Martin Reader, headmaster of Wellington School, for the past eight years leaves on Friday for a new job in Surrey. He answered questions from Around Wellington about his time at the school and in the town.
Q. How and in what ways has the school changed during your time as Head?
The obvious ones are the move away from Saturday morning lessons to a pattern of activities on a Saturday and the growing identity of Wellington Junior School as we moved Year 6 to the Junior School. Next year it will be Wellington Prep School. There has been significant investment in new facilities such as the Alan Rogers Centre, the improvements to Great Hall, The George Corner Music School and Southside Theatre. All of these have enabled us to provide greater opportunities to the pupils and also given much greater access to those from the town who visit and use our facilities more frequently. I think you will find that pastoral care, academic results, co-curricular achievement, have all made incremental improvements – a real team effort. The wonderful, friendly, grounded spirit of the school has not changed. It did not need to!
Q. Aside from the school, how do you see Wellington as a community?
Every Remembrance weekend, I would walk from the school down to the park passing crowds of well-wishers. I would then stand and look at how many from the town had turned up on often a cold and wet Sunday. I would end the day in the school quad looking at over 350 children and young people who had given up their afternoon – and therefore all those volunteers who go out of the way to give them opportunities. If that is what the young are like here, we have a bright future. For me, that day sums up what community means to the people of Wellington which is why it is so strong. It is modernising but is striving to cherish all those important traditional values that will make it thrive.
Q. Is it becoming more or less possible (financially) for local children to attend WS, via bursaries or scholarships.
A significant number of our bursaries and scholarships are awarded to local children, especially at Year 7. Primary schools are doing a great job in preparing children for senior education and local clubs and societies for the sport, music and drama. The Wellington School Foundation is growing and there are certainly a significant number of Old Wellingtonians, and friends of the school who are willing to give for this purpose, especially as many of them benefited from the Direct Grant or Assisted Places and can see the benefit. I am therefore hopeful.
Q. During the 2008 economic crash were you ever anxious about the long-term future of the school?
Not for the long-term future of the school. Finances were kept firmly under control and, like all businesses, tough decisions had to be and were made. I believed the school had sufficient reputation and financial management to continue but I will not pretend that I did not lose sleep at a time which was tough for all of us. Numbers are growing again considerably and so my successor, Henry Price, should be able to make his mark.
Q. One thing you are especially proud of during your time as Head
This is always the difficult one; there have been so many. I think the proudest was standing at the Menin Gate in March 2013, watching the Corps of Drums lead the Old Wellingtonians and representatives from the Belgian and American military and government through the streets of Ypres, with two buglers sounding the reveille, one on the original bugle of the Somerset Light Infantry played at the first ever Last Post Ceremony. It was incredibly moving and symbolised all I had worked for in terms of values, excellence of performance, community service, representing the school and Somerset and the Wellington family
Q. One thing you wish you had achieved and didn’t manage
I had a vision for a major sporting community project, a partnership between the clubs of the town and the school with more sharing of facilities, coaches, matches etc. Something which as a school or as a town we could not achieve on our own but where we would all work together to put Wellington on the map as a centre for sporting and community excellence. Sadly the right site has not yet emerged.
Q. One policy you would introduce if you held Michael Gove’s job? The re-introduction of the Direct Grant, or the similar scheme suggested by The Sutton Trust whereby parents receive a sum according to their level of income which they could use to send children to the school of their choice. School bursary provision would then supplement. That way independent schools could remain financially viable whilst giving opportunities to a greater number of children.
Q. What will you miss most about living and working in Wellington?
Mostly it will be the people I have met and got to know. I will miss the fact that it takes me two hours to make a trip to the shops because people want to stop and chat! I will miss my Church family at Wellington Baptist, Wellington Rugby Club, that gorgeous oak tree on the path between the Basins and Rockwell Green, the views from Culmstock Beacon and the Wellesley Cinema.