Page 21 - Independent Schools Magazine
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Mike Buchanan has been head of Ashford School, Kent, since 2005. He is currently taking a year’s sabbatical to serve as Chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC).
part of a mixed group, United Learning. We work together for the bene t of all pupils of all abilities and all backgrounds. This isn’t easy but the most successful collaborations include the training of teachers and future school leaders, as well as joint endeavours amongst our 40,000 pupils in areas which support character development, academic attainment and progression to university. In other words, raising aspirations and levels of achievement amongst all pupils and staff.
Ultimately,  ddling with structures such as grammar schools is only a small part of the picture in raising achievement for the children most in need. What will make the most difference is expert teaching supported by expert leaders. I would like to see partnership activities focused on these whenever possible.
Q Pupil well-being has been at the forefront of school agendas for many
years, but perhaps more so recently in the light of increasing concerns about
mental health in general and the pressures
of social media on teenagers in particular.
Most independent schools make great play
of the quality of their pastoral care. In your travels round the country, have you details
of any speci c initiatives which you think are particularly useful and could be copied by others?
A The latest ISC research supports the hypothesis that independent
schools are particularly successful at promoting key personal characteristics such as well-being and good mental health - because we see these areas as integral to what we do alongside maximising pupils’ achievements. There are some great initiatives happening across our schools and we know that there has been
a big increase in pastoral care provision over
the past  ve years. Examples include peer-to- peer support programmes at Highgate School, tackling exam stress and discovering new ways of working at Queen Anne’s School, Caversham, mental health  rst aid for teachers, excellent whole-school approaches to well-being, and
the generous sharing of best practice. HMC
itself hosted a major conference on good mental health in schools in 2016 and this year our Spring Conference will examine how schools
and families can better work together to support children to be happy, healthy and use digital media wisely.
Q Is Brexit going to present a problem of teacher recruitment and make the
UK less attractive to boarding pupils from overseas? If it is, what steps can be taken to mitigate?
A I would not want it suggested that I am some sort of “hero” Head. Indeed,
the fact that I have been at Ashford School for 12 years suggests, I hope, that I
set out to build something with others that is self-sustaining. I think school leadership is, in theory at least, straight forward. The three key ingredients include expert teaching by diverse, interesting, individuals; leadership by every adult which embodies the behaviours and attitudes you wish to inculcate in the pupils; a sharp focus on the business of learning and assessment. As a business leader as well as a Head I would add that an independent school needs to show with crystal clarity why it stands out in the market. We started with the strapline of “Adventurous Learning” which we had to run to keep up with in Qthe early days; not so now!
Just like most leading universities the nationality pro le of my staff is highly mixed with many coming from the EU.
They are unsettled and perceive their future to be uncertain. Teaching in U.K. independent schools is a wonderful career and we must take care not to give the impression that other countries are more welcoming to international candidates. With university leaders and other educationalists, I have been conveying this message to policy makers at every opportunity.
So much effort has gone into teacher recruitment and retention in our sector (as well as assisting the state sector) that we must do everything possible to urge government ministers to resolve the uncertainty as quickly as possible.
of GCSEs and A-levels amongst parents, pupils, and employers, leave alone teaching staff. Have you noticed increasing momentum towards
the IB? Are you considering the IB for your own school?
Who, or what, inspired you to get into teaching? Do you still teach?
I’m probably unusual in that I wanted to be a teacher from my late teens. Indeed, I was determined
to be a Head from the start. It’s taken some
time to understand why I was so driven but I now realise that my overriding motivation is to in uence positively as widely as possible. I’ve been described as a natural “disrupter” (I think that was a compliment) and I certainly enjoy leading change. I still teach physics at Ashford School when I can but, these days, it’s mostly as a substitute teacher when I take over a class for a few lessons. I enjoy it!
The accuracy, or rather inaccuracy, of exam marking and the whole issue of re-grades has damaged the reputation
every pupil can pass through the exam system knowing that they can trust the grades they receive. I’m not convinced that has damaged
the reputation of the exams overall as this is a much more complex question about curriculum, relevance and the changing world our pupils will encounter. It seems that IB  gures are reasonably stable, with schools who do offer it remaining very positive about its bene ts.
Friars Prep and relaunched Ashford as a co-ed school serving pupils from 3 months to 18 years. The school roll has steadily increased since and now stands at over 1,000. Could you pick out three leadership attributes which have enabled you to achieve such a turn-round?
Regarding exam marking, I am proud of the work HMC has carried out to hold Ofqual to account and ensure
When you come to look back over your year at the helm of HMC, what is the one thing you most hope that you will
Ashford was a struggling girls’ school with falling numbers when you arrived in 2005. You oversaw a merger with
an integral, in uential part of education in the UK. Our schools incubate and test ideas, open their doors to state school pupils and have huge expertise and experience to offer for the bene t all children. I have focused on driving that further with politicians, educationalists, in uencers and the media. At the same time, I and colleagues have tried to create a positive propositional approach to the Green Paper “Schools that work for everyone” which at the same time holds fast to the principles of independence and long term effectiveness for pupils over political fashion. There is still, of course, everything to play for.
ave achieved for the independent school sector?
Much effort has been made by
HMC to ensure the true value of independent schools is recognised as
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