Mr Hans van Mourik Broekman
When something becomes common it becomes less newsworthy. The huge number of schools, for instance, converting to academy status, whilst interesting, is hardly ground breaking. For one school in particular however such a move is exactly that.
Liverpool College, in Mossley Hill, was opened on January 6 1843 by William Gladstone (who would of course go on to be four time Prime Minister). Since that day it has always been a fee-paying independent school. But in September 2013 the school will make an historic transition to become a publicly funded academy.
The move means parents will no longer have to pay to send their children to the school and pupil numbers are expected to increase by several hundred. Principal, Hans van Mourik Broekman, is clearly excited about the prospect.
“Some people would say it’s a national first,” says Dutch-born Hans. “We’re not actually the first but we are one of them. In my opinion this will happen more and more in the future. We’re terribly excited about it partly because it is very in keeping with the foundation of the school.”
Hans says Liverpool College was founded to serve the people of Liverpool and to provide them with an extraordinary education.
“We think that we do provide that extraordinary education experience and now it’s going to be available to the people of Liverpool regardless of their ability to pay,” he says.
Hans joined the college in 2008, after a spell as head of a school in Nashville, Tennessee. He had worked at a British school before that and his decision to return was based on his previous experience of teaching in this country.
“I think British schools are great,” he says. “I think schools like Liverpool College are great and I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to lead the school.”
And not only is he leading the school, but leading it into a whole new era.
“The average independent school in the country has about 500 pupils in it, we have 730 pupils at the moment so we’re a relatively large independent school,” says Hans, when explaining the decision to become an academy. “We could have gone on as we’ve always had. However, we did note that the ability of parents to afford this education entirely from after tax income was an enormous strain on everybody.”
Hans says if the school was to continue as a private school it would come at the cost of social inclusion.
“When you’re in a situation like this you’re beginning to serve a smaller and smaller section of the people of Merseyside,” he says. “You can do that, there is a viable school there. But instead we thought ‘We’ve provided this great experience for the last 172 years, shouldn’t that be available to all children?’”
Another major factor in the decision was the results of an inspection report in March this year.
“The Independent Schools Inspectorate said all these wonderful things about us and that gave us a lot of confidence that we could do something bold, innovative and visionary and that’s what the governors decided to do,” he says.
Becoming a publicly-funded academy after over a century as a private school is, of course, a big change and it would have been understandable for parents of current pupils to be concerned. Change always brings an element of fear. But Hans says while it’s difficult to know exactly what parents are thinking, there are “significant indications” that they are generally happy with the move.
“Only two parents have given notice of leaving,” he says. “We’ve had over 400 applications for fee paying places in 2012. Of course people have concerns and questions and we take those very seriously but from the 22 consultation sessions we’re about to conclude, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
With the change in status will come an increase in the number of pupils, rising from some 700 to around 1,100.
“In the year 1999 we had 1,100 pupils here at school, we are going to build some new facilities and return to that number eventually,” he says. “Those 1100 pupils are spread from the age of four to the age of 19 so it actually remains a very small school.”
And while there will be total continuity in staff contracts and roles, Hans anticipates there will be a need for more staff as the number of pupils in the school grows.
But one thing that isn’t expected to change too much is the curriculum, with the emphasis instead on expanding what the school currently provides.
“I’m a classicist myself,” says Hans. “I’m very keen on Latin and Greek. And that is being expanded and comes back in a big way into our curriculum in this model.
“We had made plans before the announcement to create a faculty of Imagineering that would bring together design, kinetic engineering, business studies and computing and those plans will be able to go ahead. There’ll be a great books programme in the middle school years and the opportunities available to students will expand.”
Since the announcement regarding academy status Hans says interest in the school has greatly increased. Open events will be held on the evening of September 13 and the morning of September 15 for pupils looking to enrol in September 2013.
As for Hans’ vision for the school, he knows exactly where he wants academy status to take it.
“I want us to be the best school in Britain and I think the best school in Britain is the school where every child’s aptitudes – not just abilities – are discovered and developed.”