Some people must assume it was a conspiracy. Education was on the front page of the Bury Free Press again last week. And there, to illustrate the story, was a picture of me. No wonder one of our new Year 7 students said to me recently: “My mum calls it the Barton Free Press.”
Well, here’s the good news. You’re about to see a bit less of me. I’m writing this on the day when 150 staff at King Edward VI School said goodbye to me. You are probably reading it on the day I teach my last-ever English lesson, supervise my last detention and wave students off one last time into their long-awaited school holiday.
I’ve been part of a long line of headteachers stretching from John King in 1550 to my successor Lee Walker who takes up post after Easter. This is a process that stretches back through the centuries. In all of that time a school founded by the young King Edward – “schola buriensis” the school of Bury – has relished tradition whilst embracing change.
I leave feeling hugely privileged to have led King Edward VI School since I was appointed by governors in 2002. My challenge was to build on the great work of my predecessor, Mike Moran.
Governors asked that we became a more outward-facing school, building partnerships across the community, with the Cathedral and diocese, and looking overseas to help prepare our young people to take their place as truly global citizens in a modern world.
When I spoke to staff this week, I listed things I’ll miss.
I love the fact that when people enter reception they see first a baby grand piano. It belonged to former student of the Grammar School era, John Ottley. When he died just before Christmas, he left his beloved piano to us. It now sits at the heart of our school – a signal of the value we place on our former students and the way music, the arts and creativity are at the heart of our values.
I love the way the school is full of laughter, that we have daft mascots on sports days, a weekly quiz, an annual Sixth Form show in which students poke gentle fun at their teachers, especially me, and a culture in which the whole school community likes nothing more than charity dressing-up days.
I love the way 500 students stand in reverential silence each Remembrance Day and listen to the names being read aloud of a hundred former students who gave their lives in war.
I love the fact that our staff quietly demonstrate to young people that schools are places that deal in optimism, shaping the future lives of young people for a turbulent world.
I love the way that on our watch generations of students from a range of backgrounds, irrespective of wealth or privilege, have gained a love of learning, a passion for science or dance or modern languages, and often become the first member of their family to step out from home and become the trailblazer who first goes to university.
I love the fact that today in offices and hospitals across the UK and abroad, in banks and businesses, in newspapers and law firms and schools and shops and factories, there are young adults from a true Bury St Edmunds comprehensive school who benefited from the values the school stands for.
And if all those images of me in the Bury Free Press make you think that I believe our success is down to me, I know that it’s not.
Last year on our tenth school visit to Shanghai we visited the temple of Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. I’ve quoted his words before, but they mean a lot as I prepare to step out of my life in school leadership: A leader is best when his work is done, his aim fulfilled. Then the people will say: we did it ourselves.
I have been privileged to work with great students, staff, governors and parents at King Edward VI School.
This is what they have achieved, and I am proud to have been part of it.