Interview: Will le Fleming, Fulham School
From working as a journalist to sword-fighting in London’s top tourist attractions, Will le Fleming now takes up the role of headmaster at Fulham School, where he is at the helm of a major period of change for the forward-thinking institution
What is your career history?
I grew up on a farm in Gloucestershire and was educated at Eton and then Clare College, Cambridge. After graduating I worked as a journalist for a number of years, before forging a career in education in museums and palaces. I worked at the Museum of London and the Tower of London, with the odd stint sword-fighting and wearing armour! I also looked after education at Hampton Court – everything from the adult lecture series with celebrated speakers, to primary school sessions with excited 11-year-olds charging gleefully around the Tudor apartments.
From there I moved to St Paul’s School, where I developed an interest in the academic and pastoral support of students alongside classroom teaching. In 2014 I was appointed to the senior role of undermaster before moving to St Paul’s Girls School where I worked as deputy head and director of senior school. In September last year, I joined Fulham School as headmaster and head of Fulham Senior. Alongside teaching I’m also a writer – a novel, Central Reservation, was published in 2011.
What are the best things about being a headteacher, and the biggest challenges?
One of the best things about being a headteacher is the sense of responsibility that comes with the role, the fact that you are helping an entire community to flourish. Everything we do at Fulham School is about nurturing individuals to reach their full potential and it is so exciting to play a part in that. Obviously, there is also the rare privilege of looking enigmatically over one’s glasses at pupils who are sent to see me as they wonder why they are in the headmaster’s office.
In terms of challenges, it’s an incredibly complex role given the intense level of statutory obligations that need to be met – there’s a lot to consider. The portfolio of work is very varied too, particularly at the moment when the school is undergoing a period of change. I spend almost as much time with architects and structural engineers as staff and students.
What exciting things are happening at Fulham School at the moment?
Quite simply everything that’s happening at Fulham School at the moment is exciting. We’ve got a new senior school building opening next year, we’re remodelling our other two sites that house Fulham Prep and Pre-Prep, with a new kitchen, dining room, art studio, science lab, performance space, and we’re developing the curriculum–there is a lot going on at Fulham.
Fundamentally, this is a powerful next step for the school. Fulham School began with 12 students around 20 years ago and now caters for 700 on two sites; soon it will be three. We’re also launching our new sixth form shortly, so we’ll offer education right through from four to 18 for those who want it, as well as the best prep education for those leaving at 11 or 13. This is an exciting, major step for Fulham.
One of the most exciting changes is the launch of Fulham Core, a programme teaching our children all the skills they need to thrive and find purpose in the modern world. The Core programme won’t be a tokenistic bolt-on, it will sit at the heart of what we do. Our children will learn to make their own minds up about what happens in the wider world, and the potential opportunities and barriers they will encounter along the way. That there is no fear in failure, that they should not be afraid to falter, learn and try again.
What are your future plans for Fulham School?
Apart from rebooting Fulham School with new facilities, new buildings, the launch of Fulham Core and welcoming the sixth-form intake, we’re also looking to work more with our partner international schools. We’re part of the Inspired Group, which spans five continents, and gives us a remarkable wealth of talent and experience on which to draw. It exposes our pupils to global perspectives and the best in educational approaches across the world.
What makes Fulham School stand out?
At Fulham School our commitment is to encourage the development of creative, problem-solving individuals, with tenacity, kindness and self-worth. We achieve this through a distinctive, forward-thinking and outward-looking co-educational environment, where diverse abilities are recognised and celebrated.
Central to our ethos is that no matter how oversubscribed we are, we never narrowly select students from one pool based on an artificial set of criteria. That is, we select a mix of different personalities and abilities. Admission should not be about training children from a horrifyingly young age to pass a limited set of assessments.
In my mind that’s crushing the joy out of learning and I really stand against the idea.
When it comes to secondary education at Fulham, we think it’s really important that our children learn beyond the curriculum. They need to know how subjects connect and how the present world relates to ideas that have been developing for centuries.
Above all we are a school in which each pupil’s personal talents are identified and developed and given the fullest possible expression. From the most academic to the most creative, the most driven to the most supportive, we want each student to take delight in everything they do.
We support academic high-flyers to achieve the scholarships and university places that will challenge them, alongside pupils whose passions are expressed in rehearsal rooms or on the sports field or in the kindness and service they offer to each other.