New St Albans headmaster is inspired by Stephen Hawking

New headmaster of St Albans School Jonathan Gillespie

New headmaster of St Albans School Jonathan Gillespie - Credit: Archant

As far as an introduction to a new headship goes, it cannot get much better than meeting the man regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein.

And meeting the legendary – and one of St Albans’ famous sons – Stephen Hawking has clearly made its mark on Jonathan Gillespie.

The new headmaster of the historic and independent St Albans School, located at Abbey Gateway, spoke to the Herts Advertiser about his first term and meeting Professor Hawking at the launch of an appeal.

The world-famous physicist and author of A Brief History of Time joined fellow former alumni from St Albans School at the event, hosted at the Science Museum, to back an appeal to raise millions of pounds for building improvements at his former school.

Mr Gillespie said: “It was remarkable meeting Stephen Hawking. One of the things he said was that the only mathematics he has ever been taught was when he was a student here.

“Everything else after that was in effect self-taught, which is amazing.”

The headmaster said that a “key attraction” which prompted him to join St Albans School was its reputation, reflected in the success of so many former students such as Prof Hawking.

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Mr Gillespie, who was headmaster at Lancing College in West Sussex for seven years, has left a school which was only founded in the mid-19th century; a far cry from St Albans School which boasts a history dating back to 948.

In Tatler’s 2014 School Guide, Mr Gillespie is cheekily described as looking like Martin Clunes’ younger brother.

But in his new role in Hertfordshire, Mr Gillespie could not care less about his celebrity double as he is relishing the challenge of improving St Albans School further – despite it already being one of the UK’s leading day schools.

He explains that he has taken heed of Team Sky principal Sir David Brailsford’s philosophy of advancement through “marginal gains”.

During his former career as British Cycling performance director and the man behind Team GB’s Olympic success, Sir David’s belief was that if you break down everything, for example what goes into riding a bike, and improve it by one per cent you get a significant increase when you put those components together.

Mr Gillespie said: “Good institutions to a certain degree run themselves on a day-to-day basis, and my job as head is more strategic. I am a believer in Sir David’s philosophy in not changing things 100 per cent, but identifying where you can do things better.”

He added: “In terms of what this school currently does well, and must continue to do well – academic excellence is absolutely central.

“But that is about more than just getting grades on a piece of paper. We want to ensure our pupils are equipped to stand on their own two feet when they go to university.

“To lead a happy and successful adult life, particularly to have integrity and be self-motivated, and have a good work/life balance is central to what I see as a good education.”