Rydal Penrhos’ Headmaster Simon Smith recently sat down with InCheshire and Prestbury Life magazines for a special question and answer feature, where he spoke about his route into teaching, the benefits of a boarding school education and what attracted him to the school.
What was it that attracted you to take up teaching as a career?
“I had always enjoyed all the different elements of school: lessons, sport, friendship, the positive impact the teachers, especially those who went the extra mile after school for example, had on my day and progress.
“I also felt comfortable speaking in front of groups, working in teams etc..The longer I was at university, studying History and Economics, the more I felt that this was a career I could and, because I loved my subject, wanted to pursue. I thoroughly enjoyed my PGCE and the rest, as they say, is history.
What attracted you into the private schools’ sector in general and to Rydal Penrhos Boarding School in particular?
“My entry into the independent sector was simply fortuitous. I had, initially, gone to a grammar school myself but then because of family circumstances moved to a new are and attended the local comprehensive, so I only ever thought about teaching in the state sector.
“However, in my final year at York University I was shown an advert for the position of Resident Graduate at one of York’s independent boarding schools, Bootham School. I was successful in obtaining the post and the scheme allowed me to complete my PGCE at York. In return for accommodation I ran activities, coached teams, supported the boarding houses.
“It was a transformative experience, for me, to see a school which was far more of a community than I had experienced elsewhere. Relationships were stronger, pupils were given more support, independence and motivation to do well. After my one year contract finished I applied to both independent and state schools but was offered a position as a History teacher at Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex and I’ve never looked back.
“I have spent over 20 years in boarding schools and when the time came to seek a Headship I was looking for a school to lead with similar values, enthusiastic pupils from both the local area and further afield, positive relationships, supportive parents, ambitious Governors, excellent facilities, high academic and co-curricular standards and potential for further growth. Rydal Penrhos has all of these. But I was also looking for something slightly different too.
“My schools up until now have been leafy campuses in the Home Counties. Rydal Penrhos’ position within the town of Colwyn Bay, two minutes from the sea and a short drive from the mountains but still close to major hubs such as Chester and Manchester was really attractive. I could see the possibilities for partnership and service within the town and a really exciting co-curricular programme which supports my idea of adventurous learning.
“The fact that it also has a Prep school from 2 ½ years old was important too. I have been a Governor in two Prep Schools but haven’t worked within a 2 1/2 to 18 school since Hurstpierpoint. As a parent of two teenage children and I also want them to be happy in the community and location too; my wife and I have no doubt they be will here in North Wales.
What are the potential and additional benefits a family can expect when their child is educated at a boarding school as against a day school – in terms of quality of education; self-confidence and character building?
It is a truism that the very best boarding schools are first and foremost a home from home. Schools like Rydal Penrhos provide children with a safe, happy environment, they also maintain an excellent channels of communication with families to report on their child’s progress, activity and attainment. Long gone are the days where boarding parents visit only on high days and holidays, our boarding parents make frequent visits and many of our boarders go home from time to time during each half term.
“Boarding schools provide that opportunity for independence, leadership, responsibility-taking as well as how to learn to get along with everyone and care for each other too, a sense of how to work either independently or within a team.
Modern boarding is often an educational and lifestyle choice rather than a geographical necessity. The advantages of this sort of preparation for university and the work place are self-evident. Whilst day schools provide a brilliant experience typically between 9am and 4 pm, by their very nature they cannot extend their day and their provision much beyond that. Boarding schools are never closed during term time and so the opportunities for a wide-ranging co-curricular programme as well as additional academic and pastoral support are that much greater.
“When other schools’ pupils are going home ours are preparing for an evening of sailing, strength and conditioning, extra art tuition or drama rehearsals. After that they can complete their prep and have time to socialise and relax before bed. Parents of pupils at day schools can and do of course arrange such things for their children but at Rydal Penrhos it is all included; time can also be spent ‘doing' rather than being ferried between activities or travelling back and forth to school each day.
