for children who only get one shot at this. With four weeks to go, there’s a lot more that this term will fling our way.

Every human being is worthy of attention.  I know this to be true.  How can I make the time to appreciate their why, their who and how, and show that I care about where they’re at, from, and between when each week goes so fast and most days are term-time intense?

I meet with a colleague suffering Long Covid.  I can only imagine.  Truly.  Life is exhaustingly hard on all such individuals and there are times when they simply need to rest, or not come into work, of course.  And then also there are the demands placed on colleagues who are covering lessons and work for absent colleagues.  And nobody is to blame for any of this, but it creates greater intensity for all amid marking, reports, Parents’ Evenings, racing to finish GCSE specifications, to do our Duties, to teach and show the children and young people that we care about them.

I meet with a new colleague taking up post in the key role of Director of Admissions and Marketing, Emma.  Starting a new job, in a new school, and a new town, far from your last role…I think I remember it well.  There is so much to take in and to process and yet you feel you need to do.  I share with Emma an observation that Sci-Fi writers will often have a character arrive on a new ‘world’ so that as readers we too can learn about this world along with them, and how, quite often, a character’s first impressions of the characters in this world revolve and change as they (and we) learn that all is not how it first appeared.  The point of my anecdote is to encourage Emma to take the time to get to know us, to learn about and increasingly appreciate her team and our community rather than feel she has to do.  The time to do will come, of course, but mostly schools are about people and the getting to know her team and RMS will best serve Emma well.

I am aware of (but not often self-conscious about) appearing to reference literature quite frequently in my conversations with colleagues.  I don’t do this to impress (and mostly it bloody doesn’t!), or for any nonsense show-off ego reasons, but because that’s how I learnt so much and so that’s how I think.  The part of your mind that reads a story is also the part of your mind that reads the world.  I’m fairly confident that the writer George Saunders taught me that lesson.  Alongside the lesson that he, and all the other great writers who made me care about their characters taught me: that great fiction is a vital moral-ethical tool that changes you, that makes you care more about others, makes you more aware of your responsibilities.  I could go on.

I realise the answer to the question, “How can I make the time to appreciate everybody, their why, their who and how, and show that I care about where they’re at, from, and between when each week passes fast, and most days are term-time intense?” is that I can’t.  Or, at least, not on my own.  But as a functioning part of each of the many teams that I am a part of, together we have a chance to show we want to listen, to appreciate, to care.  A school community is a collective.  Part of my role is to ensue all of my teams, and all of the leaders in our school, and all of the teachers and support colleagues in the school fully appreciate this.

The day takes a different turn when I have a Zoom with the person that I referenced upsetting on the 23rd February.  They are an agent, i.e. a person who helps families find the right school for their child.  Many agents are good people playing an important role for parents who wish for a great education for their children, but who don’t understand the nuances of the British private education system, such as why league tables actually tell you very little to nothing beyond how academically selective a school is at point of entry. 

I would very much like to have a very good, professional relationship with this agent, however in truth I have increasingly realised that they are not truly putting the best interests of a pupil first, and I now know (and they know full well that I know) that there are times when what they have said to me about parents and students is not the same as what they have subsequently said to parents.  I don’t like this.  I need honesty and integrity rather than performative grandstanding, and I certainly need the best interests of the students put before all else.  The meeting ends with me hearing his polite British reserve that he deploys to avoid directly facing up to the truth.  That is fine; an interesting sentiment one might say!  I come off the call reflecting that I know my colleagues at RMS will continue to do what is right for this student, and that I know that we will never work with this agent again.

I am a member of a “Reform of Assessment Working Group”.  It’ a group that know GCSEs are not fit for purpose and is working towards reform.  But I will have to write about this another time.

Tuesday 7 March 2023

Today is a “School in Action” day.  This means that prospective families can come and see us on a regular wet Tuesday in March rather than us putting our best face on for an Open Day.  It’s a regular Tuesday morning English lesson that parents see passing my classroom (which in some ways is a pity because on Monday the pupils were all over the school making a series of Sherlock Holmes trailers, but there we go).

