Michael Grahamslaw Meets Neal Bailey Headmaster Of Mowden Hall School

Issue 18

What was your background prior to joining Mowden Hall School?

After working in charity investment management for 8 years, I escaped the clutches of the City to pursue a career in teaching. After spending a couple of years as a Maths, French and general sports teacher, I took on the role as Directeur of the Chateau de Sauveterre, a school in the South West of France where English pupils were totally immersed in French language and culture for a whole term. I remained in this unique post for 3 years before moving back to England in August 2014 when I assumed the pleasurable role of Headmaster at Mowden Hall.

What do you feel have been your major achievements at the school?

Since the day of my arrival I have been campaigning for the installation of an all-weather astroturf facility, on which pupils will be able to play hockey, football, tennis, to name a few, throughout the year. Whilst small amounts of fundraising have been gathered from past parents, the vast majority of the project has been funded by the Cothill Educational Trust. Building a development like this in the middle of the green belt was never going to be straight forward, so gaining planning permission on 1st September 2016 was a hugely exciting moment for myself, but ultimately the school.

Being part of the Cothill Educational Trust is not only reassuring, but also can be of enormous benefit to a school like Mowden Hall. Given my experience in other establishmentswithin the Trust, I believe I have managed to strengthen the link between our schools and this has been accomplished through joint music events, sports tours and regular visits. I have also been delighted with some key personnel changes including addressing the sports and boarding provisions, as well as successfully recruiting a new Deputy Head.

Can you highlight some key student accomplishments over the past 12 months?

I have been delighted that, so far, all leaving pupils in my two-year tenure have gone onto their first senior school of choice and no fewer than 18 pupils have achieved scholarships. These scholarships have ranged from academic, sport, art, drama, music and all rounder awards. Several boys have been selected to represent local and national rugby clubs and one girl was selected for the Under 14 England Rounders team.

What do you consider to be the most important aspect of education?

Of the many decisions in a parent’s life, choosing the right school for a child is among the most important. Whether we like it or not, the world today is as much about knowledge, skills and competition, as it is about exploring, growth and fulfilment. Education is one of the key ingredients to shape, guide and even determine a young person’s progress in life; so getting the decision right is a moment of pressure for all parents.

We place emphasis on the positivity of teacher-pupil interaction and the friendliness of pupils both to each other, but also to visitors. We are interested in gauging whether different pupils feel a sense of belonging in an equal way. A happy child who feels well supported and enjoys school will naturally be given the best possible chance to be resilient, confident and high achieving in life. This, therefore, defines our primary objectiveand is surely the most important aspect of education.

Children learn by testing their limits. Learning is a lifelong process; it is a self-directed and self paced journey of discovery. Learning unfolds in a vibrant and vigorous environment where pupil growth is cultivated and regularly nurtured. At Mowden we believe that if the children are going to discover their talents, explore their interests and pursue their passions, then they need to look up and beyond just the classroom. The purpose of learning is not to arrive at a particular level of proficiency on time. In fact, the journey never ends…

What are the Core beliefs of

Mowden Hall?

Mowden is brave enough to enable its pupils to develop qualities such as inventiveness, creativity and open-mindedness. We say ‘yes’ to pupil initiatives without falling into the trap of a child-centered pursuit of education. We strongly believe that education does not start and stop at the classroom door. We are an independent school so we therefore practice our independence. Whilst we are all aware of the National Curriculum and observe its guidance, we are not a slave to the rhythm. The staff actively promote curiosity, as here we believe the future belongs to the curious. Curiosity is the compass that leads us to our passions and interests. ‘Challenge the teachers’, we tell the pupils. ‘Ask that question’ that you have been dying to ask but did not know how to. One thing is for sure curiosity will lead them down new paths and discoveries and it is the spark behind the spark of every great idea.We work hard at boosting the children’s’ confidence at Mowden. Confidence is such a complex, often misinterpreted word. It is full of nuance, often overlooked in the popular press. Confidence is a virtue. A skill. A feeling. A value, that is attainable by all. It is something earned and something learnt. It opens doors and opportunities way beyond that of exams and degrees. For us it is the most valuable commodity.

One way, and by no means the only way, of enhancing confidence here is through an experience of boarding. Whether the child is here throughout the week, just on a Tuesday night, or simply by being surrounded by the general environment that Mowden creates we are confident it has a part to play in boosting a child’s self-esteem. Boarding done well is a unique way to prepare young people to face the challenges of 21stCentury life. It instills independence, problem solving and self-awareness amongst many other fine attributes. Ability on paper is just one of a broad spectrum of skills and qualities young people need to navigate a landscape in which there will be jobs, and ways of working, no one has yet even thought about. This is where the less tangible benefits of this type of environment come strongly to the fore.

How much emphasis do you place on extra-curricular activities?

Imaginative thought, creative responses and clear communication are skills that we foster. This helps to develop the children’s character, build their confidence and create an essential route to self-expression. Children’s self-esteem is enhanced by the greater opportunities now available to them. A more enlightened curriculum and extra curricular programme have made learning a much more interesting and diverse experience, and have provided so much in the way of individual confidence and collective endeavor.

We believe that the extra-curricular activities are hugely important and we, therefore, place great emphasis on them. At Mowden, every pupil has the ability to be creative. It is our obligation to unlock their creativity to enable pupils to develop qualities such as innovation, imagination and individuality. We can promote this through a diverse and enriching extra-curricular programme, specifically tailored to appeal to all children, regardless of their differing likes and interests. Children cannot exhaust creativity the more they use, the more they have.

What positive changes have you seen in education generally during your tenure?

Although external inspection has led towards a bureaucratic overload, it has undoubtedly contributed to a more caring and congenial environment. Emphasis can now allow us to pursue a family atmosphere and greater attention to each and every pupil.The boarding demand will continue to be tested, so we will not be resting on our laurels. Pupils’ confidence has been enhanced by the greater opportunities now available to them. A more enlightened curriculum and extra curricular programme have made learning a much more interesting and diverse experience, and have provided so much in the way of individual confidence and collective endeavor.

What changes would you like to see

going forward?

There is ample space within a good school for scholarly teaching, but I believe it is the overall cultivation of mind, body and spirit that counts for most when we are still young. I imagine, and hope, there will be a continuing demand for a holistic education, where schools like Mowden will be in a position to benefit.

As sure as night follows day, so there will be changes in the educational world. One reason perhaps why some resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up, instead of what they have to gain. I would argue that the secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Where do you see yourself and the school in five years time?

In 5 years’ time, I very much intend on continuing in my role as Headmaster of Mowden Hall, and I will be offering enormous dedication to ensure that it will still be in rude health. In spite of change, the magic at Mowden Hall that so many refer to and revel in will remain. This magic is intangible, but its presence is noticeable. My choices as Headmaster will reflect my hopes, not my fears. I believe that the only way to make sense out of evolution is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance.Mowden Hall will continue to evolve and, with sufficient energy and enthusiasm from the pupil, parent and staff communities, I am confident it will remain one of the leading co-educational day and boarding prep schools in the north of England.

Away from the school how do you

like to relax?

To relax, I normally exercise! There is nothing that clears my head more than either pounding the miles out on my road bike, or heading off for hours on my paddle board. I cherish the time I can spend with my wife, Nici, and 2 sons and am very fortunate to be able to spend the school holidays with them at our home in South Devon, either creating dams in the streams, walking ourdog over the wild countryside, or attempting a BBQ on a windy, wet beachÂ….bliss!

Sign-up to our newsletter

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.