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New head for Warminster

Want a fabulous school that nurtures happy, confident and community-spirited pupils? Warminster is a friendly, co-ed, all through to 18 day and boarding school with a brand new head!

It’s a new term and a new head for Warminster School on the edge of Salisbury Plain, so obviously we at Muddy had to hotfoot it down there to find out more, and to quiz the (dare I say it?) rather impressive Mr Matt Williams.

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

I am joining Warminster from Sidcot School, Somerset, where I have been the Deputy Head since 2014. Having started my teaching career over twenty years ago at a school in Berkshire, I then spent 14 years at Rugby School as Head of Drama and then Housemaster of a senior boys’ boarding house. Born and brought up in Birmingham, I am loyal supporter of Aston Villa and also love Rugby and Cricket – in fact pretty much any sport.

I am married to Nicola who is a primary school teacher and we have three children (Henry 12, Anna 9 and Joseph 7). As a family we enjoy surfing and skiing; holidays are spent up mountains or near a beach.

Right, down to the nitty gritty. Some of Warminster’s strengths are that it is a through school, and is small in comparison to many independent schools. In our review, we describe the school as ‘priding itself on nurturing happy, confident and community-spirited pupils.’ Can you give us a little more of an overview about the School?

The thing that really drew me to Warminster was the sense of community that pervades every corner of the campus. This is achieved through being small enough to cater for the individual, but big enough to offer a huge range of opportunities. The ‘one school’ idea is also key to the atmosphere and sense of family at Warminster. I see the adventure starting in the Prep School and going right through to Sixth Form; there should be a real sense of progression through every stage of a child’s education. Whether a pupil joins the School at 3, 11 or 16 (or anywhere in between), I want them to feel a part of that family and to know they have the support of all around them to help them thrive and flourish.

The idea of community also extends beyond the school gates and it is important that we all appreciate our place in, and responsibility to, the town of Warminster. We must also be mindful that the world is shrinking and therefore to have an international community at Warminster, where so many nationalities, backgrounds and cultures are represented, is hugely beneficial and is to be celebrated.

The School has a strong sense of tradition, but also is not afraid to innovate and take risks. Finally, it is very apparent that clear and robust values underpin all that Warminster does.

You have some pretty big boots to fill! Mark Mortimer is an infectiously passionate educationalist and bounds with enthusiasm. In my mind, he will be remembered for developing pupils’ confidence and academic stature, and for discovering what makes a pupil tick (more valuable than any formulaic testing).  How will you continue his work and add your own print on to the school?

Mark has certainly done an excellent job as Headmaster over the last 5 years or so and I feel privileged in taking on a school in such good heart. Amongst his many successes, he has pushed concepts of leadership, community and stretching pupils and staff out of their comfort zones in order to achieve great things. I am wholly behind these ideas and the motto ‘Why not you?’ in order to challenge people’s perceptions of the boundaries of their abilities.

I am a great believer in getting to know the pupils personally and my time as a Housemaster taught me that relationships are key to a pupil’s happiness and sense of belonging. By understanding individuals and getting to know their interests, we can continue to offer them opportunities and nudge them in directions that will stretch their own goals and aspirations.

Of course, any new Headmaster will bring part of themselves to the school that they are leading and I will bring my own personality, passions and priorities to Warminster. As to what that will look like on the ground, I’m going to keep my powder dry for now and encourage you to come back and visit once I’ve settled in a little.

How do your extra-curricular interests inform your role as Head?

Perhaps unusually, as a former Head of Drama who has also coached the 1st XV, I am acutely aware of the importance of extra-curricular activities and the part they play in schools like Warminster. I am a huge believer in the value of children working in teams, whether that be on the games fields, in the concert hall or as part of the CCF. The life skills that our pupils learn through collaboration, negotiation and compromise are vital and will give them a great head start in the workplace.

Resilience is an overused word in education these days, but the notion of bouncing back and seeing failure as a stepping-stone to success, is played out every day in the extra-curricular work we do, which is then mirrored in the classroom.

Importantly, I see Warminster very much as a ‘boarding school’ and that means that our school day and the structure of the week allows a greater freedom and increased time to commit to activities. One of the things I am looking forward to most is watching a full range of sports fixtures on a Saturday, attending concerts and productions and seeing all pupils engaged in after school and evening endeavours.

What about academics at Warminster? Is your intention to improve on them? Are you happy with the current level?

I think there is always scope to look at the academic achievements of our pupils, in order to ensure that every individual is meeting and sometimes surpassing their own potential. That certainly doesn’t mean we will start putting faith in league tables and trying to grab headlines for our results, but it does mean that we will continue to challenge pupils and instil in them the need to be curious, independent and hardworking learners who will achieve their very best.

Warminster is able to offer a range of course to its pupils and I am delighted to see the successful introduction of the IBCP (a more vocationally focused version of the International Baccalaureate) in addition to IB and A-Levels. We hope that we can appeal to diverse learners and ensure that every pupil achieves that of which they are capable.

It is important that we don’t see strong individual academic performance and involvement in a wide range of extra-curricular activities as mutually exclusive concepts. On the contrary, I see them as inextricably linked and a key factor of a Warminster education.

The school has a great sporting reputation. Do you hope to continue to punch above your weight on the sports field?

Absolutely. As you may have gleaned from some of my previous comments, sport is very important to me and provides amazing opportunities for our pupils. We have some highly dedicated staff delivering sport and physical activity at Warminster and their commitment and enthusiasm is infectious. I also have very sporty children who will be making the most of everything on offer and probably pushing for more!

I am also very proud of our arts offer and we have a fabulous music department and a new Head of Drama who promises a very exciting future for all things theatrical. One of the real pluses of a school like Warminster is a pupil’s ability to play for their sports team and also play the lead in the school play – both are valued, respected and celebrated equally.

What sort of a child do you think thrives at Warminster?

A child who give things a go, gets stuck in and steps out of their comfort zone to try new things; a Warminster education is not designed for spectators. That said, as a school we look to build confidence and nurture individuals to achieve great things; a child lacking self-esteem will grow, develop and thrive with support from the whole community.

Your fees are very competitive. Please tell us there are no plans to suddenly hike them up!

As a school we try very hard to make our educational offer as affordable as possible, despite continuously battling against extrinsic factors over which we have no control. We also continue to look for ways to widen access to Warminster and I am keen to see our scholarship and bursary schemes grow and develop.

Find out more for yourselves at their Open Day on 5 October, and in the meantime, check out our Muddy review of the Senior School and the Prep School.

Warminster Prep School, 11 Vicarage Street, Warminster, Wiltshire BA12 8JG, tel: 01985 224800, warminsterschool.org.uk

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