A School transformed-but Academy presents a real challenge for this year
Anthony Seldon, the Master of Wellington College, has a tough battle on his hands this year to turnaround Wellingtons Academy, in Tidworth, which surprisingly, perhaps, given its impressive start, saw its GCSE results fall dramatically last year.
Seldon is taking a well- earned three month sabbatical this year but, at least, now has time to reflect on the transformation he has achieved at the mother school, Wellington College. Wellington, about ten years ago, was a school in sedate decline, certainly academically. It was having trouble filling its places. In the League tables it was very much in the second tier and moving incrementally towards the third. But Seldon, with a supportive governing body, and two strong Deputies, has managed a transformation turning the school fully co-educational, introducing the IB (and Middle Years programme) and a tranche of progressive ideas , informed by the eight aptitudes grounded in the thinking of Professor Howard Gardner. The school has managed, without becoming an academic hothouse, to rapidly change its academic fortunes, while preserving its sporting prowess.(its Rugby team is the current national 7 a side school champions). Wellington can now claim to be the hardest independent school to get into, at age 13, outside London at least , and at 16, has over twelve applicants for each place. It has moved up from 154th in the Sunday Times League table for combined GCSE/A Level results in 2008, to 44th on 2013 and is a top ten Co-ed School. Since 2008 Wellington has also been top of the Value Added tables in the independent sector. Managing transformation is a huge challenge, but to do it seamlessly, requires a particular genius.
The school happens to reflect Seldon’s values, focused on social responsibility, well-being and a holistic education. Schools need to be outward looking, creative and international in mind set. So, following this unanswerable logic, he created a group of look-alike schools abroad.
A school was opened in Tianjin in China in 2012 and another will open in Shanghai in this year. Seldon encourages meaningful interactions and exchanges between the Wellington schools .He points out that Wellington pupils will be living and working in a global village when they leave schools and so need to be properly prepared for this. But Seldon would be the first to admit that none of this would have been possible without governors who fully supported the vision and brought their own moral backing and expertise in support of this vision, and transformation.
Seldon is known for his extraordinary energy and commitment to the task at hand. But, crucially, he delegates to highly competent lieutenants, when appropriate and ,indeed ,has a strong Deputy to take over during the next three months. Doubtless he will return in March refreshed and ready to take on new challenges.
Seldon stands out in the independent sector as a Leader. It is somewhat alarming, in this respect, that so few other Heads in the sector,( try counting them on the fingers of one hand) put their heads above the parapet and have the moral courage to pursue, in the public eye, a clear vision that carries risks in the way that Seldon has. Most choose easier, softer options. And this fuels complacency.
The sector has the resources and potential to innovate and lead the world in education thinking and practice. But who is stepping up to the plate? Arguably,Heads in the maintained sector are now stealing a march on their confederates in the independent sector.