Meet Josh Holtby, the Head of Junior School

Josh Holtby on the joy of becoming the Head of Gordonstoun Junior School. Here he gives some insights into what he has learned in his international career in the education sector. 

It is a big step for any family to move five hundred miles from one end of the country to the other but last year my family and I were presented with a lifechanging reason to make such a bold move: I was offered the position of Head of Junior School here at Gordonstoun, one of the most famous schools in the world.

Every year we ask our new intake of Junior School children to undertake a similar challenge – whilst some of them travel only a few miles, others travel hundreds of miles to arrive at an unfamiliar school full of new faces, just as I did. However, having taught both in the UK and all over the world I have learned that there are three elements which are key to the success and happiness of every child who comes here: challenge, opportunity and joy.

Gordonstoun is famous as a school which challenges its pupils. Research shows that children who continually get ten out of ten in every test are not maximising their potential, however, if you set the bar too high and leave them regularly scoring five out of ten then they feel continually crushed. The trick is to find that sweet spot where the task in front of them is not too easy and not too hard, whether that is in the classroom, on stage, in the music room or on the playing field. We also have to recognise that children learn at individual paces: I have seen many children who found essay writing hard in Year 4, yet became brilliant wordsmiths a few years later. It's vitally important to have a truly growth mindset philisophy. Children are not robots; that’s what makes teaching them so rewarding.

The range of opportunities on offer here has been rightly described by inspectors as ‘outstanding’. We want to give our children as many opportunities as we can to try new things to ignite their loves and passions. We have unique access to the stunning coastline and the Scottish Highlands where our children can try sailing, climbing, golf or even have a maths lesson on the beach. Unlike most schools, these aren’t optional extras, they are a core part of the everyday curriculum and are taught by specialist staff. We have a school which is full of possibilities: will our children be musically gifted, a maths genius or a championship golfer? Incidentally, elite athletes will tell you that playing a range of sports will help you become better in your chosen discipline: you gain beneficial skills from each one of them.

Finally, there has to be joy in everything we do. Children who are not happy at this young age are much less likely to reach their potential. We live in a world where the incidence of anxiety and mental health problems in young children is rising, but here we are surrounded by the young smiling faces of children who are enjoying themselves. At the Junior School we strike a balance between time honoured values and modern innovation. You won’t see our children glued to tablets and phones at break-time but you will see them using virtual reality headsets in class. They are digital leaders, not slaves to a screen. Small class sizes mean that we know each and every child and when our children encounter the inevitable ups and downs of childhood, we are there to guide them through with ‘sector leading’ pastoral care.

When I visited Gordonstoun, I was immediately struck by the warmth of the community and the energetic approach to learning within the school. Having taught in both junior and secondary schools I am fortunate to have developed a wide understanding of the entire educational experience. It has never been more important to give our children the strongest possible start in life and to instil in them a sense of service to others. I have had a career-long commitment to outdoor learning and have seen, first hand, the transformative power of taking children out of the classroom.

Now that I have quite literally got my feet under the desk I can’t wait to welcome more children who arrive, as I did, excited, intrigued and of course a little apprehensive.