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Meet the head: Pinewood School

A new school year, and at Pinewood School there's also a new head - meet Neal Bailey, who takes up the reins.

September 2020 sees a new head for Pinewood School, Neal Bailey, so obviously we at Muddy had to hotfoot it down there to find out more about what makes him tick. Previously head honcho at Chateau de Sauveterre in France, part of the Cothill Trust, he then took on the leadership of Mowden Hall School in September 2014 before moving to his new post at Pinewood.

© Ben Phillips

Welcome to Pinewood! To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background? 

After setting a record for the number of years spent at my Prep School (7!), I was lucky enough to benefit from 5 tremendous years at Eton College, before going on to the University of Newcastle upon Tyne where I read Business Studies and French. Then, after 8 years as an investment manager in London, I decided to join my wife, Nici, in the teaching profession and within 15 minutes of my first ever lesson, I knew I had made the right decision and never looked back. After 2 years teaching at Cothill House, Nici and I were asked to go and run the Chateau de Sauveterre, which we did for 3 years before taking on the leadership of Mowden Hall School in September 2014. These last 6 years have presented some of the most memorable experiences of our working lives, but we are now incredibly excited about joining Pinewood School.

You have had an incredibly successful (and much loved) time at Mowden Hall in Northumberland. How did the move to Pinewood come about?

Without specifically looking to move at the time, the Pinewood opportunity was one that we could not ignore. Having admired Pinewood from a distance for many years, it was clear that it shared many of the same values and aims that we have set at Mowden Hall and the educational ethos that had been created there clearly resonated with what we strongly believe in. We both feel very honoured to have been given this opportunity to run such an established and successful Prep School and, whilst it will be sad to leave Mowden Hall, as I constantly tell the pupils, it is important to leave something when you are most enjoying it.

What plans to you have for Pinewood? Any changes? How will you make your mark on the school?

Educators must look several decades ahead: the society in which we want those currently in our care to thrive will be very different to the society we know today. It will offer new kinds of opportunity and make different demands. Looking forward 10 or 20 years, the picture is characterised by its very unpredictability. All around us we see evidence of a fast-changing and complex modern world where globalisation and technology are transforming the way we live, work and relate to one another. Today, we must prepare young people to rise to challenges we cannot fully imagine. 

However, I am sure of one thing – a deeply-rooted compassionate and sensitive understanding between both boys and girls, forged over years of co-learning and co-living in a boarding or day environment, will be hugely important. Co-education can develop the essential life skills of empathy, creativity, resilience and problem-solving whilst providing an opportunity to create equality and promote respect amongst each other.

I am greatly looking forward to getting to know the Pinewood community over the coming months. I am a naturally optimistic person and will bring an abundance of energy and enthusiasm to the role of Headmaster. Making a mark on any school takes plenty of time, so I will also display patience, as well as the required vision, to ensure that this excellent school continues to earn the reputation as one of the best co-educational Prep Schools in the south.

You have a keen interest in sport, enjoying playing rackets, football, surfing and tennis. How do your extra curricular activities and accomplishments inform your role as head of school?

The importance of sport and physical exercise can never be underestimated, especially at a time when children’s mental health is being tested to such an extent. I have personally learnt so much through competitive and recreational sport over the years and I believe that every good Prep School should place the correct emphasis on this discipline as part of a broad, child-centred educational provision.

Learning to deal with disappointment is one of those key life skills that we all have to pick up eventually, and the younger we can allow children to gain the habits to overcome setbacks, the better equipped the child will be to bounce back from an upset. Sport helps discover abilities which can prove invaluable. At a time when pressure is increasingly put on our children with an expectation they will always get things right, sport provides an arena where it is almost impossible not to make mistakes.

What about the academics at Pinewood? Are you happy with this current level?

Pinewood currently sends boys and girls to some of the best senior schools in the country and, amongst others, can boast an impressive number of academic awards over recent years. We shall certainly be hoping to continue this success, as well as realising the aspirations of all pupils that are educated at Pinewood School.

