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Can private schools ever be fully diverse?

Karl Guest, the good-humoured head of Alton School in Hampshire talks inclusivity, inspirational teachers and his DJing sideline (not even kidding!)

Karl Guest Headmaster Alton School

Inclusivity in education – discuss!

I think there’s a tendency for independent schools to subconsciously perpetuate an image of education that doesn’t feel very inclusive. That might be grand sweeping driveways, wood-panelled headteachers offices, or the stereotypical private school images you see in school prospectuses. My own office is intentionally functional. That can be disappointing for some parents -but I’m happy with the space! The focus at Alton School is on education, care and community.

Alton School Head Karl Guest children at school

What have you done that’s had the biggest impact?

Just having a headteacher from an ethnic minority background increases the diversity of teaching candidates coming forward for jobs and families showing an interest in the school. It’s diversity in all its forms that is so important. It’s usual for me to lead assemblies on all areas of diversity including Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ as well as celebrating our national days. From a pastoral perspective, I’m a strong believer in open dialogue.

Alton School Sixth Formers with Headteacher Karl Guest

Does being a faith school act as a barrier to some staff and pupils?

We accept pupils of all faiths and none. We are inclusive but it’s true that being a Catholic school does essentially put a label on us – which I accept may be off-putting for some. My belief is that every faith school needs to recognise that faith is a journey and that the influence of the school can affect the student’s spiritual and educational outcome. Excluding a student because of no faith closes the door on an opportunity to share what we believe.

Who was your most inspiring teacher?

There are teachers on both sides of my family who were role models to me. My Uncle was my biggest inspiration. He was a religious Brother and was very contemplative. He really inspired the pastoral focus I have taken in my career. He also gave me the best piece of advice I have ever had, which was to remember that gentleness isn’t weakness.

Karl Guest Alton High School Headmaster

What don’t your pupils know about you?

I’m pretty open, especially about my football allegiances – probably too much so if you ask my colleagues… But one thing they and my pupils probably don’t know (and will now!) is that I paid for my own wedding DJing House music sets at gigs and parties and for our local Hospital radio station.

Have you ever told a child off for misbehaving, but chuckled about it later?

All the time! There were plenty of minor incidents working as a teacher where I had to keep a straight face to maintain discipline or the whole thing would descend into anarchy. But I’d be smiling inwardly at some of what went on. Just the other day here at Alton, I caught a group of boys leaning out of the window trying to catch hailstones in their mouths. I immediately asked them what they were playing at and told them to get back to what they should be doing. But of course, I saw the funny side of it really.

Karl Guest is speaking at the virtual Diversity in Education and Career Development Conference, 7 – 12 June 2021. Find out more about Alton School in our Muddy Best Schools Guide.

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