Northern Insight talks to... DAVID TICKNER Newcastle School for Boys
What was your background prior to joining Newcastle School for Boys?
I started teaching in 1993. Prior to that I had spent six years working in accountancy and financial services. Although this didn’t particularly inspire me in my twenties, I didn’t know then that I was acquiring financial knowledge and skills that would become very useful when I became a Headteacher.
My first teaching post was at Alleyn’s School in Dulwich, south east London. I taught English and Games and threw myself into the wider life of the School. I coached cricket, football and hockey and joined the CCF, ski trips and more besides. I loved it and progressed to the role of Housemaster before moving to The Perse School in Cambridge as Head of Middle School in 2001. Back then, The Perse was a boys’ school and my experience of the GCSE year groups and curriculum made me well suited to join Newcastle School for Boys in 2006, shortly after its formation.
What have been your major achievements at the school?
Newcastle School for Boys has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Formed only in 2005 out of the merger of two prep schools, the School has established itself on the region’s independent school landscape as a provider of an excellent allround education for boys aged three to 18.
The School opened its new sixth form centre in 2017. This has allowed us to provide a unique and broad sixth form curriculum in an excellent learning environment.
We were very proud when our inspectorate recognised the School’s achievements awarding us the highest possible judgements of ‘excellent’ following an inspection in January earlier this year.
What positive changes have you seen in education generally and what further changes would you like to see going forward? Pastoral care has improved immeasurably, and we now have a much greater understanding of what works in teaching and learning as well as how to support children with additional needs. That said, there remains a great deal to do particularly following the Covid pandemic and the effects it has had on children’s learning, personal and social development as well as their mental health. The pandemic has also brought about something of a technological revolution in education from which there is no going back. The challenge now is to harness and incorporate the use of technology to benefit children’s learning and personal development.
How much emphasis do you place on extra-curricular activities?
They are a very important part of our pupils’ experience and character development at Newcastle School for Boys. There is an extensive programme at both our Senior and Junior Schools. We see these activities as co-curricular – something that goes with the curriculum – rather than as ‘extra’ and all boys are encouraged to take a full and active part in them. The limited scope to provide a full co-curricular programme during the Covid pandemic served to highlight just how important these activities are to young people’s personal and social development as well as to their enjoyment of school and wellbeing.
What major student achievements have happened in the past 12-18 months?
Our pupils have continued to show remarkable resilience and fortitude in the past 12 to 18 months as we have emerged from the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. A level, GCSE and other examinations were cancelled again last summer. Our pupils and staff worked very hard and adapted brilliantly to a new system of assessment – just as they had in the previous year – to ensure our pupils achieved the best possible qualifications arrived at fairly and rigorously.
Despite the pandemic – our pupils have continued to thrive in so many other areas as well. A number have achieved representative sports honours including recent leaver, Ollie Fletcher, being called up for the England Under 20 rugby team. Similarly, a number of our pupils have recently achieved high standards in their music grade exams including head boy, Josh Mitchell-Rayner who has also been awarded a place to study at the Royal College of Music next year.
What has been your biggest challenge?
It has undoubtedly been the Covid pandemic and the constant adaptations schools have had to make over the past two years. I am very proud of how our whole community responded to a very demanding and ever-changing situation. Our staff worked incredibly hard during this period and we enjoyed a great deal of support from pupils’ parents and families. It really has been quite remarkable.
What can prospective parents expect from Newcastle School for Boys?
We certainly don’t treat all of our boys as if they are all the same. They’re not. There is a great deal of difference and diversity across our boys. Nevertheless, there are some general characteristics that apply to how boys access learning and their school experience that, as a single-sex boys’ school, we tap into. Current parents might also point to a supportive and caring small school environment that ensures each boy is well-known to his teachers both as a learner and as an individual. What have you got coming up in 2022 and beyond?
It’s great to be emerging from the pandemic and its restrictions and re-establishing many of the activities and events that we enjoyed pre-Covid such as local and international trips, performances and fixtures.
We are pleased to be underway with a significant programme of investment in technology including the roll-out of a one-to-one device programme for pupils and staff. The aim is to harness the use of technology to enhance our pupils’ experience of school to support their academic progress and character development.
How do you relax away from the desk?
In recent years, I have developed something of a passion for cycling. The roads and tracks of Northumberland offer plenty of enjoyment, challenge and distraction. When not on the bike, I love reading, watching sport and walking our dogs on the beach at Tynemouth.