Pinewood has a strong focus on non-academic subjects, especially music and sport. Why are these subjects important to a pupil’s education? Are these subjects as important as the typically academic subjects for life beyond school?

A good Prep school will already have an inspiring and engaging curriculum in place from the youngest age, with a strong sense of academic rigour at its heart, but delivered with creativity and innovation. In the wider world, senior schools, universities and employers are continually looking for candidates who are articulate, confident, can think analytically and, above all, have the flexibility and positive attitude to overcome problems and disappointments. 

Prep education is not simply about exposure to core curricular areas: I see every day the benefits of a broad-based curriculum, whether it be the chance for emotional expression in Music, the development of control and rigour in Art, creativity in Drama, discipline and collaboration in Sport – and these opportunities do not appear every so often, but are embedded within the everyday curriculum at Pinewood School. If you couple this with enrichment, whether it be the endless list of exciting clubs and opportunities on offer at Pinewood School, parents can be in no doubt that every single activity in which their child engages at this school is building their character. 

Pinewood School prides itself on offering a holistic education. How do you achieve this?

Childhood is undeniably a special time and, despite the encroachment of technology into our lives, all parents and teachers want to preserve the magic of childhood for as long as possible for their children. The demands on children today are undeniably greater. School should be an oasis in young lives and provide an environment in which the innocent pleasure of childhood can be cherished rather than being chased away by the pressures of modern life. 

Playing outdoors for children is crucial for many reasons: the importance of physical exercise, having unstructured time to amuse themselves, taking risks, socialising with other children, and appreciating their surroundings. At Pinewood School I can see that the children spend hours outside the classroom, as well as inside it, collaborating with their peers to provide a sanctuary of child-initiated imagination and creativity. Disagreement, conflict and finding resolution strategies between the children are all part of the learning process when taking risks and working towards creating something as a team. 

Although technology is speeding things up, the best schools will always keep this in perspective. Pinewood School, and other independent schools, will remain essentially social places, where there is laughter, tears, mud, mess, and mistakes, as well as joy, inspiration and aspiration. That is their strength. And in the very best schools there will be time to slow down, and reflect, and be offline, and to nurture the qualities that make us who we are.

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination. Youth presents the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. Being young is a wonderful stage of life and we should be in no hurry to encourage our children to grow up – they will do that soon enough.

What sort of pupil do you think thrives at Pinewood?

Preparing our young people for a fast-changing world full of opportunity, as well as challenge, is a key task for all schools. Their path to success will require many skills and personal attributes including empathy, tolerance, the ability to work hard and lead, but also to work collaboratively and with integrity. Most important is that our pupils have a strong sense of self-worth balanced with humility. And we must not be afraid to think outside the box. We have to be open to change so we can rise to the challenges, grasp the opportunities and stride forward with confidence.

Keeping it simple. Holding doors open. Encouragement and high expectations. Getting the basics right. That is what should continue to be focused on. Polite behaviour should not be the preserve of others, it falls to all of us to understand everyone and communicate effectively without increasing the heat or stress of a situation. Good sportsmanship, gracious acceptance of success, tolerance and empathy are all part of a Prep School package so the children turn out polite and socially aware citizens who understand their civic duty and embrace their social responsibility.

However, above all a pupil will thrive in any situation if they can display a healthy level of curiosity, awareness of not only themselves but others around them, resilience to bounce back from setbacks, independence and confidence to forge their own paths and most importantly the ability and willingness to think positively.

Set in 84 acres of rolling countryside on the edge of The Cotswolds, Pinewood offers a seriously family-friendly education for boys and girls aged 3-13, in a day and boarding environment. Sport is tip-top here, academics are excellent and there is an all-round vibe of fun and adventure. Want to find out for yourself? To find out more get in touch with Emily Miller, Registrar on EmilyMiller@pinewoodschool.co.uk or 01793 782208. Plus, read our Muddy review.

Pinewood School, Bourton, Shrivenham, Wiltshire SN6 8HZ, Tel: 01793 782205, www.pinewoodschool.co.uk

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