One month in and our children, parents and staff have well and truly settled into the new term. But what of the new Heads who started this September? We check in with Ed Graham from St Andrew’s Pangbourne and Emma Goldsmith from Dragon School, to find out how their first month has gone. We also catch up with Jane Lunnon from Alleyn’s on what it was like to start a headship in January 2021 during a time of crisis.
Ed Graham – St Andrew’s Pangbourne
I have found the transition to Headship at St Andrew’s Pangbourne to be every bit as enjoyable and rewarding as I would have hoped, and the School is in terrific shape going into the new academic year.
I was fortunate to benefit from an excellent handover from my predecessor, so there have been no unwanted surprises to uncover. I’m also incredibly lucky to have inherited a cohesive, collegiate and diligent team, and our new recruits have settled really well. There are many facets that make up outstanding schools, but continuous attention to detail and great teachers are key, and these were on show in abundance during our three-day staff INSET.
My first day began with reassuring normalcy: a whole-School assembly, followed by a fire drill. It was lovely to see and hear the children back with their friends and in danger of sounding like every other Head known to man, the kindness rising from the community has been astonishing. Indeed, the children keep asking me how I am and how my day’s going which, coming from London is very refreshing! My family and I have certainly been made to feel completely at home and the sense of warmth when you visit St Andrew’s is palpable.
Accompanied by our puppy, which in hindsight was probably a mistake on top of a new role and a move to the countryside, it’s been lovely getting to know the children and families, particularly at drop-off and pick-up. We’re looking forward to a year rich in opportunities and experiences for our children and I’m really excited about what the future holds for St Andrew’s.
Emma Goldsmith – The Dragon School
It is a real honour to have been appointed Head of the Dragon and my first few weeks at this extraordinary school have been busy and exciting. I was expecting to enjoy living and working in such a beautiful location on the river in North Oxford but was not prepared for the warmth and friendliness of the welcome that my family and I have received from the Dragon community. Although the Dragon is a large day and boarding Prep (with 800 pupils starting this academic year), it really does a wonderful job of making all new joiners feel at home. I have quickly learned useful Dragon terminology such as ‘Bun Break’ for the mid-morning snack (nowadays usually fruit or a cereal bar) and love seeing how much children from Reception to Year 8 (or A Block as they are known) enjoy being at school.
There is a tangible energy that emanates from the staff who breathe life into the Dragon. It is wonderful to see the dedication and passion of the teachers in the classroom and in the boarding houses and I have been so impressed by the many talents which they share with the children in the Dragon QUEST enrichment programme on Saturday mornings. There can’t be many schools where children can choose between yoga, first aid, news reporting or paddle boarding! It has been wonderful to see normal school life resuming post-pandemic and I have very much enjoyed meeting parents at sport fixtures and hearing the children playing in musical ensembles and practising for Drama productions.
The School’s motto is Arduus Ad Solem, ‘Reach for the sun’, and I am so looking forward to continuing this ethos as we prepare global citizens for the 21st Century.
Jane Lunnon – Alleyn’s School
“What a term to start!”…and “I don’t envy you”…were just some of the comments I regularly received during the early days of my tenure at Alleyn’s in south-east London.
When I joined the School in January 2021 as its first female Head, I naturally expected exciting opportunities and challenges to follow. These are, after all, part of the irresistible ebb and flow of life in a learning community that strives to make a positive difference to the world around it.
Starting in the middle of a global pandemic and at the outset of another lockdown however, meant less, gentle ebb and flow, more coping with a tide of Covid management stuff, at very short notice. My first meeting with my senior team, (online, on Teams, on New Year’s Eve) was a highly task-orientated discussion about how to turn our school, in the next 4 days, into a Covid testing centre. Not at all how I had anticipated that crucial first meeting going. Still, it gave us all the opportunity to bond and, in the next forty-eight hours, when that testing requirement turned into all schools shutting in a total lockdown, it gave us the exciting opportunity to consider how we could uphold the everyday rhythms of school life via a sparkling online provision with which all our learners could connect.
Always Alleyn’s was born as a result, and I was deeply proud of the way our pupils and staff shaped and embraced this digital iteration of our community, from lessons, activities, music, sport, drama, as much of the extensive co-curriculum as could be re-imagined, to the familiarity of comforting school routines: form time, House meetings, assemblies.
What followed shortly afterwards was a national outpouring of grief centred on the murders of Sarah Everard and sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, coupled with outrage over the shocking, dismaying testimonies from so many young girls published on the Everyone’s Invited platform.
A significant and long-overdue conversation had opened up, and we at Alleyn’s were (and indeed are) determined to secure a positive lasting legacy from it. We explored the issues together, staff and pupils alike and established our very own Gender Equality Charter espousing values such as mutual respect and kindness to model to each other, not just here and now, but in our journeys through life and the wider world.
This brilliant piece of collaborative work demonstrated to me the power and spirit of the Alleyn’s co-educational community, with boys and girls standing shoulder-to-shoulder to champion the agendas of gender equality, diversity and inclusion.
So, while some may have thought that I was unlucky to start a new Headship at a particularly demanding time and in a particularly unconventional way, I feel inclined to argue the opposite. As a Head wishing to encourage young people to own their own voices and lead from the front to help make the world a better place, I couldn’t have asked for a better time to start!