Talking Heads

Nick Dorey - Bethany School

I loved my time at school. Life for me both at primary and secondary school was always busy, fun and fulfilling. There were many reasons for this, but the key ones were excellent teachers who were really enthusiastic and passionate about their subject and the opportunity to get involved in a huge range of activities beyond the classroom.

One teacher who particularly inspired me was Bruce Tulloh. At the end of my first year at secondary school he arrived as a biology teacher and running coach. He had just broken the record for running across the USA and was also a former European 5000 metres champion. He soon spotted that I had a talent for distance running. I trained with him nearly every day. He helped to coach me to considerable success at national level over 800 and 1500 metres and also nurtured in me a love of running free in the countryside.

My experience with Bruce taught me that sharing your passion with pupils and devoting time to individuals and groups can transform their lives. As a geographer I was particularly interested in glaciology and it was a joy when one of my former students went on to a top university and later returned to school to present me with a copy of his PhD in glaciology! It has been equally exciting to see some of the athletes I have coached go on to enjoy not just success in the sport but also a lifelong interest in running.

As a head I have therefore been keen to help pupils find their own particular talents and give them the chance to nurture and develop them. I still try to support and involve myself in areas where I feel my own passion for subjects and activities can help inspire pupils. So I still help out with the Duke of Edinburgh Expeditions and I also play in various musical groups including our staff/pupil rock group The Lizards.


Sally-Ann Huang - Kent College Pembury

I loved school. I went to Bolton School in Lancashire, an association girls' school like Kent College. I had a great time because we always had a sense we could do whatever we wanted with our lives. I would like my own pupils to feel just that, that they have lots of opportunities and that nothing should get in their way.

I was surrounded by role models at school, although I did not know it at the time, but when I became a teacher myself I could see myself behaving in just the same way.

Margaret Spurr was head of school at Bolton and she was formidable, you wouldn't want to cross her, but she was always really approachable. I felt if I had an issue or wanted to discuss something I could go to her office and have a conversation. She never seemed too busy and she never seemed stressed. She was a great inspiration.

I try very hard to be approachable , I have an open door policy all the time but specifically on Fridays and I do nothing but let the girls come in and they do. Also, assembly is very important. I remember Mrs Spurr taking assembly, it was her opportunity to speak to us all at once. I take assembly once a week and I am very conscious of what I am saying, that that is my moment to be their headmistress.

The other thing I try to do to give my teachers freedom and let them do it their own way as long as the end result is right and that we can measure that.

I went into teaching very much for the literature. I was taught English by a lady called Christine Todd and she inspired me as far as Shakespeare and Jane Austen were concerned. I know I have taught lessons that Christine taught to me. I have said the same things about Macbeth and approached it the same way. It's an amazing passing on of knowledge.

I was really lucky to have these people in my life.


William Trelawny-Vernon - Saint Ronan's

I was extremely lucky and went to a wonderful prep school in North Oxford called The Dragon. There were a lot of really good teachers but it was a bizarre place. The school had some quirky traditions, for example, all the teachers were addressed as Ma this or Pa that.

I remember a wonderful chap called Desmond Devitt who has just retired. He was a young master but he was kind, enthusiastic and committed. At senior school I really got into rowing and there was a wonderful guy called Paul Futcher, our coach. Anything he made us do he did himself. He ran down to the boathouse, he did the circuit training and that was really quite impressive. I think the common theme between both was a real commitment to teaching and a real commitment to working with young people.

When I left school, it was 1983 and Thatcher ruled supreme so like all good chaps I was going to go off to university then earn a fortune in the city. I went off to university and did go into the city but didn't make a fortune. There was this feeling of 'Do you really want to do this?' My parents were both teachers and I used to come home from the City at weekends and cover lessons for my mother and I thought it was more fun than my day job. So here I am!

Teachers like Devitt and Futcher transmitted passion so if we can do that here that would be really good. I hope I do. With teaching the production line is very short. You know if you're being boring or exciting because the children's eyes brighten or they dim and look out of the window!

The family is important at St Ronan's. We're a medium-sized prep school and everyone knows each other. I run it alongside my wife and we have four children in the school so the commitment is there. Complete commitment to the children and a real enthusiasm for their experience is important to us. For example, one may have taught, say, the Civil War a thousand times but for that child in front of you who is aged ten, that is the first time they have heard the Cromwell story so you've got to sell it to them.

The plan is to get them hooked.


Tim Fish - Buckswood School

It's all too easy to fall into the Monty Python trap of looking back at my school life on the Lancashire coast and start reminiscence with 'Eee, in my day I had to get up at six...' While a 21st-century pupil may have vastly improved facilities, services and comforts - both at home and in school , he or she also has many more pressures and stresses than I ever remember, with particular regard to examination frequency and expectation of performance. I had two - and only two - periods of public examinations, the 'O' Level and 'A' Level summer sessions and I'm sure that this 'chains-free' approach gave pupils and teachers more freedom to explore topics and themes without constraint at times.

