With the New Year comes the start of a new era for Heywood Prep, when Tim O’Connell takes the Head’s baton from Rebecca Mitchell. Five years Deputy Head, Tim is already a familiar presence. Warm, funny, self-effacing, he is popular with the pupils, and the staff too. Everyone I speak to within the school is enthusiastic about his appointment. It isn’t simply to do with a fear that some new and unknown broom will sweep too clean. There is clear confidence that Tim is just the right person to be moving the school forward.
Rebecca had been in place as Head a year when Tim arrived. From her experience as Deputy to Guy Barrett (Wishford’s first Head at Heywood), Rebecca understood how critical it was to have a strong second in command; someone who holds the ship on course and helps implement the vision and the strategy. A sounding board and source of inspiration. Rebecca found that person in Tim, and their partnership has taken the school to a Double Excellent at their most recent school inspection, and near-full classes throughout.
Tim’s experience is broad. As a teacher, he has specialised in academic subjects (maths and geography) and sports (rugby and cricket). He has been a form tutor, a house master, head of boarding and ultimately Head at a prep school in Suffolk. The family’s desire to move west coincided with the Deputy role coming up at Heywood, and Tim says he knew immediately it was where he wanted to be. ‘The thing that really struck me early on is how much goes on here. All the opportunities the children have.’ Right at the beginning, he tells me, Rebecca asked him to look after clubs and activities. This seemed a nice gentle introduction, until he asked her how many clubs the school ran. ‘When she said close to 40, I couldn’t believe it. There are 7 different clubs just on a Tuesday,’ he says. ‘And they are full!’
So began his stint as Deputy Head. If Rebecca led the strategy, Tim has been in the nuts and bolts of every key part of it. He knows the school inside and out, from the exciting and inspirational to the practical and mundane. While he is very reticent about his own accomplishments, Rebecca is not. ‘Sport is obvious, and so it his passion for outdoor education and trips – his experience as a housemaster has elevated that. But where I think his efforts have really stood out is how much he cares about the children, and the practical things he has put in place to support them.’ She talks about the work he’s doing on RULER (the acronym for managing emotions – recognising, understanding, labelling, expressing and regulating) and the pastoral support he has developed for those who struggle with their behaviour. In his role as host of the School Council, the pupil body run by two Year 6 pupils, Tim took the opportunity to canvass opinions on what the Anti-Bullying Policy should include, drawing on the views of those likely to be impacted.
This often-under-acknowledged talent for relationships is something Tim has in spades, and, according to Rebecca, it is manifested across the school. It is there in his gentle and easy interaction with the Nursery children, and his sensitivity and skill around encouraging children (and occasionally parents) to cut the apron strings. Right up to what she describes as ‘the beauty of his manner with Year 6 on the rugby pitch.’
When I ask Tim how he feels he has contributed to Heywood Prep’s success, he quickly diverts any praise to the staff body. Their passion and enthusiasm impressed him from the very first. It makes for animated discussions in the staffroom, he tells me. Every head of department is a vocal champion for their particular subject, and there is lots of enthusiastic pitching for a bigger slice of the timetable or the budget.
Executive Chairman Sam Antrobus concurs that passionate staff is exactly what Wishford is all about, and that Tim absolutely fits the bill. ‘When we identify talent, we make sure we help develop it, and then hang onto it! It’s fantastic that Tim is staying with Heywood as Head. Across our group, more than half our Heads have been internally promoted to the role.’
It’s much too early to say where Tim’s Headship will take the school. He points out, reasonably, that he has been fully involved with developing its current iteration, so it seems unlikely we will see an explosion of change. But no good school stands still, and you can tell he has ideas brewing. Tim’s vision encompasses collaboration in the community, the further development of Heywood’s digital strategy and new opportunities for children to access a wider range of experiences.
With the support of the newly appointed Deputy Head, Gareth Edwards, renowned for his dedication to academic excellence and outstanding pastoral care, there is no doubt that their collaboration, alongside the already excellent Senior Leadership Team, will significantly contribute to the nurturing and well-being of every pupil at Heywood Prep. Best of luck to the Senior Leadership Team, and congratulations to Tim on this new chapter!