Governors pay tribute to retiring Saffron Walden County High headteacher

Saffron Walden County High School headteacher John Hartley, who is retiring at the end of the curren

Saffron Walden County High School headteacher John Hartley, who is retiring at the end of the current term - Credit: Archant

Staff, governors and students at Saffron Walden County High School will wave goodbye to their headteacher at the end of the current term.

John Hartley, 60, will retire on Friday, December 18 after 12 years in the role at the Audley End Road School, and the headteacher will also step down from his position as chief executive of the Saffron Academy Trust.

Mr Hartley, who studied engineering at Cambridge University, began his teaching career 38 years ago as a physics teacher at Aylesbury Grammar School, after quickly realising that teaching was the direction he should take.

He said: “The one thing I learned when studying engineering is that I wasn’t going to be successful at it. I found I was pretty useless at some of the practical stuff. The bridges I was going to build stood a very good chance of falling down and the motorways would not have ended up straight.

“While I was at Cambridge, I got involved with a charity called Childrens Relief International, which eventually merged with Save the Children, and they ran summer camps for children from deprived backgrounds in inner city areas. It was there that I realised how powerful committed adults can be on the lives of children. So through that experience, and when I was looking for an alternative career to engineering, teaching seemed like the obvious choice.”

From Aylesbury, Mr Hartley spent time at comprehensive schools in Crawley and Swindon, before arriving in Essex in 1991 to become deputy head at Moulsham High School in Chelmsford.

His first headteaching appointment came at Notley High School, in Braintree, in 1998 and after six years, he took on the role at County High, replacing David Boatman, who had held the post for 18 years.

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Despite seeing many developments through his time in education, Mr Hartley says he does not believe the basic principles of what makes a good school have changed.

He said: “What makes a good school is broadly the same as it was 38 years ago and that is great teaching in the classroom. Obviously there have been changes in technology and with what we know about how children learn, but putting an emphasis on quality teaching is something that we have always placed at the top of the agenda at County High.”

The school, which was ranked as the third best comprehensive in the country in a Sunday Times list last month, also boasts the award-winning performance venue Saffron Hall in its grounds, something which Mr Hartley is very proud of.

He said: “The building process took two years to complete and was particurlarly disruptive for staff and students, but what we got at the end of that process is arguably the best school concert hall in the country. Because of the acoustics in the building, we now have professional artists coming to us asking if they can use the hall to record their live CDs. We have had some fantastic concerts in the hall.”

Mr Hartley said he will miss the hands-on role of headteaching as well as the students.

He said: “I will miss being the leader of the school and also being a member of what is a great community of people at County High. We have strived to create a great ethos here, with interesting teaching as well as interesting things to do outside of the classroom. I think if you stopped and asked the students if they like coming to this school, I think nearly all of them would say ‘yes’. I will certainly miss that.”

Mark Hayes, chair of Saffron Academy Trust, said: “John’s great gift is that he understands what makes for excellent teaching and learning and how you run a school to bring out the best in every student.

“It has been a privilege to work with him. Through Saffron Academy Trust John has laid the foundations of a highly successful family of schools that will ensure students at other schools also benefit from an excellent education.”

Barbara Calland, chair of County High’s local governing body, said: “On behalf of the governing body, I would like to pass on my sincere thanks to John for the exceptional leadership skills he has shown throughout his time at County High.

“His determination to ensure the very best outcomes for all students, and his ongoing commitment to the state education system, are obvious in everything he does. We are privileged indeed to have worked with such an outstanding headteacher.”

Mr Hartley will continue to work as a mentor, and as a resource for other schools within the Saffron Academy Trust two to three days a week in term time, but he said he is looking forward to spending more time with his family, reading, travelling and playing golf.

He said: “Golf is a horrible cliche I suppose, but I am looking forward to taking my life at a more leisurely pace. But I do wish everyone at County High, particularly the students, every success in the future.”

Caroline Derbyshire, County High’s first female headteacher, will succeed Mr Hartley from January.