Tell us about Wishford Schools. When did you start the group and why?

I founded Wishford Schools in 2011 and we brought the first two schools into the group in 2012. Since then we’ve grown to nine schools in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Kent, and around 2,000 pupils. Eight prep schools and one senior. Our idea was to bring together great education with a business-like approach to running schools and a real focus on customer service. From the outset we wanted to create a genuine group with a shared ethos and approach, not just a collection of schools, so we’ve been really picky about which schools we’ve brought into the group. To get to nine schools today we’ve said no to well over a hundred.

What was your career before you became involved in education?

I worked with companies in all sorts of different sectors, supporting them through periods of transition and helping them to find ways to improve their business models. One of the most interesting projects was helping a specialist provider of logistics to the Oil & Gas industry to become a world leader in its sector. Very different from running a group of schools, but lots of the skills I learnt along the way have been useful at Wishford.

Why did you become involved in education?

Most of my family work in education, so it was inevitable really. I wanted to create something I believed in and could feel proud of. I was lucky enough to attend an independent school myself, which gave me a fantastic start and gave me the belief that anything is possible. I want every child to have that same belief.

What is your vision for Wishford?

To be a true community for our pupils and staff, to be an innovator in educational theory and practice, and to offer ever greater opportunities for young people. Education is incredibly traditional and conservative, but the world we are preparing children for is changing at an unbelievable rate.

What is your gameplan – do you have an end goal?

We aim to grow the group to about 12 schools, but we aren’t in any particular hurry. We’re only interested in schools which are a great fit. I’m planning to run the group until I retire, and having just turned forty, I’ve got time on my side. So really, the main focus is on the huge opportunities in all our schools to continue improving our offering. There’s plenty to keep us busy – for example I really want to embed entrepreneurship throughout the curriculum, getting our pupils involved in solving real-world challenges.

You have written about the role of headship. Why?

I’ve met and interviewed a lot of aspiring Heads and it became increasingly obvious to me that a lot of candidates were totally unprepared for the process. They might have neat answers prepared about their experience and motivation, but a lot of them hadn’t thought about what being a head really involves and whether it would suit their skills and personality. I got fed up with hearing rehearsed answers about how the candidate would ‘lead from the front’, thinking that was what the panel wanted to hear. The reality of leadership is much more nuanced, and that’s why I wrote about what it really takes to be a successful head.

What do you think about schools being run as businesses?

When a school is run as a business, there’s a real alignment of interests between the school, pupils and parents. The business is only going to succeed if what is on offer in our schools is something people want to buy, so everything we do within our schools is done with the customer in mind. We’ve got to deliver a great experience for pupils and parents, and real value for money. That isn’t necessarily the focus in a charitable trust school. There are lots that are excellent schools, but equally there are plenty with atrocious governance. Our structure means we can be agile and decisive when change is necessary, something our Heads really appreciate.

Do you think we will see more and more consolidation of small independents by schools groups?

Absolutely. It is inevitable and the trend is going to accelerate as the pressures on small schools increase. It is increasingly difficult for small schools to provide a really high quality offering, cope with the huge regulatory burden and manage rising costs, unless they have the support of a group. There will be a lot more closures, particularly in marginal areas. We are approached by one or two schools each week at the moment, all looking for a partner to help them stay afloat. The huge increase in Teachers’ Pensions coming in September will be the final straw for many.

What have you learnt in your time as Executive Chairman of Wishford?

So much! I’d worked with lots of businesses, but never run my own. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but have learnt from them. Everyone says that education is different from business, but fundamentally it isn’t. It is a people-based service business. What creates the amazing learning environments within our schools is the people. Their skills and experiences, enthusiasm and passion. Our most successful schools are those where that all comes together to form a strong culture

Tell us about Westonbirt recently becoming a Wishford School.

Westonbirt is such a perfect fit for us, in terms of the school’s ethos, geography and our ambitions as a group. It’s an amazing school – a new parent recently described it to me as magical. The school’s culture is so strong and the staff so dedicated, that every pupil gets a unique, tailored experience. We are moving the senior school to co-education this September, which is a big step after 90 years of girls only, but so far it has been a really smooth transition. Three of our prep schools sit within the school’s catchment area, so we can offer parents the option to stay within the group as their children move up to senior school, which is proving to be very popular. We’re very ambitious for the school and so far the response has been fantastic – we’ve registered a record numbers of pupils for Year 7 entry.

Describe yourself in five words.

Optimistic, creative, motivated, collaborative, tenacious.