It is time for me to bid farewell to the wonderful Talbot Heath community, as I step down from headship after thirteen years. It has been an absolute privilege to be Head of such a fantastic school, with its rich heritage and strong ethos.
I had never intended to be a headteacher, in fact, I had taken a decision in 2009 to step back from teaching and do a Masters degree in International Politics. But then, my own headteacher at the school I was working in, ran into my office from where I was running the International Baccalaureate programme, and told me that I was going to get a phone call in the next five minutes. He said it was from a recruitment agency and they were going to ask me if I wished to apply for a headship, as he had put my name forward. Never having been a Senior Leader, I thought that he was joking, but sure enough the phone call came through. Three interviews and a month later, I was offered the role and an exciting new chapter of my life began. I left Bath behind and moved to the sea.
I had seen photos of Talbot Heath on the website but had not visited it before and I was struck by the beauty of the woodland campus. I love nature, above all birds, and was immediately struck by the potential of the site and the surroundings for creativity and a learning environment that would be both calm and dynamic. Once inside the buildings, I fell in love with the architecture and furnishings of the 1930s’ school. I have always loved art and design and could not contain my excitement on seeing the original Heal’s furniture, the Lutyens- inspired architecture and stunning oak joinery in the corridors and offices. My predecessor said that I would be inheriting the best office in Dorset and she was not wrong. No matter how challenging the day has been, it has been tranquil and uplifting. On my first day, I got the 1980s’ hifi stack in the corner of it working and Classic FM has been with me ever since – a constant background during 13 years of meetings and events. As Mr. Ives, the Finance Director, always asks when he enters my room – ‘ Is this Bizet?’. Sometimes, it actually is.
The final part of my interview with the governors involved me delivering a presentation on my vision for the school. I stated that I wished to celebrate and cherish the unique heritage of the school while embracing its pioneering ethos and pushing it forward with dynamic and innovative thinking. I wanted TH to be known both for its special history as well as its forward – thinking approach. I believe that I have done that during my time. I was delighted to be able to celebrate the School’s 125th birthday in my first year. We had a spectacular party with military vehicles from WW2 in the woods, hockey teams wearing the kit from 1909 playing teams in modern day kit, tennis teams dressed as from the 1920s ( with small wooden racquets ) playing graphene wielding modern-day national champions. The only request from those in the 1909 kit, who were clutching small wooden hockey sticks from the time, was that they could wear shinpads under their long skirts, with their blouses, ties and boaters. The school took on a St Trinians’ feel, as the pupils in uniform climbed into the military vehicles. I well remember Mr Cradick sitting in a troop carrier full of Lower 4 girls, with one wearing a tin helmet pointing a bazooka out the back. We had a school uniform fashion show with 125 years of uniforms on display, many of which had been made by hand by a talented parent working from photographs. Baroness Shirley Williams opened the refurbished air raid shelter in which she had sought refuge during the war, alongside her classmates. The evening finished with a champagne reception and music concert for 1000 people, including 500 alumnae. The finale was a stunning virtuoso piano piece, performed superbly by Daphne Spottiswoode, an octagenarian concert pianist who had flown in especially from Florida for the event. She had previously last played in the main hall in the 1940s. It was a day never to be forgotten and set the tone for the years to come.
I have been a fierce champion of the importance of knowledge throughout my time as Head and I hope that the pupils have recognised this and been inspired by this to foster their own knowledge. I put up the poster outside my office with the quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes ‘one’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, will never regain its original dimensions’ in my first week of headship. Learning is something that should be celebrated and cherished. I have invited experts into the school, from so many different fields, and established patrons for the school, with the aim of providing opportunities for pupils to see how someone can develop real expertise in an area, through a combination of hard work, enthusiasm and talent. I have wanted pupils to be inspired and develop their own ambitions and aspirations. I have openly encouraged them to ‘think big’, with an emphasis on thinking and creativity.
I embraced the pioneering spirit of the school when developing my innovative, future-focused model of education that aimed to prepare young people for the world that would await them. I was extremely proud to achieve national recognition for innovation and influence in education as a result of this and proud to see Talbot Heath pushing forward its curriculum provision, as well as becoming an Apple Distinguished school. The skills of adaptability, creativity, problem-solving, teamwork and digital proficiency will be in high demand going forward and our pupils will be ready and prepared. An interdisciplinary approach is being adopted by the top universities and companies around the world, as people realise that there is one body of knowledge and that solutions originate from combined expertise. It is already time to adapt this educational model and I would advocate developing strands linked to computational modelling and the impact of AI – the future does not stand still and we need to move with it.
