The Woodard Corporation educates over 30,000 pupils in maintained, independent and academy schools. Its new Chairmain, Richard Morse, has been appointed to lead the group from August 2016.
What attracted you to the role?
Woodard Corporation is one of the great unsung charities of contemporary Britain. Although rooted in a tradition that goes back to its founder, Canon Nathaniel Woodard, in the mid-1800s, its vision of providing outstandingly good education in the context of a strong spiritual grounding is precisely what young people need today. A good education is important for every single child and for the country that they will eventually serve, in whatever capacity. Woodard has the potential of drawing on the high-performing nature of our state affiliated schools and our independent schools in a unique partnership for the benefit of pupils no matter their background.
How has your experience to date informed your vision for Woodard?
I was lucky enough to go to a school with great education and a strong Christian tradition (Winchester College) so I have first-hand experience of the power of that aspect of my life. Latterly I have also been involved with a leading theological college, training men and women to serve churches and communities. That experience showed me that a huge difference can be made even by modest numbers of well-educated people, willing to serve, so to extend that across the 32,000 or so pupils in the Woodard family is a huge opportunity.
How can groups of schools maintain consistency in governance, for example in multi-academy trusts?
Good governance is critically important to running good schools. Woodard, in line with its principles, chose to invest in some of the most challenging schools as part of its initial portfolio of Academies. We have recently strengthened the leadership team of our Academies Trust even further, at both executive and Board level to help ensure consistency of approach and of delivery – it was heartening to see Littlehampton Academy coming out of special measures recently, and I know that very good work is going on with our other Academies, too.
How does Christianity play a part in Woodard schools?
Woodard was founded with an explicitly Christian mission and this is the spiritual backbone that informs the schools in our community and provides the young people in our schools with a vital ethical dimension to their education. You do not have to be specifically Christian to attend a Woodard school, or to get the best out of it – what is important is the awareness of the principles underlying Christianity and the challenge that it poses to live your life well. I was very pleased to attend the launch of our new publication ‘Schools for Human Flourishing’ as my first public duty at Lambeth Palace on 10 May. This book, which we produced in partnership with the National Society, facilitated by SSAT, brings life to what an inclusive value rich and value driven Christian education can, and does, look like. You can download if for free from our website.
How much do you think religion has a role to play in the education sector in general? Is this changing?
We clearly live in a more secular and inclusive society, but I don’t see that this is incompatible with religion playing an important part in education. Children need a strong moral and spiritual education – if schools do not provide that, it would be a huge missed opportunity.
What are your priorities for the schools going forward?
Our priorities are simple – top-class education; strong spiritual grounding; and a robust financial performance. All of these are needed to provide a platform for excellence and growth. Allied to this is the challenge of growing outstanding leaders of church schools which we are addressing through a leadership programme. As a unique family of maintained and independent schools we have a strategic focus on developing collaboration between the state and independent sectors for the benefit of all our students, not least through our current ‘hub school’ projects. I am sure too, that we will want to grow our Academies Trust over time, and I look forward to playing a small part in that.