End of Summer Term letter from the Academic Principal


 I am told that our nation’s favourite poem is Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’. In my mind, this is a celebration on reaching maturity, a coming of age for ‘grown-ups’! It’s one thing to reach the statutory age of maturity, be that 16, 18, 21 or indeed 25, but that’s no guarantee that ‘common sense’ has arrived, or that ‘shoulders are broad enough to carry the load’.

Most will know the opening and closing lines:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Kipling wrote at a time when a person’s gender was certainly one of the determinants in life; born into the Colonial Victorian Era, he died in 1936 on the cusp of the modern age 80 years on, in Education at least, equality and parity between the sexes is assured. The last two Secretaries of State for Education have been female, and in their very distinct ways, Justine Greening and Nicola Morgan have both shown they can take the strain, when conditions around them are tough. Of course our present Prime Minister has not had things her own way this year either; having lost her clear majority in the recent election, she is now tasked with building consensus across a range of political views. It’s quite clear Theresa May has her work cut out to keep UK PLC on the straight and narrow, given the small matter of Brexit negotiations, so perhaps as and when our planning application for our new campus goes in, she’ll still be able to find the time to give our plans for a new school campus a positive nod of approval on the way.

As parents and pupils know, Paul Bevis, our headteacher covering Nursery to Sixth Form on our College Avenue site, is moving on this coming autumn.  Paul took up his appointment as  Head of College in September 2011 and he came already as a friend of the school, having in his previous roles as Headteacher of the Elvian School in Reading and before that Assistant headteacher at LVS Ascot had much contact with both boys and girls staff at Claires Court. Paul joined us at a critical time in the school’s development; we had chosen to leave the national curriculum, and had established the school’s Key Values programme.  We had not yet articulated the learning philosophies needed to underpin the newly designed curriculum to follow, and his broad experience and deep understanding of education matters quickly enabled the school to develop the coherence provided by the Claires Court ‘Essentials’.

Paul’s passion for education also helped us become more aware that all pupils deserve stretch and challenge, not just the more able, and fairly quickly girls of all ages were queueing at his door to provide answers to the head’s thinking challenge of the week. Paul has carried on in like manner, and most of the girls in the school can cheerfully say that he has been their headteacher, one who has known them and taken a keen interest in their personal development throughout their time in the school. As teachers have retired or moved on to new pastures, Paul has taken an acute interest in recruiting staff of the ‘Kipling’ stuff, those who will accept the responsibility to meet the demands of being the ‘best school we can be’ and yet take risks and seek new ways of inspiring learning.  Paul retires this summer to move onto other educational activities not so completely driven by the school calendar and daily bell. He has made his mark quite clearly, with girls demonstrably capable of academic, sporting, musical and artistic achievement of the highest order. Even more impressive, those waiting to take over, Messrs Giles, Heywood and Barlow are ready for the challenge, each really well versed in their responsibilities. The Principals are deeply grateful to Mr Bevis for the excellence of his stewardship and we wish him every possible success in his new ventures, husband of a globe-trotting tennis journalist, grandad and problem solver extraordinaire.

Among other notable staff leaving us this Summer are Jan Price who joined in 1990 to lead our Art teaching at Secondary Boys. Over the subsequent 27 years, she has developed the Art department considerably and her students have enjoyed considerable success here under her guidance, and even more into successful post-graduate employment in the creative arts all over the UK and beyond. Her biggest help over the years has been Mavis Barber, who also is retiring after 19 years with us. Jan and Mavis leave a school that offers Fine Art, Art & Design, Textiles and Photography, and as visitors to our recent exhibitions of GCSE and A-level Arts exhibitions will attest, they leave our school with their pupils at the peak of their artistic powers!

Angela Fowke, Claires Court’s lead school nurse retires after 23 years of incredible service, duties encompassing various responsibilities such as sports coach, relationship and sex education teacher and pastoral lead for Years 7 and 8.  Angela visited me in the autumn of 1993 to impress upon me the importance of adding to the support needed for both children and adults.

Deborah Snow joined the Sixth Form teaching team in 1995 to teach Media Studies, just ahead of Mike Crawley (1997) to lead Photography in our then recently formed Sixth Form, both at A-level. Their  contributions to the academic life of the school have been both distinct (totally different subjects and ways of working) yet really quite similar in terms of encouraging creative flair and independent working. Debbie and Mike are ‘legends’ of the school, owner ‘drivers’ of their subjects, working exclusively with Years 12 and 13 as both academic teachers and personal tutors. Mike’s contribution as the chair of the student common room committee has seen many Christmas parties and Summer balls through to successful conclusion. They’ll both be sorely missed.

Other departing staff include Kate Ing, Assistant Head on the College site going to the Sixth Form at Beaconsfield High School, Hester Goodsell moving to be Director of Music at Notting Hill & Ealing High School, and both Will Ansell and Sharon Renardson off to Australia for entirely different reasons. To these and other colleagues slipping away to fresh pastures at this time we wish them the very best of fortunes in their new endeavours.

In celebrating the arrival of the summer holidays, I do give thanks to all of the staff for their amazing efforts over the past 10 months. The Principals have been incredibly well served by all three headteachers, John Rayer and Justin Spanswick as well as Paul Bevis, and their leadership and management teams, staff, administrators and support workers. The school roll closes with 1109 children and 376 staff, the largest we have ever been. Despite our scale and size, I hope that you our parents and customers will understand that next year I intend to spend even more time out and about with your children, for whom our school exists.

Hearing your views personally is also very important to me.  There were some key points made by parents in the 2017 Parental Questionnaire which I believe require me to make reply, which I do in my feedback document.  Please take this opportunity to read those responses, as they highlight many areas where we have listened to you and actively made changes, including parental information & liaison, food and transport – as well as other important information on how we continually strive to develop all our pupils whatever their age

I am looking forward to being a little closer to the ‘action’ so to speak, to ensure you hear my views and passion for the school a little more often. To paraphrase Kipling:

I can dream – and yet don’t make dreams my master; I can think – and not make thoughts my aim; I do meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.

Have a restful summer holiday as and when you can, for surely your children do deserve a break; I know I do!

James Wilding

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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