“It’s, it’s about getting your best players in place. It’s about giving those best players the opportunity to, to actually do what they’re good at.” – Jonathan Cuff
Jonathan always knew he was going to be a Teacher, from the off following in his fathers footsteps. Listen to his path from NQT to Headship, where he shares insights and advice to all levels of Education. Feel Jonathan’s enthusiasm for the new Discovery Plus initiative in d’Overbroecks and how the school help and support Mental Health issues.
QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for show notes, transcript and links…
[00:33] Jonathan’s route into teaching.
[01:38] Jonathan’s NQT Learns.
[02:27] Progression into Middle Leadership
[03:24] Jonathan’s Path to Headship.
[06:10] Advice for NQT’s.
[07:11] d’Overbroeck’s New Discovery Plus Initiative.
[09:09] The Future of Education.
[11:38] Supporting Mental Health in d’Overbroeck’s.
[13:54] d’Overbroecks Growth and Progression.
[14:51] Building a Successful Team.
Lee Stanley 0:06
Hello, and welcome to Hadfield Education’s good to great webinar series where I interview the head teachers within the UK education sector. And today I’m joined by Jonathan Cuff, who is the head teacher of d’Overbroeck school in Oxford. Hello, Jonathan, how are you?
Jonathan Cuff 0:24
Yeah, fine. Thanks, Lee. Thanks for having me.
Lee Stanley 0:26
No problem. No problem. Thank you for being here. And so Jonathan, and tell me how did you get into teaching?
Jonathan Cuff 0:33
Or it was kind of always destined to be really my, my father was head of a of an independent prep school. And so I grew up living living on site and had all the wonders of the games fields and everything like that my disposal, and yeah, I was there from 7 to 18. And it was kind of what I was ever going to do. I think so yeah, I was the I was destined for it Really?
Lee Stanley 0:55
And what was your path into teaching?
Jonathan Cuff 0:58
I finished school. I did it I did a gap year working working at a school kind of doing all the dots body jobs and lugging a peek flipping around and things like that. And and from there I went to Brunel the old Borough road teacher training position to do four years there and then straight into school so I haven’t you know, some some head teachers in this day and age have gone through various kind of sizes of different work but I was I was I was always going to do education and, and really followed the the old traditional path straight into it.
Lee Stanley 1:29
So being an NQT as it’s now deemed and what what were your what were your initial learns, within your first few years of teaching?
Jonathan Cuff 1:38
Think about I mean, I was very fortunate. I had a I had a great PE mentor at the times very experienced a teacher lady there who kind of showed me the ropes and really, you know, I came out a young buck from University and I felt I knew exactly how to do everything straight away and she and she really taught me taught me quite a lot about about Teaching and, and different ways of, of teaching to a different kind of different audience of students. So there isn’t just one way there’s plenty of ways to get your to get your message across and, and allow those students to learn. So yeah, she was she was very influential, it really taught me that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Right.
Lee Stanley 2:18
Excellent. And in terms of your, your progression into middle leadership, how did that pan out?
Jonathan Cuff 2:27
Well, I mean, I went from when I when I first got a job in my first school, I was actually in residential boarding accommodation, I was kind of an assistant house master shooter type role anyway. And from that, I kind of had a lot of pastoral care anyway, and kind of the PE games thing, I think traditionally sits quite quite nicely with that. And I then went on to be a house master house, two different schools. And so I always have my eye on that kind of Deputy Head postural type role and I guess through the experiences gained over kind of 12 years of doing house mastering at two schools, I applied having having my eye on what I always what I wanted to do. And yes, I got into into senior senior leadership as a director, pastoral.
Lee Stanley 3:14
Fantastic. And in terms of your, your path, because you’re obviously quite quite a new head teacher, how’s that? How’s that worked for you?
Jonathan Cuff 3:24
It’s good. I mean, I had about four years of senior leadership experience of Deputy head pastoral. In one school, I then moved to the school I’m currently adding in Oxford as a senior deputy, but also kind of overlooking the pastoral care. And then And then from there, the opportunity came around to be to take on the Principal role, and I kind of stepped in to do it that way. So I’d say it’s not unusual in this day and age to have kind of a senior deputy step up to be to be Principal but I didn’t really go through the application process that is still the norm.
Lee Stanley 4:04
Was that always in your in your plan? Did you always plan to be a Head teacher?
