Even given its impressive history dating back to the reign of Henry VIII, it has arguably never been as important for Malton School to maintain its motto—“Unitate Fortiores” (“Stronger for Being One”)—as it has been over the past fifteen months. I talk to Rob Williams, headteacher, about the effect of the pandemic on school life, and also about several initiatives that he has championed during his fifteen year stint at the school.
After teaching appointments in Durham, York, and Leeds, Rob Williams became the new headteacher at Malton School in 2006. Although unaccustomed at first to the peculiarities and workings of a small, rural secondary school, he was taken—almost immediately—by the relationship that he found to exist between the school and the community at large; and he sought further opportunities thereafter to grow, develop, and enhance this connection.
Asked about his sentiments towards being headteacher at Malton School during the early days of his appointment, he said: “Malton School is treasured by the local community, and I wanted to find opportunities to strengthen this bond. I felt that [being headteacher at the school] was more than simply another job: it was really a vocation.”
Rob finds, also, that being headteacher—assuming the duties that it entails and so on—is like being the “captain of a ship.” By this he means to allude to his view that schools should aim to provide a “wraparound education”, where the support students receive is academic, social, and behavioural, not just of the former kind alone—where the school nurtures their personal development rather than just ordering them to “raise the sails”, as it were. He said: “I enjoy being at the heart of things, setting a good culture and ethos. I felt that the wraparound education I saw when I was growing up was being lost in schools, and I believe that students need clarity, consistency, and a safe environment.”
Along this vein, Malton School, under Rob’s directive, does not just run extra-curricular activities in the form of after-school clubs; it works personal development into school hours through and through, and students even enjoy an extended day on Thursdays when they have an extra hour to pursue a range of activities, such as music and sport. “I don’t know of any other state school that has made this happen for all of their students,” Rob said.
In November 2020, in view of the transformation he’s brought about at Malton School, Rob Williams was named as one of the nation’s most inspirational headteachers, winning the prestigious Pearson National Teaching Award for Secondary Headteacher of the Year. He was presented with the award on The One Show on BBC One. On receiving the award, he said: “The most important thing was that I had been nominated by staff and parents, and that means more to me than anything else. The award is a tribute to our staff team and the students.”
The iPad for Learning Scheme
The iPad for Learning Scheme involves the roll-out of 1:1 iPads across all years at the school. In 2013, the scheme was introduced to enhance teaching and learning primarily in a classroom setting—to enable teachers to create engaging, varied lessons by utilising the devices, and to facilitate greater collaboration between students.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the scheme has been instrumental. “Our iPad Scheme meant that on the first day of lockdown, our students were able to log onto the system at 8:45 am and get on with their learning,” Rob informed us. And he added, “This enabled our teaching staff to continue to do the teaching, so that the parents role was to support their child’s engagement with learning—which is what it always has been and should be.” Indeed, such was the success of Malton School’s switch to remote learning at the start of lockdown that it was praised as an exemplar in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State for Education, Mr Gavin Williamson.
About the scheme in general, Rob said: “Technology is going to become more important and I have always been keen to ensure our students are using the best. Students have recently been using Apple pencils and keyboards, and teachers can leave voice-notes as feedback on essays; and this makes learning much easier for both students and staff.”
Head-teaching responsibilities to one side, Rob Williams counts, among his proudest achievements, coaching the Malton School Debating Team.
Reaching the national finals of the English Speaking Union Schools’ Mace Competition in Easter this year, the team (comprising Year 11 students Lydia Unsworth, Laura Mackay, and Iona Spence) was one of the highest-achieving state schools in the competition and was pitted against some of the most prestigious schools in the country (including Harrow and Brighton College). The “Mace” was won by Wellington College, but the team “performed to a very high level.”
Rob said: “I was very proud of them—not least because we have been building towards this for several years with increasingly strong performances. The students are all determined to carry on into sixth form with the ambition of winning a national title.”