Interview | John Fern

From The Headteacher's Study

Issue 28

What attracted you to your current role? The school. It has a fantastic reputation for so many things that any opportunity to be part of such a vibrant community was bound to be appealing.

What was your background prior to joining RGS? Having read History at Oxford I stayed there to complete my PGCE. I began my career at Oakham School where I found myself quickly immersed in the life of a busy boarding school and soon learning that education went far beyond the classroom and subject specialism. I was involved in activities ranging from the school choirs to directing plays, from running the badminton teams to assisting with debating. I also took the opportunity to be a resident tutor and assistant housemaster in one of the boarding houses before becoming Head of History. During this time I worked for several exam boards, including the International Baccalaureate. In 2005 I moved to Fettes College, Edinburgh where I set up the IB programme. From Fettes I moved back south to become Deputy Head (Academic) at King Edward’s School, Birmingham where I was briefed with introducing wholescale curriculum changes along with developments in learning and teaching.

How have you found your time so far? So far I’m thoroughly enjoying my time at the RGS. Everyone has been very welcoming and it is a real pleasure to meet so many enthusiastic and committed people, from the students and staff to parents and alumni. What plans do you have for the school? This is a great school in many ways and one main aim has to be to keep it that way. But that does not mean standing still. Over the years the RGS has innovated in many ways and we aim to continue to challenge and stretch and hopefully inspire. I also hope that we can develop our sense of community as well as our place in the wider community of the North East. This will mean making sure we are open to new ideas and partnerships and being as inclusive as possible.

Over the years the RGS has innovated in many ways and we aim to continue to challenge and stretch and hopefully inspire.

John Fern, Headteacher, RGS Newcastle

What’s the most important aspect of education? Difficult to distil this to one aspect, but it must centre on the care of each individual in order to prepare them for their future lives, whatever they may be. Renowned nationally, RGS is one of the most prestigious schools in the North East.

Is there a certain pressure which comes with this? I don’t feel any more pressure than I would at any school. The RGS is a great school and well known, but as a Head the pressure’ is to be part of a community which is happy, fulfilling and believes in itself. I would feel the same pressure of responsibility for any student entrusted to my school, wherever it is or whatever prestige’ it is thought to have.

What’s your greatest business achievement to date? If business’ is the literal term then it would be the successful change and implementation of a whole new upper school curriculum at King Edward’s. If by business’ it means education then it is undoubtedly those wonderful moments in a lesson or meeting or chat where you make a difference to someone and the way they think about themselves.

What’s the most challenging part of the job? In these first few weeks it has to be learning so many names! However, the most challenging can also be the most rewarding and that is variety. Every day is so very different and you are never sure what is going to come through the door next. But that is also the joy of working with people in such an organisation and community.

What changes have you seen in education since you started, and what changes would you like to see going forward?

A lot has changed in the last twenty years, from exam systems to inspection regimes to technological innovations. Perhaps the most obvious change has been the pace and intensity of the job and the attendant impact this has had on colleagues and students alike. However, not all of it is for the worst and it would be wrong to see the past as a simple golden age. There is no doubt that the changes in safeguarding and understanding of mental health issues, to name but two, are so much better. For the future I would like to see a move from the tyranny of tables and the incessant pressure to jump through hoops which so many students face. A broader understanding that one approach does not fit all. A preparedness by government to listen to the professionals and stop tinkering. I could go on!

When not in school, how do you like to relax? Travel, theatre, hill walking, music, cooking all of these and much more depending upon the time and situation. It’s important to have those moments of escape when you can engage in something completely different. This also allows me to keep a sense of perspective.

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