Jonathan Cuff 4:10
I always Yeah, probably the honest answer is probably in the back of my mind, that was something that I thought I’d be reasonably good at. But I’d always been taught from from an early point in my career that you know, you just focus on what you’re doing, and you don’t look that far, you know, my aim is always been focused on short term achievable goals. And and I’ve always you’re going to miss what’s directly in front of you and while you’re busy looking at the horizon, so yeah, it’s kind of happened. I think, I think within the independent sector, it’s important to have a some sort of plan know your way through if that’s where you want to go. But yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s kind of worked out quite, it’s kind of worked out quite well. So I’m delighted to be here.
Lee Stanley 4:58
And in terms of guidance and and sort of mentor who’s been the biggest sort of influence a mentor within your in your teaching.
Jonathan Cuff 5:08
And it’s a difficult one I’m I would really put one person’s name down next to it because I’ve I’ve had my teaching roles, I’ve had roles within within the games programmes at school have had enough had obviously senior leadership roles. And there’s been I probably keep people within those different different spheres of work that have had a had a great influence on me, the lady I mentioned about the head, the head of PE initial school, I had a very good deputy head of pastoral and I turned to first being a house Master, who was an experienced man and he kind of guided me through that as a as a young house master. And when I moved to my first deck, he is the head who appointed me, appointed me again the second time, and they were very influential as well. So yeah, kind of different people at key points. Really
Lee Stanley 5:59
Excellent. Thanks. And then what advice would you give to any NQT’s or people that are thinking of turning, starting a teaching career?
Jonathan Cuff 6:10
NQT I thought I think, you know, they’re my, my main piece of advice would be their own lots of great teachers out there. And, and from my own experience, you know, coming out and knew everything out in the university, that actually there are so many different ways to teach and really not let anybody tell you how how to teach and how your personality should come across in a lesson. It’s got to be you. But to, you know, to go and observe great teachers in your school, I think I think your observation is, is well known, but it’s still such an undervalued commodity. And we have, we have these great examples happening every day in our schools. And for young teachers to actually go and look at a variety of lessons probably taught totally not related to their own academic subjects, I think is a brilliant way to see how different people are trying to access your minds in different ways.
Lee Stanley 7:04
Sure. Okay dnd in terms of within school, and what current initiatives you have running,
Jonathan Cuff 7:11
we have a we have a great new, a great new programme called discovery plus here, d’Overbroecks, which it really kind of tries to expand what we do in terms of branching out outside of the curriculum. It’s delivered within our activity programme, students sign up to it, they’re amazingly amazing. He keeps new this year. And it looks at current affairs, a variety of world events, things that are really happening today and are relevant and, and actually things that they will probably be asked to interview. And it’s, it’s staggering that we’ve got, you know, we’ve got bright students, but you actually investigate real genuine current topics, and and you’re sometimes a little bit dumbstruck by the the amount they don’t know. And so, so they are going through this programme, they do it in six week block. And then eventually they, they, they come together and they present all their their findings, their information in a kind of almost, it’s like a it’s like a game it’s like a game show where they are presenting their different findings on different subjects. And the panel will judge how how much they’ve learned and what they’re what they’re doing. And yeah, we’re we’re really hopeful for in terms of increasing the breadth of knowledge of our of our students in a world which is very exam focused, and very results driven, actually, our belief is that it’s that broad understanding of the world and the bigger issues in the world combined with their subject knowledge, their specific for their exams, that will make them a genuine candidate for for the top universities. Sure.
Lee Stanley 8:47
And you touch on that, but where do you see the education sector moving towards and in that sort of, you know, three, five years huge emphasis on Like you say, most of rounded technic technology and different angles of, of education, where do you foresee it going?
Jonathan Cuff 9:09
And then obviously, there’s been a lot written about about kind of online learning with with various I will, I won’t name them but various schools are now launching kind of online platforms. I think that’s a really interesting development that will see I don’t think it will ever it will never really catch on it’s like to go overseas and studying an English school for instance. But I think it’s, it’s, it’s certainly got legs because of cost implications things like that for, for for students around the world to have access to the British curriculum. And I think, you know, obviously the one of the main challenges that that we as educators have got a minute ease with the massive explosion in mental health. And, you know, how we actually as schools deal with that and were aware our responsibilities like with that because, you know, we have a firm understanding and happy students are successful students and therefore it’s all in our interest to have them happy and healthy and and working hard and achieving. So I think that’s going to become an increasing challenge and how, how upscale Do we need asked our staff to be in the modern age to deal with a multitude of issues that students bring through the door and it’s obviously it’s a challenge it’s a challenge on on staff time. You do they teach 22 hours a week do they do they now need to teach 18 hours a week because because they now dealing with X amount of of issues is it right that they deal with those issues? It’s a really interesting, it’s a really interesting I think one that only is gonna is going to develop and grown to a point where we really need to make some decisions about it. Certainly,
Lee Stanley 10:47
A teachers work isn’t is never really done is it because the number of number of hats that they end up wearing, I’m really is a phenomenally challenging position. Given the not only sort of the diversity of what they’re expected to do, but also then the diversity of the learner as well. And it can be, it can be incredibly sort of rewarding from seeing, you know, little Johnny short pants progress through and, and do really, really well. But also it must be incredibly humbling when they face sort of a little bit of adversity and have to help a student and the pupil through certain, you know, period of adversity and difficulty as well. So, and in terms of school, is there anything particular that you’re doing within school where mental health is concerned?
Jonathan Cuff 11:38
I think we’re very, I think we’re very fortunate. We’re in a very fortunate position. We we I mean, a lot of schools say they, they have a unique kind of relationship with their, with their students. I think, you know, d’Overbroecks in these is one that is actually known for that. We have we work incredibly clever Proceed with our students. We weren’t at a particular programme called a director of studies programme where our director studies the teacher and if you want to call it on our get shot, recording it at school, but if you want to call it a tutor, but it’s more of a specialist tutor for a small, very small group of students, they don’t have tutor meetings at six form, and they meet individually, and they will deal with pretty much everything to do that students students life and they and they do develop very close relationships with their students. And I think, you know, the d’Overbroecks model is probably in my, in my opinion, why it’s such an exciting place to be is probably ahead of the curve in terms of in terms of education, and I think society, as a whole children as a whole students as a whole. They, they don’t really want to be educated like it’s 1970 with X amount of military roles and whatnot, you know, there is a sense of there’s a difference emphasis on what they think is acceptable and what not. And you know, we don’t have a, we don’t have a uniform. So I don’t know a girl walking into a sixth for physics lesson doesn’t walk in and the first conversation the physics teachers having to say you skirt is too short. Because actually, you know, we all know that that probably alienates that that girl for a period of time, when actually the emphasis for us is on collaborative relationships and learning. And so, you know, I think I think the whole the whole d’Overbroecks ethos for me is the reason why we are we’ve grown so rapidly and why we’re so successful in what is a very competitive market in in Oxford.
Lee Stanley 13:44
Sure. And what about you in terms of progression and what are you looking to to implement over the next the next couple of years?
Jonathan Cuff 13:54
Well, I mean, we are we are in a period of growth. We have been for the last Three years, let’s say. And it’s quite this quite kind of rapid growth. I think we were at 520 students probably three years ago. We are 670 now, and we’re going to continue to grow. So with that we’ve obviously our our biggest challenge is the infrastructure that sits sits below that, below that growth. And making sure that we are still able to do exactly what we see on the team, which is treat all those students as individuals know themselves, really, I guess the main the main schooling challenge, if you want to call it is, is supporting via infrastructure and being clever about how we do things, the growth and maintaining the uniqueness of the school even though it’s grown substantially.
Lee Stanley 14:46
And how would you do you build a successful team do you feel
Jonathan Cuff 14:51
and I To be honest, the the the most successful teams have the best players and and you can’t get away from that. So it’s about analysing the team that you got. But often we were dealt a set of cards and they’re the cards we have to we have to play with. But it really it’s the same as any is any good games team really, you’ve got to make those people within your team feel valued that they have, that they have a significant input and actually, probably they are one of the most valuable members of that team. And, you know, my my style is very much to give them the scope to to go and deliver what what they what they believe in. We are a very collaborative SLT I think we get on well, I’m going to say that but i think but I think we do. But yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s about generating that sense of common purpose. I’m unfortunate. I’ve come into a school where we do have some experience SLT, and they have grown up on that journey of d’Overbroecks and they love the school for what it is. So you know, anything that they they say is really not out of personal benefit or gain that they might get out and it is out of a love of the school and wanting to, to maintain and cherish the unique ethos that we have. So yeah, it’s, it’s about getting your, your, your best players in place. It’s about giving those best players the opportunity to, to actually do what they’re good at. You know, it’s no point us as as heads employing people and telling them what to do because, you know, we can we can for anyone to do that you employ people who are better, more capable than you. So they make you look good. And, and I think, you know, fortunately, I’ve kind of walked into a situation and we’ve got a great leadership team here. So yeah, it’s pretty good.
Lee Stanley 16:45
Excellent. And what about outside of work? What, what sorts of do you do to sort of get away from get away from work,
Jonathan Cuff 16:53
Erm I might get a golf when when, when when is better, and I’ve got time and I’m also a big Yeah, I’m a big I’m a big Welsh rugby fan so I can be I can also be fan of sitting on the couch and watching a little bit too much. A little bit too much rugby on the weekends. So yeah, that’s that’s me playing with playing golf, my son and watching rugby, I think.
Lee Stanley 17:15
Fantastic. And what’s the latest book that you’ve read?
Jonathan Cuff 17:19
Well, I’m actually I’m actually just onto the new Warren Gatland autobiography. So yeah, that’s that’s my that’s my latest kind of couple of day really, if I if I could say that. Not very educational, butbut very good.
Lee Stanley 17:30
Fantastic. And, and what’s your favourite work app?
Jonathan Cuff 17:35
is probably an app called Due. That helps you you plan and it kind of it pops up on your on your phone and tells you various things that you should be doing. It’s like a, it’s like a PA in the pocket. So yeah, it’s needed because it’s busy.
Lee Stanley 17:52
And what about your favourite sort of personal app outside of work?
Um, well, good question. of the A couple of my phone, probably the one I use most is, again, it’s going to be my rugby related. It’s probably a BBC Sports app that I that I regularly check check things on when I haven’t got time to actually sit down and watch it.
Excellent. And if you weren’t a teacher, and what career path would you have chose?
Jonathan Cuff 18:17
And it’s certainly be something to do with child student development. And I’m not 100% sure on on probably what that would look like. As I said, I always had my, my, my, my kind of career and what I wanted to do. In fact, me I wasn’t one of those people who, who ever thought about other other options really. I did. I did. I did tinker with wanting to work in a golf shop at once at one point, but that never really materialised but yeah, I think I think it would be something to do with young people anyway.
Lee Stanley 18:53
Excellent. Excellent. And in terms of that, within school, is there any any initiatives that you want to share, and that people need to know about.
Jonathan Cuff 19:05
Don’t oxidise it as I mentioned, the you know, we’re always looking to do new things. And the discovery plus that we’re doing this year is our is our is our big thing. And we’ve got we’ve got a huge uptake of that, you know, we’ve got a new original programme that’s running again this year, which, which hopefully, covers and is a forward thinking enrichment programme, which covers a lot of the things that probably the more traditional kind of, you know, the sex drugs, cigarette, you know, don’t smoke education is is kind of gone and we’re, we’re covering more relevant upstate things. But you know, really for us this year, it’s about consolidation is about it’s about a discovery plus programme. It’s about continuing to support the mental health of the students in the school to get to get the best out of them. We’ve got, you know, a fabulous suite of apps For those who come in and work at work at the school alongside to start helping both staff and, and students, we place a place. I like to think that place great emphasis on on the well being of staff and and students. And yeah, so you know, our end game is always to, to try and broaden the students academic opportunities. You know, we do that by, we have 35 available options anyway. So they’ve got a pretty broad, pretty broad selection of subjects that they can study, but it really is to give them every opportunity and, you know, one of the things I’m always proud about that we always kind of come across when people come for, for interview is they say that, you know, we must be one of the only schools with on our, on our principles and our guiding principles. One of them is laughter. And, and they always say, well, that’s, that’s so unique, and we’re like, well actually, you know, we generally engage with that idea that, that that we need to have that collaborative hacking relationship with with students. So, you know, in terms of new things, discovery plus but but it’s really more of the same for us at the moment. Okay, excellent.
Lee Stanley 21:07
And what’s the best way for people to get in contact with you?
Jonathan Cuff 21:12
Obviously via via the school about my, my, about my PA. They can they can find on Twitter at DBX principle. I’m not a I’m not a massive Tweeter, but I do occasionally dabble. So yeah, then they would be the best, the best part of the protocol by Twitter and school.
Lee Stanley 21:35
Excellent. What I’ll do, I’ll put the links to your Twitter and also to school and contact details and then enrol below. And I’ll probably pop up on the screen somewhere as well. And thank you ever so much for your time. It’s been really informative.
Jonathan Cuff 21:52
Yeah. Thanks, Lee its been absolutely great,
Lee Stanley 21:53
Brilliant. Thank you,
Jonathan Cuff 21:54
Cheers. Thanks a lot.