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【SCMP Education Post:Study in the UK】Cometh the hour, cometh the man

Boarding 101


A series of enlightening and very frank interviews with Nick Gregory, the Head of Wycliffe College, have helped to bring the values of a British boarding education to the fore once more. When an energetic and caring Head joins a crackerjack of a school, all amidst the backdrop of quintessential English countryside and charm, one can only marvel at Wycliffe’s unique version of a British boarding education…

The forever personable and always approachable Nick Gregory became only the tenth Head in Wycliffe’s 130+ year history in September 2015. My interview notes reveal a man who is on a mission to ensure that pupils receive an education which prepares them for a 40-50 year working life in the “real world”. 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 undoubtedly had an impact on his work as a Head, as he took up strategic planning, change management, and financial management; which he says have all become relevant to his working life. 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 man and worldly communicator at the helm who is also a fervent advocate of getting to know pupils. Indeed, it is of “critical importance and non-negotiable”. Of course, Wycliffe pupils are going feel accepted and thrive if their leader tries hard to remember their birthdays and special events in their lives. Another of Mr. Gregory’s admirable confessions is his willingness to “personalise detailed individual reports on every pupil”, an exceptionally time-consuming endeavour. 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 Mr. Gregory and it epitomises Wycliffe’s mission to be inclusive and supportive.

It comes as little surprise that one of Wycliffe’s strengths is learning support provision. An ISI Inspection in Spring 2016 confirmed Wycliffe’s credentials, thus: “The support for pupils with SEN or EAL 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-to-one 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”. Indeed, as Mr. Gregory stated: “…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” product 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 include: Class sizes (1st place – 24% higher than the benchmark); Support for specific learning needs (2nd – 17% higher); Careers advice (3rd – 17%) and Approachability of staff to parents (5th place). 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 summarised his attitude towards the teaching of these subjects, thus: “…robots and artificial intelligence are going to influence the world in unimaginable and extensive ways… genuine human creativity will not be replaceable through an automated solution”. Indeed, a sound education should “teach developing minds about the joys of engagement in creative pursuits”. Interestingly, Art and Design is one of the best-taught two or three subjects in the whole school and has sent pupils off into not only creative careers but also disciplines such as Architecture.

Overall, a personable Head with realistic views on education and varied life experience to boot. Mr. Gregory has his finger on the pulse of current change in education, the future direction of independent schooling and what it means to value and respect pupils. Wycliffe’s capacity to develop children simply knows no bounds.

Samuel Chan is the Managing Director of Britannia StudyLink.

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