Andrew Parr

Andrew Parr


I joined the staff at Hitchin Boys' Grammar School in September 1971, having graduated in French from University College of Swansea (Wales) and having gained a Dip. Ed. from Queen's University, Belfast.
Finding posts in schools was difficult in December 1970 because the Royal Mail was on a protracted strike. There was no such thing as email and students had no access to such alternatives as fax. Applications were made by telephone and were restricted to the number of 2 shilling pieces (10p) one could muster for the calls. Having consulted the Times Educational Supplement with its hundreds of job offers, I think I made only one call, to HBS, which was close to my recently-widowed mother's home in Luton.

I suppose the communication difficulties might have worked in my favour: perhaps there were fewer applications than normal to this very attractive and successful school. I was called to interview (which entailed coming by air from Northern Ireland to Heathrow – no EasyJet then, either). A very pleasant interview followed with the Headmaster (Maurice Dolden) and his young Head of Languages (Brian Pickard). Brian and his wife were to become our first and firmest Hitchin friends. Brian died in 2015 but his wife remains a very close friend.

At the interview for the post of French teacher, on the lowest grade, naturally, I was also asked whether I might also be prepared to teach Music and R.E. I didn't dare say no!

So began my teaching career in the only school I ever worked in. HBGS gradually became HBS from 1973 onwards. The professional environment was much less formal in those days. Colleagues advised me to approach the new Head Teacher (change of title with change of school designation perhaps), Bill Kaye, reminding him that I had served 2 years and needed more pay. Amazingly, my request was granted speedily when he came over to me after period 2 one day and simply said "Scale 2". Salaries were not generous in those days and any increase was welcome. Google fails to tell me when the whole issue of remuneration came to a head and was resolved by the so-called "Houghton Bounty" around 1973 or 74, which resulted in a breathtaking 26% (not a mistype!) salary increase and a one-off payment of some £80 with which I bought two suits and felt very much the professional, especially if I wore my gown, which one tended to do back then.

My good fortune at HBS was to continue throughout my career.. No more than a year after my first pay scale enhancement, the School Librarian,  (who, in those days was a teacher who also ran the library with a reduced teaching commitment) found a new post in Essex and I was asked to replace him. I'm not sure if I was even interviewed or whether there were any other candidates for the post. It came with a scale 3! I took the job and my wife and I bought his house into the bargain. The increased salary was welcome but, with our new mortgage at 16% interest, we still lost sleep wondering how we would manage. But manage we did, interest rates reduced, and we were able to start a family.

Being librarian did entail a lot of extra work. My predecessor, John Main, had closed the library for several months to reorganize it and it was only just returning to normal when I took over. From somewhere, a considerable sum of money was found to restock it and I did my best to introduce a lot of appropriate modern fiction to make  the library an attractive place to visit. This seemed to succeed and the library was so full at lunchtimes that I took to having my own lunch in there, brought in through the little-used back door from the kitchen.

Heavy use and new stock meant that there was a constant need to tidy and reorder the shelves. My wife and I would often return there after our evening meal and work until 11 p.m. We came to know the Dewey cataloguing system very well and I would find myself back in bed half asleep  after a long evening's shelving trying to assign Dewey numbers to different parts of the bed.

There was not a great deal of staff turnover in those days. Many teachers served their whole career at the School, as I was to do. But some promising young men (few women on the staff then) needed to stretch their wings. One of these was my friend and Head of Department, Brian Pickard, who applied and got the post of Deputy Headmaster of the Bishop Stopford School in north Enfield. He would go on to become its much-loved Headmaster. By then, I was his second-in-command in the languages department and, in the same way that I had gained my earlier promotions, I rather assumed that I would take on Brian's illustrious mantle. (He was a superb teacher and leader, an exemplar.) Looking back, I feel I displayed a level of arrogance of which I am not particularly proud.

For the first and only time in my career, there was a stand-off between Bill Kaye and me. He was willing to offer me the post but on a lower scale than the one at which Brian had been paid (scale 5) because HBS taught two main foreign languages, French and German and my second language was not German but Spanish. Bill felt it would not seem right for German-teaching colleagues to be working under an HoD who did not teach German, or at least it might mollify them somewhat if they knew that I was on a lower salary that Brian had been. I was having none of it. It would be scale 5 or I was off!

