“I own three braais which is probably two too many,” says Grove du Toit, the headmaster of Princethorpe College, referring to the traditional South African barbecues he uses for cooking with friends and colleagues at weekends.
A devotee of outdoor cooking who moved to the UK from Pretoria, South Africa, in 2005, du Toit believes in the power of the braai to bring people together.
“It’s about that fellowship around a fire, having a conversation, having a good meal and just relaxing…allowing your soul to breathe,” he says.
And while the neighbours may have called the firebrigade more than once, it’s this spirit of togetherness and family that du Toit is keen to replicate at the 900-pupil Catholic day school in the heart of rural Warwickshire.
He does not want to be seen as a distant, authoritarian headmaster, as some school cultures require.
“You are appointed to a school where your personality works,” says du Toit, who was inspired to work in the UK after he visited on a trip with his school choir.
“I work very very hard to break down that barrier, working with people with open, transparent conversations.
“How can I be the head of a Catholic school whose ethos is ‘family’ if I’m the far removed god father sitting up there? That’s not the way it should be, I should be with my family, with my colleagues.”
“You are appointed to a school where your personality works.”
Despite this open-door, collaborative approach to leadership, du Toit is very aware that the buck now stops with him.
Princethorpe is his first headship after a two decades-long career that took him from the role of PSHE teacher at Vryburg High School in South Africa to the job of deputy warden at Forest School in East London.
So how has it felt making the leap to headship last year?
He says: “There was a real realisation that the responsibility now stops on my desk…the decisions come to you for that final sign off and that’s nerve wracking in one way but exciting in another.
“It’s moved a lot from daily firefighting to really thinking long game, strategic, where do we want to go with this as a school, what’s coming down the line? How do we take Princethorpe and provide an even better education to our pupils?”
He has also enjoyed more opportunity to be external facing, he says. “That’s been really good because it’s really forced me to think about the school.”
He adds that “rather selfishly” he enjoys the headmaster’s privilege of “being able to dip into everything suddenly”.
“I have freedom to just go and watch that show, see that sport, you get to see absolutely everything, that’s incredible,” he says.
The positives of headship, he adds, “far far outweigh the negatives”.
It is very important for him to take his teams with him, too, and he believes in having a “reverse mentor” to tell him how decisions and policies are landing with staff.
He is keen for his SLT to challenge him, too. “Otherwise we will walk into a problem eyes open and no one says anything,” he says.
“We have sheep up the drive – it’s very different to the London day schools.”
Like most heads, when asked for the best things about his school, du Toit says “the young people”.
“They are what get you out of bed in the morning and make you skip into school. Staff are a close second. It’s a fantastic place to work.
“We are in a privileged position where we get this young person in Year 7 and we see this person leave us in Year 13 and you see the growth, you see the journey, you see their daily Everest that they have to climb.
“That’s different for every child and you equip them to get up that mountain, to get to the top to plant their flag and start their next Everest,” he says.
Indeed, du Toit has two daughters who this year will both be pupils at Princethorpe, making the school his literal as well as metaphorical family. His wife, Marike, works in financial services.
Beyond the pupils and staff he says one of Princethorpe’s greatest assets is its location: “There’s space, we are not as rushed as a London day school. We have sheep up the drive, we had two hundred horses on site taking part in a two-day event we hosted. It’s very different to the London day schools I was used to.”
The rural setting is also perhaps perfect for the most serious weekend business of all: lighting up the braai.