“As a result pupils are far more likely to find new and different activities they enjoy and excel in. Boarding enhances a child’s chances of discovering their talents and to be the best that they can be. The variety is immense and as actor Tom Chambers, a former pupil of a boarding school said, “In a boarding school everyone finds their own room.”
“Perhaps most importantly boarding schools are incredibly caring. We are in loco parentis and the wellbeing of every child is our focus. So boarding school staff are highly trained and committed to proving the very best levels of pastoral care. Rydal Penrhos teaching staff understand that working at a boarding school is a way of life, not a job, and their dedication to all our pupils, day and boarding, almost knows no bounds!
“They know the pupils far better, they can spot the signs, manage the issues and talk to the pupils at the appropriate time. Similarly by developing those relationships in the evening or at weekends it makes for a far more positive and effective classroom atmosphere; it’s amazing the power of a game of pupil vs staff pool the night before! Our day pupils, of whom we have many, also benefit from the boarding atmosphere and values.
“It is worth noting, of course, that 21st century boarding schools offer immense flexibility. Rydal Penrhos offers a mixed diet, from full boarding for 7 days per week to weekly boarding (usually Monday to Friday) and flexi-boarding, typically one or two nights per week to make life easier for busy families and working parents and to support pupils who are already staying late for music, drama or sporting commitments for example. Such options allow pupils and their parents to have the best of both worlds – time at home with loved ones and the benefits of an extremely rich school life.
How will Rydal Penrhos benefit most from your headship?
I have a lot of experience working at some similarly outstanding boarding schools, most recently as Deputy Head (Academic) at Haileybury College in Hertfordshire. In addition to the obvious traits of hard work, enthusiasm, openness and a passion for education I like to think that I have some genuinely creative ideas for our curriculum, developing pupils’ character, fostering good relationships with parents, and the use of technology and social media; I am guilty of spending a disproportionate amount of my time on Twitter!
“I hope that my strongest contribution will be from my experiences at Haileybury where we were able to significantly improve our academic reputation through improved and record-breaking exam results, higher league table positions, an understanding of the importance of professional development and independent learning.
“We achieved all of this without sacrificing or diluting our co-curricular provision; if anything we increased that too. I’ve come from a school that had over 500 boarders and so I also hope to be able to oversee further improvements to our boarding offer as well as an increase in numbers.
What are the prime short-term and longer-term objectives you and your leadership team will be setting out to achieve at Rydal Penrhos?
“We are proud of our history and heritage but never at the cost of looking forward, to the future. We are already, in my opinion, Wales’ leading 2 ½ - 18 school and our ambition is to make Rydal Penrhos the first choice boarding school in the North West and one of the UK’s most inspiring and admired co-educational schools.
“We are looking to further raise academic achievement (including in our public examination results), increase parental engagement and pupil ambition to even higher levels, across the pupil age spectrum. Our ambition is certainly not for the feint of heart - our aim is to be very much one school with one vision.
“We set out to be a vibrant, courageous and joyful 'world class' school where teaching is consistently exemplary. Our community, the pupils and staff, are guided by these principles:
• Learning effectively
• Living joyfully
• Listening respectfully
• Leading successfully
“Finally, we will utilise every advantage that our unique and stunning location gives us and will continue to be guided by our Methodist values. We are looking to develop the Forest School and Coastal School elements of the Prep and from September in the Senior School we will be introducing leadership lessons to all Year 7s as part of their weekly curriculum.
“The Year 9 curriculum features weekly lessons on Government and Politics as well as an enhanced Careers provision. I am keen that we develop our Sailing provision which is potentially the best in the UK. We’re also further developing our STEM provision, Choir profile and our already outstanding Drama provision. I am in no doubt that Rydal Penrhos provides a transformative experience for every pupil. The facilities and range of opportunities are impressive and truly differentiate us from other schools, independent and state; nowhere similar will be quite the same.
“We know the pillars of the ‘5 Ls’ (learning, living, listening, leading and location) make us truly distinctive and I look forward to meeting and welcoming families from across the region and beyond who are interested in all that we can do for their children.”