The first thing most people remark upon when they come to see me in the headmaster’s study at Taunton School is the colour of the walls. They are a very bold shade of blue and people seem to either love it or hate it. Whatever anyone’s personal opinion of the colour scheme, they always seem to assume I’ll soon be calling in decorators to paint the walls a colour of my own choice.
In fact, I’m not planning to rush into a change at present. In part, this is because I actually quite like the colour scheme. But it is also because I don’t feel I have to go around changing things to make a statement that I have arrived.
I was appointed headmaster of Taunton School after spending five years as deputy to Dr John Newton, who had been in that role for a decade before leaving to become principal of a school in Adelaide, Australia at the start of this year. John supported my application for the role of headmaster because we share the same beliefs about the ethos of Taunton School. However, anyone who knows us will be aware we have very different personalities.
So how am I going to deal with the challenge of succeeding someone who will inevitably be a hard act to follow? It might sound like a cliché, but the way in which I am going to deal with it is by being myself.
Before I took over as headmaster at the beginning of the spring term, I spent much of the Christmas holidays trying to prepare myself for my first day in the job. However, I relaxed as soon as the first day of term arrived and I was surrounded by pupils, staff and parents and sensed their support and enthusiasm.
One of my biggest challenges so far has been managing to give staff and pupils as much of my time as I would wish. I was a very visible deputy headmaster, as my office was in the same corridor as the dining hall and it was easy to get out and see people, but as headmaster I have to work harder at getting away from my desk.
I must admit it still feels a bit strange to see my name engraved on the board showing the distinguished individuals who have been headteachers of Taunton School, which was founded in 1847. I hadn’t envisaged seeing my name there when I arrived from Millfield, having worked there for 14 years, joining as a maths teacher and leaving as senior master and director of sport. But then I hadn’t imagined building a career in the independent education sector when I was a pupil at my local comprehensive in Blackpool. It was only after I had joined Millfield in 1995 that I discovered the benefits of the holistic approach of boarding schools.
Since being appointed headmaster as the internal candidate, I’ve noticed that some people seem to expect me to already know everything that I want to change and assume I’ll start making changes swiftly. My position is that I do not want to make radical changes immediately. Furthermore, any changes I do undertake will be done with care. We are, however, aware that we can never be complacent and will always be focused on making improvements to the way we educate our pupils.
Lee Glaser is headmaster of Taunton School