It was an honour and a privilege for me to lead the school during the pandemic. Such times called for great strength of character and I was determined to rise to the challenge that it presented and be a rock for people to hold onto, no matter how stormy the seas became during that time. I concertedly focussed on staying optimistic and positive at all times, knowing how much of a strain the whole community was under. There was a rationale behind the many photos of the week, videos, live broadcasts and laughter. I wanted the school community to still feel like a community and to be a beacon of hope and light in dark times.I could not have helped the school get through this period so well without the tremendous dedication and hard work of the staff, in particular the Senior Leadership Team, who were not able to rest during the school holidays during a period of two years. My predecessors had had to face real challenges, such as war, and had been redoutable in their approach. I resolved to follow in their footsteps and do the same.
As I leave, I look back on so many years of wonderful experiences: concerts, sports day, school trips ( including fantastic trips over to Berlin where I was the translator and chief in charge of all things related to transport), events, festivals. I have tried to make the most of the school’s beautiful campus by establishing events that allow us to be creative. I well remember the Ode to Autumn, with the hundreds of carved pumpkins in the woods and the artworks hanging from the trees, while music and drama took place in leafy glens. I was particularly pleased that my carved pumpkin, which was a representation of the then recent Bake Off winner, Candice, appeared on her social media feed. The Classical Ode to Autumn was fabulous, with Greek tragedies being performed from the parapet while Greek figures from mythology were projected onto the walls of the quad. We have done so many creative events to bring learning leaping from the page and I hope to continue my work with the Spellbound literary festival that I established during my headship and ensure that BCP has a festival for children and young people to celebrate books and illustration. It has been a privilege to set up partnerships with so many people at BU, AUB, Southampton University and across a broad range of companies. Education should not be separated from the world of work, there should be an integrated approach to developing skills and knowledge which brings benefit to all.
I have loved teaching during my time here. At times, my days have been so full of lessons, that I have been running from room to room. It is unusual for a Head to teach but I wanted to do so as it kept me closer to the pupils and also allowed me to have greater empathy with the staff, as I prepared my own TAGs and CAGs during the pandemic for my GCSE pupils. I believe that the work that I have undertaken with the Upper 3 classes in my Global Citizenship lessons has been an essential part of their education. They head into the world understanding geopolitics, human rights, civil rights, global organisations and the political spectrum; such knowledge will complement the work that they do in their other subjects and ensure that they have a far better contextual understanding of the world around them.
For a school that does not officially offer German as a subject, I have supported many pupils through GCSE and German A level, slotting lessons into twilight sessions initially, before taking on a teaching timetable over the past few years, alongside my global citizenship lessons. I have loved teaching the language to a new generation of pupils and it has kept me closer to my teaching roots. I would like to thank the Modern Languages Faculty for their patience with me, as I came running down corridors with my paperwork for candidates, while juggling my other responsibilities.
So, I head off in search of new adventures. I aim to renovate a wooden ‘Dunkirk little ship’ and learn how to take the helm, before setting off to sea. The plan is to cross the channel but I sense I may well be staying around Poole harbour and the Solent for the next two years while I learn the ropes. And no, I have never sailed before, and I am a complete novice, but I like a challenge and am not afraid of doing something new. While on board, I shall continue to devise educational curriculum models, to keep my mind active. I have not ruled out going back to Oxford to embark on further studies linked to interdisciplinary education. And I shall continue to sing. Staff and pupils know where to find me on site – they just follow the sound of singing in the corridors. It will either be me or Mr Butcher. I shall miss my days of rocking out with the Talbot Heathens – I even ended up talking about them on Radio 2 with Sara Cox. I am, however, exploring some options to do the occasional gig in the local area, so keep your eyes peeled. I may be coming to a field near you….
I wish all members of the school community a very happy summer and the very best for the future. Approach all that you do with compassion, kindness, determination and a sense of fun- and always put out the deckchairs when the sun shines.
With very best wishes
Talbot Heath Head, 2010 – 2023