The Headmaster of Claremont Fan Court School near Esher, Surrey on his background and educational philosophy

What is your background?

I joined Claremont from King’s College School, Wimbledon, where I had most recently been senior deputy head. I had attended King’s as a child, but it was the opportunity to evolve the school that inspired me so much there; I was head of sixth form at King’s when we first admitted girls and academic deputy when we re-introduced A levels. Prior to that I taught at Whitgift School.

What excites you most about your role at Claremont Fan Court School?

It is truly empowering to lead a school, and I feel so proud of the pupils here. The governors of Claremont recognised the school needed to evolve, and there have been so many opportunities to build upon what makes us so great. We have a dynamic and genuinely co-educational learning environment, small class and tutor group sizes but medium sized year groups to ensure our sporting teams are exciting and our curriculum is broad, so that there are pupils like you and opportunities for you. I love being able to shape Claremont to be something different and exciting.

What is your academic philosophy?

Last year’s A level results saw us placed 79th in the country, but I don’t believe in setting an arbitrary hurdle for joining the sixth form. Instead, I believe in challenging pupils to be the very best they can be, setting ambitious standards but as a carrot, not a stick.  A learning environment where you are confident in seeking extra support and unafraid to select subjects that motivate you is key to this.

60 Seconds With William Brierly, Head of Claremont Fan Court School
William Brierly, Head of Claremont Fan Court School in Surrey

Can you tell us about one pivotal moment in your career?

I was a locally elected councillor until 2010, and I had planned to pursue a political career when I first joined King’s, but the arrival of the new headmaster, Andrew Halls (now a Claremont governor), made me realise what an exciting opportunity leadership of schools offers to genuinely make a difference to the lives of others. He empowered me to improve so many of the opportunities we offered there and gave me the understanding I have today – never being afraid to ask the pupils what we could do better and never losing sight of an integrity for standards.

What is Claremont’s approach and what sets it apart?

We are a more gently selective school than our London neighbours. When combined with the fact that we are co-educational from the age of two, and we are blessed with 100 acres of land within the M25, it means we can offer huge choice of what to study – over 30 sixth form subjects alone. Yes, every year we have seen pupils successfully gaining places at medical school, in computing, economics, engineering and science, but you can also use Claremont as a launchpad to film making and fashion design, to name just two different routes. We believe in offering inspiring choices alongside nurturing teaching and ambitious support for our pupils’ learning journey both at school and beyond.

What makes a great student?

Until you have had the opportunity to develop new skills, interests, ways of learning, how can you possibly know what is right for you? A great student is always willing to have a go. They support their peers and are unafraid to work outside their comfort zone. They learn from their experience, are never afraid to have another try, and they are ambitious to succeed, rather than knocked by failures along the way.

What makes a great school environment?

A supportive school where you can be you. Neither too big, nor too small. Ambitious but open minded. Driven to achieve but not dogged by data. A school where the rules are understood, so that pupils can feel secure, but where the choices are broad and work for you. A school where you have freedom but also where you are not lost. A school that knows and understands you but has the breadth to enable you to bloom.

Claremont Fan Court School

Further reading: 60 Seconds with the Head of Wells Cathedral School Junior School