There is a part of the morning where the Head of Senior School, Ms Bailey, and I give a short talk to prospective families.  While such talks are important, they are an easier part of my role because we are what we say we are at RMS.  I mean, occasionally we might not be if we get it wrong, but overall we absolutely are a values-led school that puts time into ensuring that every pupil thrives and that truly is prepared to think differently in order to do what is best for our pupils.  Of course, in my role I have a responsibility to recruit great pupils for RMS, but that is greatly over-weighed by the larger moral responsibility to help each family find the right school for their daughter.  I really don’t wish to persuade you to join us if we are not what you and your daughter are looking for in a school.  If I didn’t know that when I started, there are two cases from my early days when families that chose us didn’t really want to be at a school like RMS and in both cases it didn’t/hasn’t really worked out.  I chat with prospective families throughout the morning, hearing about their daughters and each of their daughter’s interests.  The better I know RMS, our pupils, staff and parents, the better I have got at representing what we are and, perhaps more importantly, at being clear about what we are not. 

In amid all of this, there is also the first day of our House Music competition. Two weeks ago, I was scheduled to observe sessions in the morning and afternoon of each day.  That would have been bliss.  Sadly, really sadly because it’s not at all what I want, events mean I only get to see and hear one session.  That session was a joy.  I think as a Head I am happiest when I am seeing the pupils perform in one forum or another.  And despite being a northern man socialised to keep his emotions in their place, I almost always well up when I see pupils performing in one respect or another.  I love it, and I am sorry to have to leave.  When I learn how to do this job well, I will be able to spend all day watching pupils learning and developing.

The day ends with a Remuneration sub-committee (2:30-4pm), followed by a HR sub-Committee (4-5:30pm), followed by a Curriculum sub-committee meeting at a local school where I am a governor (6-8:30pm).  What?  Goodness me, it’s a long one and I’m tired by the drive home.  I’ll spare you the discussions of the last six hours, quite interesting as a number of them were in relations to pupils’ well-being, staff salaries, and suchlike.

Wednesday 8 March 2023

The day starts with a SWHSSH meeting, that is a meeting of South West Hertfordshire Secondary School Headteachers (SWHSSH).  It is a group I really appreciate having been a part of for the last year or so, meeting with wonderful headteachers of the schools that are geographically closest to RMS.  Yes, they run state/maintained sector schools and RMS is private/independent, but we have far more in common than that which is different.  Most of the time, our issues are the same.

This meeting we are joined by Dean Russell, MP for Watford.  He wishes to hear the issues of schools in and around his constituency.  The messages that he hears from us include:

  • “Herts SEND is broken and underfunded.”
  • “If the current trajectory continues, there will not be the teachers to teach our pupils.  It is simply unsustainable because the numbers coming into teaching are unsustainable.  This is the biggest challenge we all face.”
  • “The narrative around teachers that is coming from the government is unhelpful.”
  • “There has been an explosion in county lines this year.”
  • “The pay award for teachers of 5% last year left us all in deficit budgets and using reserves.  This year is manageable, just, but the reserves won’t be there next year.”
  • “Schools are getting a lot of pushbacks from parents.  Social media rewires adults too, and it gives a different medium for them to get out their narrative on events, which aren’t always true or based in reality”.

Nobody is pulling punches.  As I say, they are a great group of wholly dedicated school leaders working hard to rise to the many challenges faced by schools nowadays.  Speaking personally, I am unconvinced by Dean Russell’s replies.  I heard a lot of jolly anecdotes and pre-prepared soundbites that weren’t relevant to the issues we were raising, but nothing that was credible or convincing to me.  There’s nothing party political in this; my wife once ran the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty, and I know there are good and bad constituency MPs in all political parties.  It was good that Dean Russell attended SWHSSH, but I would have liked him to listen more carefully to the messages being shared beneath the civility and politeness.

I meet with Rabbi Aaron Goldstein in the afternoon.  That was another pleasure in my week.  He is full of warmth, openness, and ideas of how he and his colleagues can work with our pupils.  I appreciate him taking the time to come and visit us, and am conscious that this is an opportunity I must take for the school, continuing to connect us with our community and increasing pupils’ awareness of all faiths.

Thursday 9 March 2023

It is a day for a key appointment at RMS, the final round of interviews for the new Academic Deputy in Cadogan House.  We have one applicant withdraw the night before, which is always frustrating, for personal reasons we are told, but no matter as a long day of interviews ends with us securing the appointment of an excellent candidate.  I am already looking forward to seeing her impact next year as part of a new team of two Deputy Heads around our Head of Prep, Melanie Horn.

