A new chapter for Breck as Geoff Brookes retires

Photo:  Geoff Brookes handing over the keys to the school to his successor Simon Bannister.  Marking the occasion with a flowering cherry tree being planted at the front of school.

When I became Headmaster in September 2008, little did I think that in 9 years’ time I would be coming to the last few weeks of my Headship, it just wasn’t in my thinking. There was so much to do to help Breckenbrough continue to be one of the foremost schools in the country and to meet the needs of boys who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and associated conditions.

I have accrued many happy memories during the past 9 years and I am immensely proud of how the school, through the hard work of its staff, has changed and improved the lives of the young people and their families who have been part of Breckenbrough. I am hugely proud of the achievements of our boys, and impressed with the progress that they have made from their starting points, both socially and academically.

The last academic year was a milestone for me, as the last remaining students who started at the same time as me, left to move on to work, training or university. This made me realise that perhaps it was time for me to move on as well, that and the fact that I am getting older!

So I discussed my retirement plans with my Governors and jointly we developed a transition plan which would hopefully reduce the impact of change on our young people. This plan started with the appointment of a new Head, Simon Bannister and then with a new Deputy, Gavin Copland, all before I had left, giving Simon, Gavin, along with Stuart and Sue (Senior Leadership Team) time to develop effective ways of working together, which they have done this term.

I have to be honest, it has been very hard to take a back seat, and let them get on with it, mostly because I am so controlling and like to be in charge! However, take a back seat I have, and I am very pleased with how all the Senior Leadership Team have stepped up and stamped their own authority on their positions. I really do feel that the school is in safe and strong hands to move it forward over the coming years.

I was recently asked by Graham Ralph, the Chair of Governors, what changes that I had overseen during the last 9 years had I been particularly pleased with. I found this this is a very hard question to answer, especially as an integral part of my own vision is for us never to stand still as a school and continually seek ways to improve the provision we make for our students, staff and parents. However, he pressed me, so after pausing for thought, I responded that things which I think had impacted positively on the school were: 1. the development of the sixth form provision, including our very successful links with York College and other off-site providers, 2. increasing the total number of students we can take to 60, and 3. re-defining the role and title of our care team into social educators, meaning that education in its widest form is at the heart of what we do, and that all our students whether they are residential or daily attenders, receive the same opportunities.

He then asked me what I would have liked to have seen develop that hadn’t happened yet. By this stage an appraisal meeting was feeling more like a job interview! Again after a few moments thought, I answered: 1. extending our provision to allow girls as well as boys to take advantage of the Breckenbrough experience, 2. further development of occupational and other therapies, and 3. Extending our age range to allow younger primary children to have a safe and successful learning experience. These are things that hopefully Breckenbrough will aspire to in the coming years.

I have been very fortunate over the past 9 years to have worked with so many dedicated and talented staff, in all areas of the school. It would not be fair, or Quakerly, to mention individuals, but from the letters and emails I read from parents, I know that you share my appreciation. Breckenbrough would not be where it is without the continued hard work of all staff who frequently go beyond the extra mile.

You might be wondering what I am going to do in retirement. Some of you will know that it has been my dream for some time to live in France, and at the beginning of August we are moving there to try and make that dream a reality. As nice as this seems, I can’t imagine stopping working altogether, I’d be bored, so I am planning to continue my work with Ofsted and I am currently training to inspect special schools like Breckenbrough. I will also be joining a consultancy to provide schools with support and advice on a range of educational matters.

So there we have it! My years as Head have gone so quickly, perhaps time really does pass more quickly as you get older, 9 years in the blink of an eye! Yet when I think back on those 9 years I see the faces of students who have passed through our corridors and classrooms, and remember with great pride and fondness their time at Breckenbrough and the successes that they have achieved.

Geoff Brookes, Newly Retired Headmaster – August 2017