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Mary Hare principal Peter Gale set to retire

“It was everything I loved about teaching, but a lot more.”

Those were the words of Mary Hare School principal Peter Gale as he prepares to step down after eight years at the helm.

Mr Gale, who turns 61 on Monday, joined the school – the largest education facility for deaf children in the UK – from St Bart’s in 1996, starting as the head of sixth form and working his way up.

Peter Gale is retiring after eight years as principal and 26 years in total at Mary Hare
Peter Gale is retiring after eight years as principal and 26 years in total at Mary Hare

He will retire at the end of August, and already has Bruce Springsteen concerts lined up in Paris, Amsterdam and Vienna – although he says he’ll always be on the end of the phone if the school needs anything.

Over the years, he has seen the growth of the school while many other schools for deaf children have closed, and in September Mary Hare’s new primary school will open, bringing all the school’s activities onto its campus in Snelsmore Common.

So what is Mr Gale most proud of from his time at the school?

He said: “I’m very proud to have seen generations of deaf children leave here and go on to do amazing things.

“I met one of my first head boys yesterday – he’s now in his early 40s and is a very senior engineer running a huge chunk of HS2 with 200 people reporting indirectly to him.

“I’m proud of the students, particularly when they do things I wouldn’t have done at their ages.

Peter Gale joined the school in 1996.
Peter Gale joined the school in 1996.

“We’ve had pupils do six weeks in the Arctic with the British Exploring Society, and even the less exceptional things like learning to drive at 17 – this school empowers them to think beyond their deafness and think what they’re capable of.”

Mr Gale, who grew up in Newbury and attended St Bart’s, also singled out the school’s focus on mental health, saying he had appointed a well-being coordinator which was now being replicated across the sector.

He added he was “very proud” that Mary Hare had recognised “you have to put your energies not just into the curriculum but also the well-being of the young people in an ever more bewildering world”.

A drone shot of Mary Hare's building works for its new primary school
A drone shot of Mary Hare's building works for its new primary school

Mary Hare – a day and boarding school for children aged five to 19 – focuses on immersing children in English using improvements in technology as opposed to using British Sign Language, thus providing a bridge to literacy and helping them to be as independent as possible.

It is a non-maintained special school, meaning the local authority where children live pays the fees.

This means there is often a battle to get children into the school, as Mr Gale believes local authorities think they can manage the child’s education in a better or cheaper way.

Mr Gale said as well as pressures on finance, the prevailing ideology within local authorities was inclusion – with some going as far as to use barristers against families who pay them council tax.

He said he wants to see far more children given the opportunity to choose the school themselves, adding that many deaf children “can’t and do not thrive in mainstream settings”.

He continued: “If children could choose, we’d double overnight in size.

“My experience over and over again is deaf children need to be around other children like them to help them build a positive self-image, so my regret is that it’s still way too hard for families to place children here.”

He said a Government green paper currently out, which argues early intervention is key, will mean younger deaf children will be more easily able to come to the school “without having demonstrated failure in other schools before they get a chance to express that preference”.

The school’s vice principal Robin Askew is now set to take over, an internal appointment which Mr Gale said he’s delighted with.

He said: “It’s really important that somebody who is a teacher of the deaf and understands deaf education is the person sitting in this office, and I think he’ll take the school from strength to strength.”

Does Mr Gale have any words of wisdom?

“Keep finding time for the nice bits, keep talking to children and enjoying their company.

“Keep reminding yourself of why you’re ultimately here.”

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