Meet the head: Ian Thorpe at Downsend School in Leatherhead

PUBLISHED: 12:23 05 May 2017 | UPDATED: 15:05 10 May 2017


Ian Thorpe, head of Downsend School, in Leatherhead, reflects on the pleasure of today’s school lunches and the joy of being with happy children

Published in A+ Education Spring 2017

If you hadn’t become a teacher, what would you have done instead?

I captained the University of Exeter at tennis, so I would have loved to have been the saviour of British tennis. Sadly, unlike Sir Andy Murray, I was nowhere near good enough, so I had interviews with the LTA to promote tennis in schools. However, teaching became my true calling and I have never regretted that decision.


What were your favourite lessons at school?

I grew up in Belgium, meaning that French was easy and really useful. I hope that I pass that enthusiasm onto my pupils. I loved games, particularly football and tennis, and studied geography and computing at A-Level, alongside French. I was less talented at the creative arts, but can still remember the note that sounds when your music teacher taps you on the head with a xylophone beater for not paying attention.


Was there any type of school dinner that you couldn’t stand?

My mum always taught me to finish what is on my plate, so I eat most things. The big exception is tuna. I liked rice pudding, but was never a big fan of tapioca pudding, which always felt like gulping down frogspawn.


What is your favourite film?

Dead Poets Society, starring the late, great Robin Williams as an inspirational teacher who flouts tradition in asking his pupils to think outside the box and follow their dreams. It should be on the ‘reading list’ for any teacher training course, as it encourages us to light the touch-paper when encouraging children to be the very best they can be.


Your Desert Island Discs…

An eclectic bunch, including David Bowie’s Life On Mars, The Smiths’ Cemetery Gates, Duel by Propaganda, Hotel California by The Eagles and the first record I ever bought, Confusion by ELO.


How do you relax?

Playing cricket, or watching my son (who is now much better than I am), cooking Thai food or reading a CJ Sansom novel, ideally on a sunbed in Crete.


What is the one thing that makes you most proud of where you work?

Getting to spend so much time with happy children, who are so willing to try, whatever the task. It is a constant reminder of why I went into teaching 25 years ago.


If you could be Prime Minister for a day, what’s the first thing you would do?

Regulate the ‘tutoring’ industry, which does more harm than good to children in too many cases. I carry out 14 checks on every adult that comes into my school, yet parents will take their children to visit tutors, many of whom are unchecked and unqualified. It’s madness!


School of thought

• Maths or English? - A tough call. At school, it was definitely the former, as I loved problem-solving. However, as an adult I developed a love of poetry and even wrote my own book, ‘Ball Sense and Nonsense’. It proved I was no JK Rowling, so I guess the maths wins hands down.

• School dinners or packed lunches? - A much easier response, school dinners. They are much better than when I was at school and the variety on offer can be a real treat. At Downsend, we have curries and paella alongside the staple roasts, pasta and homemade soups.

• Newsletter or Twitter? - With tweets being restricted to 140 characters, there is rarely enough room to reflect a busy school day, so the newsletter is a significantly more thorough document. How else could you inform parents about the week ahead, summarise all your sporting results and congratulate your pupils on their successes? Twitter is a great way to offer a snapshot, but it will never replace the Downsend Times.

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