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St Peter’s School York

The Headmaster of St Peter’s School, Jeremy Walker spoke about the challenges and pleasures of his role.

St Peters in the third oldest school in the world (founded 627 AD) and has had four Saints as Head Masters. Embracing and managing change has been fundamental to St Peters throughout its history. Over the years, the school has grown, partly by acquisition (most recently taking on responsibility for York Minster Choir School thus preserving both the choir and the history of choral singing in York) and also by growth in numbers (around 1250 today). The school is currently moving to a two-tier system (2 to 10 and 11 to 18). The school is run as a business, with Jeremy both the Headmaster and CEO. The school employs more than 300 people and puts over £19 million into the local economy.

Education has developed considerably over the years. Whilst there pressure on young people to get qualifications and letters after their name, it could be argued that by their mid-20s, no employer will be interested in these. Employers will be more interested in their employability skills and work experience. Hence, through its pastoral structures and co-curricular activities, Peters spends a lot of time developing skills and attitudes focused towards complex problem solving, social interaction, emotional intelligence. The end objective is that a pupil should be able to walk into a room anywhere in the world and just get on with what is required. The philosophy of always being able to do what is right, not what is easy underpins this approach.

One challenge pupils face today is that of mental health. The universal presence of technology means that there are few moments of peace and quiet (the mobile phone is always there). Older generations knew that once they had got a job, they would be able to enter the housing ladder and were likely to eventually qualify for a pension. Many of the current generation feel that they have little job security, will have a multitude of professional lives, will not be able to retire at 60 or even for many years thereafter and owning their own home may be financially difficult.

Peter’s plays its part in providing opportunities to the wider community. It is an active member of the York consortium of educational institutions co-operating in the delivery of joint activities and masterclasses to all sectors of education. Also it is supportive of York Rotary Club by allowing the Club to use its facilities on a number of occasions during the year.

The spectre of VAT on school fees is a possibility if there is a change in Government. However, the Club was told that to introduce it made little fiscal or moral sense. Pupils may be forced back into the State Sector which is already struggling for funds and capacity. Peter’s parents are a cross section of society, they are not all wealthy oligarchs.

The future for Peter’s brings with it a number of challenges. Although the school is a “not for profit” organisation, it has to generate a profit each year in order to reinvest. Whilst all costs are rising, the school must not be over reliant on school fees and it has managed to reduce this from 98% to 93% over past few years through increased external lettings, establishing

overseas schools, and increased pupil numbers. Fortunately, it is over subscribed. It is intended that the number of bursaries the school offers will increase to around 50 this Autumn.

Many members of the Club have a relationship with Peter’s, either having been or now having family members being educated there. It certainly looks the case that Peter’s resilience and its strong reputation developed over the past centuries will enable it to continue to be one of the great schools in the region.

Paul Harvey

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