In an interview with the West Briton, Andy Johnson talks about his early teaching career as well as his vision for the school.
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Andy Johnson, 46, a proud Welshman and father of two, is settling into his first head teacher role at Truro School. Oliver Vergnault met him to discover his vision for the 140-year-old school.
What’s your background?
We moved to London when I was two. My mother was a teacher and my father was a taxman with the Inland Revenue although he may prefer the term civil servant. I went to a church primary school and onto an independent secondary school before reading history at Cambridge University.
I specialised in 19th century European and British social history. I have always been interested in people, identity, community, and how society works.
What led you to becoming a teacher?
At first I considered becoming a lawyer. I was interested in problem solving and people’s lives. I did some work experience with a legal aid firm as well as with a City firm. The legal aid work was more interesting. Again it was about trying to improve other people’s lives. Yet the whole teaching thing was in my head. In the end I went for it and applied for a PGCE at Trinity and All Saints College in Leeds. As part of my training I worked in Queensbury in Bradford. I come from quite an academic background but recognised then that teaching is not just about academics. It is about practical skills, working with people, and developing all their abilities. It is about communication. It was challenging but an amazing experience too.
Where was your first teaching job?
It was a co-ed through-school in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. I taught history there for three years. I then moved to Westminster School in London where I stayed for 11 years, again teaching history, and running their residential Phab charity for disabled adults which is something I am hugely proud of. It was an amazing family to be part of, not just for the disabled adults but for the students at the school. I became housemaster before I left to help set up the London Academy of Excellence, a completely new school in Newham, East London.
How did you get involved in that project?
The head and I, as deputy, set up the London Academy of Excellence. It was a state-funded free school catering for sixth form students only in an area of London where, at that time, close to 50% of young people in Year 11 were having to leave the borough to study elsewhere for sixth form. There was a lack of sixth form provision in Newham at the time. We worked with the community, with the local council, independent and state schools in the area who were interested in supporting the project. We wanted to create a school that offered sixth form education locally. It was selective. Students needed six Bs at the GCSEs to get in. It was about giving the most ambitious young people in the area a proudly academic and ambitious Sixth Form to study at. I was there for two years and saw the first cohort of students through. They received some of the best A-levels results in the country. To this day the school remains hugely successful.
How did you end up as head of Truro School?
For five years prior to my most recent role in Cornwall, I was academic deputy head at St Dunstan College in South East London which is an independent co-educational through-school like Truro, with a similarly broad curriculum and keen bursary programme. It was quite a diverse school and a really happy place. Their motto was all about the individuals being allowed to be themselves. It is something that resonated strongly with me and my background. We have a very similar mission and ethos here.
What attracted you to Truro School?
It’s a wonderful school with a strong and healthy ethos. It strives to be a beacon of inclusive excellence. It is very important to me that this continues and that we make it even more so. It’s not about fostering one type of talent over another, it’s about fostering all talents.
What do you mean by inclusive?
It’s inclusiveness in terms of curriculum, sports, the arts, music. We have a very strong relationship with the Cornwall Music Service Trust which provides access to musical instruments and tuition for children. We hosted the Hive project during lockdown, who delivered upwards of 40,000 meals to children from deprived backgrounds. This is all important to me. Truro School is part of the community and must remain so. We try to make sure that our resources and facilities are available to other schools and to the wider community and that will continue, such as working with local primary schools or running a tea-club for prospective Oxbridge students at other secondary schools in Cornwall. We have a cookery school, a sport centre and it remains our vision and hope that these facilities will continue to be shared with other schools and the wider community. When it is safe to do so again under Covid-19 restrictions we will again open up our facilities to the community. Our partnerships matter. We are all here to educate and support young people. Anything we can do to help is great.
Was living in Cornwall part of your decision making when you took the role?
We love the area around St Mawes which we know well. Of course it was important as an individual. We have two young children and we want them to remember growing up in Cornwall fondly. Counting jelly fish on Tavern Beach in St Mawes is my daughter’s favourite thing at the moment. Since coming down we have been able to go to the beach at Perranporth but I haven’t tried surfing yet. Being in Cornwall will be life changing for my children.
What has the return to school been like?
Everyone I speak to is really delighted to be back at school. It’s not as straightforward as it was before but the main point and I hope it’s true in other schools is that people are happy to be back, to learn and thrive in an environment we have made as safe as possible. Our measures are stronger than those recommended by the Government. I’m pleased that the wearing of masks has been adopted very quickly, for example, and everyone understands why.
How did the school deal with lockdown?
There has been a huge effort by teachers and students and as a school we are really pleased with how it went in lockdown. Not just academically too, but in terms of student and staff wellbeing and welfare. We put on activities and challenges for the students that were pastoral and co-curricular, because we care about them not just in terms of study. We have a very effective remote learning programme in place should the need arise again. We did bring some of the children back towards the end of the year which was great. What we are now working towards is for small groups to go into isolation if a student or teacher shows any symptoms not to close down the entire school. For the students in isolation we have a hybrid teaching programme so they will be very much part of the lessons. It’s about being agile and planning ahead.
What is your vision for the school?
I’m new here so in the short term I am still understanding this big family that is Truro School and of course the community in Truro and Cornwall. I want this school to truly be part of the community. It is about how much more we can do and share in term of resources, skills, knowledge and facilities so it benefits the greatest number of people possible. Inclusion and excellence. At present we don’t have radical plans to put a shovel into the ground and expand, but I certainly have plenty of ambition to build upon the excellent foundations that I have inherited, within the school itself and to benefit the community we are a part of.
Olivier Vergnault, Senior Reporter, Cornish Guardian / West Briton / The Cornishman / Cornwall Live