Head, Shrewsbury School
A large, confident and successful school is like a great ocean liner - very slow to turn. A headmaster is in the exposed and risky position of its captain; accountable to the owners, responsible for the passengers, and in command of the crew. They, in particular, are anxious to know if he is in the mould of captain Ahab, Bligh or Cook: will his obsession destroy the vessel, will his discipline provoke a mutiny, or will he meet his death as he does his duty?
Mr Goulding set several “firsts” at Haberdashers': the first Roman Catholic headmaster since the School's foundation in 1690, the first from Magdalen College, Oxford, for two centuries, the first since 1919 to leave to become headmaster of another school, the first ever whose wife has taught in the School, and the first since Dr. Taylor to have children of school age, one of whom has been a pupil at Haberdashers'.
Like his predecessors, Mr. Goulding was well prepared for the post. Educated in Classics at the Becket School, Nottingham, he had read Philosophy and Theology at Oxford, where he rowed for Magdalen, and in 1974 began his teaching career at Abingdon School. In 1978 he moved to Shrewsbury School, where he was Head of Divinity and a boarding-house master, and in 1989 became head of Prior Park College, Bath. The School's first lay head, he further improved its reputation, raised its pupil numbers, and guided it through the aftermath of a near-disastrous fire.
His appointment as headmaster of Haberdashers' aroused the mixture of apprehension and curiosity common to such events, Some parents murmured about Pius XII and the Vatican, ignoring the fact that for four hundred years Catholics had been a persecuted minority in Britain itself. Some members of staff muttered about the School's Anglican origins, although most of them never attended church, let alone knew a ciborium from a monstrance. Kinder souls quoted from the speech which Montgomery made when he took command of the Eighth Army in 1942: "I want first of all to introduce myself to you, you do not know me, I do not know you. But we have got to work together."
Between Mr. Goulding's appointment in 1995 and arrival at Haberdashers' in September 1996 he visited the School many times and was watched for signs of his ideas, personality and policies. He was watchful too, for although he had emerged triumphant from three interviews with the governors, he had met neither pupils nor staff. As a Classicist he might have recalled Aeschylus's words, "I took pains to determine the flight of the crook-taloned birds, which were to the right by nature and which to the left, and which were their ways of living, each after his kind, and the enmities and affections that were between them, and how they consorted together," (Prometheus Vinctus, 486-492).
At the end of his first year he gave Skylark his impressions of the School; its "sheer size", its "speed and pace", its "powerful sense of community" and its "sense of friendliness and generosity". He declared that "My aim is to sustain this as a thriving school, balancing the academic results, which are so important, with the vast array of activities and opportunities available here."
Little by little he built up his team, from September 1996 working with the new Bursar, Malcolm Gilbertson, and from September 1998 with Simon Boyes as second Master and Jon Corrall as Senior Master. Men whose contrasting abilities and qualities so well complemented his own. But however much he relied on their experience and expertise to provide him with wise advice and detailed information, he knew that it was his role to take the lead; to solve immediate problems and to seize fleeting opportunities, besides being the School's ambassador and long-term strategist.
Early in 1996 the previous headmaster had produced a Development Plan, intended in part to explore the probable end of the Assisted Places Scheme. When the Labour government, elected in 1997, abolished the A.P.S. in 1998 the governors immediately replaced it with a system of Bursaries linked to financial need and academic potential, and by 1999 Mr. Goulding had achieved almost all the 1996 Plan's objectives. Indeed, in 1997 he had initiated a Pastoral Review of P.S.R.E. (Personal, Social and Religious Education) and of pupil and staff welfare and the governors had approved a five year Building Development Plan to provide new changing facilities, a new science block, and an extension to the preparatory school (the latter of which was completed at Easter 2001). Thus by 1999 the way was clear for Mr Goulding to produce his own Development Plan and to enlist staff support for its implementation. Some seventy-three members of staff operating in twelve working groups gathered evidence and took soundings on almost all aspects of the school curricular and community life and reported in June 2000.
Their work coincided with the first full-scale inspection of Haberdashers' held in living memory; during October 1999. Mr. Goulding's preparation was meticulous, calming the nervous, drawing on his own experience as an H.M.C. Inspector, and explaining that he hoped for "business as usual" during inspection week, an aspiration which some departments honoured as much in the breach as in the observance. The Lead Inspector, Mr. Brian P. Fitzgerald, was both an old pupil and a former teacher of the School so he knew its ways and wiles, and his report was entirely objective. “This is a very good school with many strengths and the headmaster is vigorous and enthusiastic and leads in a refreshingly purposeful style.”
Pastoral Review, Development Plan and Inspection Report all helped to crystallize Mr. Goulding's ideas and policies. He noted Haberdashers' aims as published in the prospectus: “To challenge bright boys to achieve the highest standards; to develop a sense of community and shared values; to support parents in preparing their sons for a fulfilled life”. He concluded that "We must offer the best possible school curriculum and foster a sense of community." Neither would be easy to achieve. The Middle School curriculum was a notorious minefield, as a complex options system, designed to give pupils a broad education and to avoid premature specialisation, and was in conflict with some departments' covert plans to attract more pupils. The School's ever-widening catchment area and its increasing ethnic diversity, perhaps even its increasing ethnic self-awareness and identity, posed a conundrum for advocates of community.
