I found myself browsing the web and fell upon the Sandbach School website. It is surprising how quickly time passes and I realised that there are only three members of your teaching staff who were there when I was at Sandbach (Messers Bartley, Lonsdale and Storey).
I thought you might be interested to hear what one of your former pupils has got up to in the intervening 27 years. I equally expect that a purely personal narrative maybe a little dull so I have tried to contextualise my time there for you.
I joined Sandbach School at a critical time in its development being part of the first comprehensive intake in 1979. It was a time of economic recession: I had grown up in Elworth opposite the Foden car park, social club and canteens in Vicarage Lane so was used to workers streaming past the house on their way to and from work by foot and by car. It was a shock therefore to experience the decline of that company – friends emigrated and left as their parents sought work, the car parks emptied and became overgrown, and the beautifully manicured bowling greens and tennis courts were left in neglect as speculative property investors took over the social club, dance hall and snooker rooms.
It was in the middle of that environment that I joined Sandbach School. My sister, eighteen months older, had sat the eleven plus and commuted by bus to Congleton Girls’ Grammar School. A minority of the boys from my primary school had historically passed the eleven plus so it felt odd that we were all going to be together once we left. I was a painfully shy and sensitive child as I recall, scared of almost anyone and anything. I had friends, but few of them and didn’t make them (or in hindsight endear myself to others) easily. It was therefore quite a daunting experience turning up at such a large school, part of 180 boys in that first year, surrounded by those who had all passed the eleven plus or whose parents had paid fees for them to join the prep school. In the morning and evening the front drive was full of buses bringing and taking boys all over Cheshire.
It was unusual to be educated in such an environment: boys above our year were allowed off the school grounds at lunch time but we were not for fear that we would steal from shops or otherwise disgrace the school uniform; we benefitted from some very experienced and highly educated teachers from the grammar school era; I found myself streamed in a class of 32 where all but three or four of us had been classmates in the prep school together for three years prior to my arrival and I remember the initial sense of not being welcome very strongly; and I remember the deep resentment felt by friends who because they happened to be girls were condemned to what everyone perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be an inferior education and facilities at what had been the mixed secondary modern across the road.
As it happens I very much enjoyed my time at Sandbach School. I was exposed to many different experiences and remember all the house and school activities I took part in vividly: house speaking competitions (in French and English), the School Choir, playing the oboe, chess competitions, debating competitions, hockey, athletics (which I was fair to poor at but often competed for the house because no-one else was prepared to volunteer), and geography field trips. I was fortunate enough to learn Latin (one of only 16 people in the year who were allowed, and as I recall it was dropped from the curriculum after our year), and when I decided I wanted to apply to Oxford University by examination fourth term I remember the geography teachers all finding the time to coach me after school with past exam questions despite a teacher strike which strictly prevented them from doing extra-curricular work in 1985.
I left Cheshire for Oxford very well prepared for an educational and social adventure and was not disappointed: I rowed for college, was part of my JCR committee, won a scholarship and university prizes for dissertation and by separate examination. I left with the confidence (perhaps too puffed) that the world was my oyster and that I could achieve anything I wanted. I have subsequently spent my career in the City of London: doing property consultancy work, qualifying as a chartered accountant and chartered tax advisor, working in banking as a corporate financier helping to buy and sell quoted companies, and rising through the management structures of large professional service firms. Today I am the London office managing partner of one of the top ten audit and accounting firms in the UK which is the market leader in advising charities and schools and which has a strong presence in the corporate, professional practice and private client markets. I sell my time as a tax consultant advising clients on UK and international tax law in particular in relation to acquisitions and disposals. In July I take over as Chief Executive of our firm – a £50 million business with 75 partners and 500 staff. I enjoy the variety this role affords me: strategic thinking, coaching staff, motivating colleagues, speaking to the press on areas of interest to our clients and stakeholders, lecturing, public speaking and entertaining.
In all of that I have never forgotten where I started: the lessons I learnt at school have always stayed with me, whether it was “you will speak in the school speaking competition because some of you will be leading this country and speaking regularly in the future” or “treat everyone as you would like to be treated – you are neither better nor worse than them”. But probably most important of all is the school motto – you really do get out of life what you put in and if I were to give advice to anyone today at school age it would be this: dare to dream and have the confidence to fight for those dreams. Work hard and you will reap the benefits. Don’t be dissuaded from what you want to do but equally retain flexibility to seize opportunities that arise because there are many ways to reach a goal.
I wish the school well in the future and hope you are able to continue to give boys the confidence I had when I left as a very curious and excited young adult back in 1986.