When Simon Morris made the decision to move on from his position as Headmaster at Kingswood Senior School in Bath, he couldn’t have predicted the challenging background against which his departure would occur.
With the Coronavirus pandemic seeing schools across the world closing unexpectedly, there will be no opportunity for a traditional farewell to the children, staff and families who have meant so much to him throughout this time at this leading independent school. However, as is typical of child-centric views of this popular head, his concerns are very much with the effect that the pandemic will have on the children moving on than any personal disappointments.
“I do feel for the Year 13 leavers who won’t have the opportunity of a traditional farewell to the school,” said Simon. “We’ll certainly have to look at arranging a delayed celebration at a later date which, while it won’t be quite the same, it will give the leavers the chance for a proper goodbye.”
As he prepares to move on to new challenges, Simon can look back at a time well spent at Kingswood, during which he had helped the school to achieve at the highest level across the range of disciplines.
“My view is that there is something very special indeed about Kingswood. The real issue here is the strength of the people throughout the school and the relationships that they develop, and this is clearly what drives the school. We are an ambitious school with very high standards, alongside a sense of community and pulling together. However, just as important is that sense of service that helps young people to develop a broader understanding of where they belong. As part of this, Kingswood is very much an outward looking school, part of a larger community and helping children to discover their roles within that community.
“Over my time at Kingswood, while a lot has changed, the core ethos of community alongside a strong and inclusive Christian foundation remains. Yes, we have seen the academic side develop and prosper, with more languages being taught, more A Levels and BTechs available and a wider curriculum, alongside a physical growth in terms of more classes, the new prep school and improved sports facilities, all of which have been wonderful.
“Throughout all of this, the most important aspect for me has been the focus on the pupils’ wellbeing and pastoral care. This remains at the cornerstone of everything that the school stands for, helping to build mental resilience and a sense of purpose. It’s something that we’ve always done well and now it’s even more advanced than ever.
“Among the initiatives that have proved popular and successful is yoga, which has made a big difference to the lives of many of the pupils, and the staff as well. We also have a counselling programme that is available 24/7 to all children who want to have access to it.
“I do appreciate that it is a real privilege as an independent school to have the freedom to make our decisions, particularly around such core areas as wellbeing. My time at Kingswood has shown me that this type of all round education should be available more widely – I find it deeply frustrating that it’s not available to all children who would benefit from it. Education should be life changing for all children.
“Head teachers and educators need to be idealistic and always want education to be better. It’s good to see a move away from just looking at academic results – academic study is important, but it should be positioned alongside quality in everything that you do. Any system that focuses purely on the academic is too shallow.”
After his time at Kingswood, Simon can look back at wonderful array of accomplishments, from the physical growth of the school, to prize winning achievements across the academic, arts and sports sectors of the school. However, his own highlights are far more centred around the personal achievements of the pupils.
“When a student overcomes a challenge or does something that they previously believed was beyond them, they are the real highlights for me. Alongside that, when you see a student who is helping and supporting another student, that’s the very thing that I’m in education for.
“When I came to Kingswood, I was challenged with improving sport in the school and it’s wonderful that we’ve now enjoyed some great times, right up to national level. But what makes it really brilliant is that child who was previously lacking confidence and goes on to score their first goal, or perhaps might not be the best sportsperson but has improved and learned to enjoy their sport. There’s as much satisfaction in that achievement – if not more – than the most talented sportsmen achieving at the highest level.”
Looking ahead, Simon predicts a future in education that won’t necessarily see radical change, but will need to embrace the advancements offered by technology.
“We’re clearly at a time where we have to marry advances in technology, where children have information at their fingertips, with the ability from teachers to help them make the best decisions. I’ve always chosen to work with teachers who love teaching, but now they also have to embrace technology at a pace that we’ve never seen before.
“You only have to look at the challenges that education has faced across the world as a result of Coronavirus. We worked throughout the Easter holidays to develop distance learning, using technology to help our children, and the speed in which they’ve engaged with it has been fantastic.
“The key to this is that we have been constantly reviewing what we’re offering and making sure that it’s meaningful and challenging, without keeping the children on screens all day long.
“It’s opened up questions about what education will look like in the future. I think what this last couple of months has shown us is the flexibility that technology can offer, alongside good teaching. It’s certainly not a time to run away with technology – an important part of school is always the face-to-face human contact and this must always remain at the centre. You don’t prepare a child for the world by giving them a laptop. However, we should also recognise that this type of distance learning can be advantageous for some pupils, particularly those who find school difficult, and while they’re not a large number, it’s crucial that education is available to everyone.”
While Simon will be moving away from the Bath area, he explained that Kingswood will always be important to him. “I’ve always taken the view that when you’re done, you’re done. I know my successor well and am confident he will be wonderful for a school. However, Bath and Kingswood in particular will always be somewhere that I hold very dear indeed.”