My notes from my meeting with Alina in HR today include a potential restructure of a role in one area of school, which is always a very delicate matter; adjustments to how we staff boarding in order to make it more sustainable for a very dedicated team; discussion of how we replace a PA; DEI matters and how these link into recruitment; a serious safeguarding issue; advertisements following a retirement in Mathematics; the challenges of recruiting in Early Years; how professional development can best link to appraisals; and where we are at with appointments.  A the Head at SWHSSH noted yesterday, with more teachers leaving the profession and the government not hitting recruitment targets, finding great teachers is increasingly difficult for all schools.

The British Boarding Schools Network runs from 9-11 March in a hotel near Heathrow Airport, allowing schools to meet overseas agents in a speed-dating format that provides helpful introductions and market intelligence.  We have a team of three or four colleagues here every day, and I am in attendance from Thursday afternoon to Friday evening.  Thursday includes talks such as, “What does it take to build and sustain successful school and agents in a post-pandemic world?”.

Merrick Davidson, the director of AIBC in Thailand, tells us that the pandemic impacted Thai families’ plans, but they are now getting more inquiries again.  He wants “flexibility and understanding when considering applications because the playing field has changed” and stresses the importance of openness (which pleases me greatly), saying, “Any schools wanting to develop a partnership with us need to be upfront and open.  Show me your oldest as well as newest facilities.  Be transparent re nationality breakdown.  What is the dominant nationality in a boarding house?” 

Merrick’s third point is about Communication: “Effective and timely communication is a must.  We can’t wait several days for a reply. If you are not responsive, families will go elsewhere.” His final point is that “Schools who are more international-student friendly are those we build partnerships with, stressing the need to open at 9am rather than 7pm the day before school opens (because international students may have landed earl morning from a long-haul flight, saying “We don’t like Exeats.  We do appreciate a half term programme.  Don’t organise your Zooms for 11pm in Bangkok.” 

These are all great points, and Merrick is a plain talking agent who I like hearing from.  We have already responded to most all of the above points, with the one caveat being that I do need to balance the interests of international students with the needs of an extremely hard-working boarding community of housemistresses, boarding tutors, and support staff.

The dinner in the evening give me a chance to meet more agents, hear from the BBSN team about their plans, and to get to know our Admissions team a little better away from the pace of a working day.  I retire to bed early though as I know how busy tomorrow’s “speed dating” will be.

Friday 10 March 2023

Conversations with agents, all day long, fifteen minutes at a time.  It’s good, it’s interesting hearing their stories, and their perspective.  My first time here, six years ago, I talked too much.  Now I listen more, connect better, learn more.  The day is also interesting because I get to spend more time with a comparatively new colleague in our team, Asuman, and to see her working.  It’s good.  Asuman was an agent herself before she joined RMS as Admission Officer; she absolutely gets the agents’ pov, and agents appreciate this.  I like being able to see and appreciate the great work of my colleagues, and seeing Asu, Emma, and our Head of Admissions, Marc, in action over two days together is a very good end to the week.

W/b 27 February 2023

Monday 27 February 2023

I am hounded the moment I enter the classroom. My Year 8 were victorious in a ‘Beat the Teacher’ Sherlock Holmes challenge last week, and they are now wholly expectant of promised chocolate. Children don’t forget such things, however this morning I have. I will pay my debt but I first need to ensure that I’m complying with allergies, laws, and new school rules around food. Year 8’s disappointment quickly subsides as today they are filming a group task at various outside locations around RMS. Most pupils enjoy filming and editing, and the class respond really well to this challenge – they are all great pupils.

Before lunch, I find a colleague with a challenging family context, just to hear how it is going and to check in with them. Words are pretty limited for any of the really important moments in life, and I can only imagine what the colleague is going through, but it’s important that I hear from them, try to better understand what they’re experiencing, and offer the School’s support and my own to remind them that we’re here to help as needed.

In the Dining Hall, I sit with a couple of Year 11 pupils to check the levels of GCSE stress they are each experiencing – different, but mostly managed sensibly. I learn as much about how their friendship developed when they were both boarders, and it’s a lovely story to hear. Students in all schools mostly provide great support to one another, and there is a great deal of care and kindness throughout our community.

