30 minutes with…Henry Price, Oakham School

Henry Price tells Irena Barker about the importance of headteacher wellbeing, school days being joyful and pastoral learning

Henry Price, Oakham School

“It’s the one hour of the week when I’m genuinely not thinking about schools,” says Henry Price, talking about his weekly singing lessons. “I have to concentrate entirely on what I’m doing.”

But like the majority of headteachers in any sector, the headmaster of Oakham School spends the remaining 167 hours with his mind focused on all the plates that must be kept spinning to make a school operate at its best.

It’s a difficult task, and heads across the world are realising that their wellbeing is intrinsic to the success of their schools and that of their students and staff.

It’s something Price takes seriously, although he admits to finding it a challenge.

“You’re often telling your team to look after themselves,” he says. “You’re encouraging your staff, you’re certainly trying to educate your pupils in how to balance their lives as they move particularly into examination seasons.

“We all talk about the need for exercise, need for sleep, for good diet, water, all of those things that can be easier said than done.

“I think as adults we can sometimes be hypocrites, not practising what we preach. I’m pretty good over a year if you balanced it out, but am I good day by day, week by week? Not necessarily.”

Price, who moved to Oakham in 2019 after five years leading Wellington School, tries to manage a couple of sessions of Yoga with Tim online per week, along with some HIIT workouts and dog walks.

“I think as adults we can sometimes be hypocrites, not practising what we preach.”

At age 49, he is considering whether he has another half marathon in him, although his wife Mary is unsure.

The social aspects of school leader wellbeing are important too, he says. “I’m good at keeping up with mentors, I think having phone a friends is very important, people you can talk to outside of the organisation for advice, to let off steam, to share problems.”

The Oxford-educated classicist says he is slowly curing himself of his habit of late-night working, which he developed as a housemaster at Rugby School.

“I don’t send difficult emails in the evening, just as I don’t want to receive them, nor do people want to receive them from me,” he says.

But it can be hard to switch off, he says, given the many facets to the job, from being an educator to running a business, dealing with people and being part of the local community.

“You’re thinking and worrying about your school all the time, even when you’re not at your desk and that can be the problem,” he says.

“I don’t send difficult emails in the evening.”

“I think heads are very supportive of each other, they’re very good at getting together, I really enjoy meeting up with other heads because they understand what you’re doing.”

Price’s efforts to stay on top form are perhaps no surprise for someone who is a strong advocate of one’s school days being not just a means to an end, but enjoyable in themselves.

He has happy memories of his time as a pupil at Eton College, where he says he had “inspiring teachers” who challenged him in the classroom and made him want to work hard.

“I was lucky to have teachers that encouraged that in me and stimulated me. Beyond the classroom I enjoyed acting and playing sport, those things probably got me up in the morning.”

“All pupils need good, kindly, supportive, fair and funny adults in their lives.”

One of the most memorable and “hugely challenging” things he did at school was playing the role of Frank Strang in the play Equus, he says.

Of Oakham, he says: “Making these years enjoyable – I don’t just mean it’s a great party all the time, but the pupils want to come in and are happy here because without that they’re not going to learn in any case.”

He says all pupils need “good, kindly, supportive, fair and funny adults” in their lives who are “nudging them on the way to success.”

With this in mind, he is proud of Oakham’s approach to pastoral care of students, through a “connected curriculum” of the academic, pastoral and co-curricular.

He says: “Pastoral care can be seen as a reactive arms around the shoulder but we talk about pastoral learning, which is giving boys and girls the tools to thrive right now and into the future.”

Teaching the concept of consent is quite a good example, he says.

“In Years 6, 7, 8 consent can be around ‘Can I borrow your pen?’, ‘Can I sit next to you?’ Moving into the later teenage years it’s absolutely about the cutting edge of relationships, in a world that has become more complicated for teenagers and where parents are finding it harder to keep up with what their teenagers are going through.”

“As a parent, I better understand the emotion parents feel, particularly the worry.”

Oakham recently celebrated 50 years of co-education, as it was the first boys’ independent secondary boarding school to admit girls in 1971. It is an aspect of the school that Price loves and the admissions team aims for 50/50 male and female entry.

The school takes boarding and day pupils and is now encouraging weekly boarding.

“It’s something I inherited as an aim and it felt right and it felt good,” he says. Seeing boys and girls participating in activities such as orchestra together, he says, is “lovely” and helps to create “that family feel”.

Indeed, Price has a large family of his own, with four children, something he hopes has helped him bring some wisdom to the role of headmaster.

“I think it’s because I better understand parents, I better understand the emotion parents feel particularly the worry they feel from time to time,” he says.

Being a father has made him “slightly wiser, slightly more empathetic” he says, with an understanding of the importance of forgiveness when working with teenagers.

“We have to allow for mistakes and for schools to be places where, within reason, mistakes are made and forgiven and we move on.”