Back to School

By December 1, 2016Features-Leeds
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Dr Simon Hinchliffe became head teacher of Bradford Grammar School earlier this year. Here he shares his experiences in his new role and his thoughts on current education issues.

You undertook the role of head at Bradford Grammar School (BGS) in January. How have you found the first year of your new role?
In short, fabulous. Working at BGS with fantastic students, parents, colleagues and alumni as part of an extended school family is wonderful. I love coming to work and to be the 29th headmaster of a Yorkshire institution that dates back to before 1548 is a tremendous privilege.

How did being deputy prepare you for headship?
It was really useful. I enjoyed the role immensely; learning the finer points of BGS life. I was involved in everything from strategy to the clubs that we offer and everything in between. The deputy headship provides an ideal opportunity for getting to know everyone, students especially, and understanding how BGS ticks. Undoubtedly, the experience has provided a secure platform for taking the school forward and I am excited about our future.

What do you like most about being head?
Spending time with BGS students is the best bit of the job. Recently you could have found me grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat at a lively lunchtime session of the Junior Debating Society and then a little later listening contently to choir practice. The list of possibilities for the head to get involved with BGS life is as endless and varied as the huge array of things going on.

I am also keen to get back down to the school gym with some of our athletes – this has lapsed of late! Former BGS students like Team GB cyclist Abby-Mae Parkinson or Olympic heroes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee are an inspiration for us all. So I’m back on the bike and heading for the hills, but it starts with sit and pull-ups in the gym before Monday assembly. Wish me luck.

What was your favourite subject when you were at school?
Geography – people and places are endlessly fascinating. I loved A-level English literature too. The insights into the human condition that reading provides and which allows one’s imagination to fly are deeply enriching and unmissable.

What would be your key advice to any budding teachers who are considering joining the profession?
I continue to regard teaching as a thoroughly worthwhile and rewarding vocation, and I have respect for my colleagues in the many varied contexts in which they work. Teaching can be a satisfying job, not always an easy one, and I’d encourage anyone contemplating a career in education to talk to existing teachers and organise relevant work experience or volunteering, such as reading to children in primary schools. It is also important not to be put off by media horror stories. Aspiring teachers should seek a balance of opinion for themselves and then make their own minds up.

Education has changed significantly in recent years. What do you make of these changes?
The education scene in the UK is always changing and this continues to present challenges and opportunities. The scope and pace of change at the moment is however a little bewildering. Teachers everywhere are working tremendously hard to implement fresh curricula and assessments, and cope with new pressures. What hasn’t changed is the everyday commitment of teachers to provide interesting and relevant lessons, and the relationships forged between effective teachers and their students remains a key ingredient in the overall success of our education system.

Prime Minister Theresa May has announced plans to end the ban on grammar schools. What are your thoughts on this?
Reported exam turmoil, shrinking education budgets, a deepening teacher recruitment crisis and a shortfall of around 750,000 school places over the next 10 years…not unsurprisingly perhaps, I am sympathetic to the view that the grammar school debate might be taking our collective eyes off some deepening educational issues. It is however in the DNA of independent schools like BGS to work with others in the best interests of all children, sharing expertise, resources and working together. I’m open-minded about what might happen next, but we are all waiting for the detail.

What have been some of your most memorable school days as an educator?
I’m tempted to write about alpine mountaineering expeditions and leading groups up the likes of the Picos de Europa and Cotopaxi, or sitting with sixth formers at midnight on a Malaysian rainforest summit watching thunderhead clouds light up like Chinese lanterns.

But what really sticks are the little things like the shared joke with Year 10s while doing lunch queue duty, the wry smile that showed someone in the front row was listening in assembly (!), the ‘thank you, sir’ and handshake at the end of a lesson or the team hug after our raft sank on a BGS Junior School outdoors trip to The Lakes. For all of this and more I am thankful I’m a teacher.