Tuesday 28 February 2023

First up today is a pre-school meeting with Desmond, a colleague who oversees overseas Trips (among many other things), to hear some of his challenges. It is revealing to hear more about the difficulties he has been experiencing post-Covid. One large school travel firm has let us down three times in recent months, most notably when a Vietnam trip had to be cancelled with only a couple of months’ notice because the operator had not booked the flights as contractually promised. Currently, there is a travel firm who says they can accommodate the previously agreed booking if we accept one small adjustment of the students sharing beds! How they can begin to think this might be acceptable is beyond me. Desmond’s understanding in part is that during the Lockdowns good staff left these organisations, and the same quantity or quality of experienced staff are not back yet, with all the subsequent consequences. In addition, there is a determination from the travel specialists to recover income previously lost due to Covid, and so all travel costs are greatly increasing, from a short coach trip down the road to long haul destinations. This makes every trip more expensive for parents.

Tuesday and Wednesday are two days of Pupil Leadership interviews in which I play a part alongside the Sixth Form leadership team in selecting our two Head Pupils and their Deputies who will lead our Pupil Leadership team over the coming twelve months. These are always especially rewarding days because the young adults here are exceptional and I will get to hear more about them, from them, of their views on our school, and about how we could improve our school (more on this below).

Over lunch, I meet with two governors and my predecessor as Head to select the recipient of a 100% Bursary award. Decisions are reached, but the truth is that it’s ethically complex to make decisions around transformative bursaries for a number of reasons:

  • There are more great pupils than there are bursary awards.
  • How do you choose one great 10 to 11-year-old pupil over another?
  • How do you ensure that the family’s financial context is as stated?  Our bursaries are for families who could not otherwise afford an independent school education.
  • What about the pupils who we have shown our wonderful school to, who have thrown themselves into the process, but who don’t win the award? Is it right to show them “What you could have won” as it were?

The final meeting of the day considers staffing with Sophia, our Academic Deputy. These are always complex decisions to reach too, and this is a follow-up meeting to a longer one with the Heads of School present – it takes time to get this right. As at most schools, our staffing costs are 70% of total costs at RMS. So there is only 30% of our income to cover everything else: rent, utilities, food, resources, investment in our facilities, etc. Every year at every school there are a number of departments that feel we could benefit pupils by employing an extra colleague, and some of these cases have legitimacy. But of course, we cannot simply add to the wage bill in this regard. One added complication at RMS (which we accept and work with, but that is nevertheless always a significant context) is that we pay more rent than most schools (over a million pounds a year for our beautiful grounds) and so everything else must be managed very carefully indeed. Our teacher-pupil ratio is lower than most independent schools (this is part of what our parents pay for), and we also wish to ensure that next year we are able to give all RMS staff a suitable pay increase that they deserve and that I feel is due to them.

Sophia and I talk through each of the departments, considering where investment could have the greatest impact on our students, where it could be delayed, and where there is no negotiation because a new staff member is simply required to cover the teaching. It’s a really tricky set of cost/benefit conversations, and we know that some departments will be disappointed. I am often reminded of Rafa Benitez’s short blanket metaphor, which is applicable to school spending as much as it is to football tactics: “If you cover your head, you have your feet cold, but if you cover your feet, you have your head cold.’ We can’t cover everywhere simultaneously – that’s not an option in any school I have known, and any sense that all independent schools are loaded isn’t based on the reality of life for the overwhelming majority of independent schools.

The Sixth Form, UCAS, and Careers Team give a superb evening talk to our parents on “Current State of the University and Careers Landscape”. It is a fluid landscape, fast-changing, and as always I am left with no small degree of admiration and appreciation for colleagues’ expertise in this area.

Wednesday 1 March 2023

It’s another day of Pupil Leadership Team interviews with Year 12 students. These interviews are joyous and really useful, as always. We hear what the students love about RMS, including lots of feedback on what we get right and the many opportunities here. “I feel comfortable and can be myself at school” was one of many really lovely lines we heard from incredible students.

We also ask Year 12, “If you could improve one thing about RMS what would it be?” And it is these answers that interest me most so what follows below are mostly answers to this question. Not all of these points are possible, or some may have a very particular context, but I share them with relevant colleagues noting that “at the very least we need to read, listen, and think about it all. They make very many really good points, and they know more than us from a pupil-centred point of view, which is what we’re about. Please think about this carefully, discuss it with your teams as appropriate, and decide which bits we can action and/or get onto SDP.” Here is just a sample of the suggestions from our wonderful Year 12 of ways we can further improve RMS…

Careers – “We still need more pathways for different careers and to broaden parents’ minds beyond university as the best next step”.