Was that a bluff? Not really. I saw a scale 5 post for a Head of French at Poole Grammar (great school, lovely location) and was called for interview. I thought it went well. Much of it was in French and that only added to the pleasure of it. I returned to Hitchin. The stratagem had worked! Bill Kaye offered me the 5. That same day I had the rejection letter from Poole.

For a year, I was both librarian and Head of Languages and it was not a good combination in terms of efficiency. Fortunately, I had an excellent library prefect in Stephen Callaghan and very supportive languages staff. After a year, if my memory is correct, the Governors decided a professionally trained librarian was needed and Pat Thornhill was duly appointed in my place, taking the library to a completely different level.

For some 9 years, life continued smoothly. There were trips to France and Germany and exchanges with schools in Bingen and Nuits St-Georges which added to the department's credibility.  New young colleagues joined the languages staff including a native French speaker.

In 1986, history repeated itself in my case. David Highton, Deputy Head Teacher and Head of Lower School (YY7-9) somewhat unexpectedly decided to apply for the headship of Kingshott School, to which he was duly appointed in the October (an awkward time to lose a senior leader). Bill Kaye asked me if I would be interim Head of Lower School pending interviews being set up and I agreed, also deciding, since he evidently trusted me enough to ask me to stand in, to apply for the permanent post myself. To my surprise, because there were strong external candidates, I was successful and so began by final phase at HBS, one which was to last 22 years. Yet again, I did my best to run loth languages and Lower School and yet again it was not the best mix. It was simply too much. I was very grateful when Brian Purvey was appointed to take over ModLangs.

Being a deputy head and Head of Lower School was demanding, especially at first. There had been no training. All I had was a sound knowledge of the School, a real commitment to the life and well-being of its pupils and a delight in the comradely spirit of the staff. After the first year or so, I stopped shaking when I returned to the privacy of my tiny office. Confidence grew and I began to enjoy my role with its increased influence and responsibility. Encouraged by the Technology Department, I was the first senior leader to introduce IT into his administration.

I was privileged to be a member of a fine senior team which I admired; all of us enjoyed a friendly relationship with much good humour and laughter and genuine support. Whenever the team changed a little, particularly when Bill Kaye retired to be replaced by David Garvie, and when he in his turn after 11 years was replaced by Keith Wadsworth, we always seemed to settle down quickly into a harmonious group and new friendships grew.

My working conditions were much enhanced when Paul Booton (our current President) who always had a project on the go, remodelled the old Lower School Building and more than doubled the size of my office. No more meetings with parents in which we all sat knee to knee!

I had always known that I would retire at 60 and teased (and possibly irritated) my senior colleagues by holding up the number of fingers which represented the remaining years left to my service. When the time came, just after my 60th birthday in December 2007, I had a real mixture of sadness at what a great establishment I was leaving and the prospect of a life much freer of the stress which had had me waking at 5 a.m. many mornings. My last three weeks as Deputy Head were marked by extreme kindness and generosity from both my colleagues and the pupil body. My surprise leaving celebration was part meal, part concert and included a rare chance to hear Anne-Marie Hetherington sing and to enjoy having the mickey well and truly taken out of me by a spectacular performance by Keith Wadsworth in the role of Alan Bennett. I am still in the process of forgiving him.

Initially, I was able to visit the School from time to time, especially if asked to take assemblies, particularly Remembrance assemblies, which seemed to be my province for several years until I ran out of things to say! These days, with the necessarily tightened security, there is no more breezing in and no more affectionate embraces with the office staff.  I miss those!

My continuing association through the Former Students' Association has allowed me to maintain my contact with HBS and to keep abreast of its many and wonderful changes and successes. Hitchin is indeed blessed with this excellent learning establishment in which I think we  can all share a real pride.

(to be continued)

One Reply to “Andrew Parr”

  1. Dear Andrew
    Remember me? I was pleased to read that you had had such a happy and rewarding professional life at the school. I remember my (far shorter) time as a pupil with great affection, including A level French lessons with you and, of course, the Dracula Spectacula.
    All the very best
    Nigel Tozzi

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