|5 Oct 2021|
The School's Principal, Richard Backhouse, was wearing one of his many other hats last week. As Chair of the HMC for 2021-22, he led a three-day conference for the Headmasters and Headmistresses of 320 of the UK’s leading independent schools at the International Convention Centre in Wales. HMC (the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference) is the oldest association of heads and includes many of the world’s leading independent schools.
Some of the key speakers included Baroness Helena Morrisey DBE (Lead Non-Executive Director, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office), Peter Tatchell (Director of the human rights advocacy group, The Peter Tatchell Foundation), Dave Coplin (CEO and Founder and Chief Envisioning Officer, The Envisioners Ltd), Pip Hare (British yachtswoman and journalist), Chanel Contos (Founder of Teach.Us.Consent) and Reverend Richard Coles (Church of England priest of Finedon, Northamptonshire, Radio 4 presenter and former member of the Communards).
There were also plenty of workshops hosted throughout the three days giving heads an opportunity to learn about the best practice in other schools, other sectors and other businesses. These covered partnerships, how to build an anti-racist culture, a thriving set of relationships among your staff, and latest research on interviewing and appointment processes.
The Chair’s address traditionally opens the conference. In that speech, Richard congratulated heads on their leadership over a period in which schools and their leaders have been under great pressure, noting that the pivot to online learning was outstandingly done in HMC schools, as well as in many other independent schools and state schools all over the country. Not only were these schools influencing their own pupils, he said, but also influencing the Department for Education. HMC is seeking, with other educational unions, to be a critical friend to the DfE, so it can be helped to make pupil-centred decisions.
Peter Tatchell’s session was well received: “Children are not born bigoted - that is learned behaviour, and we know where schools challenge prejudice, bullying and prejudice goes away”. He talked about listening to pupils and what they want, heads have great power to influence young people. Baroness Helena Morrisey DBE addressed 'The great reset: postpandemic opportunities and challenges for independent schools'. She said that heads collectively, as well as individually, can set the path, consider what happens next with public exams and develop softer skills employers really need.
Dave Coplin talked about reframing the relationship with technology and its place in a modern education: "It is madness to go down the route of banning devices."
Keynote Pip Hare delivered the incredible story of how she sailed round the world, non-stop, alone as part of the 2020/21 Vendee Globe race. She took her place in history as only the 8th woman to ever finish the race. She started the race as the underdog, battling for her place in a fleet of the world's best offshore solo sailors. By the time she finished three months later (getting 10-15 minutes of sleep at a time), she'd won the admiration of her peers and the hearts of her growing number of followers. Her story is one of extraordinary resilience, tenacity and a determination to race on equal terms.
The after-dinner talk was given by the congenial Reverand Richard Coles, his key message being that good schools make things seem possible to pupils when they might not feel possible at the start. His blend of humour and humanity was, as ever, winsome.
As the conference came to a close, Richard hoped HMC heads went back to school with a greater bounce in their stride, remembering why they first wanted to be teachers, and headteachers, with a renewed determination to make a difference in their schools, and their communities.