Charities – “Expand the Charities’ Committee to involve students across all year groups in the school”.

Current Affairs – “Little things go a long way – the form tutor playing the news prompts debate and understanding”.

DEI – While it was said by many to be an area in which we are greatly improving, there was a pupil who requested “more subject-specific diversity within the curriculum” and they are right.

Links with boys’ schools – “More interaction with boys’ schools, across all years”

Prize Days – “It always ends in upset: some win lots, others win none. I know that you bear this in mind, but make the winners win fewer prizes. Have more high-profile rewards over more than this one day”.

Ruspini (our Nursery) – “You should make more links between the Ruspini children and pupils in Years 7-9 because that would help the Years 7-9 see and contribute beyond their world, and connect to the larger school more.” They gave an e.g. of “Talented Y7-9 pupils having a short session with Ruspini to show off their skills as a ballerina, footballer, or gymnast” and then to answer Qs or do a little work with the nursery children.

Tutoring – “Have Years 10-11 in vertical forms like in Sixth Form.  This would reduce the intensity of these years and help with GCSEs”.

Vaping – “More and stronger education about its dangers”

Year 9 – “It’s a transitional time in many respects.  Pupils’ maturity is in very different places.  So, the school needs to integrate more across year groups, particularly to help Year 9.”

Well-Being – “Have more outdoor activities other than sports for students at lunchtime”.

One clear point that came across from the interviews was how much these students looked up to our Pupil Leadership teams when they were younger. Younger adolescents are heavily influenced by older adolescents (we know this from research), and the more schools can utilise this, the better for all students.

The day ends with Year 8 Parents’ Evening, and I am back to being an English teacher for a great set of pupils for most of the evening. A parent of a boarder catches me late on to thank us for “Phone free Wednesdays” in Harris House. All of our parents have appreciated the merits of Ms. Scullion’s fab initiative. The pupils are getting there too – it’s great for their well-being and the number of board games played and increased noise in the Common Room on Wednesdays is a testament to its success.

Thursday 2 March 2023

Ahead of the retirement of an incredible colleague, Mrs Brown, the next two days are focused on the first round of interviews for two new deputy heads for our prep school. Today it’s for the Pastoral and Operations Deputy role, a post for which we had received a lot of applicants, however I’m not going to go into detail here because sadly, and for a variety of different reasons, we didn’t feel that we had the right candidate for our school from the candidates in today and so chose to readvertise. The fit has to be right from all points of view.

The day ends with a wonderful evening’s music at our Chamber Concert. The pupils are extremely talented. Our Music Department across our Prep, Senior and Sixth Form is truly exceptional at present, with three very special individuals in Mrs. Bentham, Mr. Werner, and Ms. McNally-Mayne. Of course I enjoy the evening greatly, but I cannot help but think of Yeats’ line, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. Inevitably, some day in the future this glorious triumvirate will break up as somebody moves on. All good things must pass. However, until that day comes I can end evenings by greatly enjoying Chamber Concerts and marvelling at what they have built here for our musicians at RMS.

Friday 3 March 2023

The first round of Academic Deputy interviews for our Prep School progress very well today, and we invite three great candidates back for the second round next week. I am excited by them all.

I phone a series of parents whose daughters will receive 100% bursaries at RMS from September. The independent sector should offer more transformative 100% bursaries and is doing so every year. Given our history, RMS should offer more transformative bursaries, and we have increased the number of pupils in receipt of these for each of the last four years, with numbers increasing by seven more pupils each year from September 2023. This is a very good thing. I know from past experience that these conversations, with families who simply could not begin to afford an independent education, will stay with me over the coming years as I see their daughters enrich our school and benefit from their time here as they grow and develop into individuals ready to shape their future and the future of society. It is more ethically complex than one might imagine to award transformative bursaries, and it does inevitably lead to some disappointment (as do Pupil Leadership selections and job interviews for Prep School deputies), but we absolutely must keep doing it and increasingly so each year.

