Strong role models in boys’ boarding schools: former Service personnel bring an extra dimension
– Joe Smith, Head Master of The Oratory School
After the flurry of several single-sex schools becoming co-educational in the last few years, it’s time to take stock and consider a major reason why the few remaining boys’ boarding schools continue to flourish in the face of the trend towards mixed schools.
Our particular mission in education is how boys are better enabled to thrive as rounded, uninhibited individuals in a boys-only environment where they are keen to play rugby and cricket, but also enthusiastic about performing on stage and singing in the choir. At The Oratory School it’s not uncommon to see boys at choir practice who are wearing their rugby kit, having just come off the field!
However, a significant common thread among boys-only boarding schools is that we have been ahead of the curve when it comes to acknowledging how former Armed Forces personnel can play an essential part in providing strong role models in a boy’s education. We have a number of ex-Services officers and NCOs among our masters.
These members of staff bring leadership skills, unique experiences and a driving force to every boys’ school ethos, where a high-activity diet should be in the blood. Of course, former Forces personnel complement the breadth of expertise that is necessary and superbly provided by the other staff, but they bring an extra dimension unique to their uniformed life.
‘A busy boy is a hapy boy’
Ex-Service people heartily underpin my unofficial motto, which should apply to any school: ‘a busy boy is a happy boy’. The community of boarding schools is second nature to former Forces staff, where they readily deal with the need to keep boys busy and motivated, be it between prep and supper, or on a rainy Saturday when fixtures are cancelled. Most staff live ‘on the patch’ too, and this creates that strong community that is a hallmark of the Forces.
It’s at boys’ boarding schools that you find a strong calling to teaching for former Servicemen. Briefly looking at The Oratory School as an example, we have on the staff a former Army Major who teaches mathematics. He joined our established staff, among whom is a retired Army senior NCO, who has coached our target rifle shooting team to perform consistently well at national level. Another master is a Queen’s Medallist. One of our senior masters is a Reservist pilot – made an MBE for his services to air cadets – and Contingent Commander of our Corps.
A strong CCF
Of course, a strong Corps offers a huge opportunity for boys to gain fantastic opportunities and experiences in Army, Navy and RAF Cadets, and, clearly, former Service personal have much to offer with their skills, knowledge and enthusiasm. From what I know of them, I’d guess they would each say, too modestly, that they are just trying to do the best they can in their duty to young people, and will give little or no regard to the full-time dedication they give to this vocation.
Our Catholic ethos remains at the heart of The Oratory School and we happily accommodate boys from other faiths and traditions. Today among our parents are officers of all three Services and the school is full; that must be because this boys-only school is fulfilling the wishes that many parents still have for their sons’ education.
Joe Smith became Head Master of The Oratory School in September 2016. He was Headmaster of the Oratory Preparatory School (OPS) from 2010. He was educated at the University of Liverpool, where he was awarded a First in English. He has a PGCE from Brunel and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Buckingham University. Before moving to the OPS, Joe was first Head of English and then a housemaster at Monkton Combe School in Bath, where he also ran the Army section of the Combined Cadet Force and coached sport. He is an inspector for the Independent Schools Inspectorate. Joe is married to Debbie, who is the Registrar at the OPS, and they have three children.