A NEW headteacher has started work at Alton School – although there are no pupils on the campus!

The pandemic means no buildings are open, although learning is still going on remotely.

It is certainly not the ideal start to a first headship for Karl Guest, who joins from Sydenham High School in London, where he was deputy head.

“No-one thought it would be like this, but it is what it is. I’m doing all I can to meet staff in online meetings and getting to know the students. We’re using software we didn’t even know existed a month ago, and now it’s ruling our life!”

Mr Guest also worked in schools in Cheam, Romsey and West Sussex, as well as St Hilda’s School in Perth, Australia.

“I have done the rounds with mixed schools, boys’ schools and girls’ schools, and it has been exciting,” he said. I’m genuinely excited to be here. It’s no sound-bite, it’s the truth.

“The community feel at Alton really caught my eye, and its ethos of making sure every young person counts, and making a positive impact on people in our care.

“There’s the connection with the convent and the sisters and the huge amount of history here. To be able to play my part in continuing that is a massive opportunity for me.

“Every single person who walks into school is bowled over by its care and nurture, by its pastoral care and knowledge of every single student. In my experience schools either have that or don’t – and Alton has it in spades.

“Primarily I’m a teacher so I will begin inside the classroom with the teaching and learning. I want everything to be student centred; we need to be innovative and brave.”

And Mr Guest has been impressed with the online learning already taking place during the lockdown.

“We call it Alton at Home – a remote learning package for prep school and the senior school.

“What our members of staff are doing day in and day out now, and the preparation that took place before the school was locked down, was brave and innovative and student centred – everyone is doing an incredible job.”

And Mr Guest is determined to see the school play a much bigger role in the Alton community. “Schools are necessarily quite inward-looking places and quite parochial, so we have a massive opportunity ,” he said.

“My own approach is to make our door is always very much open and that we can learn and share and have a collaborative approach.

“Students – whether that’s students here at Alton or at another school – is what all of us have become teachers for, and if we can collaborate and work together in whatever way, large or small, that’s only a bonus. I want to give as many young people as possible the chance to be part of our community.”

And he can’t wait to get started for real.

“We survey our parents and students on a regular basis, to keep on top of things. And one of the responses we received was from one student was they like the remote learning, but they really miss school. We can’t wait to get back to that and have the place noisy and buzzing.

“I’m excited now. I can’t imagine how excited I will be when I’m here with young people in the school too.

“When will that be? I might need to recharge the batteries in my crystal ball – every time I look at it, it seems to be telling me something different!”