Andrew De Silva will be joining The Oratory Prep School in Goring Heath as Head from September 2022
Can you offer us a potted history of The Oratory Prep School?
Upon entering the grounds and seeing the historic buildings, one may assume that the school has been on the site for a considerable period of time. In reality, the school has been housed in various locations since its opening on 2 May 1859: Caversham Park, Emmer Green, Downside during the War and Branksome Park. The school has enjoyed its current home since 1968 when it moved to Crays Pond.
It would be all too easy to look at The Oratory Prep School (OPS) through the lens of a frequently moving entity. Whilst for teaching and learning, it rightly is, but the school thoroughly enjoys its site, its history and its educational perspective – no matter which buildings supported the journey.
There is a fourth (and arguably the most important) element enjoyed by the school, and one which is deeply rooted in its sense of purpose, drive and ambition. The OPS was founded by Saint John Henry Newman and we are all proud of our Catholic nature and the way this has enabled such smooth transitions through the school’s history.
Today, what does the school offer?
Put simply: perspective, ambition and curiosity. The school’s motto, and that of our founder, is Cor Ad Cor Loquitur – ‘Heart speaks to Heart’. Through this, we are able to offer our pupils high academic expectations through a literature rich curriculum focusing on transferable skills to enable our children to thrive – not just in their next schools, but beyond. Gone are the assumptions that Preparatory Schools are purely transitional educational establishments. At The OPS, we educate children from 2 to 13; we therefore have a significant responsibility to ensure that they are happy, nurtured, confident and inquisitive during their 11 years at our school. As one would expect, if these virtues are embedded, academic standards will thrive – and of course they do at OPS.
Why were you keen on taking over the role as headteacher?
As educationalists, we all thoroughly love the schools we are in and this is certainly the case for my current school, which has so much to offer its pupils, including being the Choir School for the boy Choristers at Canterbury Cathedral. Faith, worship and choral music are very important to me (particularly as a former Cathedral Chorister and, more recently, a Lay Clerk at Winchester Cathedral), so what is it then that makes me want to be the head at The Oratory Prep School?
There are many reasons for this, but the pull of a great school can excite the very best educators. Now I certainly don’t rate myself as one of those, as I am still proud of the privilege to learn, but there are three main reasons which called me to the school.
First, the people. The fact that the school educates its pupils through the lens of humanity really does resonate with my personal Christian faith (as the son of an Anglican Priest) and belief as an educator. The Catholic nature of the school means that we are proud to challenge each other and the world around us, and from an educational perspective this really supports my vision that schools should prepare children to be life-long learners and to think about learning beyond the school context. I have been thoroughly welcomed into the family at OPS and it has been a delight to meet parents, staff and pupils – who have all been very friendly.
Second, the journey. Whilst the school has a fantastic reputation, enviable facilities and resources and the most glorious site, I believe there is always more that can be achieved to ensure that children thrive educationally. The ambition of the school is to become the market leader – and for me, this is central; however, whilst it is good to have a goal and a destination, I am focused on enjoying the journey. If we collectively do that, then our destination is a given. That being said, I don’t think we will ever reach our shared destination. I know this sounds contentious, but I believe that our destination will keep evolving – so too will our practice as educationalists, parents and children.
Third, the group. As a teacher, leader and educationalist, networking is incredibly important. I am proud to be joining The Bellevue family as it encourages schools to network. As a previous state-maintained head of a large 5-form entry school, my setting thrived on sharing best practice and collaborative work. This can sometimes be different in the independent sector – due to the very nature of the business side of private education with local schools. Therefore, I am delighted to continue to develop the OPS with the help of my colleagues at Bellevue and to continue to work with schools nationally as part of IAPS (Independent Association of Prep Schools).
How would you sum up your teaching approach?
From the child’s perspective. I believe in the saying: How can you say ‘the sky’s the limit’ when there are footsteps on the moon?
This is key to my educational (and therefore teaching) approach. I will not put a limit on what a child can achieve, and it is up to my educators to ensure that their lessons meet the needs of all the children in our care, so that they can go significantly beyond the sky.
I have a specific vision (based on various educationalists) as to how children learn best, but for me it fundamentally comes down to:
- Positive relationships;
- Quality planning which varies the learning to meet the needs of all;
- Well-thought task design which excites learning and is relevant;
- Continual assessment to ensure that children are praised and challenged with robust next steps to support learning.
What are the key challenges facing the younger generation in the 21st century and how do you address them?
There are so many potential challenges for our pupils, but there are equal amounts of opportunities to minimise the impact of these on our children. To contextualise, we find ourselves in a world where there are different types of role models on offer for our children to follow. As parents and teachers, we try to navigate the behaviours our children see on an increasingly daily basis. Views of parents, celebrities and even world leaders can cloud a child’s sense of perspective. Therefore, I look forward to having open and robust conversations with all stakeholders involved in the education of our children at OPS, so that we, collectively, can role model the very best behaviours. As schools we have to look for opportunities to educate our children to think critically about what they hear – hence the fundamental importance of an inspiring, child-centred and relevant curriculum which prepares our children for the world of tomorrow, not of yesterday.
Outside of the classroom, what kind of opportunities does The Oratory Prep School offer?
In addition to excellent classroom teaching and learning, the facilities, networks and expertise afforded to our pupils enables them to have an extensive range of co-curricular provision – ranging from Public Speaking, Science Club, Lego Club and Mandarin. For pupils in Senior Prep (Years 5-8), a Saturday Enrichment Programme is offered and this helps to further develop skills in leadership, collaboration and critical thinking.
Like many of our counterparts, we provide our children with a wide variety of extra opportunities, including a competitive schedule of sport fixtures throughout the academic year and a vast array of activities for children to showcase their talents, including a recent performance in the O2!
What kind of boarding experience would we find?
Not one which believes in being just a home from home. We are proud to be able to offer boarding from Year 3 and above and to provide our ‘family’ with an enjoyable and enriching experience. Children have the option of full-time, weekly, or flexible boarding to suit each family’s individual needs and we also offer short-term placements for international students from countries such as France and Spain.
During weekends, pupils make the most of our extensive facilities including our sports hall, swimming pool and 65 acres of outdoor space. Trips and activities are also offered including cinema trips, shopping, and cultural trips to Oxford and Windsor (to name a few).
What are you looking forward to most when you take over?
Too many to mention! Whether trips, concerts, plays, lessons, clubs, boarding, Chapel – there are certainly many aspects that I am looking forward to. The school already provides its children with wonderful learning opportunities and I certainly do want to experience these, so that we can ensure that we provide all our children with exceptional learning experiences.
I am tremendously excited to meet with parents and with the wider community, including other heads. Much like my belief in teaching, relationships are critical – and I look forward to forming these with all those involved in the school. I have already had the privilege to spend a few days in school before the summer holidays, and I have learnt such a lot from all involved at OPS and I look forward to continuing to learn when I start as head in September.