New head for Roundwood Park School, Harpenden

WHAT do you do when you take over a school which is graded outstanding and always over-subscribed – aim to make it even better of course.

That is the goal Alan Henshall will be striving for when he takes over as head of Roundwood Park School in Harpenden in September, succeeding Nick Daymond who is going to Parmiter’s in Garston.

For Alan, 43, who comes to Roundwood Park from Simon Balle School in Hertford where he is deputy head, taking over a school ranked outstanding by Ofsted is the pinnacle of his achievement to date.

But he is not planning to just sit back and bask in the glory of leading such a successful school – he sees plenty of challenges ahead which could make it even better.

Already on the horizon is the prospect of pursuing trust status in partnership with Sir John Lawes School in Harpenden which has also been graded outstanding by Ofsted.

Between the two schools they have five specialities – media, science, training, maths and computing and languages – and becoming a trust would give them a far closer working relationship without losing each school’s individuality. The new collaboration, if it is approved, will also take in the University of Herts, Rothamsted Research and a Harpenden technology firm with the accompanying benefits from those links.

The two schools would still work closely with the third Harpenden secondary school, the voluntary aided St George’s, and Alan sees trust status as being of huge benefit to everyone .

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He said: “It will cement a partnership with another outstanding school and that is where I see it going.”

Then there is the brand-new sports hall, work on which is due to start before the summer break. A long time coming, it will be for community use as well and will be built partly at the back of the school and partly on the car park.

Modern and stylish in design, Alan believes it will be a huge bonus to the school. He said: “At the moment the gym is okay but not brilliant. A school of this calibre really needs this and it will take us into the future.”

He is anxious to see Roundwood continue to recruit the best staff but is full of praise for those he has inherited.

“Roundwood is a fantastic, outstanding school with a really dynamic feel about the place and the staff are wonderful, warm, friendly and welcoming. The standard of teaching is really high and I couldn’t speak more highly of my two deputies and how well they seem to be on top of their jobs.”

Although his background is with a number of highly-rated schools – he was at Verulam for four years and was subsequently head of English at Beaumont – he has recently returned from a trip to Pretoria in South Africa as part of the International Leadership Learning Programme.

It proved to be what he describes as, “a humbling and uplifting experience” as he visited both the top schools and those in the townships where classes can be as large as 70 children.

But he was delighted to see the high value put by even the poorest child on learning and how, even though there is 40 per cent unemployment in South Africa, education is seen as the gateway to the future.

He believes that despite the stark contrast between the poverty of much of Pretoria and affluent Harpenden, there are lessons to learn from the South African situation. “I saw how people are coping with apartheid, poverty and the changes which have come about since 1994 in South Africa.

“Here it is about coping with change and the management of resources and how people move from one thing to another.”

A father of two, Alan and his wife live in Bedfordshire and while he admits to a burning ambition over the past two years to get a headship, his career prior to that was always about looking for the next challenge in life. He knows his new job will be demanding but believes he can maintain that vital work/life balance.

He added: “What people tell me is that the hours are not necessarily longer but you carry it with you all the time. That is the ultimate accountability.”