As the new academic year commenced, The Beacon School welcomed their new Headmaster, Mr Nick Baker. We speak to Nick who gives us insight into life as a Headmaster, his ambitions for The Beacon and tells us why he thinks open days are important.
Mr Nick Baker joined The Beacon, an Independent Prep School for boys aged 3-13, in July 2022. He moved to leafy Amersham, Buckinghamshire, having previously been at Wetherby Prep School in London where he led the school as Headmaster.
You were at Wetherby Prep for 14 years prior to being appointed at The Beacon, what made you apply to the role at The Beacon?
Wetherby is an all-boys school and feeds very similar schools to The Beacon so it was a natural transition. I also grew up in Amersham and know the town and local area very well. Many of my old school friends had been Beacon boys and some now send their sons here!
What do you think the key pros and cons of an ‘in London’ School versus an ‘out of London’ are?
London is a very dynamic and fast moving educational sector and I loved my time at Wetherby but logistics is everything in Central London schools. Our playground and sports fields were all off site and so to come to The Beacon where everything is on the premises is such a luxury. The boys here are very similar to my old Wetherby boys but the sense of space, not just on the school site but in the classrooms and corridors has such a positive impact on the boys’ mental health and sense of calm. It’s something I noticed straight away.
The recent ISI Report rated the Beacon as ‘Excellent’ in all areas, in your opinion what makes it truly stand out?
There are so many first class staff here and nothing is left to chance. The boys in EYFS make rapid progress in their initial education and this is skilfully built upon in the early part of the prep school before subject specialist teachers deliver high challenge across the curriculum in the later years. And that’s just the teaching – the amount of resources dedicated to the boys’ wellbeing and simple enjoyment of their education is remarkable, as is the commitment towards the extra-curricular. As a school inspector myself, it is clear to see how the school came out of the inspection with such a glowing report.
What makes a great Headteacher?
The best Headteachers always put the children at the centre of everything and constantly ask themselves, “what is the best thing for the children.” Sometimes this might not be the best thing for any number of school stakeholders but as long as it is best for the children, you will never go far wrong.
Tell us about your leadership style?
I’m not sure I have a style but I do try and be approachable and communicative to all stakeholders. Whenever there is a survey of what children want from their teachers, ‘fairness’ always comes out on top so I always try and be ‘fair’ to everyone. I have two boys, they are 16 and 14 now and well into their senior school years but when they were younger I would always ask myself, would they enjoy being part of this school and how would I expect the experience to be as a parent.
What are you ambitions for The Beacon?
The School has a full roll, a glowing ISI report, a strong local reputation and as a result, there is no huge development that needs to take place here. That said, even successful schools benefit from new eyes on them from time to time and The Beacon is no different. We need to be nimble with changes to modern educational practices and look at ways we can update our current facilities over time. I don’t think it’s beyond the ambition of The Beacon to be recognised nationally as the best that independent prep school education can provide.
What would you say are the biggest challenges facing an independent school at present?
If anything, post Covid, there have never been more opportunities for independent schools, particularly those outside of the major metropolitan areas as families re-evaluate their lifestyles and take the opportunity to work from home. Utilising the benefits of modern technology without too much of a departure from core writing skills (and a parent body keen to keep their children off screens) is a challenge for all schools in the 21st Century.
What are the benefits of attending an Open Day?
Schools will have their best suit on during an Open Day and you will have the opportunity to ask the pupils what the school is really like. If I was a parent though, I would go for a visit when school is in session. All schools have great facilities these days and prospective parents need to look beyond these and get a feel for the atmosphere of the school. How do the teachers speak to the children, how do the children speak to each other at play and in the corridor? Speak to the Head and find out what he or she stands for and if they will be someone that you can engage with in the future and invest the care and education of your child in.
What is your greatest accomplishment in your teaching career?
I don’t think I can single any one thing out but the success of Wetherby Prep (74 boys to over 400 in 10 years) was a great ride and very fulfilling professionally; four of my Deputy Heads have subsequently gone on to headship. What has always been most rewarding is probably when the boys would come back to visit to see me and their teachers and walk around the building. The fact that so many came back and all had such fond memories of their time at the school meant that we had clearly given them a great start in their schooling and set them up for senior school and beyond – effectively the very thing that a ‘preparatory’ school should set out to achieve.
The Beacon School is holding their next open morning on Saturday 1 October where families will have the opportunity to meet Nick and tour the school by current Beacon boys. They are also hosting a Messy Play session for boys aged 18 months – 4 years. To register your interest and book your slot to attend, please click here.
Private visits and tours are also welcomed, email their Director of Admissions, Pippa Pearson, on email@example.com or call on 01494 432764.