Head plans his gap year after four decades in post

9th May 2008 at 01:00
The longest-serving headteacher in the country is looking forward to taking his gap year - 42 years after he originally planned it
The longest-serving headteacher in the country is looking forward to taking his gap year - 42 years after he originally planned it. Francis Howard has decided to bring his record-breaking reign to an end after more than four decades leading Yateley Manor prep school in Hampshire.

His retirement follows that of Tony Storey, believed to be the longest-serving state school head, who stepped down in March after 37 years as head of Hayfield School in Doncaster.

Remarkably, Mr Howard took on the headship as his first job after completing teacher training. It saw him return to a school established by his grandmother and where he himself had been a pupil.

"No one ever gets to step straight into a headship," said 62-year-old Mr Howard, who will retire next year. "I thought this is an amazing chance and I have to take it. I was apprehensive but, with the innocence of youth, I thought I had nothing to lose."

Yateley Manor opened in 1947. Mr Howard joined as a five-year-old pupil three years later.

By the time he had become a qualified teacher, his grandmother wanted to sell the school and retire. Instead, Mr Howard took the opportunity to become its headteacher. He also oversaw the school's transformation into a charitable trust.

"In my first year in charge the number of pupils dropped quite a bit," he said. "I thought if things went on that way then after four years I would have no students left."

In fact, Yateley Manor has gone from an all-boys prep school with 140 pupils to a co-educational prep school of 500 today.

"Things have changed over the years," said Mr Howard. "Children are so examined. But they are more questioning and challenging, which makes them more lively than they were in my day.

"I have decided to leave while I'm still loving it; enthusiastic and fresh. And with family living in Australia, I think it is time I finally did my gap year."

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