Andrew Gordon-Brown speaks to Ian Waller about his new role at Kingswood and how the school is responding to the current Coronavirus pandemic
It’s clear to see the respect that the incoming new head at Kingswood School, Andrew Gordon-Brown, has for his predecessor. While the handover is taking place against the unpredictable backdrop of a global pandemic, Andrew’s thoughts are for the school’s leader of the last 12 years, Simon Morris.
“I’ve known Simon for a long time and he’s handing over the reins of a school that is in really good shape,” said Andrew. “He’s a head teacher that has delivered on all that the school has asked of him, which allows me the enviable position of being able to spend my early days here really understanding all aspects of what the school has to offer as I prioritise the things that need to move forward.
“I also feel for Simon that he has had to leave his post at such a challenging time, meaning that the traditional events that would usually take place to celebrate his achievements here are difficult to put on. However, I’m sure that the governors will invite him back at some stage so that he can enjoy a good send-off.”
For Andrew, his latest move within education comes after a seven year tenure at the head of school at Truro School, a seat of learning with a similar number of day pupils to Kingswood, although the Bath-based school does have a far bigger boarding operation.
“I always knew that while I was at Truro, it would take a lot to turn my head,” said Andrew. “However, when the chance came up to move to Kingswood, it looked like such a wonderful opportunity. Kingswood has so much going for it in terms of it being fully co-ed, with children from 0 through to 18 years and a strong boarding ethos. The fact that it’s situated in Bath is also very exciting.
“Kingswood is also ambitious and does so much so well, although it could be said that it hides its light under a bushel. My aspiration is for it to be talked about as the first choice school for parents in the South West who are looking for a broad and balanced education rooted in strong pastoral care and student wellbeing.”
Andrew explained that after visiting Bath with his family, he sees it as a city that attracts creative and entrepreneurial people, attracted by a strong sense of community and achievement. These are also clearly values that he identifies as being able to benefit the development of Kingswood, albeit in a very considered way.
“It’s understandable for families to look to school to have a pursuit of excellence in all of its forms. However, I think it would be wrong to focus on simply becoming an academic hothouse. I fully understand that there is an expectation from parents that academic results are excellent, but it’s also important to appreciate that there is a difference between academic results and academic value added, which is equally concerned with individual progress against expectations.
“It is also so important to understand a child’s individual needs and appreciate how to support, challenge and stretch them to their best of their abilities, while also being aware of their wellbeing and personal needs. Kingswood is not dissimilar to Truro in that we have a number of students with a range of additional needs, including dyslexia and dyspraxia, and it’s entirely proper to appreciate those needs within a supportive and challenging learning environment.”
Prior to his entry into a career in education, Andrew enjoyed a 12 year career in banking and finance, as well as competing for South Africa in the men’s eights event at the 1992 Summer Olympics. This has allowed him to bring life lessons from a variety of experiences to his teaching career, including the importance of working as a team.
“When I moved from the private sector and went into education, I soon realised that, as a head, you work most effectively when you work through other people, and are willing to delegate to others for the good of the organisation.
“This means that in taking on a second headship, I can bring a wisdom to the role, particularly when it comes to empowering others to be the best they can. As a head, you’ve got to be positive and if you can bring a sense of optimism to the role, that sets the tone for everyone.
“One of my observations of Kingswood is that it has a fiercely loyal staff and that helps to provide a sense of community, which is so important, both from within the school and in regards to reaching out across the Bath community to other schools in terms of working together to benefit each other.”
When it comes to the unique challenges that have been encountered across education as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, Andrew’s pragmatism and optimism come to the fore.
“The current situation is challenging and only now are we beginning to get a sense of what schooling might look like in September. In all probability it won’t be back to normal and we might well have to operate through a blended model, with some students at home and some in school. This brings with it its own challenges in terms of timetabling, staffing needs and what normal life will look like within the school.
“However, there are also many positives to be taken from this. I think that the quality of teaching and learning has improved during lockdown as teachers have had to be so thoughtful about their lesson plans and how they’re going to get the message across.
“I’m excited about how we can harness those lessons once we are all back. Even the best teachers can learn and we’re so fortunate at Kingswood to have a real sense of collegiality across the school.”