Independent schools offer stability at a time of upheaval in state education.

Dr David Moses

Dr David Moses - Credit: Archant

The start of the new school year in September heralds a new chapter in the history of one of the country’s leading Catholic independent preparatory schools.

Ampleforth Abbey and College has appointed Dr David Moses as the new head of St Martin’s Ampleforth, the college’s preparatory school at Gilling Castle north of York on the edge of the Howardian Hills.

He replaces Mark O’Donnell who leaves in July. Dr Moses has taught English at Ampleforth College since 2005 and has been housemaster of St John’s for nearly seven years. He takes up the reins at a challenging time for the independent school sector, which according to a recent Guardian front page article is facing stronger competition from improving state schools. It noted that four out of five state schools in England were now rated as outstanding or good by Ofsted.

While independent schools currently enjoy control over the curriculum and other freedoms, the Government’s recently-announced drive to make all state schools into academies, freeing them from local authority control, will extend many of those freedoms to the state sector.

Dr Moses is confident that St Martin’s Ampleforth, a Bendictine, Catholic co-educational day and boarding school, is well placed to meet the challenge and one he is looking forward to taking on. He said: ‘It is really exciting. You have a shelf-life as a housemaster and although I am not quite there yet, this post came along and I was very keen to cross the valley to St Martin’s and take on what is quite a big challenge. I was a pupil at a state school and I also attended Giggleswick School so I have experienced both systems.’

He believes independent prep schools offer stability and that they can look forward to the future with confidence. He said: ‘St Martin’s and other prep schools offer great stability and they don’t always get the recognition they deserve. If all you provided was exactly the same as the state sector there would be no point in parents paying to send their children to independent schools.

‘The independent sector delivers academic excellence and much more. At St Martin’s we have a strong curriculum and it’s not just confined to the classroom. We are strong in areas such as sports, drama and music and, given our longer school day, more time can be devoted to these areas.

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Dr Moses says the Benedictine philosophy – ‘the backbone of our studies’ – is one of St Martin’s great strengths. His own educational philosophy is very much centred on the needs of each individual pupil. He said: ‘It is about taking an approach that is tailored to each individual. You draw out what each student is good at help them achieve their potential.’

He acknowledges St Martin’s enviable location and added: ‘I am in love with the building. For 22 generations there has been a family in Gilling Castle and I am going to be resident there. It is important that there is a family atmosphere in the castle. This is something I have worked on in St John’s. Lots of communication with students and parents is also important.’ The majority of the 150 children attending St Martin’s are day pupils and Dr Moses says he would like to increase the number of boarders.

Gilling Castle is a Grade I listed building on the 2,000-acre Ampleforth Abbey estate. Ampleforth was established in 1802 when the monks returned to England following a 200-year exile in France after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The famous abbey orchard now has about 2,000 trees and more than 40 varieties of apples, some of which are used to make the famous Ampleforth Abbey Cider and Cider Brandy.

Ampleforth Abbey visitor centre welcomed its 50,000th visitor in August 2015 and the Benedictine monastery at Ampleforth is a centre for spirituality, education, pastoral work and evangelisation.