Nick Hindmarsh - Dartmouth Academy
Nick Hindmarsh, the new principal of the fledgling Dartmouth Academy, has been welcomed into his post with a fanfare fuelled by the news that broke on his first day in post – that Dartmouth is to be the only school in the county to receive Department for Education funds for new buildings.
The £8 million allocation is left over from the now defunct Building Schools for the Future project, axed as part of the Government’s austerity measures, and Dartmouth is lucky to have hung onto it when all other schools in the county have had their new build plans scrapped.
“It isn’t often a new head comes in with £8 million in his back pocket – particularly when I would not have been surprised if we had got nothing. It is fantastic for Dartmouth – Dartmouth needs this investment - but the fact that others have not got their money does not give me any pleasure.”
The tone of his response to the news continues through our conversation. Nick doesn’t mask his delight at being Dartmouth Academy’s first principal, at coming to live in such a beautiful part of the world, and at taking on the challenges his new job presents. But he is cautious.
“We’ve had the hype of the academy launch, the uniform, the logo and the rebranding, but I am conscious of making the point that we have to look to the long term. If we don’t get the results up we won’t change the choices that parents make for their children.
If the academy is going to survive then the vast majority of local children need to come to the school in their town, the school they have a right to. I always say beware the ‘fluff,’ in other words this has to be more than hype.”
Nick took up the reins at the academy at the start of the term in January. He’s living for now in Stoke Fleming with a view of the lighthouse, and enjoying coastal walks and the brief journey to work. Wife Tracey, a keen sailor and veteran of the Fastnet, can’t wait to join him and the couple are looking for a house. She suggested buying a boat to live on, but Nick is less than keen.
“She is the skipper, I’m afraid I’m a deck monkey. So we’re looking for a house.”
The father-of-five has taught in five schools including his teaching practice school, ranging from 690 to more than 1,500 students in size, and including the primary/secondary two-tier system as well as the first/middle/high school three-tier model.
He was a head teacher for four years before coming to Dartmouth, a deputy head for seven years before that. All the schools were in Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire.
But teaching wasn’t always the plan. Growing up in Cambridgeshire, Nick was a keen rugby player and his life largely revolved around the game, so much so that when he mentioned university, his stepmother had misgivings.
“She thought I would spend three years playing rugby, socialising and drinking beer, and if I was lucky I’d get a third class degree. I thought she was probably right, although I don’t think I’ve ever told her that, so I went to work for Lloyds Bank for four years, and while my friends were at uni and broke I had money and a car. I felt very pleased with myself until they all left university and got better jobs and cars than me.”
Life at Lloyds continued until a visiting inspector called the young banker into his office and said: “You’re just playing at this.”
“I realised he was right. I was bored. My stepmother was a deputy head and I decided I would look at teaching. I was on holiday in the North of England that summer, went to visit Leeds University in the August and started there in the September.”
Nick studied economic history and geography and went straight on to train to be a teacher. By now married to his first wife and with a young child, his second child was born on the first day of his first teaching practice. “She didn’t sleep for months – it was pretty tough!”
Dartmouth’s new principal is enthusiastic about teaching and in particular about the students – about making a difference. He believes in being visible in school and getting to know the students, and has no qualms about living close to the school, keen to stay nearby when he and Tracey find a house.
“I’ve lived in catchment before and don’t mind the kids seeing me at the weekend washing the car in my jeans and teeshirt. It’s the same as when you go on a residential trip and they see you first thing in the morning and late into the night, they see the person behind the suit. It’s good for students to realise you are a human being – and especially helpful for the younger ones.”
There’s lots for the new principal to think about at Dartmouth Academy – it’s still a very small school even though it now combines primary and secondary age children as the only all-through 3-18 school in Devon; it’s relatively isolated; opening its new sixth form in September; linking with new academy partners Britannia Royal Naval College and South Devon College as well as the academy sponsor E-Act; countering the attraction of neighbouring large schools in Totnes, Kingsbridge and Ivybridge, and the grammar schools of Torbay.
He favours a measured approach: “The new building is great news and will help enormously, particularly in bringing together the whole school onto one not two sites, doing away with the feeling of separation.
“Trips are important to me, residential visits nationally and globally, as well as sport, drama, music, Duke of Edinburgh Awards – the extras and opportunities that, when parents are making their school choices, they expect to be available for their children. Results are important, but when parents are making choices for their children they want results and more.
“We don’t have the capacity to develop all these things at once, and again we have to beware of hype. These are things that will come in time.
The sixth form will be small at first and will grow. We will be offering free transport to our post-16 students who live outside Dartmouth, so that should help them make a real choice about where they want to study, rather than where they can easily get to.”
Steps are being made to introduce further change at the academy, but Nick is keen to stress the point that everything cannot happen at once.
He said: “We have to raise standards, no question about it. Whatever my private philosophy about the purpose of education and league tables, there is a job to do.
“We’ll start with a coherent curriculum and timetable so it will feel like one school. We want to align the school day across the age groups so that teachers on each site have common lesson times and can work across the timetable.
It’s one school, it should have a common timetable so that breaks and lunchtimes are consistent, but we will have to make sure of details like ensuring there is an extra break in the afternoon for the little ones, and we will speak to parents. This is something for September.”
He added: “Dartmouth is small and isolated, and fantastic because of that, but there is an element of fatalism and what we must try to do is engender some sense of self driven ambition. The new building and the creation of Dartmouth Academy will certainly help.”
First Published February 2011 By The Dart