Omagh, Co. Tyrone
School and university
Castle Park School in Dalkey, Co Dublin; Loretto School, East Lothian; St Andrews University, Fife
After graduation I joined the Royal Navy for six years, followed by a move to the City of London as a currency trader with Société Générale. Then in 2005, I started as a teacher of economics at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle before a move to Clifton College, Bristol, as head of department and then St Lawrence College as deputy head.
St Lawrence College, Ramsgate, Kent
Describe yourself in three words
This is very hard! My wife, who is clearly biased, says calm and compassionate and then gives a choice of humorous, irreverent or opinionated. My 13 year old son says witty, authoritative and embarrassing. My 16 year old daughter says fair, kind and understanding. My sister says tall, competent and confident. Where do you go with these? I think they’re being supportive…
Who or what inspired you to get into teaching?
Throughout my time in the Royal Navy and in banking, I always enjoyed taking time with interns and younger team members to mentor them in their professional and personal development. They say that if you can do what you love for a living then you will be a happy person – that is how I feel!
What were your first impressions of Dame Allan’s?
What really struck me first about the Schools was the palpable sense of their being a community; a family of pupils, staff and governors, past and present, who all care passionately about their school and everyone involved. But also, the Schools are such a substantial and impressive organisation, educating over 1150 pupils on two sites with superb grounds and facilities, and with the scope to continue developing from really strong foundations, providing excellent opportunities for our pupils to grow into such fine young men and women.
Since applying for the position of Principal, the world has changed dramatically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. How does it feel to join the Schools in such unusual circumstances?
Of course, we’ve all had a lot of work to do to ensure the Schools could reopen in September safely and in a way that maximises the welfare of our pupils and their opportunities to progress. It has been energising to face these challenges, though, and to look again at how we can continue to offer the best possible experience and outcomes for our pupils in this new and fast-changing environment.
Distance learning has been a huge part of the pupils’ lives for the past six months. Are there any positives to come out of learning remotely?
Yes, there have definitely been some upsides. I have heard comments from parents and pupils to the effect that online learning has stimulated a greater independence in their work and better organisation of their time and resources. We will be continuing to use some of our developments in practice and systems going forward, so that we can keep the best aspects of online learning alongside the benefits of being back in school.
Some pupils haven’t physically been in school in full time capacity for over five months. How are you preparing for their return to school following such a long absence?
We have been looking at every aspect of this so as to be really well prepared for the return to school. We will be starting again with a real focus on getting pupils back into school routines, rebuilding confidence and making additional time for pastoral care so that each and every child will have time to settle back in and will know that they have teachers to turn to when that’s what they need.
Our previous Principal, Dr John Hind, was with the Schools for 16 years and was an integral part of the Dame Allan’s family. Has he given you any advice about the role?
He has indeed kindly offered a few words of advice and much encouragement, as well as telling me that this is the best job in the world! Having built such a strong team of staff working throughout the Schools, his best advice has been on getting to know everyone and how they all work so well together. He also strongly recommended Friday fish lunches.