Tell us about your years as a headmaster – what were the best and worst things about the job?
They were amongst the best 10 years of my career – both the most testing and the most rewarding. The best bits were the youngsters. They were funny, challenging, responsive and incredibly rewarding to work with. The worst bits related to the bureaucracy. When I started the job we had about 70 regulations to closely follow; by the time I left there were over 400.
Who is your favourite writer?
I currently have six books by my bedside and a study with several hundred books, but far too little time to dip into them. I read a lot of philosophy and biographies on inspirational leaders. Much enjoying Felix Klos’ “ The Struggle to Unite Europe” and Robert Townsend’s “ Up the Organization” at the moment, plus Thich Nhat Hanh’s books on meditation.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I cannot draw to save my socks! And I once tried to sculpt an animal, but it turned out looking more like a Dalek! I think artists are wonderfully creative and I would love the recreational aspect of it.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I get the most satisfaction out of changing the trajectory of young people’s lives, and I feel most grateful to have found myself in positions to do that. When students write or tell me how their lives have changed because of something said or done – most of which I can’t remember doing – it makes all the hard work worth it. Taking on the headship at St James Senior Boys’ School without a background in teaching, setting up a young people’s leadership training organisation and now taking over Tutor Doctor in Central and West London would be up there.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Selfishness and pride.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Long country walks and sailing gently on a river or lake lets my mind fall quiet and I can absorb the delightful energy of nature. On a daily basis I probably feel at my best when I am meditating. It can be deeply blissful.
You chair Q&A sessions with parents – what are the most common concerns you hear raised?
Parents want to know what they are about to face and find it most helpful to have the stages in human development outlined to them so they know what to expect. Mostly they simply need confidence to know that they will be able to do a brilliant job, so long as they focus their attention in the right places. Preparing for adolescence brings the most testing questions. But as I always tell them, the good news is that they themselves survived the experience – and so too will their offspring.
How have the pressures of school-life changed for pupils since you first started teaching?
Students are living and working under a greater set of expectations than ever before, from parents, their schools and society in general. At Tutor Doctor we show them how to cope with these pressures and the anxieties that surround exams. My definition of success is when a student achieves more than he or she thinks is possible. University placement is not for everyone and countless opportunities abound elsewhere. A youngster needs to discover what ‘purpose’ lies ahead and for this, one-to-one help is usually necessary. Schools are often too busy to do much of this personal work.
If you could give a stressed-out secondary school pupil one piece of advice, what would it be?
Learn to calm the mind and with that, learn to concentrate. It saves countless hours of study and certainly provides a greater sense of well-being.
If you could give the stressed-out parents of a stressed-out secondary school pupil one piece of advice, what would it be?
If you want to ease the stress in your son or daughter, ease the stress in your own self first. Stress is contagious; worse than a cold. Don’t pass it on. Show that you have confidence in your youngster and always express your admiration for what they are doing. This will open the student’s heart and they will get the idea that more is possible, without you having to tell them. I call this “creating the PULL” factor in student learning; it is so much better than a push, which always ends up with a misshapen adolescent.
What do you think the UK education system has got right, and what do you think it’s got horribly wrong?
There is still far too much ‘teaching to the test’ and not enough exploration and adventure. Employers are looking for youngsters who are honest, trustworthy, capable of excellent communication and empathy with the people they are in touch with. Too many schools leave these ‘soft skills’ out of daily school life and yet without them, our next generation is going to be under-prepared. Our schools – and homes – need to become what I call ‘warm-hearted’. We need to be teaching about care of each other, care of the environment, care of society. We need a new generation of youngsters who will give, not take; who will hold to a set of values where everyone can be recognised as contributors.
If funding were no object, how would the perfect school system look?
The school day would be ‘flipped’. Homework would consist of students using the internet to learn the lesson information in the evenings while class-time would be used for debate and practical experience. Too much homework is just repetitive – that’s why youngsters rebel. A generous amount of school time should be spent on values-based work, for example, discussing and working out the ethical basis to scientific discoveries. But most importantly, youngsters would learn how to concentrate and give attention. That means, learning how to still their minds, not fill them up with quite a lot of what will be of no value to them.
You’ve written on the importance of warm-heartedness when it comes to raising and educating children – can you tell us more about why this is
The current education system, in general, is creating one-dimensional characters to enter into society. Warm heartedness is the ‘human’ touch. Artificial Intelligence will shortly let each of us speak any language at the touch of an app. But how will we communicate with each other? How will we be able to reach deals and agreements? I personally believe that the trouble our politicians and business leaders have in working with each other is because they missed out on these skills at school. Our curriculum has to have at its essence a sense of unity of the human family; not division. Warm heartedness is kind, helpful and acknowledges that every single person has something special and magical to offer. 14. If you could give the stressed-out parents of a stressed-out secondary school pupil one piece of advice, what would it be?
We’re going to have a weekly Q&A column where you answer parents’ questions – do you think there’s a dearth of easily available information out there for parents?
There is quite a lot of help available, but not necessarily in easily digestible form. I have worked with young children and teenagers for many years – and now have 9 grand children to practice on too! I will try to give not just practical tips, but advice which can be applied in many situations. I hope it will help.
What is your motto?
‘Bring out the Best. Everyone is potentially brilliant’. It just has to be found and brought out.
What’s in the pipeline for Tutor Doctor? Is world domination on the cards?
Tutor Doctor is already working in 16 countries and has helped well over 200,000 families. Our one-to-one tutoring at home is always aimed to supporting the whole family, as well as ensuring that the student is propelled to achieve their goals. And we just don’t deal with children; our oldest student is currently aged 61! World domination is not in our minds; but expanding the minds and hearts of every one of our students most certainly is.