The art of diplomacy is helping a former city banker thrive in the world of education as he ends his first term as headmaster of one of the region’s leading independent schools.
With three teachers in the family, Barnard Castle School’s new headmaster Tony Jackson always had the profession in mind but not before he experienced life in business first.
After graduating from Durham University, where he captained the first XV, and spending a year playing rugby as No 8 for Valencia, Tony made the most of his joint passport-holding status (his mum is Australian) and headed to Sydney where he secured a position with MacQuarie Bank.
Within a year he was running a team of 22 and when he returned to England was one of 3,000 applicants to secure one of just 40 places on the Barclays graduate scheme.
Over the next four years his world was corporate management where his diplomatic skills were honed and tested to the full as the linchpin between sales staff and those who approved the money, not to mention keeping demanding corporate clients on side. At just 26, Tony became the youngest in the Barclays Group to be appointed a relationship director.
“It was an amazing role that exposed me to CEOs, finance directors and corporate business,” said Tony. “It was great fun and very exciting, but I soon felt that the deals that earned the company the most money gave me the least satisfaction.”
“My father and two sisters were teachers so it was always in the back of my mind,” continued Tony. “Then I had a true epiphany when a close friend of the family, Ray Crabtree, who had sold his successful business, failed to wake up on his first day of retirement, aged just 58. It made me realise you only get one shot at life so I followed my heart.”
Barclays allowed Tony to take his PGCE at Oxford University, where he gained his Oxford Blue and played at Twickenham. His teacher training placement was at a challenging school in an impoverished part of the county.
I had a true epiphany when a close friend of the family, Ray Crabtree, who had sold his successful business, failed to wake up on his first day of retirement, aged just 58. It made me realise you only get one shot at life
“When you are facing 34 Year 10s on your very first day in the classroom it requires diplomatic skills,” recalled Tony.
Placement over, he secured a job as a history teacher at Radley College, where he later became a housemaster.
“This was another amazing experience, which again helped me develop my diplomacy skills,” he said. “When parents are paying high fees and students aren’t always acting in a seemly manner there are negotiations to be done.”
Family ties in the North, including his wife Dawn, from Whitley Bay, a house in Northumberland and sister Amy, who was Head of Pastoral at Barnard Castle School, prompted Tony to apply and secure the post of second master.
In September he became headmaster of Barnard Castle School where he is employing his rich and diverse life experiences to good effect.
“I am absolutely loving it. I love the interaction with staff, parents and students. There are so many day-to-day issues, then there’s the overall strategic view to consider and striving to get the balance right between working on site and raising the profile of the school in a wider sense,” said Tony. “But when I see our students interacting or performing in the community I feel immensely proud of being their headmaster – and I know my career switch really has been the rewarding choice.”