Solefield's first ever female Head

Helen McClure, Headmistress

2nd October 2020

I am delighted to be Solefield's first female Head in 72 years. I have been lucky enough to teach at the school for 11 years, in a variety of roles and to all year groups and so have an excellent understanding of the importance and challenge of each of the contributing roles that make the school as successful as it is. Solefield is a special place and one of very few boys’ only prep schools to 13 in the south-east.

I hope my appointment will help pupils get used to seeing women in positions of leadership. Pupils need both male and female role models to prepare them for life. There are more and more women in leadership, although in senior schools, women made up 62 per cent of the workforce and still just 38 per cent of headteachers.

But what is important to me is not whether a school is led by a man or a woman; it is the ethos, the vision and the culture that matter.

School leaders establish and maintain the culture of the school and the staff play a huge part in modelling this to the children. At Solefield, pupils know that all the adults at the school care about and respect each of the pupils and their colleagues; it is therefore natural and easier for pupils to feel the same in turn about the staff and their peers. This sense of each member of our community being equally valued and treated fairly is important and underpins all that we do. We cherish the individuality of each child, face to face or in the tailor-made academic planning that we submit for each lesson. We are small enough as a school to really know our pupils. We encourage our boys to value others’ differences in the same way.

Boys tend to be relational learners. This means that boys are more likely to excel in a class where the teacher serves as a mentor in addition to an educator. Our small class sizes allow students and teachers to get to know each other very well. Teachers work in year group teams to spend lots of pastoral time with boys, in house teams and take them for games, clubs, residential and day trips as well as lessons. Older boys work closely with the younger ones and act as mentors for them too. This helps boys become more invested in their own learning experiences.

The ratio of male to female teaching staff at Solefield is almost 50:50, with boys working with male teachers for Art and Music, as well as many other subjects and with a mix of female and male administrators in the school office, helping them to manage their day-to-day school life and dealing with first aid incidents. This number of male staff is extremely unusual in an average primary school. It is unusual as well to have a female Head and Deputy Head in an all boys’ school. It is important for boys to understand that men can be interested in education, the arts, reading as well as for them to see women in leadership roles.

I love the fact that Solefield is a boys’ only school as boys are fun, funny, forgiving and full of energy. We pride ourselves on delivering an individualised education and high academic expectations with an innovative, forward-thinking approach.   We are a non-selective school and so our exam results at both 11 and 13 are particularly impressive. Our pupils average 368 against the 320 pass mark for the Kent Test 11+ and 70+% of our Year 8 boys gained As and A*s in their Common Entrance exams to senior school this summer. Every year, boys from Solefield gain scholarships to senior school in Year 6 and Year 8 with a record 50% of pupils gaining these in Year 8 in 2018 and 75% in 2019, including the Tonbridge School top academic award, the Ainslie Scholarship.

Innovation is taking the form of more outdoor learning with  our own specially designed Outdoor Learning classroom, a Lego Room for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Maths) activities and a pupil voice that is not only heard but genuinely helps to move the school forward. We currently have a focus on pupil and staff wellbeing as we work towards a national award for this with a sensory garden devised and funded by our pupils, three wellbeing hubs, counselling and a variety of ‘theraplay’ activities to keep our boys talking to adults and safe.

A golden rule runs through our school community; treat other people as you would like to be treated. Our pupils fully understand that this is what it is to be a “Solefield boy” and we are always very proud of the well-rounded, courteous, confident, thoroughly decent young men that move on from Solefield, ready for the next stage of their lives. Our pupils leave us with a “clear sense of right and wrong” and they “demonstrate an excellent understanding of the importance of being kind” (Independent Schools Inspectorate, December 2019).  As well as integrity, innovation, independence and a love of learning, they will also now leave with an inherent understanding that women are strong and effective leaders.

Helen McClure