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【The Standard】Success of the personable approach

Boarding 101


Promoting 21st-century skillsets in future workforce is a topic which reminds me of the forever personable and always approachable Nick Gregory, who became only the 10th head in Wycliffe College’s 130-plus year history in September 2015.

My interview notes reveal a man on a mission to ensure that pupils receive an education which prepares them for a 40- to 50-year working life. According to him, a secondary education should not be a standalone experience in which pupils become absorbed in the here and now where they have little awareness of why they are doing what they are doing.

Gregory has the background and nous to deliver upon his principles and vision. His experience in banking has had an impact. Strategic planning, change management, and financial management have all become relevant to his work as a head.

He also talked of bringing things back to “first principles” – namely, seeking out “the best and most effective way of achieving an objective.”

Another principle would be taking concepts that people may initially “present in a complex way and instead of cutting through that to identify – in a simple-to-understand way – the really crucial elements.”

Wycliffe evidently has an experienced communicator at the helm who is also a fervent advocate of getting to know pupils – something he said is of “critical importance and non-negotiable.”

Of course, pupils are going to feel accepted and thrive if their leader tries hard to remember their birthdays and special events in their lives.

Another of Gregory’s admirable confessions is his willingness to “personalize detailed individual reports on every pupil” – an exceptionally time-consuming endeavor.

He also has lunch with groups of Year 9 pupils in the first term and all Year 12 pupils in the second term. This “little-and-often” contact is vital to him and epitomizes Wycliffe’s mission to be inclusive and supportive.

It comes as little surprise that one of Wycliffe’s strengths is learning support.

An Independent Schools Inspectorate report in spring 2016 said Wycliffe’s “support for pupils with special needs or English as an additional language is excellent.”

The Good Schools Guide review, written in the summer of 2016, was equally praiseworthy of Wycliffe’s value-added approach and teachers who “go the extra mile with one-on-ones and special help.”

For Gregory, Wycliffe’s success in these areas “is simply embedded in how we know each pupil as an individual”. With Wycliffe pupils all willing to pitch in and respect one another, those who receive additional support are not pegged back by a “social stigma”.

As Gregory said: “This support is provided for lots of their friends so it is just an integral part of a Wycliffe education.”

The level of support on offer to pupils at Wycliffe is confirmed by data from the parental survey the school undertook in October 2016. Wycliffe used the UK market leader for this – RS Academic – whose School Pulse benchmarks schools against a significant number of other similar UK independent schools.

The areas where the level of satisfaction of Wycliffe parents significantly exceeds the satisfaction levels of parents at other top UK boarding schools. These include class sizes (first at 24 percent higher than the benchmark); support for specific learning needs (second); careers advice (third) and Approachability of staff to parents (fifth).

Clearly, the evidence points to a school which puts pupils and parents before profits.

Finally, Gregory and I discussed the teaching of drama, music and the arts – subjects which Wycliffe has sought to promote and protect.

He summarized his attitude: “Robots and artificial intelligence are going to influence the world in unimaginable and extensive ways. But genuine human creativity will not be replaceable.” A sound education should “teach developing minds about the joys of engagement in creative pursuits,” he added.

Interestingly, art and design is one of the best-taught subjects in the whole school and has sent pupils off into not only creative careers but also disciplines such as architecture.