The lessons I remember more vividly than others are ones I did not do at 'A' Level: I can still recite (some, but not all!) translated lines from Ovid's Metamorphoses as taught by a gowned Classics master in his study; I remember the inspirational simplicity of the moral messages in Religious Studies, and I know I enjoyed relaxing times in the Art Dept - but I did learn the Palladian order at least!

But aside from my enjoyment of the reign of Charles II as instructed in a remarkably anecdotal and avuncular fashion at A level, by far and away it was the Games Department?which gave me most fulfilment, probably due to the atmosphere created by a committed and intelligent group of masters who mixed discipline, motivation and humour together to provide the perfect platform for us to learn about teamwork, camaraderie and those well-known impostors, triumph and disaster.

Drawing upon some of these personal experiences has indeed influenced my professional approach: what does Buckswood offer? In short, it offers opportunities for each and every child to be successful in so many different ways.


Bruce Grindlay - Sutton Valence School

I went to prep school at King's College in Wimbledon for six years before moving to Canada with my parents, and enrolling at St George's Senior School, Vancouver. It was a good education but, with hindsight, I feel it lacked sufficient breadth and support for an individual's needs and interests, just a little too generic for my liking.

I then went to the University of British Columbia before coming back to the UK, when I was organ scholar for three years at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. I stayed on at Cambridge for a year to take a postgraduate degree and taught music to undergraduates.

I was inspired by one teacher , my mother Pat, who was a chemistry teacher! I was taking the equivalent of A Level Chemistry and my teacher could not get me to understand and engage with certain topics. Eventually I asked my mother for help and she was excellent at focusing on my individual needs, aware that there are many different ways of teaching and many different types of learner. She found a way in for me and from that moment on I found the subject exciting, approachable and achievable.

This experience taught me that there is no "one way" or "tried and tested" method for imparting both information and a love of learning. We are all different and the job of a committed and talented teacher is to find the way in to your subject for the pupils.

As a result, I am a great believer in a bespoke education, an education that tailors its teaching and available opportunities to engage and enthuse all pupils, helping them achieve more than they could have believed, and pushing them to realise their potential.


Richard Keeble - Claremont School

My school days were blissful. I had a very happy time at prep school. I was a boarder from the age of nine and loved being with my mates the whole time. I was heavily into sport and I got away with what I could get away with in the classroom!

I was a cricketer and wanted to become a professional cricketer and did so for a couple of years. It was largely due to the influence of a guy called Bernard Harrison who got me involved with Hampshire County Cricket Club. He taught me to recognise how important it is to be fair , to be fair to yourself, to be true to yourself. Children resent a lack of fairness as much as they resent anything else. The other thing he taught me was to listen to everybody and I do this.

I was doing a teacher training qualification at Durham University and teaching practice inevitably featured quite large in the course and I loved it. I was teaching in a tough environment in the North East , a mining community where the mine had closed down. It was a very depressed area but I loved it.

Being able to motivate people is pretty fundamental in running a school. If you fail to do so, whether teachers or children, you are not going to achieve a great deal. If you can get people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it, they can be very effective. It's difficult to achieve because school life is so busy. Education is about lighting fires, it's about interests, enthusiasms and passions.

If teachers do their jobs properly , and many of them do extremely well , then exam success follows. Working in independent education we can really focus on the individual children. Children are lucky that we don't have the same limits, but we achieve very, very high standards partly because we have that freedom.


Roger Kidney - Dulwich Preparatory School

I went to Eltham College, which is a little like Dulwich College. I started as a boarder , my father was a pilot in the RAF , and when my parents moved to London I became a day boy. I can't say I enjoyed boarding , but I think it was very different then. It's quite unlike that now , my daughters love it at Dulwich.

I remember lots of teachers for lots of different things but none inspired me as much as the work experience we all had to do in primary schools. I went to Edgebury in Chislehurst for three weeks when I was 15 or 16 and loved it, from reading with the children to helping with sports day.

I started a degree in quantity surveying but then got a transfer after a year to Geography and Sport. One summer I had a choice of jobs. One was being a park keeper in Tonbridge, the other was teaching English as a Foreign Language. I chose the latter. The children I had were aged six to sixteen and they ranged from being nearly fluent to having no English at all! I would say that I had to make it up apart from a little self reading. Looking back on it, I learned that sometimes it is better to take the harder challenges, which is what I did then. I had to work every night, because you cannot go into teaching without a plan, but I then did it for another two summers.

Teaching is like a hobby. I still love my job - it's all absorbing and part of my life. As a head, you're delicately solving lots of issues. You want to foster a really good team spirit amongst the staff and make everyone feel valued and welcomed, a part of a team - and that includes the catering, the ground staff and the cleaning staff.

The other important thing, of course, is the children's happiness: if they are happy then most other things fall into place. The children sometimes are the easy part , they're always great no matter where you are in the school. If you respect them they respect you. If you like them they like you. The children achieve fantastic results but at a school like Dulwich the extras , the sport, the music, the art - are so important. There is everything on offer for everyone.


Antonia Beary - St Leonards-Mayfield

I started off in a convent grammar school and then my parents moved so I went to the comprehensive where my father taught. I then did my sixth form in another comprehensive.

