Matt King, headmaster of Great Ballard School in Chichester, discusses preparing for the future on the eve of their 100th anniversary
What attracted you to the headship at Great Ballard?
Challenge, opportunity, potential. I’ve worked in a number of schools and this is my third headship, but the excitement I felt when I first visited was something quite new. I saw our size as an advantage and loved the inclusive family story at the heart of the school. I was impressed of course by the outstanding location and the proprietor’s ambition, but also reassured by the space, funds and energy already assigned for development.
Great Ballard will be 100 years old in 2023. In such an historic school has change been difficult?
Let’s be clear that change is never easy. I have a clear vision of what great education looks like and it’s not possible to achieve that goal in every school environment. A number of things here at Great Ballard have made progression possible. Importantly I took over a school that had already recognised a need for change. The plan to move to 16 was in place, staff with GCSE experience had been appointed and two million pounds invested in new property. It’s often hard to crowbar something fresh and new into a building as historic as this, but the decision to stop boarding was a pragmatic one and has opened up whole new floors for development. It’s great to know we have room to keep growing.
How have the staff responded?
I have asked a lot of them and I am really grateful for their energy and buy-in. It helped that our strategy was bound by very simple concepts and ones they already embraced. Our ‘Head, Hand, Heart and Health’ mantra encapsulates a promise upon which all good prep schools deliver. But our teachers have really enjoyed the challenge of extending that holistic imperative into the senior school and shaping a curriculum that will truly prepare our students for their futures.
Exactly how is the curriculum different at Great Ballard?
We take longer to find our way to GCSE, not to permit more cramming and testing, but to ensure more breadth, creativity and relevance. People ask how we make time for all our students to run businesses, create CVs, do interviews, learn about enterprise, grow, cook, lead and learn to live healthy and fulfilling lives. And the answer is really quite simple. We make time because these things deserve time.
What impact has the new approach had on the students?
We are still at the start of a journey, but the green shoots are there for all to see. Staff and visitors remark on a growing confidence and a louder, more focussed student voice. But the real fruits will be seen in years to come. We are coaxing students out of their comfort zones and asking them to learn both from what works and what doesn’t. To camp out in the snow as our seniors did in March, to diversify your business when Avian flu decimates your egg supply, to make lemonade from lemons (both figuratively and literally) is part of the Great Ballard experience.
The school has been growing fast, but where have those students come from?
The speed of our growth has surprised us and we have welcomed students from all sorts of schools and backgrounds. The growth is certainly being driven by the move to 16 and there is no doubt that our unique approach appeals to many families. Great teaching, our sense of community and our core values hold a strong appeal. We are seeing healthy numbers joining us from local schools at 11+ and 13+ and some returning or transferring now that they can continue on to GCSEs at GB. Our fee structure has also made our education more accessible to families who would not have considered an independent option in the past and are looking to bridge the gap between nurturing local primaries and some excellent sixth form colleges nearby.
What does the future look like for GB?
There’s lots to look forward to. Being twice the size we were two years ago will certainly be a moment to enjoy in 2022/23; our first GCSE cohort in 2023 and our Centenary that same year. The completion of work on Eartham House, turning the former boarding corridors into a senior school with 12 new classrooms, offices and common rooms. The development of the stable block and surrounds into a new centre for Art and Design. A Forest School area transformed by senior and not just pre prep hands, and the launch of the GB Diploma recognising life skills that really matter here like leadership, enterprise, technology, nutrition and self-reliance. It’s easy to be impressed by what Great Ballard is and has been but, just like I felt on that first visit two years ago, it’s what it could be that drives us and really excites.