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Reigate St Mary’s – Meet the Head

Marcus Culverwell

I guess you could say I am a local lad as I grew up just 8 miles away in Warlingham. I was educated in Caterham and, apart from university, I have always lived in Surrey, moving to the Reigate area 25 years ago.  It is a great place to live with a lovely sense of community and London just 30 minutes away by train. The beautiful countryside of the North Downs is right on our doorstep providing ample opportunities to get out and about as well as providing walkers with a wonderful sense of well-being.

As a boy, Physics was my favourite subject and I loved all things mechanical and went on to study Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at university. However, the country was entering a recession when I graduated and there were very few jobs in engineering, so I decided to train to teach engineering instead.  As there were so few courses taking on lecturers, I ended up teaching science in schools and this is where I stayed.  I became Head of Science in my 20’s and spent several years in the role of Director of Studies.  I then had two Deputy Headships before becoming Headmaster at Reigate St Mary’s Preparatory and Choir School 16 years ago.

In my 16 years as Head the school has completely changed.  When I joined we were a school for boys aged 4 – 13 and followed the traditional Common Entrance syllabus.  In 2003 we became the junior school of Reigate Grammar and are now a co-educational day school for children up to 11 years old with a vibrant and exciting curriculum and nearly double the number of pupils.

When I am asked about what is special at Reigate St Mary’s I tend to talk about the high staff to pupil ratios allowing for true individualised learning and targeted support.  I talk about the high level of IT integration as we have invested heavily in this area because it is so important for children to be prepared for the future and not for the past.  As a Choir School music is of a very high standard and some of our choristers are capable of singing 8-part harmonies in Latin by the age of 10.

But what I truly believe is at the heart of any great organisation or community is good relationships.  That means peer on peer relationships, pupil and staff relationships and staff and parent relationships.  In this way it is a true partnerships.  Getting relationships right is so important because happy and emotionally secure children are able to become the best versions of themselves.  When children are distracted with worries about fitting in, about whether they have met the grade or about whether their teacher likes them or not they will never reach their full potential.  Placing our highest values on good relationships is at the heart of our thriving school.

Something else quite unique about Reigate St Mary’s is our focus on what is called ESR (Education for Social Responsibility).  The world is finally waking up to the importance of tackling issues such as climate change and resource depletion. Helping children to understand this from an early age is of vital importance. They need to know that they have to play their part, not just now but in the years to come, to protect our planet so that it can continue to protect us.

One of my roles has been to spearhead ESR education within the independent school sector and I am the ESR Lead for the IAPS group of schools which represents 660 schools across the country.  A scheme of work has been devised which looks at climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity, ethical trade and eco-systems. We live on a finite planet and this fact should underpin the way in which we run global economies. They need to know what it means to have a fantastic and fulfilled life on a safe planet and this is much more important than getting good grades.

So, when I am asked that question “What do you hope for the children at your school when they leave?” the most important thing to me is that they are young citizens who will give back more to society than they will take and that they will be people who care about others both in their local and their global community as much as they care for themselves.  They are privileged young people and the truth is that with privilege comes power, and with power comes responsibility.  My hope is that they will take that responsibility seriously to make the world more equitable and a better place to live.

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