Exclusive Interview with Mr Joe Silvester, Head of Wetherby Senior School

 
wetherby senior school
 
 
 
 
INTRODUCTION:
 
Mums in the Wood had the lovely opportunity to sit with Mr Joe Silvester-the new head of Wetherby Senior school-in his airy office on 9 May 2022.  With an MA in Education Management from King’s College, London and former posts at Ipswitch, City of London (including assistant head of teaching and learning), and Bancrofts (academic deputy head)-Mr Silvester was armed and ready to step into the headship of Wetherby Senior school in September 2021.  With education running through his blood–his mother a teacher, his father a former head of a school for deaf children, and a boy of his own in the independent school system–Mr Silvester has a firm grasp on tradition in education and how it can be used to shape the future. 
 
Charm and charisma aside, he has both in abundance, he made it clear how seriously he takes his position as a steward of his pupil’s lives at this formative age. This is on brand with the ethos of the Wetherby Prep School: A serious school that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
 
“I believe in optimistic leadership,” he said. 
 
A growth mindset wasn’t exactly the term he’d use as he doesn’t necessarily advocate for failure in a safe place–something he felt perhaps the school could do more of–but he does see this time and place in a boy’s life as a wonderful opportunity to grow.  Ultimately, there is trial and error in that process, so by the time the boys leave they have a strong command of who they are and what they’d like to pursue.  This won’t happen with an unapproachable head who’s closed off from the boys.  He enjoys celebrating his pupils and finds himself in a role where he cheers them on–perhaps this comes from being a keen sportsman.  He’s seen success come with positive reinforcement, not by beating boys down.  
 
Mr Silvester is a perfect fit for the Wetherby family of schools.  He has a deep interest and understanding of history–ask him about his position as a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Innholders and he will take you on a fascinating journey into the root system of various English livery companies attached to specific schools. He feels the boys should have a deep appreciation for their past, but he’s also very interested in keeping them globally mobile.  While many have headed off to Russell Group universities here at home, many have headed off to Spain, Italy and America.  The boys have one to one advisors to help them decide where best to apply for Uni and if the states seem like an option, they will be professionally advised.  For this and other reasons, there are no plans to increase the number of boys in attendance beyond 550, which is about 90 per year group.  This to him feels like a goldilocks size where there are enough boys for proper sports fixtures and drama productions, which the boys are heavily involved in, but not so big that they lose their specialised attention.
 
As a head, he understands the school may not be the right fit for every boy, but encourages parents to come in and have a chat with him to get a feel for the premises and its ethos before they decide.  With academic results on the rise and Mr Silvester at the helm, parents would do well to take him up on his offer. Wetherby Senior School is poised for the kind of success that comes from optimistic leadership.
 
joe silvester
 
INTERVIEW:
  • Having joined the school less than a year ago, what is your vision for its future? Will you be making changes? If so, what will they be? 

I am in the privileged position of having taken over Wetherby Senior School at a time when it is continuing to grow in both stature and number of pupils. My focus, in the short-term, is to maintain the momentum of our dynamic and successful School. As we continue to grow as a school, the focus will be on maintaining the excellence in all areas of school life that we have so quickly become known for. Last year (2021-22) still felt, at times, like we were emerging from covid-imposed restrictions and concerns. Now, in 2022-23, we are full speed ahead with trips, visits, fixtures, and activities. Alongside this, we continue to expand and develop our first-class pastoral team to support all boys; and following our outstanding results at both GCSE and A Level in summer 2022, we are working hard to continue the upwards trend of school performance. The results our boys delivered in the summer were due to a huge amount of hard work on their part and on the part of their teachers. I am extremely proud of all of them and am proud to be the Headmaster here at Wetherby Senior, when we are so clearly a successful and prestigious London school.  

  • You’re coming to Wetherby Senior School from being the deputy head of Bancroft’s School in Essex.  What do you bring with you from that experience to inform your role as a head in central London

Yes, I came to Wetherby Senior from Bancroft School, which is a very academically selective co-educational day school just outside of London. Prior to Bancroft, I spent a long time at the City of London School, the boys’ school not very far from Wetherby Senior. This means that, coming to Wetherby Senior, an independent boys’ school in the heart of town, feels to me to be a very familiar move. As the (relatively new!) Headmaster, I have to say that me and Wetherby Senior are a very good fit.  

What both of my most recent previous schools have done very well is to show me what outstanding independent education looks like. Each individual school is different, and Wetherby Senior is not the same as either Bancroft’s or City of London. However, both schools have helped shape my understanding of excellence and success, and bring that wealth of experience here to Wetherby Senior, to help our School develop and grow into an even better version of itself.  

  • Wetherby Senior School was established in 2015. How do you feel it has grown to compare after seven years on an academic level to some of the more established senior schools in the area in terms of boys it attracts?  

Well, in a fairly short history, I can see that Wetherby Senior has built a strong reputation as a forward-thinking and successful community. Our boys are encouraged – academically and socially – to realise their full potential, which is proudly reflected in the places our alumni hold at top universities in the UK and overseas.  

