St Christopher School, Letchworth
|Motto||The utmost for the highest|
|Type||Independent day and boarding|
Letchworth Garden City
Blue,Gold and White
St Christopher School is a boarding and day co-educational independent school located in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire. Established in 1915 shortly after Ebenezer Howard founded Letchworth Garden City, the school is a long-time proponent of progressive education and was to be 'where members of different faiths shall be encouraged to mix together and in this way to learn a respect and tolerance for beliefs other than their own'.
St. Christopher is noted for a number of distinctive characteristics. These include a lack of any formal school uniform and the freedom and encouragement to address teachers by their first names. The school has entirely vegetarian diet for both boarders and day pupils (a condition of receiving initial sponsorship from the Theosophical Society). The school established a system of self-governance with Major Officials (the St. Christopher term for a prefect) being nominated and elected by their student peers. School meetings allow students and staff alike to propose, vote and implement new and amended rules and policy - but with the headmaster reserving the right to veto any he deems unworkable or unacceptable. The system was temporarily in turmoil during the mid-2000s (see below) but a move back towards this ethos has recently been restored under the leadership of current Head Richard Palmer who has held the post since 2006.
The school offers a number of annual trips including Ladakh, Kosovo and Rajasthan, along with some DoE (Duke of Edinburgh Award) expeditions. These are generally (but not always) taken as part of a short programme of activities at the end of the Summer Term known as the Late Summer Programme.
The school was founded in 1915 by Dr. Armstrong Smith. In 1919, Beatrice Ensor and Isabel King assumed joint headship following Smith's retirement the previous year, but both women left to found Frensham Heights in Surrey in 1925.
The School in its present form developed under the guidance of Lyn and Eleanor Harris (1925–1953) and their son Nicholas (1954–1980). Following Nicholas's death in a road accident on the island of Gozo in Malta, the governors hired Colin Reid, essentially to carry on his work.
Colin Reid was Head Master from 1981 to 2004. There were many changes, and, some say, a loss of much of the early idealism from the mid-1990s, and references to inspiration by A. S. Neill of Summerhill School at Leiston, in Suffolk, are now more or less of historical interest only. But the ethos of the school remained very much intact and Colin and his wife Betsy, who taught History, retired in 2004 with great respect from past and present staff and pupils.
The headmaster for the next two years was Donald Wilkinson, made many changes to the running of the school during his short spell. Mr Wilkinson's alterations to the way the school was run, including its system of self-government and its policy on admissions were extremely unpopular amongst students, parents and teachers past and present and were felt by many to be contrary to much of what St Christopher had always stood for. Rumours that he wanted to reverse the school's stance on school uniform or close down its art department were however, unfounded. Redundancies across the staff also contributed to his unpopularity.
Donald Wilkinson announced his resignation from the post on 28 September 2006, citing personal reasons. The Chairman of Governors thanked Donald for his contribution to the development of the School and in particular for the raising of exam results both at GCSE and A level.
St. Chris' current Head is Richard Palmer. Richard was seen as good choice for the headship as he already had a history with the school. During the 1980s he worked at St Christopher during a gap year and returned a few years later, this time doing teaching practice. Richard joined the permanent staff in 1989 and taught Craft, Design and Technology, Science and ICT as well as serving as a boarding house tutor and warden of a VI Form Boarding House before leaving in the mid-1990s. Having taught elsewhere and gained experience as a deputy head in Cambridge, Richard returned in 2004 as Head of the Junior School. He served as Acting Head of the whole school in the interregnum following Donald Wilkinson's abrupt departure but on the 11th December 2006, he was announced as the permanent Headmaster after three other candidates had been considered and subsequently rejected. While wishing to continue the high academic standard, he has also in the eyes of many, helped re-centre the school on its proper focus, not only encouraging a proper work/play balance but also re-opening two boarding houses which had been closed under Wilkinson's headship - one as VI Form boarding accommodation, the other as a new permanent home for the school's Montessori department catering for the under-fives. Jenny Palmer also works in the School and Richard and Jenny have two children in the School.
Due the ethos and atmosphere at St. Christopher, the school is known for producing pupils that retain their friendships for life with many pupils continuing onto University together. The school has a recognized network for former pupils and staff known as Old Scholars. The Old Scholars club runs an annual meeting in July open for every former St. Christopher pupil and member of staff no matter what year they left the school. Richard and Jenny have been very supportive of the Old Scholars and always attend their weekend reunions. The Old Scholars club also puts on Matches Day for sports in the Spring.
- Dr Armstrong Smith (1915–1918)
- Beatrice Ensor & Isabel King (1919–1925)
- Lyn & Eleanor Harris (1925–1953)
- Nicholas King-Harris (1954–1980)
- Colin Reid (1981–2004)
- Donald Wilkinson (2004–2006)
- Richard Palmer (2006–present)
Notable former pupils
- Gavin Campbell - Actor, TV presenter & businessman
- JJ Feild - Actor
- Neil Coles - Golfer
- Jonathan Croall - Author
- Jenny Diski - Author
- Sonia Friedman - Theatre producer
- A A Gill - Journalist & Restaurant Critic
- Paul Hamlyn - Publisher
- David Horovitch - Actor
- Neil Murray - Musician
- Shawn Slovo - Writer
- Michael Winner - Film Producer & Director
- Ed Asafu-Adjaye - Footballer
- Olly Mann - Comedian & TV presenter
- Richard Walker - Angler
- George Lamb - Broadcaster
- Mary-Ann Horley - Journalist
- Caspar Walsh - Writer & Journalist
Laurence Olivier performed at the school theatre, in December 1924 in Through the Crack (unknown author) as understudy and assistant stage manager, and in April 1925 he played Lennox in Shakespeare's Macbeth and was assistant stage manager.
- The school's web site
- Old Scholars - The St Christopher Club
- Profile in the ISC website
- ISI Inspection Reports