Coincidentally, the week ends with a call with Richard from The Royal National Children’s Springboard Foundation, a social mobility charity focused on harnessing the power of educational opportunities at independent schools to benefit young people who need them the most. The advantages of an independent education should not be the exclusive preserve of those born into privilege. And the increasing number of schools working with Springboard agree with this sentiment. Richard wants to see if we can make it work for another Springboard student to join us at RMS, and after hearing about her context I agree that we’ll work together to try to make this happen.

W/b 20 February 2023

Monday 20 February 2023

Everything that my dad taught me was through analogies to football. I’m not exaggerating. That was his default method for raising three sons, occasionally complemented by a little co-curricular study of chess, cards, crosswords, and the gee-gees. It turns out, looking back, that there’s not a lot you can’t cover through study of and comparison with an aspect of the beautiful game. Ethics, morality, geography, history, mathematics, and global economics, obvs. Management and leadership, psychology, communication, subcultures, cultural homogenisation, geometry, and spatial awareness, natch. A short course on puns and profanity, politics and sociology, mental health, feminism, rhetoric, wit, and wisdom. Football can teach you the key points of all those topics in full. While the analogies became increasingly complex, my dad did a half-decent job of it because to this day I can remember his lessons for each of the above. And I can’t say the same about Mr Berne’s equally excellent GCSE Maths class.

Just like football, everything in a school is contingent; very little is true in itself.  Great tactical brains such as Jonathan Wilson can’t give you a simple explanation for Graham Potter’s struggles at Chelsea, and no (head)teacher can offer you a simple explanation for a school’s successes, stresses, culture, or figurative temperature at any point in time.  The schools that I have known have each possessed a quite different dynamic that was in part due to an inexplicable interplay of factors such as size of site, size of pupil roll, the school’s history, its finances, calendar management, Common Room demographics, staff culture, SLT culture, teacher engagement with research, relationships with the parent body, the geographical distance that a department is located from the centre of school, pupils’ experiences if they raise concerns, etc etc and so on.  These things, and many more, may each appear to be unrelated and even some insignificant but they are not: everything in a school is contingent and dependent on one another.

Anyway, it appears that I digress. Forgive me.

The second half of Hilary Term starts straightforward enough. (This, in itself, is enough to put a headteacher on edge, knowing that the challenges all remain craftily hidden so far). Monday for me included an appraisal with an exceptional professional, Vicky. She doesn’t truly realise how great she is and is yet to fully appreciate the difference that she could make as an advocate for Early Years’ education in our sector and region. My job in part is to help her to trust herself enough to see that there are many opportunities to make a real difference.

Lunch was lovely insofar as I joined a pair of Upper Sixth students and heard about half-term travels in India and trips to Oxford as motivation for a possible deferred university application. Envy isn’t the right word; it’s just always really nice to hear from young adults at a time when their independence is growing and, simultaneously, the possibilities for everything that their life could be are increasing. “I think about my future a lot”, one Sixth Former said to me recently. It’s an extremely precious, fertile, and quite delicate moment in a young person’s life, and one that we as adult teachers are extremely fortunate to be around.

Tuesday 21 February 2023

It’s almost certainly the single most rewarding thing in the world to know that your class of pupils are making great progress. My Year 8s have now moved on to considering whole-text questions for Hound of the Baskervilles such as the representation of female characters in the novel. They’re largely getting it too, and their “missing chapters” of the novel are a superb pastiche of Conan Doyle, (said their proud teacher).

I make myself late for a meeting with the landlords because I sit in Common Room during break to chat with and thank two colleagues who gave up five days of their half-term break to take our students to Valencia. Being only one week long, it’s probably not the best half-term for a trip so I am especially appreciative of their work. I mention my meeting with the landlords to these colleagues and I am asked how long before our Great Hall can reopen. It’s a fair question.

The meeting with our landlords, the MCF, is just a regular catch-up about the work being completed and the work not yet completed on our school buildings. On the positive side of things, millions of pounds are being spent on the site, and this is greatly appreciated. One consequence of this work is that our Great Hall is closed while repairs are being made to the roof. It’s taking too long, and I must stay patient while good reasons for this delay are given to me.

If I ever appear patient to anybody, I am probably doing a half-decent job of acting. Time has told me that I am not a patient man by nature; this is a fault of mine. I am “working towards” rather than “exceeding” any targets in the subject of Patience. In this instance of our Great Hall roof, I am the person who most often has to front up all the legitimate questions from pupils, staff, parents about the length of time regarding work undertaken on the Great Hall, and so I do quite well to perform the role of ‘Patience’ in our meeting.

