10th February, 2023

Reflecting on the first month at Ampleforth College

Peter Roberts

My first half-term at Ampleforth College has been full of surprises - good ones! The warmth of welcome from all members of the Ampleforth community is overwhelming and the transformative effect of life here is quite clear. I understand now why prospective parents are so effusive about our pupils. 


I have spent much of my time getting to know the pupils, staff, and parents, which has been delightful. I’ve had lunch every day with pupils in the Refs, participated in assemblies, toured Houses, shadowed a Remove pupil for the day, been to a Schola rehearsal, enjoyed a variety of concerts, experienced pupil-led Deanery meetings, House masses, watched all sorts of matches, loved the tremendous spirit at the inter-House swimming and squash competitions, hosted twenty schools for Rugby 7s and Netball tournaments, relished weekly suppers with the Monitors (an illuminating insight into how they help the school run smoothly), experienced the joy and revelry of two House Punches, St Aidan’s and St Thomas’, felt inspired by a Headmaster’s Lecture from OA Louis Hall (EW14) who sets off on monumental treks on a horse, with no plans other than a destination, greeted lots of prospective families to an Open Day, and spent a happy afternoon in the valley with the Shoot and my dogs, followed by a hearty tea. I also hosted the Catholic Independent Schools Conference in Harrogate, meeting and sharing ideas with other Heads.


I have been struck by the support, loyalty, and contribution of the parents, particularly when so many visit at weekends to watch matches and for Mass. I have felt inspired by the beauty of Schola Mass on Friday evening, and by the participation of all the students in Sunday Mass, not just the servers, readers, ushers and Schola, but the whole congregation. This is not something I have witnessed in other schools and it is uplifting. Ampleforth pupils clearly love singing and are well-trained thanks to Fr Alexander’s pre-Mass singing practice! 


I have seen for myself how the quality of teaching here is enhanced by my colleagues’ great knowledge of every pupil. I have seen how the pupils look out for each other and also the warmth of their relationships with staff. It was touching to see how the boys of St Dunstan’s and St Oswald’s so clearly treasure their chaplain, Fr Henry, for example. Fr Ambrose, in a recent homily, preached about gratitude and how people really participate when they are grateful. I have seen this in action, how pupils here feel valued for who they are and therefore want to contribute to the communal effort. 


Of course no school is perfect or can afford to stand still and there is always work to do. This half term has helped me assess where there is excellence and where more could be done to strengthen and enhance our offer. I look forward to working with my team and the Governors during the second half to ensure that as well as getting things right day-to-day, se ambitious long-term goals and have plans in place to achieve them. Equally, I shall continue to value feedback from pupils, parents, and other stakeholders on how our school should develop.


Over the past two weeks I have been visiting the top prep schools across the UK re-connecting with our feeder schools. It hasn’t been possible for Ampleforth to get out and talk to this many people face to face since 2020, but personal engagement is hugely important and I want to get the message out that we are back, and ironically thanks to our recent experiences, even stronger than before. Following the successful Ofsted Inspection last November where all standards were met and no further action required, Ampleforth has every reason to look ahead with confidence. The response has been very positive. I have learnt that other schools greatly respect Ampleforth for our holistic education, our scholastic and independent-minded approach, and for our grounded and compassionate pupils who have wide horizons and know they have something to contribute to the world. Every Head seems to have a story demonstrating OAs out there doing good.


There has been a general shift to more local and flexible boarding but the benefits of full boarding at a destination school, one where people travel to from across the UK and abroad because of its unique offer, appeals to discerning parents who want a holistic education which enables their children to thrive in all aspects of life. We live in a largely commoditised world, and sadly this is too often reflected in prioritising top exam results over the all-rounded development and wellbeing of children. Whilst working extremely hard to support our pupils to fulfil their academic potential, we offer an antidote to this rather transactional approach. The appeal of developing a compass for life, while living in a very happy community with a self-contained social life that allows children to remain children for longer, remains a strong magnet for families who would like education to be a more profound and meaningful experience. 


During this UK-wide tour stretching from Dorset to Suffolk to Scotland, kind parents have generously invited us to stay and hosted drinks parties for prospective families. There are still more to run after half-term so if you know anyone whose children would benefit from an Ampleforth education, please contact Jayne.Potter@ampleforth.org.uk for details. The London drinks in January, kindly hosted by the Ghikas, was overbooked so we will run another one in the capital in the spring.