Independent school profile: Meet the Head

Duncombe School headteacher Jeremy Phelan with pupils

Duncombe School headteacher Jeremy Phelan with pupils - Credit: Archant

Jeremy Phelan, headmaster of Duncombe School in Bengeo outlines his school’s ethos, strengths and vision for helping pupils suceed in education and beyond

Duncombe School, Bengeo

Duncombe School, Bengeo - Credit: Archant

What ethos do you bring to the school and how would you describe your role? Duncombe and its nursery setting, Treetops, have a strong family ethos as a Church of England affiliated school where people feel welcome and encouraged to do their best. My role is to continue to build upon this and move us forward. This struck me greatly upon my first visit to Duncombe, which was with my parental hat on, and was why I decided to move my family to Hertfordshire in 2013.


What are your school’s greatest strengths? In our Ofsted inspection report this year, Duncombe and Treetops were rated as ‘outstanding’ in all areas. To choose one element over others is hard, but if pushed, the focus on the individual is paramount to what we do. Our pupils are encouraged to explore a variety of experiences academically, creatively and socially. Leadership opportunities sit alongside an excellent sporting reputation. We provide the optimal preparatory experience so that as our pupils move to the next stage, they are able to maximise their future opportunities.


What is your proudest moment in education? Bringing all school members together and officially sharing our outstanding inspection news. But it was also very humbling; such achievements are not earned over night, they are planned, built and delivered. That takes a significant team effort and therefore leading a team to really achieve what they are capable of also sits very highly.


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How has education changed during your career? As I began in 1996 the National Curriculum was being embedded. Several versions later and we are ready for the 2014 version. I love the independent sector’s confident approach to curriculum structure. We select the best bits, having the freedom to explore what inspires and engages pupils’ minds. Duncombe has a rich history of embracing the modern, while holding on to the values and traditions that have stood the test of time. Our pupils have lessons in computer programming and touch screen technology along with traditional experiences such as house competitions and gaining a pen licence!


What are the key factors in helping pupils achieve their potential? Dedication to the individual is key here. Our inspection report states, ‘Teachers acknowledge in their plans not just the range of ability but the individual needs and learning styles of every child’. It is also the ‘can-do’ attitude at Duncombe. I say jump in and have a go. There are always people around us we can turn to for help, and goodness me, it feels great when we achieve such outstanding things. .

What are the challenges facing your school and education in Hertfordshire now and in the coming years? Society expects instant results. Where learning is concerned, it is a journey of growth, which can have varied pace. Managing this within a modern context is a significant challenge. It is about building relationships and keeping communication clear. It is about making professional decisions with the confidence to see them through.


How do you intend to meet those challenges? We are 100 per cent outstanding but can’t afford to rest on our laurels. Our development planning seeks to further the opportunities for able, gifted and talented pupils. I am also keen to embed skills such as public speaking and chairing meetings, which are essential to the modern workplace.


What changes would you like to see implemented that would improve education as a whole in the county? Raising the collective expectation of what the young can achieve. Their capacity is immense and we need to equip them with the correct skills and self-belief.

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