Interview - 'We are not looking for a type, but you see a pattern'

8th January 2010 at 00:00
At independent Bradfield College, headmaster Peter Roberts nurtures an eclectic mix of talents, from dancers to bagpipe players, and favours 'outdoor education'

How did you get into teaching?

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher and thought that was the vocational path for me. Even as an undergraduate, I enjoyed working as a care assistant in a children's home in Kingston-upon-Thames. So I did a PGCE after completing my degree in modern history at Oxford.

Who has been your biggest influence?

I would say that it would go back to the love of learning. But also my interest in the medieval world, which my university tutor, Henry Mayr-Harting, switched me on to. It was his love of learning and also the idea that the medieval world, which was so interesting and different, can still be inspiring in the 21st century.

What are the defining characteristics of Bradfield College?

My feeling is that at Bradfield, one of the most exciting aspects of the school is that we are bringing together girls and boys from right across the range of interests that they have, not just those who excel academically. We also put a lot of emphasis on the development of character through outdoor education, and that involves the Combined Cadet Force and Duke of Edinburgh programmes. It is good for children to come together in a school context - we haven't all got the same talents or abilities, but it's the variety and the mixing together in a good school that makes it exciting.

In what way does Bradfield College have a "broad approach" to selection?

We ask for our pupils to have a good academic ability, but our point is that, given that they have that, we can really give them added value. We think it's wrong to just take exceptionally academic pupils: it's the mixture of people from all ranges of abilities that makes it an exciting school. Staff aren't just putting pupils through hoops - they are giving added value in the classroom. The way to do that is by getting to know pupils on a personal level and within the context of all the other activities at Bradfield. Because it's a good boarding school, pupils learn as much outside the classroom as inside and its important that staff appreciate the young people for all they have to offer, not just through a narrow vision of what they are doing in one subject.

How would you describe your pupils?

Caring, confident and contributing to the wider society. And also, open minded. We don't want girls and boys who have gone to boarding school to shut themselves away. What we say to parents - and it might sound cheesy - is that you can be both nice and successful in the modern world. And that is what we want for our pupils.

One of the things that distinguishes your school (from other independent schools) is the inclusion of so-called soft subjects and the wide range of options. Why is this important to you?

The wide range of subjects is part of our ethos, particularly at sixth-form. Last year, the head boy was an outstanding dancer. He came to Bradfield from the state sector and was a terrific dancer, actor and singer. He flourished on the arts side. He turned on the head the notion that (dance) was more for the girls. That was incredibly important in adding to our range of subjects. This year, the head girl happens to be a bagpipe player, but she is also a senior cadet in our Royal Marines. We are not looking for a particular type, but you see the pattern in terms of their range of interests.

What do you think is the main challenge to teachers in the UK at the moment?

I think it is the pressure put on them unfairly, not just by the administrative burdens but by the narrow view of teachers, which just looks at league tables and their performance. What we are doing at Bradfield is looking at pupils but also the contribution of our teachers - it's the whole person that counts. It's really frustrating for teachers when their whole contribution and the sense in which the different aspects of their passions aren't really appreciated. I think the public realise it, but it's not really there among politicians at the moment.

What would you do if you were Schools Secretary for a day?

I would double the amount of money spent on the arts in terms of music, theatre, dance and also sport. It would be so good for the future of the country, generally. We know from experience here at Bradfield that if you can put more investment in that (arts and sport), it not only has a good effect on the academic results, but also - paradoxically - it makes school more fun and rewarding.

What is the worst excuse you have ever heard?

I have a cat called Pancake from the nearby farm, and my house is in the centre of the campus. One of my pupils said that the reason they couldn't hand in their homework was because Pancake had come into their room and disturbed them so much that they couldn't get their work done. As it's my cat, I didn't have any choice but to accept it.


2003-: Headmaster, Bradfield College

1991-2003: Master in college, Winchester College

1990-1997: Head of history, Winchester College

1986-1990: Assistant master, Winchester College.

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