It is with sadness that we say goodbye to Innes and Sandy MacAskill at the end of this term, after seven successful years at the helm. They leave the school in rude health, both in terms of the pupil roll and the physical fabric. Their greatest achievement has been their ability to preserve the Belhaven that we all remember and dearly loved: a full boarding prep school with old fashioned values and understated excellence. Indeed, while the school’s facilities have never looked sharper, the pupils, it seems, are exactly the same: fresh-faced and innocent, yet confident and engaging.
As a result, that unique Belhaven magic remains as strong and vibrant as ever, which, for me, is their finest legacy. The many idiosyncratic traditions that give Belhaven its endearing charm are alive and well, which is an achievement in itself, given the context of increased accountability and policy setting that today’s school leaders are faced with on a daily basis.
Innes and Sandy arrived at Belhaven at the start of the global financial crisis, a time that naturally eroded the confidence in the independent boarding sector. While some schools were forced to make changes to their boarding arrangements Innes and Sandy were steadfast in their belief of full boarding. They held the line and worked to attract families of a similar mind-set from slightly further afield within Scotland. As a result, Belhaven today is the last bastion of its kind and offers its Form 1 leavers the best preparation as they head to the leading public schools in the land, many having secured scholarships, academic and otherwise.
To ensure this reputation was better understood beyond the vicinity, Innes and Sandy, alongside some willing and able evangelists, pioneered the school’s first active marketing movement, with drinks parties, newsletters and open days being the leading platforms. It has all been recently encapsulated by the 'Be Belhaven' campaign, which has modernised the brand, albeit in a characteristically modest and discreet manner.
Innes has also made some crucial changes to the academic structure. The move to streaming within the forms has allowed the content and pace of the lessons to be pitched appropriately, benefitting pupils of all abilities. The creation of the Form 6 has also been popular, allowing some committed local families the opportunity to enter the system a year early. The extra-curricular programme has also been developed, with everything from the traditional Airfix modelling to the more contemporary Trash Fashion, and a Ukulele orchestra. Boredom, it seems, was never allowed to appear on the agenda.
To walk around the Belhaven grounds today one is instantly reminded of the great space that is available to all who exist inside the boundary wall. While it has always been thus, it was Sandy who made the crucial material improvements, shifting the somewhat ‘shabby chic’ look to a more modern, homely feel. Other upgrades have been seen in the school uniform and in the configuration of the staff room and library. There is now a new IT suite within the library and everything, everywhere has been painted, leaving the whole school sparkling.
Belhaven has been extremely fortunate to have had Innes and Sandy leading the school these past 21 terms. They have been hugely committed, energetic and selfless in their style, putting the school first at every instance. While the turn-over of prep school heads continues to be high in some quarters, Innes has provided Belhaven with timely stability, drawing on his immense experience and wisdom to ensure the school remained as the market leader.
Decent, uncomplicated and immensely loyal Innes is a leader who insisted on leading from the front at all times. Quite simply, he epitomises prep school leadership in its traditional form. Innes and Sandy will be greatly missed and we thank them sincerely for all that they have done for the Belhaven community.
In the meantime, we welcome Henry Knight as the sixth Headmaster of Belhaven Hill. He and his family move to Belhaven this summer and he formally takes up his new role on 1st September, 2016. Henry, who is 44 years old, is married to Susannah and they have three children, Harry, Emily and Olive.