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Interview with outgoing and incoming heads of St Barts

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A new era looms for St Bartholomew's School in Newbury.

It’s out with the old, and in with the new at the top, as Julia Mortimore hangs up her chalk stick and passes the baton to her heir apparent.

“I’ll miss it,” she said. “But there is always a right time to move on. I’ve been a head for 20 years and achieved my goal of getting an Ofsted Outstanding rating, of which I am very proud. Now is the time to give myself flexibility in my life.”

David Fitter and Julia Mortimore (57971411)
David Fitter and Julia Mortimore (57971411)

The new broom is Dr David Fitter, who has been shadowing his boss in a co-head role for two years.

He’s a Yorkshire-born, Oxford-educated biologist who now has the responsibility to keep the shine on the golden chalice he’s been handed.

“I love this school and I want to keep improving it,” he said.

According to management consultant McKinsey, executives in business who make the transition to the top successfully often focus, from the very beginning, on the kind of legacy they want to leave behind as a way of setting their sights on the finish line.

It seems Dr Fitter has read the book, and is carrying his predecessor's philosophical mandate forward with the belief that it isn't simply a matter of acting alone.

“It's about involving the whole school community and taking people forward together,” he said.

“There are many things we can work on to improve, such as staying ahead of teaching and learning, and increasing high-quality training for staff. This is one of the things that attracts people to a school.

“I also want to see more technology embedded in learning, which is very much the future.”

After eight-and-a-half years at the helm of St Bart's, Julia is heading for semi-retirement, with a range of education consulting roles lined up once term ends this summer.

Previously she was a headteacher in Basingstoke, and decided on a career in teaching after completing an economic history degree at Exeter University.

“I never actually wanted to be a teacher when I was at school,” she said. “I worked hard at school, but I didn’t have aspirations to teach.”

She worked in a bank to start with, then realised that wasn’t for her – ‘too routine’ – and headed to a life teaching economics and a role she felt was having an impact on people’s lives.

The route to teaching was clearer for David.

“My mum was a teacher. Everyone in my family is a biologist, so I grew up around people who taught,” he said.

“There are stories of me setting my younger brother tests – so I was always destined to be a teacher!”

They both speak passionately about the ‘pastoral’ development of their students, and want the best outcome for the individuals in their care.

Julia recalled moments that made her proud, such as a child who had a very troubled background who she managed to get through school with GCSEs.

“She wrote to me about five years ago thanking me. I’ll always remember her,” she said.

“These things don’t happen often when you get to headship as you are leading things, but it is very special when it does.”

David seems similarly inspired.

“It’s the fact that it is immensely rewarding knowing you can have a positive impact on students' lives,” he said.

“It’s a daily joy for me. I sometimes say to staff and students that I wake up in the morning and look forward to coming to work at school.

“It is about preparing students so they can thrive in an ever increasingly unsure and quite scary world.

“It’s more than grades – but coming out with the self confidence and worth that you can deal with the challenges the world can throw at you."

He is keen to push the state of the planet and the crisis of biodiversity.

“I’m passionate that our young people can leave school with the ability to cope with that and the fire in their bellies to make a difference," he said.

"They need to feel that they can do something about it. I often say it is too late to be a pessimist. Let’s do something about it now.”

Dr Fitter takes over in September.

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