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Stuart Morgan-Nash - leading by example
Usually when we introduce teachers, we start by talking about their professional experience, the road that brought them to the classroom, their attitude to teaching and to education in general. We will get to that. I promise.
But when it comes to Stuart Morgan-Nash, the new Headmaster of St Edward’s Prep, I want to talk about something quite different; something, it seems to me, that perfectly illustrates just why he is the ideal candidate to lead an all-boys prep school.
It came up after we got through all the serious, professional questions, and I asked him about his interests outside the classroom. Stuart Morgan-Nash, it turns out, is fascinated by motor sports. Specifically, he is passionate about speed hillclimbing. For those of you who have no idea what this is (I didn’t), speed hillclimbing is similar to a tarmac rally stage, a time trial, where competitors take a wide variety of cars up a gradient, along technically challenging, tightly twisting roads. Stuart says it is in his blood. His father competed as a young man, and Stuart grew up near Prescott Speed Hill in Gloucestershire, which served to feed his interest further.
‘I always said I would do it one day, and I did.’ Entirely self taught, Stuart pursued his dream, studied his subject, saved his pennies to buy a suitable car, practised (and practised and practised) and ultimately won the Central Southern Motor Clubs Hillclimb Championship not once, but twice. Clearly there is nothing of the dusty old professor about Stuart, but this is about more than boys with toys. Here is someone who, as a youngster, discovered a passion and kept at it. He had an aim, identified what he needed to do to get there and worked hard, on both practical skills and the scientific theory behind it. He was proactive and self-motivated and the hard work paid off. If you are looking for someone who can demonstrate to a hoard of excitable boys with a short attention span how with effort, commitment and enthusiasm, you can achieve your dreams, then look no further.
So onto the professional man. Stuart may have always planned to be a motor racer, but he hadn’t always planned on teaching. At Exeter University he began studying chemical engineering. While he was there, however, he found he was more interested in the process of teaching than he was in the practical application of what he was learning. Swerving from his original plan to be an engineer, he did his teacher training, and began his professional career with four years at Norman Court School. Most recently he has been at Warminster School, where he joined as Head of Maths and Science, moving on to Director of Studies and finally Deputy Head. A keen sportsman, Stuart has always been involved in teaching boys’ sport too, and not one to let the grass grow under his feet, has just completed his Masters in Educational Leadership.
The next step for him, then, is St Edward’s, and it is a move about which he is very excited, particularly as it comes at the start of a huge programme of development at the school.
‘St Edward’s is a great school, and it just feels like the right fit. Teaching only boys is a wonderful challenge, an opportunity to focus purely on their needs and strengths.’
I ask him what this means in practical terms.
‘Boys are different animals to girls. In mixed schools, there is a pressure on them to sit still and get their heads down, which can be tough and counterproductive. In a boys’ school, we can play to their strengths, with short sharp lessons, lots of practical, hands-on learning, and plenty of breaks. We need to capture their imagination and give them an appetite to learn.’
Unsurprisingly perhaps, Stuart is particularly interested in the new Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) initiative at St Edward’s. ‘This area has always been where my heart lies. I want to encourage the boys to be more interested in how things work within the world. To be inquisitive about things we take for granted – iPads, cars, machines. They need to do more than just use these things. They need to be asking questions about how they work.’
I ask him whether all this emphasis on STEM will have an impact on what might be considered less boy-centric subjects – art, English, drama etc.
‘I can see that there might be a perception that that is the case, but enhancing the school’s provision of STEM subjects isn’t at the expense of the arts and humanities. These subjects do not work in isolation from one another. Take engineering – you need to be able to write descriptively and clearly; designs require artistic flair, conceptualization and technical drawing. We have to show how they are all linked.’
Another area of interest for him is the increasing focus on preparing children for senior school entrance exams. One of the greatest benefits of St Edward’s is that it is wholly independent. This means that when it comes to identifying what senior school will best suit the needs and strengths of a particular child, it is entirely impartial.
‘St Edward’s already does an impressive job of preparing children for Reading Grammar, a particularly difficult school to get into. We are going to build on that success, doing everything we can to help boys to prepare for their 11+ exams. Of course, grammar school is not the right choice for every child, so we will continue to provide every child with a rounded education and help them to secure a place at the school of their choice, whether that is grammar, independent or state maintained’
Stuart is looking forward to visiting senior schools in the Reading area and building relationships with them, the better to help parents make the right choice when it comes to choosing a senior school for their son. In doing so, he will benefit from the extensive network of relationships already held by members of the Wishford Schools team.
Stuart is married, to another teacher with a speciality in language, communication and autism, and they have three children. Oh, and he loves gardening too. It helps him relax. It’s possible that this won’t appeal to the boys quite as much as the fast cars, but that won’t stop Stuart sharing his love of seeing things grow with them.
‘I think all the teachers should bring aspects of their own lives into school. If you don’t share your real-life interests and enthusiasms with the boys, how can you inspire them to have their own?’