In August 1996 Haberdashers' had topped the Advanced Level League Table in The Times. Like share prices, examination results normally go up and down but in this case they could not possibly go up so the School has struggled to maintain its lead. Many teachers have argued that G.C.S.E. work, with its emphasis on technique rather than content, allowed quick-witted pupils to make a last minute effort and still gain high grades, an experience which unfitted them for "A" Level work. Other teachers suspected that the recession of the early 1990s had reduced applications and thus the quality of their pupils. Mr. Goulding gave his full support to departments which found it a challenge to secure the very best results, monitoring pupils' progress and requesting their parents full cooperation. As a result some pupils were awarded better results than they perhaps had a right to expect.
To some extent the government took responsibility for the curriculum out of Mr. Goulding's hands by introducing the A/S plus A2 system at 16+, according to which A/S is a transition from G.C.S.E. to "A" Level standard at A2. Since September 2000 most Haberdashers' pupils have taken four A/S courses in the Lower Sixth and from September 2001 most will take three A2 courses in the Upper Sixth, many sitting some twelve papers at the end of each academic year. That is a welcome simplification of the previous system of modular exams scattered throughout the year but it may place pupils under pressure, especially since the standard required is by no means clear. We await the results.
The 1997 Pastoral Review had wondered if the interaction of Form Tutor, Housemaster and Head of Section was always as pastorally effective as it might be, and the Inspection Report recommended a further review of the School's pastoral arrangements. Thus Mr. Goulding proposed and secured support for a new Middle School Pastoral Structure. Historically, the composition of Forms in the Middle School had been determined by academic setting, which had placed pupils in a large form located on an all-too-obvious ladder of esteem, and which obscured the easy link between Form Tutors and Housemasters which existed in the Junior School. From September 2001 there will be no direct connection between new Tutor Groups and academic setting in the Middle School. Each third year house group will be split into two Tutor Groups, each of about fourteen pupils. The fifty or so fourth and fifth year pupils in each house will be split into three mixed fourth-and-fifth year Tutor Groups, each of about eighteen pupils, Thus Tutors will form a house team, and fourth / fifth year Tutors in particular will have the opportunity to provide advice on career planning, subject choice and work-experience.
Throughout these changes and preparations, the School's every day activities had flourished like the Mississippi, they kept on “rollin' along”. As Skylark put it in 1997 "life continues in a certain timeless fashion around us", art, drama, music and sport, exchanges, mountaineering, ski-trips and C.C.F., carol service, Mencap Funday, Old Folks' Xmas Party and staff concert, assemblies, Houses, societies and arrivals and departures. Pam Bryant, Michael Levin and Michael McLughlin retired in 1997, John Carleton and Derrick Swann in 1998, and Douglas Whittaker and Stephen Wilkins in 2000; every one after more than twenty years service at the School, with John and Douglas after a remarkable thirty-eight and thirty-six years respectively.
Mr. Goulding has accepted an invitation to return to Shrewsbury as headmaster, and so has served Haberdashers' for only five years, but he has certainly made his mark.
At first, seemingly pre-occupied in manner and tentative in approach, he quickly warmed to accomplished and confident individuals who readily accepted and welcomed him, and soon understood the merits of those who concentrated on bearing the burden and the heat of the day. One suspects that he reserved judgement on some.
A family man, he knew the problems which pupils and parents can cause for teachers. When dealing with pupils, parents and teachers alike he valued the facts, sought the truth, and strove for just solutions. He did not take the easy option.
That the pupils who knew him best appreciated his efforts was apparent from his welcome to the Prefects' Dinner at the start of the Summer Term and from the generous presentation made to him. The staff appreciated his attention to detail, his diligent hard work, his diplomacy and his vision for the School - curriculum and community. The new Pastoral Structure, which will begin to operate as he arrives at Shrewsbury, will be his principal legacy to Haberdashers', and is perhaps the most significant change made to the School since its move to Elstree in 1961.
The new structure reflects his dedication to high academic and personal standard and a certain inner firmness and toughness which has won the respect of many pupils and staff. One suspects that he rejects the analogy between crime and illness drawn by a Shrewsbury old boy, Samuel Butler in the now little-known Erewhon (1872) and believes that behaviour is ultimately the individual's own responsibility, so deserves reproof and punishment. Without that belief an effective curriculum and an effective community cannot exist, for there is no distinction between right and wrong, good or bad.
Many of us will remember Mr. Goulding in the Spring Term Concert: a man at ease with himself, playing the cello, supported by his wife and younger son as fellow musicians, supporting the School extra-curricular life, contributing to its sense of community with an apposite and fluent speech, and then helping to entertain the throng with his customary mixture of gentlemanly courtesy, humour and tact.
There lies an example which Haberdashers' would do well to emulate. Our loss certainly is Shrewsbury's gain. We wish him, his wife, and their family, every happiness and success in their new life.