Last week we sat down with the new headteacher of Marylebone Boys’ School. Set to be Marylebone’s first free school, we had the chance to find out a bit more about the school before it opens its doors in September.
What is the story so far behind Marylebone Boys School?
In essence there has always been a need for more boys’ school places in Westminster. There are two successful all girls’ schools, and therefore the other schools are ‘boy heavy’. The Proposer Group, which is made up of a wide group of non-educational and educational professionals, identified with this need and saw the free school route as a way of addressing the shortage.
We have had amazing help from David McFadden at the London Oratory School and Elizabeth Phillips from St Marylebone CE School, who has recently retired. They have helped to guide the school from an educational standpoint.
We also have a link to London Diocesan Board for Schools. They have helped provide us with temporary office space and acted as a support network through the free school process. It is important to us to have an organisation that we are affiliated to. It gives us an important grounding.
At what point did you come to be involved with the school?
I was hired in February this year and have been heavily involved with the school since that time. Although I technically started in April by the time I was full time, I had already done a few weeks of recruitment to create the senior management team and start the recruitment of teaching staff.
What drew you to the role?
I was looking for a headship role, but a particular type. I knew I wanted to be at a smaller school and have a chance to build something. The opportunity here fitted these requirements – it’s small, a start-up, it’s entrepreneurial and it is challenging. I like this as I can grow with the school and help to build its long-term success.
What is the ethos behind the school?
We are a boys’ school; for me, the proposers and all the teaching staff we have recruited it is about providing excellent support and academic excellence across all age groups. We are non-selective in the sense that we take a quarter of each year group from each different ability band. These bands are determined through our pre-test, that for our current intake we held back in November of 2013.
We are going to have an extended school day starting at 8.30am and finishing at 5.00pm. This means that homework will be done at school and there will be more opportunities for sport. We are also going to offer Philosophy and Latin; this is part of our aim to offer a high quality academic curriculum. It is really important to set yourself apart in the current education system. Alongside our sports offering, I believe this will help us stand out.
How big a role will sport play within the school?
Sport is an important part of the wider curriculum that we will offer, in particular there is going to be a real focus on team sport. The embodiment of this will be in rugby; that will be our main sport. We are in the process of arranging fixtures and linking up with a local club through the RFU. This link will provide coaching and a further focus for the more talented players. That said we will accommodate all abilities, as many of the boys won’t have played rugby at all. We will also play hockey, and in the summer athletics, cricket and tennis.
For you what are the differences between being a headteacher of a free school versus a ‘normal’ school?
I prefer to call this a ‘start-up school’ – it faces many of the challenges that any small organisation has that is trying to grow. There is a lot of hard and onerous administrative work that is needed to build the support network that an established school already has.
For example we are doubling our staff every year for the next three years. This takes careful planning and a thorough recruitment process. We have a really dynamic teaching staff taking shape and I want make sure that this is built on, as eventually they will be the wider leadership team of the school.
What are the benefits of being a free school for you as a headteacher and for parents?
We have greater freedoms as an institution and benefit from this. We can make decisions over the curriculum, such as the decision to teach Philosophy and Latin. This helps us to build a positive ethos into the school while drawing on the experience of our Proposer Group.
Can parents still apply for places?
Yes they can. There is a waiting list, but we are still accepting applications for September 2014. We therefore encourage parents to apply. We want to make sure as many boys as possible have the opportunity to come to our school.
We will have open days for boys who will join us in 2015 and will be taking applications for that year via the common application form process. In 2016 we will open our mixed sixth form and welcome the additional challenges and opportunities this will bring.
Are you allowed to tell us where the final site is going to be?
No I am not – all I can say is that it is three quarters of a mile from Marylebone Old Town Hall which is the point that we have chosen as our point to measure distances from. We hope to be able to share the news of the final site very soon!
Since being on board what has been your biggest challenge?
It is the things that are out of my control. When setting up a free school you see lots of different bodies and institutions interacting, it is not always plain sailing. I am just looking forward to opening our doors in September, and being in our permanent home in September 2016.
Do you have much of a chance to wonder around Marylebone? Any favourite spots?
My favourite spot has to be the Edgware Road. I like its vibrant cosmopolitan feel, it is always full of people. You can buy whatever you want. It is all there!
For more information about admissions and Open Days make sure to visit the Marylebone Boys’ School website.