As the new Headmaster at Brentwood, I thought it might be useful if I said a few words about my background before talking about the School and my vision for the future.
I was brought up in the North East of England - in Durham, to be precise - and most of my family are still up there. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in four excellent and very different schools prior to joining Brentwood. I began my career at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle, which was at that time an all boys’ school, following which I moved as Head of History and then Boarding Housemaster to Christ College Brecon. Once I’d spent five years there and had learned to sing (there was no choice in that, it’s just what you had to do in Wales!) we moved to Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood, where I was Head of Sixth Form. I then moved just up the road to Berkhamsted School, where I was initially Headmaster of the Sixth Form, following which I took over as Vice Principal of the Schools Group. My favourite period of history to teach is the Tudors and I suspect it’s no coincidence that all five of the schools in which I’ve worked were founded then - two of them in Henry VIII’s reign, two in Elizabeth’s and now Brentwood at the end of Mary's reign.
So, what attracted me to Brentwood? Lots of things.
The School is a dynamic blend of the traditional and the modern: we are guided by our past in terms of the values dating back to 1622 of ‘Virtue, Learning and Manners’ that have served the School so well but we are definitely a forward-looking place of learning. We have strong finances, which we’re committed to using to broaden our provision of life-changing bursaries and diversify our student community; and we have an ambitious building programme that will further enhance and support the quality and breadth of our educational provision, both within and beyond the classroom.
Academically, we provide Sixth Form pathways in A-level, IB Diploma and BTEC, whilst our Key Stage Four students all complete a research project and our Human Universe course, providing both knowledge and skills that prepare them well for advanced-level study (and beyond). As a School that takes children from 3-18 years, we are well placed to ensure that the journey our pupils take is guided, appropriate and takes into account their interests and abilities that develop along the way. Beyond the classroom, the range of opportunities on offer is staggering: we have a track record of producing excellent sportswomen and men; our Performing Arts department is known for the high quality of its work, as illustrated by the fact that we have just become one of only 17 Steinway Schools; our Combined Cadet Force is one of the oldest and largest in the country; and our pupils serve the local community through a vibrant programme of which the School's founders would be proud.
The School has very deep roots and our history is a great teacher, but it must never become our master, and - given the changing world in which we’re all living - we have to be dynamic and forward-thinking.
On social media recently, Andy Byers, Head of Framwellgate School in Durham, wrote a letter to parents where he called out the polarised and increasingly divisive tactics of our political leaders on all sides. It’s much more difficult to teach children the importance of engagement, listening, understanding and disagreeing well, when some of the most influential leaders across the world dismiss all of these things. Wherever our political views lie, we are facing polarisation in society, and we have a big job to do in helping our pupils see things in shades of grey, not simply black and white.
It has been predicted that two-thirds of today’s teenagers will end up doing jobs that don’t even exist yet at some point in their working lives and that most will have had as many as 10-15 different jobs by the time they reach the age of 40. Whether you agree with these predictions or not, it is clear that we are living in a world of rapid change.
Some experts, such as author Daniel Pink, have suggested that these changes are so significant that we are moving into a different age altogether. The Agricultural Age gave way to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century, with the emergence of factories and assembly lines. The ‘lead character’ in this age was the factory worker, and with long shifts and little rest time, the attribute you needed to survive and succeed was physical strength and stamina. This Industrial Age was gradually overtaken as the dominant feature of Western Society in the 20th Century, with the coming of the Information Age. This was the age in which our grandparents, parents and indeed ourselves grew up – for those who were ambitious and successful and were good at Science, the advice was to become a doctor; if you were better at English and History, you were told to consider becoming a lawyer; and if you couldn’t stomach the sight of blood and you were better with numbers than words, becoming an accountant was probably the career for you. The thing that links this type of profession is knowledge – they are jobs that involve the application of things that have been learned in school or university.
Of course, I am not for one moment saying that these types of career are no longer important, but authors such as Daniel Pink argue that we are moving into a new age – the Conceptual Age. This is an age where things other than logic and analysis will become more important, not least because computers are taking on much of the work that was a central part of the Information Age.
This all leads to one simple truth – we are living in a world of rapid change and the ability to adapt is a necessity. Our job in schools is, therefore, to prepare young people for a world that will be ever-changing as they go through their lives - to prepare them for jobs that don’t even exist yet and to enable them to solve problems we don’t even know about yet. Perhaps above all, the thing that attracted me to Brentwood was my sense that it has all the ingredients to be a school that can rise to the challenges that both education and our students will face in the next decade and beyond.