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 somebody with what I had hoped was carefully expressed honesty. This is never what any of us wish for, however very occasionally you do 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 wish to do often, but on rare occasions it is 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.