Brighton College welcomed a new Head Master in 2006. Here we take the opportunity to grill the poor man on his hopes and aspirations for his new ward.
- When the position of Head Master became vacant, the position was advertised as "Headmaster and Chief Executive". How does the new Headmaster see his role differing from that of a traditional Head? And what is the Chief Executive part of his function?
The Head's job encompasses three schools (the College, the Prep School and the Pre-Prep school) and the governors simply wanted to make this clear in the job title.
What are the Head Master's priorities for the first year of his tenure? Will he be bold and radical or will his approach be "business as usual"?
- First of all, I need to understand the school. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to get into the classroom. Hence, I am teaching Two Fourth Form classes for 18 lessons each before switching to another two and then another two. By June, I will know 130 pupils extremely well. In five years time, I will have taught every child in the school except those joining in the Lower Sixth. I think that is a much more effective than holding a series of lunches or tea parties. Adolescent children tend not to enjoy lunching with the Head let alone standing around in his house with cup of tea in hand. However, in 18 lessons, the child will engage directly with the Head, and the Head will learn very quickly to understand the children as individuals. It is not the most time-effective way of meeting all the children but it is certainly the most sincere and profound.
Once, I have a better understanding of the College, I can couple that with my own fresh perspective as a newcomer, to implement change.
Institutions all profess to dislike change but failure to evolve would be fatal. The one thing that distinguishes life from death is change. However, I don't want to be too specific yet.
- Mr Cairns' previous school was in Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, cycling dons and Inspector Morse. Has he found Brighton a shock to the system?
It is much more like Edinburgh in its feel - I taught in Edinburgh for eight years before Oxford - and I much prefer the edginess of Brighton and Edinburgh to the slightly self-satisfied provincialism of Oxford.
- Brighton College has never been an academic hothouse, preferring to concentrate on sport, music, drama and more recently, performing arts. Does the Headmaster intend to maintain a strong emphasis on the non-academic aspects of school life?
Yes, of course - though I have never regarded academic excellence and sporting excellence as an either/or. I want both.
- The College is situated in Kemp Town, close to some of the most expensive homes in the city but also 10 minutes from some of the poorest neighbourhoods. What role does he feel the College should be playing in the wider community?
The best way of integrating into the local community would be to have meaningful bursaries for local children who would not otherwise be able to afford it. I would love to be able to offer a free place every year to a child from each of the state primary schools in the area.
- The Head Master is probably never off duty, but when time allows, what hobbies or non-school interests does the Headmaster enjoy?
Travel is an obsession - particularly to East Africa where I was brought up and to the Middle East (I have a particular interest in crusader castles in Israel, Syria and Jordan). Back in the UK, I like to visit ruins, play golf (badly) and drink bitter.
- What would the new Head Master say to any OB parents considering sending their children to a private school, but possibly not considering Brighton?
Come and have a look. The College wasn't called "one of England's leading schools" in January 2006 for nothing. Even if your own school days were unhappy, I think you will find much here to excite you - this is an incredibly warm, busy, cheerfully positive place.