Reflections on My First Year of Headship
By Headmistress, Ali Kinge
It’s difficult to believe that on the 30th June, it will be one year since I took on the role of Ardvreck’s first Headmistress since its founding in 1883.
Many of you will know that I have a long standing connection with this little belter of a Scottish Boarding Prep School, in that I was appointed as a part time teacher of music here 13 years ago. Having ‘moved up through the ranks’, filling numerous roles and teaching many subjects, Ardvreck has become very much part of me and I feel proudly protective and passionate about its heritage and, of course, its future.
The step-up from Deputy to Headmistress last summer, whilst in many ways a seamless transition, also happened to perturb me much more than I had anticipated. Those who know me will acknowledge that I have always been ‘a people person’ but nothing had prepared me for the huge responsibility that I immediately felt weighing on my shoulders. Suddenly, the future of this incredible institution lay in my hands and with it the livelihood, wellbeing and happiness of a plethora of people about whom I care very much indeed. A quote from Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fourth, Part Two, began to resonate deeply with me: uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
In those early days, sleep was elusive as my mind churned through ways in which to navigate smooth waters for so many stakeholders: pupils; staff; prospective, current and former parents; governors; alumni; neighbours; the local and national press; school inspectors; relations with other prep schools and senior schools and, of course, the wider community.
As well as running the school to the very best of my ability, I was also required to make my workplace my home which necessitated being separated from my family. As politically incorrect as it sounds, unlike my predecessors, there was no-one to fill the ‘Headmaster’s wife’ role and, despite my husband’s best efforts to come over and help whenever he could, there were times when I felt desperately in need of a wife! Yes, that first term was tough. Having our old, family collie put to sleep in September and, moments later, attempting to contribute effectively to my very first board of governors meeting with my dear, freshly dead dog at the bottom of the stairs was particularly challenging. Breaking eight ribs in one go whilst locking up the school one black Saturday night in November was also a significant inconvenience.
Nevertheless, none of this deflected my utopian, Enid Blytonesque dream to make Ardvreck the happiest, kindest, and most mischievous school in the land.
I wanted to nurture an ethos where courtesy was at the forefront of every human interaction. A school where working hard and playing hard were of equal importance and where good humour and fun permeated every undertaking. I knew that this would be no mean feat, not something I could create alone; it had to be a shared vision and so I began to work on what the current sixth formers dub my ‘dream team’. I have been in a very lucky position as I have been able to retain, but also to appoint (and bring back) an unbelievable team of staff who are talented, intelligent, committed, loyal, hard-working and incredible amounts of fun. They are movers and shakers, optimists, can doers, smilers and who all care, beyond belief, about the education and wellbeing of every single child in our school.
The Ardvreck ‘dream team’ is second to none and, as a result, our children are happy and fulfilled whilst our parents are satisfied and super supportive. In fact, Ardvreck’s amazing platoon of parents are a tour de force in terms of their enthusiasm for this little school on the hill. It’s no wonder that our pupils are such troopers sandwiched between the talented teachers and the perfect parental posse!
At the end of it all, any school can provide excellent academic rigour, a strong pastoral ethos and a broad co-curricular programme, all of which we do very well indeed. However, after 27 years in the teaching profession, I have come to the conclusion that the real value of a prep school education lies in the things that are remembered long after what was taught has been forgotten. The things that contribute to defining not what we know, but who we are. That is the essence of an Ardvreck education.