For example, A Level Results Day 2022 saw a string of excellent outcomes for our outgoing Year 13. As well as celebrating our 100% pass rate, we had 50% of A Level grades awarded at A* and A and 79% awarded at A* to B. These results ensured our Class of 22 could join world class institutions and, of those staying in the UK, 76% are now at Russell Group universities.  

However, of our sixth formers starting university in autumn 2022, 43% applied to study outside the UK and we encouraged these ambitions with bespoke support and guidance. This means nine Wetherby Senior alumni now join a US college (including our first alumnus at an Ivy League institution), five join a Canadian college, and four are studying across continental Europe, in Spain, Italy and The Netherlands. 

Our GCSE results were similarly outstanding and with headline figures of 29% of all grades at grade 9, 52% 8-9, and 75% 7-9, we compare very favourably indeed with independent schools nationwide. Indeed, looking at a table such as the one published in ‘The Telegraph,’ we have outperformed many more established schools by some way.  

It is my intention that we continue our upward trajectory with results, and with the quality of the staff we are fortunate to have, and the dedication that is shown by the pupils, I am confident of this being the case. We all know that academic achievement is only one part of what is offered by a successful school and that it should not be sought at the expense of pupil wellbeing, but I believe that we have the balance here right. We are all ambitious for the boys, and when looking at how they do, and how much support they receive from staff I am not at all surprised by how well they do. This is also reflected back to us in feedback from both past and current parents who attest to just how transformative a Wetherby Senior education has been for their son.   

  • With about twenty percent of boys from Wetherby Prep heading to the senior school, what are the other main schools that feed into Wetherby Senior?  

Our Year 7 and Year 9 entrants join Wetherby Senior from a wide range of schools throughout London, including all the leading London prep schools and a number of state primaries. We also attract pupils internationally. We have very close ties with other Alpha Plus Group schools, so welcome boys from St Anthony’s School for Boys, Chepstow House and Falcons Prep annually, in addition to those coming from Wetherby Prep. Our 2022 entrants have joined Wetherby Senior from over 40 schools and we pride ourselves on the diversity of schools we have built strong, successful and lasting relationships with. 

  • What strategies does the school have in place to help the boys with university admissions and interviews? Is there a structure to encourage boys to pick which fields of study that would most suit them? Does the school offer work placements for boys to get a feel for a particular field of interest?

I’m proud to say that Wetherby Senior is leading the way when it comes to personalised and ambitious university preparation and support. We now have eight dedicated university advisors who, together, have over eighty years’ experience of guiding sixth formers towards their university goals – in the UK, across continental Europe, and across North America.  

We begin our higher education support much earlier than most other schools, as each boy is allocated one of our specialist university advisors in Year 11. This ensures our pupils are exceptionally well prepared and that our university advisors get to know our boys very well, building excellent relationships and offering a highly personalised service. Our university advisors also work closely with our form tutors, our Head of Careers, our Head of Scholarship, and our Heads of Section throughout each boy’s Year 11-13 experience.  

Working with our university advisors and tutors, our boys can explore their own strengths and interests, and this self-knowledge and understanding helps each boy to discover the right fit for their future. So, by the time our young people reach their university application stage in Year 12, each has been guided to build a well-balanced, yet challenging, academic and co-curricular curriculum that lays a solid foundation for higher education goals.   

Our process is pupil-centred and driven, with a focus on fit in order to ensure each boy’s maximum success. Our university advisors work closely and intensively with each pupil, advising on courses, destinations and additional tests. Parents are also involved through meetings and there is a thorough timetable of talks/events provided by representatives from UK, European and North American institutions, as well as by Wetherby Senior staff.  

Our results speak for themselves when I look at A Level Results Day 22 – 97% of sixth formers secured their first or second choice of university place, while our School’s specialism in supporting multiple applications across the UK, Europe and North America is reflected in the fact that 47% of boys opted to attend a university abroad. 

  • What is the school’s policy on boys who are Gifted and Talented and boys who may need extra support 

Our enthusiastic and experienced Head of Scholarship works hard to support the ambitions of our young people. She ensures data on our most able pupils is shared with all staff as a matter of priority, and our Heads of Departments are encouraged to consider and include their most gifted pupils via departmental tracking sheets.  

Our Head of Scholarship also tracks enrichment activities, like external competitions and Olympiads, which departments undertake with the most gifted and the able. By engaging all teaching staff, across Wetherby Senior, we get to know our pupils and understand their strengths.  

In addition, we are always looking to broaden the horizons of our pupils, as well as stretch out most gifted, so offer a range of rewarding and involving academic clubs, such as Future Medics, Law and Oxbridge Maths to name a few. So, not only do we make sure that boys are being challenged by their subjects in the lesson, we try to stretch them through provisions outside the classroom.  

  • How do you feel about mobile phones and screen use in general? Does the school have any specific policies in place around their usage?

