The Interview - 'Leaping on desks gets attention'

31st July 2009 at 01:00
Jason Wing is vice-principal of Witchford Village College in Cambridgeshire

While training as a PE teacher he played professional rugby and was a long jumper and Olympic bobsleigh competitor

How did you come to combine teaching with high-level sporting achievements?

I went to Neale-Wade Community College in March, Cambridgeshire. I took A- levels when I was there. It was a high-achieving school, but I wasn't a great academic. My love and talent then lay in sport and athletics. I could run, jump, and was big and strong.

So I set off for the West London Institute, attracted by the bright lights of London. I studied a four-year BEd from 1985 to 1989 in physical education. That made good use of my sporting talents but also meant I had a degree behind me.

How did you go from that to professional competition?

I played rugby in college and was regarded as being one of the best regional players, but at the same time I was jumping seven metres at long jump. That was pretty exceptional. I was jumping past the pit in most school and college competitions. At long jump I was ranked in the top four or five nationally, but I was just too heavy to pursue it internationally. I started playing rugby for the college and I found myself selected for Great Britain.

Where was your first teaching post?

I started teaching at Gunnersbury Boys' School. I taught two days a week and played rugby for London Crusaders during the rest of the week. I was lucky to find a teaching post and a club that allowed me to do both. I was convinced I was going to be a rugby star and I wanted both the income and the potential career for the future, knowing I could go back to teaching full-time.

Why did it stop?

In 1993, I dislocated my elbow and couldn't play for some time. In those days, if you were injured and couldn't appear your contract was more or less terminated because you were out for so long.

So how did you become an Olympic competitor?

I was competing at Crystal Palace in the 100 metres in 1990 and got picked for the 1992 Olympics. Then I competed in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway and came fifth. I've won a European silver medal and a world cup silver medal for the four-man bobsleigh.

I got into bobsleighing because I was running the 100 metres in 10.7 seconds. It was the perfect sport for me because it combined running, contact sport and athleticism - and I was heavy. A lot of athletes find it terrifying. But I was used to being knocked about in rugby so it was ideal for me.

What about your teaching?

I took a sabbatical from Gunnersbury to continue the bobsleighing. I was in the Olympic team that competed in Canada in 1998. By this time I was 33 so my sporting career was coming near to a close.

I look back at all of that experience as an outlet for my competitiveness. I had a fantastic time. But I did feel that I had missed out in terms of progression in my teaching career. You can focus on high-level achievement in both.

So how did you become vice-principal?

My past sporting experience makes me driven within my career now. I was at Isleworth and Syon School for 10 years, having trained at Bishop Wand in Sunbury.

At 37, I became head of PE. I was given a fantastic opportunity of six weeks off-timetable to go and write a specialist sports college bid, which we won in 2003.

I wanted us to be the best sports college in the country; we had national players. I was really proud when we won the 2005 sports college of the year and I collected the award at the House of Commons.

We had 250 kids playing in teams on a Saturday morning. I even had the head, Euan Ferguson, running one. He was a great head and I learnt a lot from him. He was highly supportive and visible. Then I was appointed to Witchford two years ago and I haven't looked back.

Do pupils know about your history?

They do but I try not to make a big deal about it. It can change the dynamic instantly when you can do a two-foot leap on to a desk from a standing position. It gets their attention and shows the art of the possible. A bit of showing off does no harm in my book and lets pupils see you in a different light.

Do you have any advice to others wanting to do what you have done?

Be enthusiastic. Make people's day. Have strong beliefs. Always be nice even if it's difficult. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Look at what you really think is important and you will make a difference, but be relentless in pursuing your goals.

Is headship next?

I'd like to become a head but I need a bit more experience and I love my school. I am learning so much working with my current principal.

If you were Schools Secretary for the day what would you do?

Check my expenses very carefully.

What's the worst excuse you've ever heard?

A girl back from work experience said she doesn't want to go back to work because there's too much gossiping. I know the real reason is that she doesn't like standing up

Curriculum vitae

2008: Vice-principal, Witchford Village College, Cambridgeshire

1998-2008: PE teacherhead of PE, Isleworth and Syon School, Middlesex

1989-1998: Teacher at Gunnersbury Boys' School in Brentfordprofessional rugby player

1985-1989: West London Institute.

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