Interview with: Darren Gidman, headteacher of St John Bosco Arts College
Empowering the future generation
St John Bosco Arts College is situated in Croxteth, Liverpool, and is led by University of Liverpool alumnus, Darren Gidman.
Darren began his teaching career in 1997 when he became a teacher of mathematics at Archbishop Beck Catholic College. During his time here, he took on a range of different pastoral and curriculum roles and eventually became assistant headteacher.
In 2007, Darren joined St John Bosco Arts College as assistant headteacher, then later teaching school director, head of school and then at the beginning of 2016, he was appointed headteacher.
He said: “I have had lots of different roles which is good when you become the headteacher as you can see everything from a number of angles and get a good background knowledge.”
Darren’s ultimate vision for the school is to provide an outstanding education for the girls at the school.
“Everyone at this school goes above and beyond for absolutely every single child. We do our best both academically and also pastorally. We know them and their families and we want to do the best for every single family and I think it’s always about communicating that message.
“I think communication within the school has always been strong, whether that is the daily staff briefing in the morning or the pastoral briefing on a Wednesday. We spend time walking around the building making sure that the children are supported. We listen to the staff and we listen to the students.
“Some might say we are like a family – a Salesian family. Our trustees are Salesian sisters and I think that all helps with the ethos of the school. We do what we say and I think the staff certainly do their absolute best for each and every child every single day of the week.”
Darren speaks fondly as he reflects upon on the positive aspects of his role. “It’s seeing the journey our students go on and we always say ‘Once a Bosco girl, always a Bosco girl’ as we welcome our past students with open arms and regularly invite them to come back and so that they can share their journey with our students.
“It’s not just about their academic achievements, it is also about developing well-rounded individuals that can hold a conversation and can talk about the school, talk about their life ambitions as well as how they’re achieving those.”
Darren continued: “I’m proud of the staff and I know other schools will all say that but here they really care, and perhaps they care too much at times, but that comes across loud and clear to our students.”
A Salesian ethos permeates throughout St John Bosco Arts College and the school is clearly very proud of this. Darren said: “The supportive and caring environment we have here is certainly down to the Salesian connection. We have two sisters that work at the school and we have links to other Salesian schools which means there are all sorts of connections allowing us to share views and values.
“You might ask me, ‘how do you make sure that that ethos stays alive and kicking?’, well it’s thanks to every single member of the school community, whether it’s our cleaners, kitchen or office staff, or whether it’s the teachers and the leadership team. We’re all on the same page. Everybody’s got a goal but the one goal is that our students do the best that they can and we allow our students to dream big.”
Darren added: “What is really special about the school is whether you’re Catholic or not, I think that the school develops you. It’s a funny thing to say that the school develops you but it does, because you’re working with so many dedicated people who care so much and want the best for the students, it makes you reflect on your values. We’re certainly a values driven organisation and we come together at regular points. When the school was designed, one of the things that I certainly wanted was an opportunity whereby you could bring the staff together and that’s why I love doing staff briefings because it’s spending time with my staff and why wouldn’t I want to do it.”
As a male headteacher of an all-girls school, Darren and his team work tirelessly to ensure their students feel empowered. He said: “What makes me proud is the girls thinking to achieve in maths or science is a great thing, or any subject that in the past people thought were male only subjects. It is wonderful to see them actually standing on the same platform as others with the same results and going on to the best universities. If you make a difference in the lives of students that will stay with you all your life.”
He added: “We have a student council and we listen very carefully to student issues and more often than not, they are actually great ideas which we have no issue with implementing these.
“We don’t always agree. If there are things that we don’t agree will say why and explain the situation but our girls are vocal which is great though as they won’t hold back – they’ll tell you what they think.”
One example Darren gives is from a few years ago when the school made a decision to close certain toilets for cleaning during breaktime. The students complained about this which caused some unwanted media attention.
He explained: “When someone holds a mirror up, you’ve got to look in the mirror and reflect and if you don’t reflect that’s when problems happen. Things are fast paced in an organisation and sometimes you need to just sit back, look and listen. We got that wrong and we admitted it right away and changed it.”
As an arts college, it is no surprise that St John Bosco offers first-class performing arts opportunities, from whole school productions to spur-of-the-moment lunchtime performances.
Darren said: “We encourage all the students to take part in school productions or talent shows. Even if it isn’t the best performance, our students will give you a standing ovation for it. I couldn’t put myself out there but the staff – they are just a different bunch altogether! Put some music on and the staff will be out there dancing, singing and doing all sorts of things!
“The school certainly has humour and I suppose that is because we follow the RUAH Salesian values of respect, understanding, affection and humour. It is really important just to let your hair down and have a bit of a laugh and not to be too serious all the time.”
St John Bosco has been a teaching school since 2013, helping to train, support and recruit teachers into the profession.
Darren said: “What’s been really powerful about that is that we’re able to instil our values into our programme and then send those people out into other schools. In fact, now is a great opportunity to thank all the schools across Liverpool and beyond for their support.
“We’ve been blessed being a teaching school because we’ve had the opportunity to work with lots of different schools and develop leaders. We also work very closely with the Archdiocese of Liverpool which has supported our schools direct programme and also our school-to-school support by delivering leadership development programmes – this has helped support our successful application to become a Teaching School Hub from September 2021.”
Looking ahead to the future, Darren has his eyes set on achieving an outstanding status. He said: “The quality of education for our young people has got to be the best it can be and we have to make sure that the standards are at the highest level. As a school we want to give our students the best opportunities. “We want to be an outstanding school and that’s easier said than done, as there’s an awful lot of hard work and graft between now and achieving that accolade but the journey is the important thing. I want the students to have an outstanding quality of education and that requires drive and determination from everybody and I’ll work tirelessly until we achieve that.”