At Wetherby Senior, we acknowledge the central role played by mobile communication in contemporary life but we also recognise the importance of face-to-face contact as the foundation of social communication. 

We have a mobile phone and devices policy, which outlines that Lower and Middle School pupils (Years 7 to 11) are not permitted to use a mobile device at any point during the school day. Mobile devices should always be switched to silent when on our School premises and stored safely in lockers. Our sixth formers are permitted to carry a mobile device in the inside pocket of their suit jacket during the day and permitted to use these devices within the Sixth Form Common Room, break-out area and computer rooms only. 

  • With its location in the heart of Marylebone, many of your pupils are from the surrounding wealthy areas.  How do the boys give back to their community?  We know Wetherby boys participate in outreach projects, but what are some of your favourites?  Do you have plans to introduce any new ones close to your heart?

We are continuing to increase the number of Wetherby Senior boys who are making contributions to our local community in person. Since I arrived, I have appointed a Head of Charity, and a Head of Service Learning. These were my first new appointments and reflect the importance I place on this area of school life. If we are to meet our aim of enabling pupils to develop fully as people then, alongside their academic successes, I want them to have a real sense of contributing to the community around us, and to the wider world. We ask our boys to be kind and considerate individuals, and this should extend far beyond our School community.  

In the last year, some of my favourite community activities have been the ones that have developed real connections between the boys and members of the local community. We are fortunate to have wonderful facilities in a fantastic location, and being able to share these with others is a real privilege. Hosting large numbers of older people for an afternoon tea with the boys was wonderful – the boys waited on tables, our music ensembles played pieces to entertain everyone, and other boys sat and chatted with guests. It was a great example of how something quite straightforward can have a big impact. We now have good established links with the community centre and will be repeating the event across this year as well.  

Throughout 2021-22, our Wetherby Senior community raised over £9,000 for our School’s chosen charities. Popular fundraising events included our staff pantomime in December, a 12-hour sponsored spin competition for boys and staff in our School’s spin studio, and our summer fair, where our Soak the Teacher event proved surprisingly popular. I know that our Head of Charity is looking to build on this previous success with a variety of fundraising events in the coming academic year. Our autumn term alone has a number of activities taking place, including a European Day of Languages Bake Sale, our Christmas shoebox appeal, and Christmas Jumper Day. 

  • Is there any financial aid or bursaries in place for boys unable to access the amazing opportunities and advantages that Wetherby Senior School have to offer? If so, are there any plans to expand them? If not, are there any plans to introduce any of these opportunities?

We are fortunate to be supported by the Gold Standard Charitable Trust and they do a tremendous job of providing a whole range of bursaries for pupils here in our School. I am proud of the fact that a Wetherby Senior School education is available to a whole range of individuals who might not otherwise be able to access it. We have boys in all year groups who are supported by this bursary fund.  

It is also the case that the bursary fund supports those families who find themselves in unexpected difficulties and need short-term support. The fact they can be supported makes a huge difference to families each year, and is something I am personally very grateful for.    

For more details of their work, and to enquire about the support offered to pupils in all Alpha Plus Schools, please contact Wetherby Senior directly or head over to: https://www.goldstandardcharitabletrust.co.uk/  

  • How have you found working under an umbrella like the Alpha Plus Group vs other schools you’ve worked with?  Can you explain to us the benefits or possible downsides of being a part of a large management company?

I have found working for a larger group to be an extremely positive experience on a number of levels. For me, as Headmaster, running a school that is supported by talented professionals at group level means I have access to people and advice whenever I need it, and this centralised support ensures that our School runs extremely well.  

It is also the case that the Alpha Plus directors are a very experienced in their different areas of responsibility and their feeding this into the group, and into our School, only serves to improve what I am able to offer. They are professional directors rather than volunteer governors, and this brings a real rigour and quality to what they do.  

In addition, with many years’ experience as the Head of Tonbridge School, and prior to that Malvern College, I am very fortunate indeed to work so closely with Tim Haynes, who is the Director of Senior Schools.  

CONCLUSION:

The school is spread across two different buildings in Marylebone which offers a type of university experience for the boys. Sixth formers are often spotted in and around the village giving the air of a very cosmopolitan day school. Behind traditional Wetherby red doors are the deep and winding series of rooms and staircases one would expect of refitted buildings in Marylebone.  Boys coming from the Wetherby Prep will be right at home as their school has the same kind of tardis feel. As cavernous as the spaces are, the classrooms are bright and open and include a black box drama studio, cycling studio, music rooms and a gym replete with boxing equipment.  The boys navigate these hallways with a polite, quiet confidence.  The central London location means the school has no outdoor space of its own, but uses Regents Park and playing fields out in Ealing with exceptional facilities and access to professional training, especially where Rugby is concerned.  The globally mobile outlook is fostered by students who are not just coming straight from Wetherby Prep and state primaries, but from many international locales as well.  All in all, for boys who arent boarding and want to stay in the city, Wetherby Senior School offers a great mix of academics and sports for bright, young minds.

 

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