Behind the scenes at Ackworth School in West Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 September 2017
Why resilience, respect and responsibility are just as important as the other three Rs at Ackworth School
While many schools are content to teach their pupils all the answers, Ackworth sends its students out into the world full of questions.
‘I want them to leave our school ready to question and enquire,’ said head Anton Maree, ‘and to play a part in making a discernible difference where they can. It’s noble to think you can change the world, but more realistic to change a small part of it.’
Located in a beautiful rural setting near Nostell Priory in West Yorkshire, Ackworth offers a broad range of educational opportunities from nursery age to sixth form, and for day pupils and boarders alike. It’s perhaps not as well-known as some of the county’s larger independent schools, but it’s been raising its profile by reaching out to its local community.
‘The potential was always there – the buildings, stunning location and the facilities – but the strategy to expand on the excellent educational experience offered has developed as a result of our desire to make the school more visible,’ said Anton. ‘It started by simply knocking on the door of the state primary school closest to Ackworth and asking what we could do to help.’
The school now works with ten local schools and, as Table Tennis England’s National Talent Academy, it makes the sport accessible for thousands of West Yorkshire children by training their teachers and providing equipment.
It should come as no surprise then that the school motto is ‘Non Sibi Sed Omnibus’ (not for ourselves but for everyone), something that reflects Ackworth’s strong Quaker ethos.
It was founded in 1779 to educate children ‘not in affluence’ and, while much has changed since then, the same Quaker values still underpin everyday school life. There is still an emphasis on silent reflection, on looking for ‘that of God’ in everyone, on offering a friendly, encouraging welcome, on catering for the needs of the individual and on promoting peace.
The majority of pupils are from non-Quaker families and about ten per cent of the school population is made up of children from other countries. This gives Ackworth – and its sixth form in particular – a diverse, international atmosphere, which only adds to its welcoming worldview.
First class teaching is, of course, also key to the school’s success. It aims to provide a broad, balanced curriculum that gives every pupil the chance to shine, whether their talents lay in academic subjects, the arts, sport or more practical fields.
There’s a packed extra-curricular schedule offering pupils all manner of sports, from football, hockey and tennis to squash, fencing and swimming, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, debating, choirs, orchestras, dance, drama and, for children with more specialist pastimes, silversmithing, model railway club and cyber club.
‘Our pupils find their voices very quickly because of the high level of pastoral care and the excellent rapport they establish with their teachers,’ said Anton. ‘Small class sizes also contribute to this, and even the most retiring pupils soon achieve high levels of confidence.
‘A heavy hand is not needed here, so teachers and pupils can focus on learning. Many of our students enter caring professions as a consequence.’
Ackworth has been a co-educational, boarding and day school for more than 230 years. It’s proud of its traditions and family values, but retains a dynamism that propels it towards innovation and prepares its students for life in the modern world.
‘We strive to develop resilient individuals who not only think creatively, but also act ethically and with responsibility,’ said Anton. ‘We encourage our students to express themselves with confidence and to embody the Quaker value of speaking respectfully to others, but also in a way that’s true to themselves and their beliefs.’
He obviously has a strong belief in the advantages offered by co-ed boarding schools and the benefits of developing a deep-rooted sense of social, moral and environmental responsibility. Born and educated in South Africa, where he qualified as a teacher before spending an obligatory two years in the South African Defence Force, Anton began his teaching career at Sandringham High School, a large co-ed day school in Johannesburg, before moving to King William’s College on the Isle of Man and Rossall School in Lancashire. But what finally drew him to Ackworth?
‘I wanted a school where I could just be myself – energetic and enthusiastic, caring, considerate and wanting to make a difference,’ he explained. ‘Most of all, however, I wanted to work in Yorkshire. I like the people; they’re straight-talking and what you see is what you get. And they know a bit about sport.’
For more details about Ackworth School, call 01977 611401 or visit ackworthschool.com.