Biddy Passmore reports from the IAPS annual conference and, below, profiles its new chairman
RICHARD Tovey is adjusting to the burdens of fame. "I've never had so many pictures taken of me in my life as I have in the last 10 minutes," he says, re-entering, blinking, the wood-panelled comfort of his school's 18th century entrance hall after a session with The TES photographer outside.
On September 1, Mr Tovey became chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools (IAPS), the body which represents the country's 500 leading independent junior schools.
This week he presided over the association's conference in Eastbourne, praising the achievements of prep-school pupils' in national tests - while reminding his audience that their schools provided more than just high standards in English, maths and science.
On grounds of long service alone, Mr Tovey has every right to his new eminence. A youthful and enthusiastic 51, he has already completed 24 years as a headteacher, all of them at Tockington Manor school near Bristol.
He spent much of his childhood there too. "I was born and brought up in this room," he says as he looks round his study. His parents, set up the prep school after the war, buying the house and 28 acres for pound;11,500 in 1946. It opened with 11 boys in May 1947. Most of the first pupils were sons of his father's army colleagues.
It was because of this experience in an all-round prep school that Richard Tovey decided to train as a primary teacher. He went to Culham College in Abingdon, taught near Bristol where he met his wife Jane, and went to teach at Packwood Haugh, a prep school near Shrewsbury.
Tockington Manor, meanwhile, had flourished. By 1973, when Richard Tovey's father retired, the school had more than 100 pupils, including 20 day boys. There followed a two-year period when numbers started to decline and the governors turned to Richard and Jane Tovey to take over.
Since then, the school seems not to have looked back. The Toveys decided the school should be co-educational; in 1976 they opened a pre-prep department and in 1989 a nursery. Today, there are 250 pupils aged two to 14, who are offered everything from flexi-boarding to an extendable day. The number of boarders is on the rise again, from 15 last year to 24 this autumn.
Tockington has a good academic reputation but is far from a hot-house.
"Scholarships are fine but they're not the be-all and end-all," says Mr Tovey. Most go on to a variety of West Country schools, such as Shrewsbury and Clifton.
It is not hard to see why he has been happy to spend most of his life here. In front of the grey stone buildings, beyond the lily pond and the playing fields, a tractor ploughs in the autumn sunshine.
Behind, boys and girls straggle in from a cross-country run through the park, including Mr Tovey's 11-year-old son Simon, the last of his four children to go through the school. Mr Tovey has been an active member of his association for many years. He has no great mission for his 12 months as chairman but hopes to represent the "smaller brethren". IAPS chairmen have, he says, tended to come from larger schools.
He and his wife show no sign of flagging. His speech is peppered with "lovely" and "brilliant". "I never get tired or bored," he says. "I hope when the day comes somebody'll push me out!"
It is just as well he loves it so much as he still has some way to go until retirement.