I had some good teachers who were very supportive otherwise I wouldn't have got where I am. My sixth-form teachers encouraged me to have confidence in my abilities. The teachers who were committed to their subject, who knew what they were talking about and were enthusiastic about it because they were passionate about the subject, these are the teachers that engaged me. They encouraged you to think for yourself rather than imposing their knowledge.

I applied to Cambridge to do Anglo-Saxon Northern Celtic because it was a challenge. I changed to English after two years. I had a tutor, Eric Griffiths, in Cambridge who taught me to appreciate language and the power of words, never to waste a word and to be careful in your use of language. This lesson is important now when I talk to the girls , it's imperative they understand the power of language, how it can affect what they do and how what they say can affect other people.

At Mayfield I am careful not to impose on children. One of the most famous statements of Cornelia Connelly, the lady who founded it, was Be Yourself, be what you want to be, find out who you are and be aware that your behaviour impacts on the community.

One of the reasons I became a teacher was after a conversation with a friend at Cambridge. I was saying how important education is and how much influence it has over people and he said: 'You should actually do something about it if you feel so strongly about it.' And here we are!


Julie Robinson - Vinehall School

I was at a big state comprehensive school, so it was quite impersonal and during the time of the teachers' strikes, so it was not a particularly inspiring time to be at school!

The teachers taught us but did not do any extras, which is a shame as it is the extras that can switch children on.

There was no one teacher who inspired me but there were aspects of teachers I remember , those that were enthusiastic, those who really loved their subjects and knew their subjects which switched me on to learning. There were also those who believed in the individual pupil, who took an interest and encouraged them.

We had a very lively English teacher called Dot Barden. She was a very unusual person, incredibly energetic, very good with the tricky boys. She allowed them to express themselves, without it undermining the class, but she gave them that freedom.

She was quite liberal and they were lively, but she gave them enthusiasm for the subject. She would play around with Shakespearean language to switch the boys on rather than make it dull.

My education left me with the view that one has to enjoy learning and this is central to our school. There are two aspects to this , the first is finding the subject interesting and relevant and personalised and the other is accepting you need a certain amount of discipline and hard work to make something of it. So you have to get that balance.

It is important for children to experience failure but in an environment where it is all right to do so. These are important lessons too.

Vinehall is a fantastic place and has made me appreciate what I didn't have at school. We try to be positive and helpful and to promote that ethos within the school.


Christine Flowers - Bricklehurst Manor School

My primary school was an austere Victorian building complete with concrete playground, outside toilets, vile meals and teachers who were keen to wield the cane or ruler! Fear did not engender respect, however, and many children were failed.

I did respect one or two of the teachers, however, not least the final one who hauled a record number of us through the 11+, which was the equivalent in those days of finding Willy Wonka's golden ticket! Her diligence altered the course of my life.

The teachers who influenced me the most were those who fairly gave clearly defined boundaries of behaviour, whilst offering lesson content that was meaningful, relevant and of interest. There was no National Curriculum then and so teachers were as inspirational as they could be.

I encourage my staff to have some fun with their teaching, exceeding the constraints of the curriculum, and give a great deal of time matching their strengths to pupils' needs so that as a school we maximize our expertise, thereby opening up the future for all of our pupils.

In my school, children are happy, seen and heard. It is my hope that every child leaves with a huge sense of achievement, regardless of which school they move on to.


Mike Buchanan - Ashford School

Born in Brisbane, for the first fourteen years of my life we moved from city to city, and school to school, in eastern Australia following my father's developing career. I spent the first few years of secondary school in Sydney. Shortly afterwards, I and my immediate brother (I am the youngest of six) moved with my parents to Madrid. My father chose to send us to board in the UK and picked Downside School on the basis that the sun was shining as he entered the school grounds. Downside was and is run by monks from the Benedictine order. I benefited from a liberal education where warm relationships were the most important thing. I learnt the power of humility and compassion, both of which the monks had in spades. I could not have had a better education.

I have always enjoyed leading and had an inkling that teaching might be for me from an early age.

It was confirmed during my gap year which I spent teaching in a school for children with behavioural difficulties. I have been inspired by many people. John Daniel was my first boss as Head at the Royal Grammar School in Guildford. A towering figure, he was crystal clear about what he expected of his staff and rewarded those who responded. I was lucky to be given responsibility early and I relished it. After ten years I moved on to become Deputy Head to Richard Kennedy at Highgate School in London. Richard was intellectually as sharp as a razor and painted a vision for the school which he entrusted to me to bring about. Once again, I was inspired by his trust.

Most importantly, I'm inspired by the young people I work with. I have yet to set a challenge to an individual or a group of students to which they have not risen. Their endless energy, resourcefulness and enthusiasm are why I am a teacher and Head.

I am driven by values which are deep seated and go back to my own education at Downside. I want the children at Ashford School to develop the personal qualities that will support them throughout their lives. We aim to promote self-reliance, responsibility, compassion and boldness, and also foster a sense of teamwork, the intellectual freedom to be creative, the confidence and enterprise to initiate and the resilience to cope with adversity. I want our children to work hard, go to university and change the world. And they do.