Head who was happy to stay for 37 years

14th March 2008 at 00:00
He started in 1971, the year his successor was born. As Britain's longest-serving school boss prepares to stand down, he talks to Adi Bloom

Britain's longest-serving head is finally set to hand over the reins of his school - to a man born in the same year he was appointed. Tony Storey is retiring this month after 37 years as head of Hayfield School in Doncaster. He was appointed in 1971, the same year that Sai Patel, his successor, was born.

Mr Storey's long career is all the more surprising considering his first encounter with a headteacher's office: three weeks before he left his Northumberland grammar school at the age of 18, he and a friend cleared their head's office of all books and furniture, put straw on the floor and moved a horse in. The head signally failed to see the funny side, and the culprits were expelled.

The second time Mr Storey took over a head's office, it proved harder to get rid of him. When he became Hayfield's head, the school was still being built.

"I had no staff, no office," he said. "Nothing but a pen, a table and a stack of drawing pins."

At 31, he was the youngest secondary head in the country. Since then, Mr Storey, now 69, has seen his school taken over by a new metropolitan borough, moved to grant-maintained status and, most recently, become a specialist school.

But he is indifferent to government-driven innovation. "I've seen scores of secretaries of state, four or five different exam systems. Nothing's new. It just goes in cycles.

"Young people are still the same as they always were. They have the same growing pains, the same adolescent angst. They're under much greater pressures now, but their basic nature doesn't change."

He is particularly sceptical about more recent innovations. For example, he believes that the new diplomas have the potential to be "a cock-up of the first order".

Mr Storey prides himself on being unconventional: he coaches rugby, takes pupils on annual residential trips, and rarely wears a suit.

Each term, he pins various pieces of paper on his office noticeboard, each highlighting a different concern. One says "school improvement partnerships", while another has the words "sewage pipe".

Then he throws darts at them.

Such humour is a key part of his approach. "I have a good repartee with young people. It encourages them to develop a wry sense of humour about themselves," he said.

He regularly teases pupils playfully, pretending a total lack of contemporary cultural knowledge.

And pupils respond in kind. One year, departing sixth-formers placed an ad in the Yorkshire Post putting the school ("spacious estate, on-site gym") up for sale. There were 52 inquiries before lunch.

"But they won't put a horse in my office," he said. "They'll never get it upstairs."

He wanted to build a sense of community at Hayfield - and he succeeded: his deputy has been at the school for 36 years, while around 30 members of staff have worked there more than 25.

Plans for his retirement stretch only as far as tackling a lifetime of technological illiteracy.

"But I get letters and emails from former pupils, some of whom are 40 and some 18. They ask for advice, which I never give. I give them options instead. That's something I hope will continue."


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