Wednesday 22 February 2023

It is a week of lunches with prospective parents of students with offers for a place in Year 7. In many respects, these conversations are simply lovely – I begin to get to know children and families who we will work with over the next seven years. Next week I will be interviewing truly exceptional Year 12 pupils for our Pupil Leadership Team who I can remember as ten-year-olds visiting RMS for the first time with their parents six years ago. These meetings stay with me. They are important conversations too, because of greater import than my professional responsibility to recruit great pupils for RMS there is the moral responsibility to help ensure each student finds the right fit of school for her. Finding the right of school for your child is much more important the school’s reputation, how much you think it will impress your friends, or its ranking in a spurious league table.

We have a new Director of Admissions and Marketing joining us next week, Emma, and I have a further conversation with her this afternoon. We are planning two days of “speed dating” with international agents in March, at the British Boarding Schools’ Network – a highly regarded source of contacts, knowledge, and support in the sector. Pupils join us aged 2-18 at RMS, with multiple entry points, in both the day and boarding markets, and with flexi-, weekly, and full boarding on offer, so it is a complex job and a hugely important team that Emma will be leading for us.

Thursday 23 February 2023

December to February in schools is a time for preparing the budgets for the next academic year, and we are having a series of meetings wishing to get this right. In theory, the three pots of income for independent schools are those from investments, from lettings, and from parents’ fees. In reality, for all but the wealthiest 1% of schools, it is the latter pot that brings in almost all income. The largest costs for a school are staff salaries, every time, rightly and understandably. In a time of rising food and fuel costs, and a cost of living crisis, it’s a year that we need to get the balance between fees and salaries just right. In truth, both of these need to increase at RMS.

Midway through the day I upset an agent with what I thought was a carefully worded email. This is never what any of us wish for, however very occasionally you have to call things out. I’m not sure it says good things about me, but sometimes I enjoy meetings that have a necessary and functional tension to them. It’s not something you do often, but sometimes it’s required in a situation.

There is a late afternoon Pastoral sub-committee with our governors. I do not doubt our Board are aware of the challenges facing children and young adults, and of the great work undertaken by dedicated adults who care for them in our boarding and school community. Pastoral work (which is the responsibility of everybody) is the most important work in schools. This sub-committee meeting is followed by an early evening Estates sub-committee meeting – how lucky am I today? Our governors are good though; I do not doubt they are aware of the challenges facing a large 100-year-old school site when we pay more than peer schools in rent every year.

I am very lucky with what the day’s end brings: our inaugural Cadogan House Rock Concert contains primary pupils rocking out to their covers of The White Stripes. What’s not to love about this? A fab end to my day.

Friday 24 February 2023

An early morning meeting with a great colleague and then one with an incredible pupil gets the day off to a great start. Lara in Year 12 is progressing in The Jeffrey Ahn, Jr. Fellowship, a US based competition that seeks to empower young artists to realise extraordinary independent projects. Lara is one of very many special RMS students, and visual arts are an area of great strength at RMS. I love hearing about Lara’s next work, which, like her last piece, intelligently addresses themes of memory and loss.

The day brings meetings with our DEI leads, and with a 100% bursary student, which cumulatively remind me that we are moving in the right direction as a school. Then there is a call with CAMHS about the well-being of a student, more budget discussions, and a series of meetings with Heads of School. Our four fantastic Heads of School at RMS are dedicated and talented colleagues – they work selflessly for what is best for their pupils and our school. To be idiomatic and mix metaphors, while they are not at the coalface anymore, they are certainly in the firing line insofar as they are each subject to criticism because of the responsibility of their position. It’s a job that requires broad shoulders, and I have a great team here.

Regardless of how demanding or tough any day in our school is, over the last year I am conscious and appreciative of two things:

  • We are no longer running a school in a Covid context and with all the restrictions and complications that involved.  Oh, what a bloomin’ joy it is to no longer have to do that!
  • I am so very fortunate to have a great team of Senior Leaders around me.  Great colleagues, working extremely hard, who are in it for the right reasons, and who are each growing in experience every day, week, month, year.  Our pupils, parents, staff, and I are all lucky to have them with us.