Home   Canterbury   News   Article

Canterbury headteacher Stuart Pywell retires after 30 years leading St Stephen's Junior School

For more than 30 years, Stuart Pywell has led St Stephen's Junior School in Canterbury through a raft of educational policy changes and trends.

But the father-of-four has always maintained the same simple ethos - that learning should be fun and engaging, with children - whatever their ability - encouraged to achieve the best they can.

Headteacher Stuart Pywell
Headteacher Stuart Pywell

And that has led to regular praise for him and his team from school inspectors.

He retires today after a remarkable three decades in charge of the same school - a rarity in education these days.

But he says that since first arriving on a bitterly cold January day in 1990, he never had the desire to go anywhere else.

"Of course, there have been challenges but I've just loved being here and helping to build the school to what it is today," he said.

But being a teacher wasn't his first choice of career, having decided to leave school in his home town of Spalding at the age of 16 to train as a supermarket manager.

Stuart Pywell at a tree planting at his first week at the school
Stuart Pywell at a tree planting at his first week at the school

"It was only my father who persuaded me to go back and do my A-levels, which is when I discovered rugby and was hooked," he said.

Stuart eventually graduated from Winchester with a teaching degree in maths and history and found a place at a school in Basingstoke.

He continued: "My first pay cheque was £102 for the month and I thought there was something wrong until the head told me that teaching was not a very well-paid profession, which it wasn't back then."

Stuart then secured his first leadership role as a deputy head at Bromstone School in Broadstairs for four years in the late 80s.

But he says he has never forgotten his first day at St Stephen's when he found himself teaching because a class teacher had phoned in sick.

"I later discovered that she never attended the first day of the term because she found it too stressful," he said.

"But thinking back it was pretty archaic in many ways. I had a part-time secretary who used a typewriter she borrowed from a friend, for example."

"Not all children will be academically blessed but will have other skills and talents they can develop..."

Stuart's philosophy has always been to provide as broad an education as possible to equip children with wider life skills and confidence.

"The curriculum is currently very maths and English focused, which is important," he said. "But so is building young children's confidence and helping them to be independent and creative.

"Not all children will be academically blessed but will have other skills and talents they can develop which will be very much in demand - like plumbers and electricians.

"I'm often bumping into former pupils who didn't excel academically but have created their own successful businesses."

Stuart is proud of the extra-curricular activities St Stephen's Junior School has developed, like its forest school and performing arts activities as well as school skiing trips, which have broadened the children's minds.

"There is no doubt it plays an important part in developing children for their futures and is immensely rewarding which is why we enjoy what we do," he said.

A father-of-four - two of them teenagers - and aged 66, Stuart says he feels it is the right time to retire so he can enjoy life while in good health.

But he had a scare 10 years ago when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent treatment.

"It was a bit scary because at a reunion of my old rugby playing mates, I found four of them had had prostate cancer of which three of them had died, " he said.

"But you just have to get on and deal with it and thankfully I'm OK now."

Stuart says it is a strange time to be leaving the school in the fall-out of Covid-19, and his retirement gathering tomorrow (Friday) will be marked with a presentation and picnic.

Now he plans to continue restoring his home in Tankerton with his wife Sally and sail and ride his motorbike more.

But he will look back at his three decades at St Stephen's with great affection.

"It has been a privilege and honour to be its head and to work with such a fantastic team of teachers and supportive governors," he said.

"I know I will be leaving it in the very capable hands of the new joint heads Sarah Heaney and Laura Cutts who will continue to take it forward."

News from our universities, local primary and secondary schools including Ofsted inspections and league tables can be found here.

Read more: All the latest news from Canterbury

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More