Warm-Strict

The beginning of any new academic year is always exciting – it’s one of the many reasons why working in education is so rewarding. I will never cease to be inspired by the annual regeneration which every school undergoes each September. For Wellington, this meant welcoming 267 new pupils and 18 new teaching staff, seeing the return of the Lower Sixth in their brand new suits, enjoying another amazing College Carnival on Wednesday, and getting used to life under the 15th Master.

I know that many, if not all Wellingtonians, have been wondering what sort of Master I will be and I tried to answer this question in part of my Assembly address last Tuesday. I told the pupils that I wanted to be ambitious and aspirational, encouraging them to be the best version of themselves at all times. I also said that I wanted to be a very visible Master. As well as getting out of my office as much as possible to pop into departments, co-curricular activities and meals, I am looking forward to teaching all the Third Form this term, as well as re-introducing pupil lunches and dinners in the Lodge. I am doing this because I want to be a Master who listens and is in tune with the burning issues affecting the pupil body so that we can work together to resolve them. This is because, thirdly, I want to be a Master whose primary aim is to have Wellingtonians’ best interests at heart in all decision-making. There are, of course, limits. I will not always agree and we will not always be able to implement the changes that some of our pupils want, but that shouldn’t mean that we don’t hear their voices and respect their views.

I also told them that I want to be a strict Master. By this, I am not advocating an approach which is rule-driven, punitive, based on petty regulations, over-reacting for the smallest of misdemeanours, where teachers are aggressive and shout at pupils regularly. This is not how I define strict nor is this the sort of community I want Wellington to be. The exact words I used were, “I have high expectations of you and your behaviour, and I expect you to live, behave and treat each other with our College values at heart. Our expectations and boundaries are very clear at Wellington.”

On Saturday morning, I was therefore pleased to read this article in the Times Educational Supplement about the ‘Warm-Strict’ movement in UK schools. For me, the warmth is even more important than the strict. The warmth enables me and all teachers at Wellington to build those positive relationships with our pupils that are the hall-mark of communal life at the College. The warmth also enables us to be ‘strict’ on the few occasions when we need to be. It is not about creating a culture of fear, but a culture of mutual respect for each other and for the shared values with which this community exists.

Nowhere was this idea of respect for our community values more visible than in yesterday’s amazing Welling10K run in memory of Jimmy Higham. Jimmy was a well loved and highly respected teacher in the PE and Sports Departments. He was an instant hit when he arrived at Wellington straight from Durham University in 2008 – a keen rugby player, hard-working, dedicated, wise, funny, kind and helpful. Pupils and staff adored him. When Jimmy tragically lost his battle with cancer in 2010, just 26 years old, it devastated the Wellington Community. The Jimmy Higham bursary fund was set up to allow pupils of limited means to attend our Sixth Form and to experience educational opportunities at Wellington which they would not normally get. Three recent OWs have been able to pass through the College over the past six years thanks to the programme, and a fourth is currently being supported through Wellington by the fund. The Welling10K is therefore always a poignant occasion, but Sunday was another reminder of just what a remarkable community Wellington College is, and how lucky I am to be Master. What a fantastic start to the year – long may it continue!

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