Talking Heads Blog #33: Richard Markham

Leadership Biography

Name: Richard Markham

Phase: Secondary

Sector: State Boarding

Region: South East

Years Served in Education: 23

Years Served as a Headteacher: 4

Leadership Journey: I spent a very happy 19 years at a large public school where I was fortunate enough to be given a steady stream of new challenges.  This meant that the 19 years passed in a heartbeat, and when I did finally leave I was Deputy Head (Academic), having been at various times: Deputy Housemaster, Master in Charge of Hockey, Head of History of Art, IB Coordinator and throughout a teacher of History.  19 years sounds a long time, but the school was so large and complex with full boarding and a 24/7 ethos that I felt I was still learning, even on my last day.  I moved at that point into the state sector and have found the role as Principal to be just as exciting and enlivening.

Leadership Reflections

Why did your role/ school appeal to you?

Hockerill Anglo-European College is like no other school I have ever encountered.  As a state boarding school it is reasonably unique (there are only 38 other state boarding schools).  As a College where the curriculum follows the International Baccalaureate Middle Years and Diploma Programmes it is similarly unusual.  However, as a state school which makes the study of two foreign languages compulsory and which delivers bilingual lessons in History and Geography in Years 8, 9 and 10 (in French and German) I am struggling to find another example.  When you add all these features together you get a magical community with a very international feel (about 30% of the boarders are from EU countries).  When I first visited the school I fell in love with it and that hasn’t changed.

Why do you think it is important for Headteachers to still teach?

I still teach and I think it is very important for a Head to stay ‘on top of their game’ in the classroom as this gives you just a little bit more credibility in the eyes of the students and staff.  I’m not sure how my Year 13 class would reflect on the experience of being taught in the Principal’s study, but I have never lost my passion for teaching and still find myself totally invigorated after an hour of discussing the intimacies of 20th century world History.  It is vital for a Head to understand some of the pressures and challenges of curriculum change, marking, student issues, and I would encourage anybody taking on the role to make sure that they keep their classroom technique up to speed.

How do you celebrate the teaching profession?

By bucking national trends! I don’t think the reputation of the teaching profession has ever been at such a low ebb, and recruitment into the profession is a massive worry.  We work very hard to make sure our staff are valued and that our students realise the positive impact that outstanding staff can have on them and through this hopefully some of them will actively look at pursuing a career in education rather than another sector. There is so much more to be done nationally though, and I hope that Universities could help this by promoting the benefits of being part of this noble profession.

How do you talent spot/nurture aspiring leaders?

In a number of different ways.  This year we have had two senior middle leaders seconded to SLT and that has proven to be an excellent training ground for those individuals.  Hockerill is also a member of the Bishop’s Stortford Educational Trust which formally groups five schools in the town (state and private) to provide better educational opportunities for the community.  One strand of this is leadership training and we have the wonderful opportunity to place people in other schools to develop additional experiences for them.  These are two very practical methods, and I think the philosophy is that we must take responsibility to train and develop the next generation of leaders and to show them the ‘up-sides’ of the role rather than discouraging them.

What is your vision for education? 

I have an unashamedly idealistic vision of the power of education for good.  I am fortunate that the Mission Statement at Hockerill (‘Developing enquiring, knowledgeable, responsible and global citizens through academic excellence’) is a perfect expression of my own views, closely linked to the goal of all IB World Schools to view current students as future leaders and to ensure that they are equipped with the attitudes and skills to make a positive difference.  In what can, at times, be a very cynical world there is still room for idealism and I believe passionately that a well-educated individual can make a difference.

What are the values that your shape you as a leader? 

I believe firmly in ‘trust’ as a key value of leadership.  Sometimes referred to earned autonomy, I think it is important for a leader to empower those around them, to bring the best out of people and to encourage them to act as leaders in their own areas.  If you are trusted as a leader, and you repay that compliment with absolute trust in your team then the sky is the limit.

Leadership Advice

From Jonathan Leigh, Master of Marlborough College:

“The best antidote to a bad day is to take the pulse wandering around the place (Dining Hall invariably) at 6-7 in the evening.  Teenagers, optimists that they are, have a comforting way of putting things in perspective.”

Other than adding to my waistline, this has been a wonderful ‘leveller’ and an approach which has served me exceptionally well.

Leadership Inspiration

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance Angela Duckworth

Having read a number of books on the subject of effort over talent (Gladwell, Syed etc) I have found Duckworth’s work to be well researched and sensible in its judgements about the importance of our awareness of our own ‘grit’ in the face of challenges.  Certainly taking the ‘Grit Test’ was a good moment in self-awareness, and I would highly recommend this work to other Heads.

Leadership Mantra

I ‘collect’ words of wisdom, and the wall of my office is littered with snippets of advice.  However, the one I constantly refer back to is:

“Wise people learn when they can, fools learn when they must.”

Duke of Wellington


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