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Independent faith schools offer sanctuary from 'stormy sea' of government reforms, says head

Parents are looking for “a rock in the stormy sea” of Michael Gove’s schools revolution, the man to become the first lay headteacher of the country’s leading independent Catholic school has said.

David Lambon (pictured) said that the education secretary’s policies "lack coherence and consistent direction”, which had led parents to look for stability and certainty in private Catholic schools such as his school, the prestigious Ampleforth College.
 
Mr Lambon spoke as he was preparing to become the first headteacher at the North Yorkshire school from outside the Benedictine monastic community in its 200-year history. He will start in September this year, taking over from Father Gabriel Everitt, who is retiring.
 
Mr Lambon, who is currently headteacher at St Malachy's College, a prominent Roman Catholic grammar school in Belfast, Northern Ireland, said in an interview with TES: “It’s a time of change, if you look as an external commentator on the state of British education at the moment.
 
"You have comprehensive schools, you have academies, grammar schools, free schools: from a parental perspective, in a time of change what you really look for is certainty. That’s what [schools like] Ampleforth can offer parents and particularly Catholic parents. It really is a rock in a stormy sea.”
 
He was keen to stress that there were “a lot of strengths” in the state sector, and that private schools could learn a lot from state schools, but that “stability” was vital.
 
“If you’re coming from a primary school or a prep school, the range of choices and the vocabulary that’s used almost changes on an annual basis," he said.
 
“Mr Gove has many ideas and many innovations, but there’s a certain lack of coherent and consistent direction and I think from a parental perspective that’s quite confusing.
 
“What every parent wants is the best for their child and I think in that atmosphere of 'it’s difficult times out there' there is a tremendous opportunity for schools like Ampleforth, where any change will be of a very gradual nature and one that maintains a character and ethos.”
 
He said that the presence of the monastic community on the site of the school was “a tremendous source of strength” for pupils, staff and parents, and that he was looking forward to working with the monks.
 
He added: “The world’s a stormy place for children growing up in 2014. For a 15-,16-, 17-year-old it is very challenging and I think in schools like Ampleforth you have the opportunity within that boarding context to offer that opportunity and the time and that’s very difficult to do in other sectors.”
 
Mr Lambon's appointment comes as many Catholic schools face the challenge of recruiting a new headteacher.
 
The decision to appoint a lay headmaster follows a similar decision by Downside, the private Catholic school in Somerset, which appointed its first head from outside the Church last year.
 
Figures from 2010 found that more than 60 per cent of Roman Catholic state schools were forced to advertise for a new headteacher more than once.
 
Analysts claim they are hampered by the requirement to appoint a head who is of the Catholic faith.

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