Interview with Paul Dick, former school ‘superhead’ in West Berkshire

From ‘superhead’ of several West Berkshire schools to Chairman of the Reading YMCA, Paul Dick is a well-known figure in our local area. After being a pupil at Kennet Academy under his supervision, Penny Post contributor Liam Heisig wanted to find out what Mr Dick is doing now he has left education. For a change, Liam was the one asking the questions…

How would you describe your experience as “superhead” with Kennet Academy?

I was the head of Kennet School from 1989, at that time a stand-alone school of 1000 children. We worked hard together and quickly Kennet became the school of choice throughout Thatcham and in East Newbury. When the government allowed good schools to become academies, I quickly moved to secure that freedom and extra funding for Kennet, confident that we could use the extra resources to raise standards further. I am a firm believer that schools are for children! They come first.

I was then invited by the local authority to take control of a number of other schools, schools which were performing badly. These were in the main primary schools. As before, children and their futures were my sole focus, and I was able to recruit senior staff and outstanding teachers who shared that vision. There were many challenges along the way but every day was a great day, although it was also clear that we could improve further however successful we were. The press applied the term “ superhead”, not I.

Would you consider that a similar experience to your time with Trinity School? 

It was an honour to be invited by the local authority to lead Trinity when it had significant challenges. Again, there was a great deal of hard work but I was fortunate in the staff who were very dedicated to the school and I would compliment the children too, young people who had significant talents and abilities. It was a privilege to help young people realise their potential and grow in confidence. In many ways it was a similar journey to Kennet, but faster.

Furthermore, what were your priorities to maintain an excellent standard between both schools? 

It was indeed difficult to secure and maintain high standards in two quite different schools, at the same time. I learned a great deal in this period; installing sensible and ambitious routines and structures in both schools was key. Equally, I needed to delegate and trust the senior staff around me in both schools, and delegation is not my strength! I was also conscious of the fact that I had to ensure that both sets of governors and both sets of parents were content with my personal involvement.

What would you say is your favourite memory attached to these academies? 

The most memorable aspect of my work in both academies was the look on the faces of individual pupils when personal and academic achievements were realised, particularly when the individual had been underconfident. Seeing staff grow in effectiveness was also extremely rewarding.

What is your take on the gap between state and private schools widening over the lockdown period?

My observations about how schools performed during the lockdown period are personal ones and something from a distance.  I have to say that I am dismayed by the way in which private schools were more effective in supporting children in distance learning. This is a generalisation, though. Equally, I have to say that the two secondary schools I had lead were better than most in this regard.

How would you explain what it means to be a magistrate and why is it important to you? 

I have had the privilege of being a magistrate since 1994. Originally I sat on the bench in Newbury but now I am a presiding justice in Reading. This means chairing the court, ensuring that the business is conducted smoothly, promptly and fairly. It also means guiding my colleague magistrates to appropriate decisions. Our maximum powers are up to one year in custody but most cases involve fines or community penalties.

The work is difficult and can be distressing but it’s a service to the community in which I take pride. While the role of a magistrate is to uphold the law, skilful and carefully targeted decisions can prevent crime and help individuals lead better, more fulfilling and happier lives. I would encourage every good citizen to consider offering themselves to the magistracy.

How do these responsibilities affect your current role as chairman of the Reading YMCA and Y-Build and do you see yourself working closely with any similar organisations?

Since I retired as the CEO of the Kennet School Academies Trust, I have continued to serve in a number of other roles including becoming the chairman of the YMCA in Reading. Again, my motivation here is to try and ensure that every young person has the opportunity to fulfil his or her potential. YMCA is an excellent organisation that achieves great things for young people who are in need of specialist support. I have become a trustee of a number of other charities, mostly involved in assisting young people and/or in sport, important things to me.

Thank you for your answers and comments thus far. What would your advice be to someone who is aspiring to your achievements?  

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to offer some advice to young adults who may be interested in following a career similar to mine. Please please please fill the forms in immediately, and prepare yourself for some extremely hard work, for a number of disappointments and setbacks, but also for the opportunity to change young peoples lives and so to enrich our current and future society. What could be more important? Trust in your own abilities.

Pretend you’re being asked by James Martin on Saturday Kitchen Live, what is your food heaven and food hell? 

You ask about food and food heaven and hell?! When I worked full-time, food was something I needed to keep going, but now I have a little more time to savour and reflect. My favourite food is anything middle eastern, but I would also want to mention school dinners! Food hell? Easy – vegetables boiled to a pulp! 

I couldn’t agree more.

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Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale