Bolton School Former Pupils
Mervyn Brooker – Boys’ Division Headmaster, 2003-2008
I was born in Burton on Trent , but have lived in various parts of the Midlands, London and Lancashire. I consider myself to be a naturalised Lancastrian, certainly by nature, if not by birth. I am married with two grown up daughters and two lively grandchildren. My schooling took place at Lancaster Royal Grammar school and at the now defunct Burnley Grammar School. I then read Geography at Jesus College Cambridge and stayed on to gain my Post Graduate Certificate in Education. I am told that, as a youngster, my ambitions were to get married and have children, to be awarded a Cambridge Blue for cricket and to play professional football for Burnley FC. I consider myself to be fortunate to have achieved two of these.
My teaching career began at Saffron Walden County High School in Essex. After a brief incursion into the world of commerce with Proctor and Gamble, I returned to teaching and successive promotions at Royal Grammar School Worcester and at Highfields School, Wolverhampton. After a spell as Deputy Head at King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys in Birmingham, I was promoted internally to its Headship. From there I moved to Bolton School to become Headmaster of the Boys Division and, ultimately, Chairman of the Foundation’s Executive Committee. In semi-retirement, I renewed my association with the King Edward Foundation in Birmingham, becoming its Education Advisor, with responsibility for establishing its academy in Sheldon Heath, Headteacher appraisal and a key project to do with admissions and Primary School Liaison. I also thoroughly enjoyed some part time teaching. My involvement in Education continues through my role as a Governor at Wolverhampton Grammar School.
Although I did spend a lot of time at work, my interests revolved around sport – watching football (Burnley FC, then Wolverhampton Wanderers, with a brief interlude at the Reebok…) and playing cricket at all levels up to Minor Counties (for Cambridgeshire and Staffordshire – I did also manage a couple of games for Lancashire Over 50s!). Bolton School rekindled my interest in outdoor pursuits, especially hill walking, such that I have recently trekked at high altitude on several continents.
I had no formal connection with Bolton School prior to being appointed Headmaster, but I have a fond memory of batting through an innings for Lancaster GS on the Top Level against Bolton School. Bolton had a strong reputation and it seemed to me to be a “proper school”. As such, it was always in the back of my mind as a premium destination when considering promotion, and so it proved!
What is your fondest Bolton School memory?
It is a wonderful school, so I have many cherished memories. Although the academic results were invariably good and we received glowing tributes from the Inspectors, my fondest recollections revolve around the extra-curricular activities, such as the Saturday mornings with the Levels awash with football, rugby and cricket matches and the support of so many parents. Winning the National Independent Schools’ Cup at football was certainly a highlight, but so, too, was the launch of the Millennium Ketch and seeing its creator, Mike Whitmarsh, win a Teaching Award for it. I do not have an artistic bent, but I marveled at the quality and shear entertainment provided in spectacular music and drama events. Perhaps what best summed up what the School offered was its outdoor pursuits curriculum. For me, Patterdale Hall was special and gave the boys an experience that few other schools could match.
What attracted me to Bolton School initially was its community feel, and I think this is what I missed most on leaving. I cannot speak highly enough of the care and support offered to me and the School by its Governors. The parents, with few exceptions, were understanding (even when they had a grievance) and willing to listen and to become involved. Most of all, the boys themselves were stimulating company and very responsive. We always used to say that the demeanour of the boys spoke for itself and I am pleased to see that this is still the case.
Throughout my own education I respected those teachers who were consistent in their approach, who had an intrinsic interest in their own subject and who involved themselves in extra-curricular activities. My Chemistry Master, in particular, challenged me to do better and would not stand for any of my immature nonsense, but he was always ready to give me his time, especially on the cricket field.
At Bolton School, I was fortunate to have a strong staff and I observed many excellent lessons. Not all of these were academics, but they were prepared to go the extra mile in support of their charges. Most really enjoyed participating outside of school and I am sure that this was a key element in building the special teacher-pupil relationship for which the School is renowned. I have always felt that inspirational teachers are born and not made, but also that satisfactory teachers can become very good ones. Bolton School had its share of inspirational teachers, but I suspect that its real success lies in the fact that the majority of its teachers become very good ones.
What do you feel your experience at Bolton School has given to you personally?
It is a privilege to be able to say that I was Headmaster at Bolton School. I gained a lot of satisfaction from some of the achievements of my time at the School and of the subsequent success of former students and staff in their respective careers. I take pride in the way the School flourishes today, knowing that I helped with groundwork. Most of all, I got to know some very good people, with whom I shall continue to enjoy contact in the future.
What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?
Careers became one of my pet topics as an educationalist, especially as it is so often neglected in secondary schools. However, Bolton School pupils should not worry too much on that score, as they are better catered for than most of their contemporaries. My walking companions take as their motto “Time Spent in Reconnaissance is Seldom Wasted”. For me, this is a basic tenet for youngsters where careers research is required: find out as much about a career or prospective job as you can. I am a firm believer in work experience. As a boss, I positively encouraged my colleagues to apply for promotions and to go for interviews, even if they were not overly keen. On the one hand, the experience would be invaluable and, on the other, at Bolton School at least, they would come back with a real appreciation for their current circumstances! Another basic principle of mine was to think twice before you turned down an opportunity, because you never know when the experience will come in handy, or how useful it might look on your CV in future. I believe that, no matter how much training you undergo, there is no substitute for experience. I have mentored a number of colleagues who have gone on to significant posts, and my advice to them, which they are happy to recall, was that, if you really want something, be patient and persevere, be prepared to listen to advice, but be true to yourself!
What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?
When I considered moving to Bolton School, what really impressed me was the Governors’ approach to fundraising. Everything was about opening up access to as wide an audience as possible. The fantastic entrepreneurial efforts of Bolton School Services and the work of the Development Office were all aimed in favour of establishing bursaries. As a Head, it was heart-warming to be able to inform bright youngsters from modest homes that we could find a bursary to enable them to come to the school; in turn, it was also heart-rending to have to turn down so many more deserving cases. I applaud the School for what it does and for the difference this makes.